From the February 2000 issue of Startups

E-mail should hasten rather than hinder your sales process," says Stephan Schiffman, sales guru and president of DEI Management Group in New York City. "But because people are bombarded with so many messages, they also need to use e-mail judiciously."

The more personalized your message, the better the chance it will be both read and responded to. Schiffman suggests a monthly e-mail newsletter that keeps clients and potential clients up-to-date on your company. For example, you can use a newsletter to announce any upcoming sales or service promotions, send out information on new product lines, brag about articles or books you've had published or speeches you've given, as well as conduct customer surveys.

"Periodic check-ins are an easy way to create a dialogue with customers," Schiffman says. "I look at it like I'm sending an electronic post-it. On occasion, I'll go through my 500 e-mail addresses, and send little 'How's it going?' kind of notes to those I haven't talked to in a while. If you do this on a Sunday night for Monday morning delivery, it usually triggers some kind of response."

Remember the following if you want your e-mail messages to be read:

1. Stick to the point. Reading and responding to e-mail is time-consuming. Don't waste your or your client's time with long-winded messages. And don't send a newsletter that, if printed, would run more than two pages long.

2. What's in it for your client? Use e-mail to answer questions, send quotes and announce sales. Leave out information on your company's history or competitive positioning.

3. Present a next step. Getting to the next step in the sales process is your primary goal. Through your e-mails, take the initiative and suggest the client take an action step, such as giving you a phone call.