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“Sell” is a 4 letter word . . .

August 31, 2011

I’ve done my own unofficial and totally unscientific survey and have become “firmly convinced” that if you are selling you are failing. This is a recurring theme and with the downturn in confidence in the retail economy, it seems as though this will not go away any time soon. Yet, people keep “pushing information” onto customers (that means advertising, selling, trying to convince). They are frantically trying to do more of what they used to do, back in the long gone, never to return economy. That dog don’t hunt!

Sell is a four letter word.Here’s a disclaimer: I get that what follows is a bit of a rant, pretty much like spitting into the wind. Still, I’m going to say it anyway and get it off my chest because I’m frustrated. What got me started on this (again) is that lately, within the last month or so, I’m seeing more junk in my inbox than ever before. That highly technical term “junk” is defined as unsolicited advertisement. I attribute this new surge to two separate, yet related causes. First is the sad, unethical move by LinkedIn. By now you know that they pulled the ultimate Facebook, clueless and stupid move of sharing our profile information with third party companies (read that advertisers) and did not warn us ahead of time in clear easy to understand ways that they were going to do so. Consequently, that information was shared before the alarm went out and we had the opportunity to go in and opt out of the program. I no longer trust LinkedIn, they have become evil by not being sensitive to their customers/clients. What makes me even angrier about this betrayal is that I pay for an upgraded account at LinkedIn. They get money out of me already AND they violated my privacy.

What makes this similar to the clueless folks who then took advantage of that situation and started “pushing” their stuff into my inbox is that both they and LinkedIn are desperate. LinkedIn because they are now public, have to kowtow to the quarterly earnings god and so need to make sure they swell the ranks of the advertisers. The advertisers are also desperate because the economy is showing distinct signs of slowing down again, consumers are still keeping their wallets shut and companies continue to sit on trillions of dollars and are not spending much at all. Between them, they may have (personally I believe they have – might be wishful thinking though) shot themselves in the foot on this. The model has definitely changed – consumers pull information and do not pay attention to, appreciate or trust information pushed on them. Push advertising annoys them.

My unofficial survey of the business owners, executives, service providers and other consumers in my network shows that targeted advertising that is presented in venues they frequent is quite acceptable. That is, they are willing to trade off sharing information that allows providers to display advertisements to keep the free services and sites they use free. However, they do not appreciate the concept that the information about them is public and anyone who wants to can harvest it and sell it. [update 4/13/2015 – think Radio Shack selling their database.] They believe it’s their information and they should control how it is shared. Many opt to NOT get involved with social media because of that. However, many (maybe even “most”) have put their information on LinkedIn because it was a “professional” web site. That makes the LinkedIn decision to be sneaky and evil that much more disconcerting to them. Disappointment is the only polite emotion expressed, the rest were a lot stronger.

So what can we do about all this? Probably not much. Still, I’ve started the process of closing down my Facebook account in favor of Google+ because at least for now, Google seems to have figured out the “sharing” thing. [update 4/13/2015: Sigh, I didn’t close it down because it’s where I can stay in touch with my kids who still use it – a lot!] They achieve a good balance of showing me targeted ads while, as far as I can tell, not giving my contact information to advertisers. I haven’t seen any signs of that happening yet. And like the others, I’m fine with seeing targeted ads on all my free Google stuff – GMail, Reader, Docs, Voice, Chrome, etc. I want to keep things free so I’m willing to see those “pull ads.” We can go as far as some of my colleagues by refusing to put any information on the internet – some are down right paranoid. That doesn’t work for me, it seems to work for them.

Another thing I do, although it takes some time, is that I put any advertiser with whom I have no account and who sends me an unsolicited e-mail on a black list on my server so that nothing else gets through from that account and/or IP address. I also report them to the national blacklist services. I tend not to do this with newsletters that follow the rules on opt-in. I simply unsubscribe from any that use PHP List, Constant Contact or one of the main newsletter services. I do that because done correctly, newsletters are providing useful information, not pushy selling. I actually stay on some of the ones that show up because the authors “get” that they need to be providing useful information, not selling or advertising. If the newsletter has a “call to action” (buy my stuff) I immediately unsubscribe. It’s getting easier and faster to blacklist accounts and IPs so I am doing a lot more of that. I hope you will also take the time to learn how to blacklist advertisers and to actually do so. In the long run, you’ll be helping them to learn how to change their business model to one more appropriate to the new world – pull information.

Some suggestions for marketers and advertisers. Stop it already. You are killing yourself. Put your effort into being sure that when I want your product or service I can easily find you. Make sure you have useful information that informs me rather than tries to sell me. Be truthful about what you say. Cut the hype and stop the e-mail blasts. Don’t try and find me and sell me. I’m not buying. If you try and sell me, especially through push techniques, I will do everything I can to make sure I never knowingly do business with you. I’m also one of those people who send any prepaid envelopes included in unsolicited mail back to the sender with their own junk in it.

Things have gotten bad enough and desperate enough that I now get sniveling pleas to buy from some clueless folks using a form on my website (soon to be removed) meant for sending me information IF you want to have me contact you or set up a meeting. The same is happening on my blog were idiots from the fake drug and porn purveyors actually take the time to go through the “Captcha” in order to leave their links and elevator pitch in a comment – which of course is never approved so it’s a monumental waste of time for them.

To my way of thinking, there is an even bigger concern than the frustration of a good thing (e-mail, blogs, websites) being ruined by those who, as always, spoil things. The legitimate businesses behind these activities are demonstrating that they have yet to figure out that things have permanently changed and that their old tactics, business models, products and services must also change if they are to survive. What are you doing to change the way you serve your customers? Are you still pushing stuff on them? Are you still paying for print advertising? Are you still training your sales people to sell instead of building relationships? For a shrinking minority of products and services that are truly commodity and simple, some of the old tactics may still work. But even there, I don’t need you or your telemarketer trying to push me to buy. I’ll just go to Amazon and get what I need. So, you’d better be there and you’d better be very visible. Your website had better give me valid information if I need to do some research and you’d better show up in my Google search otherwise, you lose. For a growing number of folks, “sell” has become a four letter word.