Volume XI, Number 3                                                                                                                    July, 2004


A quarterly newsletter for clients and friends of Chenault Systems

Copyright 2004 Chenault Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.


"Sending An Email? Phone First"

By Barry J. Moltz

Last year, I wrote a column that many people told me they enjoyed headlined “This is Barry Moltz Returning Your Phone Call”.  It ranted about why many people who we already know in business don’t routinely return calls or e-mails.  For a month after I wrote this column, I received more returned phone calls than any time since I worked for IBM.

This experience made me think of how many times I receive e-mails in business on subjects where people should actually be calling me instead of sending me an e-mail.  This may range from sensitive personnel issues to financial matters.  When this happens to me, I pick up the phone and call the person to clarify and further discuss these issues instead of hitting the reply button on my computer.

It is infinitely more productive and brings about a quicker resolution to dealing with any issue head on instead of endlessly guessing what the person “meant” in e-mail.  No matter how well we write or use emotions, words alone still are unable to identify the full range of our meaning when we send a typed message to another person.

E-mail is a “productivity tool” that has made us lazy once again.  We depend far too heavily on it for things it was never meant to do. Instead of dealing directly with a person on the issue, our lack of courage, energy or time makes us use e-mail to shield ourselves from talking with them or encountering anything uncomfortable.

I have seen people e-mail a colleague who is in the cubicle next to them instead of getting up from their desk and talking to that person.  I have been copied on long arguments through e-mail where absolutely nothing gets accomplished.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are definite times and places for e-mail.  It is effective for arranging future meetings, keeping clients informed through newsletters and documenting certain situations. It does eliminate the telephone tag game.  In business, though, nothing can replace picking up the phone and calling the person you need to get your message to or setting up a specific time for a telephone conference call.

Video conferencing has never replaced us getting on airplanes for meeting people in person.  It never will because there is still something about talking to people in person and not on the phone.  E-mail versus phone calls is similar.  So when do you call and when do you e-mail a person in business?

Mollie Cole, senior consultant at Schindler Communications, tells me that the choice on what form of communication to use is very much like the choice between boxers and briefs.  She recommends that the businessperson first think about what their goal is and how serious they are about achieving it.

Todd Smart of BeTuitive reinforces this question.  He said: “If you choose e-mail because your recipient doesn’t know how to have a conversation under 15 minutes and your e-mail will take two minutes, that’s appropriate,” he said. “If you are choosing e-mail because you are avoiding confrontation, you should be calling or speaking in person.”

Smart tells his clients that e-mail is a great way to disseminate information.  He added: “We use it for client newsletters with great results.”

Cole examines the choice in a business development context. She said: “E-mail is often a very passive form of communication and it does not put the sender at any particular advantage over the competitors. While well crafted, your e-mail is no different than the 20 or 30 e-mails your contact might receive over a 24-hour period.”

Cole suggests that you always “phone first” even if it is a follow up from a previous meeting.  She believes that phone call gives you the opportunity to evaluate your business prospect or customer so the next communication is appropriate with more impact.  She says the combination of e-mail and phone calls reinforce each other and form the best opportunity for the relationship to grow.

In the end, balance e-mail and phone calls.  Remember that your clients will also have a preferred form of communication.  If you need to talk to someone now on an important issue, why not pick up the phone and call? They are probably just sitting at their desk right now sending e-mail.

Barry J. Moltz has been running small businesses with a great deal of success and failure for 15 years.  He co-founded Prairie Angels (, which invests in local seed stage companies.  Barry also is on the Advisory Board of the Angel Capital Association, which is the national professional alliance of angel groups.  His book, “You Need to Be A Little Crazy: The Truth about Starting and Growing Your Business” describes the crazy ups and downs and emotional trials of running a business.  The book invites readers to fully experience the personal journey and to let go of myths and expectations that can hamstring them.  He can be found

Plain English

During client meetings and speaking engagements, we are often asked to translate technical sentences and phrases into plain English.  There are many words and phrases, such as “paradigm shift”, “best-of-breed”, “traction”, and “seamless” that are overused and therefore become tiresome and meaningless.  Writers and speakers in our industry could be more creative with vocabulary and use plain English.  The following excerpts, along with our translation, came from various information technology firm web sites:

Technical jargon:

Commerce Server 2002 is the comprehensive .NET Enterprise Server for rapidly building highly scalable and reliable global online business solutions, with granularity, that will optimize customer and partner interaction.

Business translation:

Build systems so your customers can order your products over the Internet, which will increase your sales and save labor costs.

Technical jargon:

As services-oriented development of applications emerges, pressures will merge to fundamentally reshape application development (AD) and how to deliver software functionality.  AD tool vendors will face a true paradigm shift; legacy application portfolios will be radically reshuffled; entirely new roles and procedures will emerge around requirements, reuse and quality; and business modeling and rules engines will gain prominence.

Business translation:

Using the latest software development tools, build systems based on what you already have.

Technical jargon:

The foundation for effective operations is a robust enterprise resource planning application that can provide a truly integrated, end-to-end (supplier-to-customer) e-business applications architecture.  With this in mind, we have partnered with XYZ Software as our preferred ERP provider.

Business translation:

We represent the XYZ Software product and, to increase sales, we will try to use it to fit every possibility we can think of.



Technical jargon:

Successful e-businesses of the future will be those who treat e-business as the collection of processes, which allow multiple companies to work cooperatively and collaboratively to produce a seemingly seamless integration of businesses operating as a virtually vertical enterprise.

Business translation:

If people use the Internet to connect each other and enter transactions, they will save time and money from not re-keying the same data over and over again.

Achieving Competitive Advantage

One of our main purposes in business is to give our clients a competitive advantage through software development.  In other words, with applications such as e-commerce, customer relationship management, and integrated supply chain systems, the better the fit, the more competitive the company becomes.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendors, such as SAP, Oracle, and PeopleSoft, provide an off-the-shelf answer for standard accounting, payroll, and manufacturing.  A typical ERP system can give you an 80% solution.  You must still implement the remaining 20% to fit your enterprise needs.  In the end, you can pay more for customizing this last 20% than for the entire ERP application.  In addition, if every company uses the same standard ERP product, how can they strike a point-of-difference and achieve competitive advantage?

The big consulting houses, with their “strategic alliances” with ERP vendors, do very well helping companies customize their ERP software.  However, is this in the best interest of the client?  Is the large consulting firm really objective?  True consultants are not aligned with any software vendor.

As far we are concerned, with systems such as e-commerce, you need a fresh look with objectivity.  Web-based electronic business requires a strong corporate identity you will not obtain from an off-the-shelf package.  To compete effectively, you must create custom-built systems using the best development tools and experienced people.  This is what we have learned from our clients.

Quotes Worth Noting

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” -- Leo Tolstoy

“Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:  If it moves, tax it.  If it keeps moving, regulate it.  And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” -- Ronald Reagan

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English - it is the modern way and the best way.” – Mark Twain, A letter to D. W. Bowser.