How NOT to Get My Business

11 Jul

Last week, I tweeted about having bought a jewelry tree upon which to hang my various and sundry necklaces.  I have a lot of them that I’ve collected over the years — some are gifts, others I bought because they were pretty.  My comment, after detangling them all and arranging them on the new tree was

“Bought a jewelry tree to organize some of my necklaces. Realizing I should’ve bought a whole damned forest.”

I suppose that can be read as a lament, even though it wasn’t one.

Some time later, I checked my @mentions and found a note from a semi-local home de-cluttering company who must have done a search for “organize.”  They had this to say:

ah! You discovered why buying the organizing tool isn’t the first step. Sort & weed first, then you know how many you have/want.

Now, I get that whoever’s behind the keyboard for them was likely trying to be helpful.  And, as I said, my tweet can indeed sound like I’d gotten in over my head.  However, not only had I not asked for advice, the tone of that tweet sounds awfully condescending to me.  It assumed (wrongly) that I was in over my head, and (again, wrongly), that they were teaching me a valuable lesson about how to organize.

It reminded me of a piece of junk mail we received a few months ago, from one of those debt-consolidation companies, or perhaps it was an unsolicited offer for a loan that offers you a ridculous amout of money at an even more ridiculous interest rate.  Whichever it was, the letter painted a scenario for us that went something like:  “We know how hard it is in this economy.  You dread the mailman’s arrival because every bill says PAST DUE.  When your phone rings, it’s not friends or family but collections agents.  Your whole life sucks, and you made terrible financial choices because you’re sort of dumb, but never fear!  WE CAN HELP.  WE’RE TOTALLY TRUSTWORTHY.”

I’m not exaggerating by overly much.  As I read the letter, I felt my blood start boiling.  I know people who are having a rough time staying afloat.  Growing up, the bill collectors had my parents on speed-dial.  This solicitation was designed to make people in a shitty situation feel even shittier, and preyed on those emotions.

Why would I ever want to do business with a company that starts out by condescending to me?

While the organizing people didn’t pitch a product or service to me, it was a failed outreach.  The loan company probably sent that same letter to ten thousand households, so it wasn’t an attempt at person-to-person contact like the organizing tweet was.  Yet their blunders stemmed from the same two places:

1.  They assumed something about me from little-to-no interaction.  Ask questions first.   I had already sifted through my necklaces.  The loan people very likely pulled our names from a credit report or some other mailing list and extrapolated from the numbers.
2.  Their advice/offer of help came across as condescending.  Presuming you know more than a customer about a subject is risky.  If you’re trying toplay the role of wise old mentor, you should probably be sure the person wants to be a student in the first place.

One thing I’ve learned, both in my day job as a sales rep and as a consumer:  conversations are far more rewarding than pitches and pressure.  When I feel a salesperson pushing me to buy this or that, I close down.  Chances are I’ll leave without making a purchase.  When I’m the one doing the selling, I ask questions.  I listen to what the buyer is telling me.  Are they looking for more books for boys?  I can point them to a few.  Are they cutting back on their ordering?  I’m not going to guilt them into taking a floor display they don’t need.

It comes down to communication.  (And, really, doesn’t everything?)  If you interact with your customers and treat them like human beings — intelligent and deserving of respect, not just a step towards reaching your quota — you’re doing it right.

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One Response to “How NOT to Get My Business”

  1. Caulle July 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Don’t forget to order a Dialing Wand to go with that new Organizing Tool you have clearly just purchased.

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