For Your Staff: Technology
Business Computing: You've Got E-Mail
E-mail is the Internet's killer application. Learning to manage it is an important part of every sales associates job
E-mail is the primary reason computer users go on-line, followed by research, according to a recent survey by Louis Harris & Associates. In fact, more than 1.6 billion e-mail messages are sent each day in the U.S., nearly three times the number of first-class postal mailings, says eMarketer, an Internet market research company in New York City.
Its no wonder. E-mail is cheaper and faster than a letter, less intrusive than a phone call and more flexible than a fax. You can use e-mail on the job or at home 24 hours a day, exchanging text, photos, voice messages and even video. Such flexibility can help you stay in touch with customers, communicate with your boss and colleagues, and communicate with suppliers.
From Nothing to Necessity
The first e-mail message was sent less than 30 years ago. Today, for many, e-mail has become an indispensable business and personal communications medium. Chances are, though, youre not using e-mail to its full potential.
These days its hard to keep up with all your incoming e-mail. Probably the most overlooked e-mail time-savers are filters and folders.
With popular e-mail programs such as Microsoft Outlook Express and Netscape Messenger, you can automatically filter messages from your boss or important clients into a folder called Urgent. When you fire up your e-mail program, go there first.
America Online lacks robust filtering, one reason it can make sense to graduate to a full-fledged Internet service provider. In addition, it sometimes makes sense to graduate from the free e-mail program that comes with your Web browser to a commercial e-mail client such as Eudora Pro (www.eudora.com). Among Eudora Pros useful features are sophisticated filtering, adeptness in managing multiple e-mail accounts and the ability to resend bounced messages quickly.
Whatever e-mail program you prefer, you can use a free Web-based service such as Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) when you travel or when you need to keep your personal and business e-mail separate.
Services such as JFax (www.jfax.com) allow you to send and receive faxes and receive voicemail through your regular e-mail program. JFax also allows you to listen to your incoming e-mail over the phone, which can be useful when youre away from a computer, though its unwieldy in managing lots of messages. Receiving faxes and voice messages via e-mail is free; other services are charged.
If you regularly send one e-mail message to many people a store newsletter to customers, for example check into a commercial bulk e-mail program such as MailKing (www.mailking.com). It works with your existing database and can be used to personalize messages. But dont send unsolicited, untargeted bulk e-mail, called spam, or youll antagonize the very people you want to attract. Ask your customers permission before you send them any e-mail.
For sending and receiving e-mail among the same group of people, consider a Web-based mailing-list service. One to consider is ONElist (www.onelist.com). Its free and easier to use in creating and managing e-mail-based discussions than older services such as Listserv.
E-mail may be fast, but its not always reliable. Web-based services such as CertifiedMail.com (certifiedmail.com) guarantee delivery of e-mail, which is useful when sending important business documents. Prices start at $10 per month for business use; personal use is free, though features are limited.
CertifiedMail.com also allows you to encrypt your e-mail to prevent others from reading it. And you can sign it digitally to assure your recipient its from you and not forged. You can do the same with your existing e-mail client using a program such as PGP Personal Privacy (www.mcafee.com).
You can attach photos and other files to e-mail messages, though many Internet service providers limit the size of these attachments. WhaleMail (www.whalemail.com) is a free service that allows you to use your Web browser to send attachments as large as 50 megabytes. This can be a real advantage for sales associates previewing new jewelry to their Web-savvy clients.
Greetings from Space
If you havent caught the Internet greeting card bug yet, youre missing out on a money-saver. Web-based services such as Egreetings (www.egreetings.com) and Blue Mountain (www.bluemountain.com) allow you to send wired clients and associates personalized cards for birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions for free.
Finally, here are five quick tips for e-mailing in general:
- Use descriptive subject lines.
- Keep messages short, including quoted material.
- Send messages as unformatted text without attachments when possible.
- Copy only necessary people when responding to a group message.
- Double-check who will receive your message before sending it.
Want to learn more about e-mail? Check out Everything E-Mail (www.everythingemail.net).
by Reid Goldsborough
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. Reach him at email@example.com or his Web site, members.home.net/reidgold.