At a networking event, you exchange business cards with another person. The card includes an email address. No doubt, it's OK to contact the person by email. But what about including that address in bulk emails? Is that OK... or not?

According to the reader who asked today's question, he collected emails but doesn't have permission to send emails to the prospects. What can he do?

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Almost every reader who responded suggests calling first. You never know, a call could lead to greater interest before you ever send the email.

Have email, need permission

We are a small company with potential clients. After over two years of research, we have a world-patented, point-of-sale product that can advertise four separate products or tell a story for one product in stores. Using in-store advertising like this can quickly brand a product or company.

We have email addresses for top-end executives in advertising and creative agencies. These agencies are interested in new advertising techniques and have many clients who are looking for unique point-of-sale systems. Although we have their direct email addresses, we do not have permission to send email to them. How do we contact them to get their permission to send an email about our new offering?

—Stan, Marketing Manager

Call ahead

Allan G. Lie, creative director with Golden West Radio, gets the impression the reader prefers the email approach because it's easier than having a one-on-one conversation with the prospects. While it might be harder to make the call, you might be surprised at the results. What's the worse that could happen? A hang up? The person doesn't give permission? Sales people are used to striking out many times before they hit a homer. Lie explains.

It's easier to have an email ignored or rejected than to have someone say "no" to your face. Sales is the transfer of confidence, and the best way to do that is in-person. It sounds like your product is something people would have to see to fully appreciate. If the people in charge are approachable by phone, ask if they'd prefer to have you bring the product to them to evaluate or if they'd like to come to you.

If they don't bite at either, then offer to send them a brief one- or two-paragraph explanation of the product by email. They'll most likely agree. Keep your email brief, as promised, but use those one or two paragraphs to convince them to read the more detailed attachment — or provide a link to a web site with more details. Just make sure that EVERY step in the process is selling your prospects on the product. They don't want details, they want solutions and benefits. Also, remember, you happen to be talking to advertising professionals about advertising. Don't use industry words or phrases unless you're sure you're using them the same way they are. For example, "branding" is one of the most misused and least understood words in the industry.

A reader suggests calling first; and if administrative assistants answer for executives, be prepared:

Have a good chat with them and tell them about your company and the need to send information about your products to their boss. The assistants would either ask it to be sent directly to them so that they could forward it; otherwise, ask to send a fax to their boss, which can be a good breakthrough. And then you would be able to start sending mails.

Vikki Skelton, administrative assistant and marketing coordinator with DGS, says calling ahead to get permission could lead to discussing the product. This could develop the relationship on a personal basis as opposed to email. Skelton also mentions that how you gather the email can also make a difference:

If you have to leave a message, then simply state, depending on how you acquired the email, something like, "Hello Ms. Smith. This is Jack Jones with ABC Co. We got your information from an opt-in source, and I'm calling to set up a meeting with you to discuss a world-patented point-of-sale advertising system I feel could benefit your company. I know that doesn't tell you much, but I will send you an email soon to provide you additional information and then follow up with another call to set up a meeting at your convenience to answer any questions you may have. You may also contact me (provide info). Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope you have a successful day."

As for just sending out an email first, it depends where you got the emails from. If you obtained them from opt-in sources, many times an opt-in source gathers emails off the net and doesn't really get people's permission to use the email. Therefore, it is best to simply send an initial email explaining that you acquired their email from an opt-in source and would like to verify that it is okay to send them information regarding your product and/or a monthly newsletter. Also, include a way for them to opt-out at any time, which will be done immediately.

For emails gathered from trade shows, if prospects have given you their email, then they are expecting information to be sent. Send an introductory email introducing yourself and your product and remind them that they visited your booth at such and such event and that you will call them in a few days. During that phone call, ask if you can add them to your email list for a monthly email that they can opt-out of at anytime. Notate the permission given with the date in their record in your database.

For customers who purchase from you or people who call in, if they provide you an email, then you have the right to send them emails. Don't forget to record in your database under their record that they said it was okay. Send an intro email similar to the aforementioned ones, even though you have received their permission to put them on an email list. Again, have an opt-out option.

If you receive responses to ads, treat these leads the same as from trade shows, except reference the ad.

The gist is to do the right thing and, in most cases, call first. Also review where the email addresses came from. Once you get the email address in hand, make the most of it—that means don't overdo communications and do provide information of value to prospects rather than talking all about your company and its products. Think of an email or newsletter as an extended hand to building the relationship.

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Who shouldn't blog?

Many of the experts in blogging do a formidable job explaining why businesses should blog and how to go about it. But few talk about when you shouldn't blog. What situations or businesses would not be best for blogging?

—Bob, Business Manager

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Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.