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Keeping Up with the e-Times

8 Nov, 2002 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource

Keeping Up with the e-Times

March 10, 1995. This
date marked the beginning of a new era in my business life. Disneyland had been
our customer for over 15 years; there was a comfort level of trust and ease of
doing business that had been established over a decade of transactions. That is,
until March 10, 1995 when everything changed.

A new purchasing
agent had been assigned to handle their copying and fax needs. I made a call to
introduce myself, our company and to explain the scope of our business
relationship. When I reached the new agent, he promptly informed me, "I
only accept bids and all other purchasing correspondence by e-mail."

His tone of voice
was unemotional but firm--no exceptions. E-mail was his chosen form for all
future communications. Seven years ago, we did not have e-mail at our office. I
had e-mail at home, but I was not yet comfortable enough with the e-mail process
to download six-figure contractual information.

All of a sudden,
doing business with Disney's Magic Kingdom was going to require some quick
upgrading of my business skills. I felt I had to make a quick transition from
Frontierland to Tomorrowland. My e-ticket to success with Disney was replaced by
a need for e-mail.

I learned quickly
and we won the e-mailed bid. I never met nor talked in person to this Disney
purchasing agent again. We communicated on a regular basis via e-mail. Soon I
had e-mail on my office workstation. I am so grateful I had this wakeup call
almost a decade ago.

Future Is In The Cards

I am still amazed at the numbers of business people I meet who have yet to make
the transition. Take a look at your business card. Is there an e-mail address
and website listed? Is your company requesting and recording e-mail addresses
from all your current and new customers?

At a recent
manufacturer's annual kickoff meeting, I made a point of aggressively exchanging
business cards with as many other dealers as possible. After the meeting, I
sorted the cards by separating the "elite" dealers' business cards
from the rest looking for anything special or different that the most successful
dealers were displaying on their cards. Could a business card visually reflect
or help create a successful business?

Multi-colored, two
sided printing, photos, awards and manufacturers represented were standard fare.
I did, however, discover a big difference between successful "elite"
dealers and the secondary tier of dealers.

Over 80 percent of
those dealers who were successful enough to have earned the coveted
"elite" status, had e-mail addresses and websites listed on their
cards. Only 35 percent of the non-elite dealer owners had e-mail and websites on
their cards. One hundred percent of the business cards I received from the
attending service managers had e-mail and websites listed. Those people I knew
to be the actual owners of their companies had the lowest percentage of
electronic references on their business cards.

I tried to
diplomatically find out why the owners were so lackadaisical in having their
e-mail and web addresses on their business cards. Responses I have received

  • "I rarely
    give out my business card. I haven't had new cards made since this Internet
    thing happened."

  • "I'll be
    retiring soon, no need to learn all that mumbo-jumbo."

  • "We've been
    doing some changes (upgrades) lately, I'm not quite sure what my new e-mail
    address is. Just give me a call."

  • "No one
    ever e-mails me. There is no need to include that information," and
    "I leave all that WWW stuff to my staff."

All these
owner-principles saw fit to have the physical address of their business and
their telephone and fax number on their cards. Several even had cards that
displayed their full color photo and a company motto. It seemed to me that there
was a mixture of arrogance and ignorance that influenced some of the
owner-principles' decisions not to include these signs of the 21st century.

One business card in
particular caught my attention. The dealer was from a small town in Montana, and
there was no area code listed on his business card. It seems that all of Montana
has the same area code. The interesting thing, however, was that there was an
e-mail address and a website listed. This card reflected both a small town
flavor with worldwide accessibility.

Success In e-Times

Successful sales managers of the prosperous companies I saw were very high tech.
E-mail, website, cell phone, fax, 800 number, you name it--they had it listed on
their business card. Successful salespeople make a point of making it easy for
current and potential customers to contact them at the customer's comfort level
whether it is by phone, fax, e-mail or web link.

Take a quick look at
the business cards in your company. Would any rational businessperson have a
business card without a telephone number or address? Many IT professionals only
communicate through e-mail. Their entire world of information gathering is
accomplished via the Internet. IT workers play background music through their
computers. They check their stock portfolio on line. They do their personnel
banking and bill paying on line. They BUY on line.

In retrospect, what
the dealer principles and shortsighted sales managers failed to recognize when
not including their e-mail addresses, was a lack of business knowledge. What
type of businessperson, who is professing their expertise about high tech
digital solutions, would intentionally withhold an e-mail or web address? These
same business standards extend to company stationery, fax title pages, company
brochures, mailers, company stickers, invoices, statements and anything else
that represents your business. Make it easy for any (future) customer to easily
contact you at their choice of communication devises. Do not judge your
customer's choice of preferred communication style by your own parameters of
comfort. "Don't contact us and we won't bother you," is the subliminal
message being reflected from any business communication that is void of an
e-mail and web address.

Stock In Cards

Now is the time to make a quick reality check of everyone's business cards in
your company. At the next company meeting, have a prize drawing that requires
everyone to drop his or her card into the basket. (Have some blank cards
available for write in entries.) This will help you identify those who never
have had business cards and those who do not value the worth of instant
accessibility to their business card.

There are three
things that will be accomplished by this:

1. You will see who
keeps their business cards close at hand, ready to present to any (future)

2. You will find out what employees do not have business cards. Are they in a
position that does not require a card, or they "just ran out and forgot to
order new ones."

3. You will see what type of message your company is reflecting in your market

As I reflect back on
March 10, 1995, I am grateful to the early wakeup call that the Disney
purchasing agent gave me. I was forced to react a little ahead of the curve. The
solution to making sure everyone in your copy presents a high tech image, begins
with every employee's personal statement that is imprinted on their card.

Ingram is a speaker, writer, management consultant and Director of Technical
service for FKM Copiers Products in Irvine, CA. She is well known for being the
senior instructor of BTA's FIX seminar. Ronelle can be contacted at ronellei@msn.com.

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