Tired of playing phone tag with your vendors? Fed up with faxing your lawyer? Craig Aberle, president of MicroBiz, a software developer in Mahwah, N.J., was. He issued an electronic-mail ultimatum last March to the nearly 1,000 people he does business with: Get E-mail, or get lost.

About 95% of MicroBiz's $5 million in sales come through resellers across the country. Aberle sent each a letter, saying, "We require all dealers to get on E-mail, or we won't give you any leads." He threatened to stop doing business with those who refused to comply, figuring that "if only 50% of them agree to go on E-mail, those are the 50% that are going to be in business next year."

At first there were grumblings, but within a few months all were on-line, either using E-mail software with an Internet link or going through on-line services such as CompuServe and America Online. Since the mandate, MicroBiz's monthly phone bill has dropped from $35,000 to $16,000 because employees now E-mail the resellers instead of calling them with leads. And the dealers have begun E-mailing one another with ideas and referrals.

More surprising than the resellers' compliance is the reaction Aberle has gotten from his less-dependent business partners. In August he sent a similar ultimatum to everyone from his lawyer to his printers. (His banker, Citibank, was already wired.) "I was surprised when I saw the letter," says one of MicroBiz's printers, Bob Modelski of Ridgewood Press, but, he adds, "the more I read trade magazines, the more I see people using Internet addresses." The MicroBiz directive was the push the printer needed to call a local Internet provider. Since Modelski got Internet E-mail, in September, he has used it with 5% of his steady customers, and he expects that percentage to increase.

-- Sarah Schafer

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