Here it is Monday morning again, and we're trying to sift through all the electronic mail that dumped into our online CompuServe box and flooded our computer through our integrated fax board.
First, to our online in-box. There, we have to get through 72 lines of gobbledygook before we can start to read the first of the E-mail letters waiting for us. It starts out something like:"From: INTERNET:email@example.com "Subj: gina Summary/Releases "Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org "Received: from moon.earthlink.net by dubimg-3.compuserve.com "(8.6.9/5.941228sam) "id KAA28515; Fri, 17 Feb 1995 10:10:08 0500 "From: email@example.com "Received: by moon.earthlink.net (/ / Smail18.104.22.168 28.2)"
And that's only the start. When we finally reach the message, what's in it? Usually, something of little or no interest. (In the above case, some public relations flak thought we ought to be told that somebody was elected the head of some multimedia association.
Why send that when we never in 13 years ran any news in this column about anyone being elected to anything? Who knows why!? Public relators keep phoning for our online address so they can save their postage by dumping press releases in our box. We keep saying, "Send them by mail." We'd love to save trees, but we can't find the time to sail through their oceans of words to find out if there's a line of useful information.
When we don't offer our online address, the PR pros want our fax number. They're shocked when we answer, "Our fax number's for our convenience, not yours." Do we sound hard-hearted? What if you asked someone to fax you their price list and in came 20 pages of advertising propaganda?
E-mailing and faxing are a new way of doing business. They both hold the promise of reaching more customers to sell more products faster than ever before. And they hold just as much threat of losing good will and shutting off contact with customers who get mad at intrusive overload.
We already filed a list with our online provider of senders whose junk mail we want filtered out and away. And we've tried to keep our fax number unpublished and unused except by folks we trust not to abuse the privilege.
We also put together a list of do's and don'ts for electronic message-sending. You can use it for sending message by fax or by online mailbox.
First, try a whole new style of writing, more like a telegram than a letter. If you want a fast reply, keep it all on one page. One screenful (about 26 lines) has the best chance of being read carefully and the least likelihood of being discarded.
Forget introductory politeness. Get rid of redundancies. Tell first - in your opening line if you can - what s important about your message. Focus on what's meaningful for the reader, not yourself.
Organize what you have to say. State the problem and then your solution. Or tell what's new and then what makes it new. Make it logical for the reader to follow. Make the high points stick out.
Don't dash off something and send it off. No first draft is ever nearly as good at selling as when you take a few minutes to sharpen it. Most of the best writers in history were (or hired) great editors. Few were geniuses at first-draft writing.
Making your note short allows you to make it personal. And don't think personal isn't important, even in these technology-ridden times.
How do you like wading through that holiday letter that your sister sends to all 50 people in her phone book for the paragraph addressed to you? That's how your customer feels getting hit with E-mail or a fax that pertains only slightly to him.
Learn the law. There are regulations that outlaw junk faxes. As we understand them, nobody's allowed to fax business solicitations to anybody unless they've already established a business relationship with the recipient. The penalty isn't just a fine. The authorities could also disconnect the phone line your fax uses.
It doesn't matter what time you dump notes into E-mail boxes. But faxing is another story. More and more small businesses are being run from someone's home. Before you cleverly set your fax machine to dump all those SALE THIS WEEK faxes at 3 a.m. to save phone costs, consider how happy your customer will be if it rings the baby out of bed.
Then there's the prospective customer who'll arrive at work the next day to find that your huge junk fax used up the last of the paper. Was the next fax in line lost without even a trace of the caller's fax number? Was it the big order that the company was waiting for? If so, you can bet that your fax made a big impression! It just wasn't the impression you hoped to make.