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In social media age, business cards are obsolete

I’m in Las Vegas at The Venetian having coffee at Espressamente Illy, where they serve, arguably, the world’s best coffee. At the bar, I recognize someone obviously not from America. (Fashion reveals all.)

“Where are you from?” I asked. “Belgium,” he replied triumphantly and with pride. “I’ll buy your coffee,” I said, “as a welcome to America.

He said, “I’m also buying coffee for two of my friends.” I said, “Fine, put it on my bill!”

We began to exchange cultural information, and I discovered all three of them were in sales, like me. Their name badges revealed they are attendees of the same conference I am a featured speaker at tomorrow evening.

Now we had a link.

They wanted to know what I knew, and I wanted to know what they knew.

Marcel’s (one of the group) first question to me was one I have been asked a thousand times: “What’s the secret of selling against fierce competition?” My immediate answer was “Differentiate with value or die with price.”

He said, “I agree. I’m a value-provider.”

I said, “Hey, let’s tweet it,” and immediately we turned the conversation to social media. I asked them how many followers they had on Twitter. The first guy had none. The second guy had none. The third guy, Marcel, said, “Not too many,” and sheepishly smiled.

Turns out they want to use social media, but they just don’t know how to use it.

Note: I am amazed at how many savvy business people don’t take the “aha” or impactful information shared or exchanged in a business conversation and send it out to the world.

It’s your choice: You can tell three people, or 30,000 people, even 3 million people. The power of Twitter, when applied to business social media, allows you to broadcast your brilliance to your followers and all the followers of those who re-tweet you. From a casual conversation in a coffee bar. Yikes.

We spoke for an hour. We had lots to talk about. We were familiar with the American culture and the European culture and had their company in common. I gave them my business card, my business coin and two signed books and said, “May I have your business cards.” Each of them said, “I didn’t bring any,” and I thought to myself, that doesn’t work.

But my thinking was 1990, not 2011.

Reality: Pascal, the guy I bought the coffee for, said, “Just connect with me on LinkedIn.” Cool.

Reality: Business cards are not necessary to connect anymore, especially if they’re boring or have been created by some marketing department or both.

Right then we each took out our mobile devices and connected with one another on LinkedIn, not a business card, rather an online business connection, a permanent business card, a permanent connection. And with the exchange we each receive 100 times more information than what could ever fit on a business card.

Business social media lesson learned: When you link with people, like people, follow people, photo with people, “bump” with people and tweet what is said, all of a sudden the business card becomes relatively irrelevant.

Epilogue: Less than an hour later, 22 global re-tweets of “Differentiate with value or die with price.” And the re-tweets are still piling up.

Try this: Next time you attend a networking event, don’t bring any business cards. Force people to link with you, or follow you, if they want to connect with you. Realize that a business card only really represents simple exchange but that a LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook on-the-spot connection creates engagement, long-term engagement.

Think about the pile of business cards on your desk, of people that you’ve never really connected with and certainly have never provided value for. Then think about the number of people who you could be adding to your network, people who could really be enlightened by you and discover your depth, or lack of it.

The tide is turning against one of America’s institutions. It’s not a “movement” or a “protest.” Rather, it’s a technological evolution and one you and I need to be made aware of. Today.

Oh, cards will be here for some time, but I can already hear my 3-year-old granddaughter, Isabel, asking me in 15 years, “Pop Pop, what’s a business card?”

How are you connecting?

Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of “The Sales Bible” and “The Little Red Book of Selling.” President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs sales meetings and conducts Internet training on selling and customer service at www.trainone.com.

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