As part of our #EarthDayAtTech360, we checked out various technology and technology-enabled companies to highlight some incredible efforts that they have taken to show their commitment to sustainability and to protecting the environment. Earth Day started in 1970 and every year since, the world comes together to demonstrate support for environmental awareness and protection on April 22.

Edward Senju Sansan
Credit: Sansan

Today we speak with Edward Senju, the Regional CEO of Sansan, a company that’s looking to reinvent the traditional business card by taking it digital, and one major upside of their offering is, of course, reducing the amount of paper wasted by business cards.

The company even has an initiative, Scan For Trees, where it plants a tree every time a tree’s worth of paper business cards are scanned into Sansan and made digital. From the company’s start in June 2016 till now, April 2021, 8,511 trees have been planted under this initiative.

Q: How do Sansan and virtual business cards work?

At Sansan, our mission is “Turning encounters into innovation” by providing individuals and businesses with a market-leading contact management solution. We started with a focus on traditional paper business cards as the building block of our offering, whereby users scan physical business cards with our proprietary hardware and it syncs the contact data into the Sansan cloud platform accessible across organisations.

However, our direction was partially pivoted when COVID-19 struck last year and there was a sudden drop in the number of paper business cards being exchanged because of lockdowns. By June, we had developed and released with a paper-free business card solution that we call the Sansan Virtual Card.

Virtual business cards are really benefiting us and our customers by helping to successfully navigate through the pandemic-induced “new norm”. We have all moved to online meetings via platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype, so Virtual Cards can be exchanged either before, during or after meetings.

sansan 2
Credit: Sansan

All you have to do is create your Sansan Virtual Card and then use a URL or QR code to exchange it with a Sansan user or non-user. A simple exchange screen is then launched – it’s as easy as that. This is relevant to a range of scenarios including networking chats, sales meetings, online events and parties, vendors calls and meeting new colleagues.

Moreover, virtual cards tie in nicely with another focus that is top of mind for many of our customers: embracing ESG strategies. We are pleased to be able to support companies with their digital transformation agendas, while also improving their green credentials by shifting from paper to digital business cards.

Q: What are the advantages of virtual business cards over physical ones? 

We see a lot of advantages to the Sansan Virtual Card.

In addition to being greener, as already mentioned, they offer all the rich, accurate, first-party data of paper business cards. They are easy to exchange with colleagues and business partners and help to facilitate more productive online meetings. 

For example, we offer integration of our virtual cards into collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, as well as the ability to set your virtual card QR code as your part of your Zoom background when speaking in business meetings or directly addressing an audience at a virtual event. In addition, once a contact is saved within Sansan’s database, it can then be integrated with Salesforce.

Virtual cards serve as a classy addition to a company’s broader digital transformation strategy – and you can use them as a contactless alternative to paper business cards or when you don’t have a card on hand.

Q: Can the data be automatically turned into a new contact in the recipient’s phone/address book? Are there any limitations to virtual business cards?

Credit: Sansan

People who receive virtual cards can save the data in their phone directly, leveraging the vCard format which is the common format for contact data, as well as being able to immediately launch a WhatsApp chat with just a tap.

One could argue that a limitation of virtual cards is that you don’t have a paper copy of the card. However, for most people in today’s digital era, this is not as big of a problem as it might have been 20 years ago in the Rolodex era.

Q: With more and more people meeting for the first time digitally, will virtual business cards be the norm moving forward?

It’s hard to predict whether virtual/digital business cards will become the new “norm”, as paper businesses cards do have a long tradition and staying power as part of Asian business culture. That said, we have seen a big spike in awareness of and demand for our virtual cards among companies in Asia and around the world since the pandemic.

Since we launched our virtual cards product in June of last year, we’ve seen over 4,300 businesses adopting them (a number which continues to grow each quarter). Not only do they appreciate the ESG credentials of digital versus paper-based business cards, but they also love how easy it is to exchange these virtual cards during online meetings.

At the end of last year, we integrated our virtual cards into the Microsoft Teams platform and have also made it easy for users to set them as their virtual backgrounds in Zoom. We’re just about to roll out our virtual card integration with Google Calendar, too.

Q: E-business cards aren’t new; how is Sansan differentiating itself from competition like LinkedIn or even Facebook?

I’m glad you asked, because there is an important distinction to be made between the Sansan Virtual Card and something like a LinkedIn or Facebook connection.

A LinkedIn exchange may give you a good overview of a profile of the other person (such as their education and work history) but it doesn’t usually include detailed data like email, phone, office address and other details.

As for WhatsApp and other social networks like Facebook, all you get is what the other person provides and what the service allows (no real business info as you would glean from a proper business card). Business cards are powerful sources of first-party data, in that you acquire it directly and it generally implies consent to do business with the person (i.e., marketing, sales, etc.). 

This is extremely valuable to companies and is different from second-party data, which is shared with partners and so is not only yours. Third-party data, like lead lists, may be sold widely and may even be outdated, not to mention some of the grey privacy issues this can create. 

One Google study found that 92% of leading marketers stressed the importance of first-party data in learning what people want. As you can see, the first-party data that Sansan Virtual Cards provide is incredibly valuable to a business and can impact the bottom line.

To conclude: LinkedIn and Facebook (as well as messaging platforms) are no substitute for business cards.