Christian Buckley (@buckleyplanet) posted an article with advice for SharePoint Saturday event organizers on how to adjust their marketing mix to make events more feasible.
The advice in the article is great, but I was a bit thrown back by one comment he made regarding what sponsors should expect.
The gist of Christian’s advice is that sponsors at least expect to get a list with names and addresses of opt-in participants. If that was the end of it, then fine, but of course, that would make this a very boring blog article, so let me quickly quote directly from Christian’s advice.
I’m amused when I hear someone complain about getting emails from sponsors following an event, or of being “harassed” by sponsors as they try to move between sessions at an event. Some call sponsors a “necessary evil.” That’s a screwed up perspective, if you ask me. The sponsors are what make these events possible. As much as the organizers like to think of themselves as the catalyst, sponsor funds make it all happen.
Even with the opt-in clause, this doesn’t resonate with me at all. You see, sending email to someone with content they haven’t requested is at best a shot in the dark, from the hip, at a very long distance, and at a small and fast moving target.
Simply put, it doesn’t work.
Welcome to My Spam Folder
Gmail has a wonderful anti-spam technology. I have absolutely no idea what happens behind the scenes, but I know a couple of things about what’s happening on my end.
Over the years, I’ve marked marketing messages I haven’t requested as spam. For example, if I’m forced to register to get a quote on behalf of a client and I later get messaging about how great the vendor’s product is, then all you will hear from me is the sound of the inside of my spam folder.
Over the years, I’ve also noticed that more and more messages from SharePoint vendors automatically end up in that same spam folder. I briefly see their names and carefully crafted email subjects before I click the “Delete all spam messages” link, and they’re gone forever.
This hurts the vendors more than me, and does so in two ways.
First, like I’ve commented on Christian’s blog article, the vendor has forever lost an opportunity to communicate with me. Their messaging may be the greatest news since the dawn of man, the cure for cancer, or a ticket to free sex and beer forever, but I won’t see it and I’m fine with that (I don’t really drink that much and I’m married so I don’t have sex in any case).
Second, you are giving out a very wrong message when you contact me about things in which I have no interest. You’re nagging me to get my attention. If I don’t respond (or even if I do) you nag more. Why would you treat me any different if I buy from you? You demonstrate that you’re unwilling to respect my time as a potential client, so why would you respect me as a client? I have on at least two occasions refrained from recommending two particular vendors to clients because their constant nagging really annoys me and I don’t trust that they will leave my clients in peace if I were to recommend them.
Why do I not simply unsubscribe? Well, I do, but that’s not the point here. I want to tell you, as a SharePoint vendor, that you’re at best not getting nowhere near your money’s worth and at worst, lose your ability to communicate with your potential clients and even worse, lose money on sure-fire recommendations. There are far better and more efficient ways to get new clients, and I’ll tell you how later in this article.
I work with a lot of clients and talk to a lot of SharePoint professionals. I recommend products all the time. No later than yesterday I explicitly recommended a particular company building an Outlook plugin to a consultant, and I’m fairly certain that client will make a purchase. You know what’s weird? I’ve explicitly asked them to contact me on at least two occasions, and I’ve never seen their names in my ‘about to be deleted’ list. In fact, I’ve never seen their names in my regular inbox either, except regarding the information that I requested.
It’s Still Spam!
The opt-in clause for email contact is important for several reasons. First, the legality is a factor, at least in many countries. You need to get someone’s permission to contact them through email with a marketing message. The US has CAN-SPAM and similar laws exist throughout many civilized countries.
You can certainly argue the technicalities of whether something is ‘spam’ as defined by any particular legal system, but if it is unwanted, uninteresting, and intrusive, it will still be perceived as annoying spam. That reflects on you, as the vendor.
The other factor, though, is what Seth Godin calls Permission Marketing, but sadly, it seems that only the title and maybe a brief abstract of Seth’s work have made it past the earwax of many SharePoint vendors.
You see, getting my email and ‘permission’ is not a carte blanche for talking to me all the time. When you say something to me, you’re taking up my time, interrupting me in whatever I was already doing. That means that it should be worth something to me too in order for me to be interested in reading your next message or the message after that.
When an event, for example, has a checkbox (and far too often checked by default) to get information from vendors, you have no idea what I want. I also have no idea what to expect, except ‘information’. What normally happens is that your address is added to an ‘opt-in’ list and sent the exact same message as anyone else received from any other source of email harvest.
I’ve been to some events where for whatever reason I get added to these ‘opt-in’ lists, and vendors I’ve never even met send me messages afterwards saying how great it was that I stopped by their booth, and by the way, here’s some information about our products.
Then there’s the infamous ‘put your business card in this bowl for a chance in a raffle‘ scheme. Why would you want my business card? You can get 250 of them for free over at Vista Print. What you want is my email address so that you can start sending me information I have not requested.
What a complete waste of your resources and my time! How is that possibly going to interest you in what you have to say, when you’re not just harvesting my email with no information about what I can expect, but you continue to send me at best badly targeted messages, and then churn me into a grey mush of people to which you feel permitted to say what you want at any time?
What if you were honest about your intent? “Give me your email address so I can send you information you have not requested, and you get a chance to win a 50 cent per copy piece of dead tree product” Do you think you’d get many takers? Maybe, but I’m fairly certain you’d get only those who want the book for free, not your information. You shouldn’t care for those people, you should care for those that want your information, at yelling at everyone in the hopes that someone listens, well, it doesn’t work anymore.
Ask Me Before You Abuse Me!
Permission marketing may not be the end to all marketing problems, but it does state a few interesting ideas.
First, you, as a vendor, need to get permission from people before you take the next step in your messaging. I’m not talking about a checkbox where you can be multi-added to a bunch of vendors during an event sign-up, I’m talking about how you need to ask me whether you can send me more information. If I don’t explicitly give you that information, you do not assume you have that permission.
Second, you can never abuse one permission to get another permission. For example, if I’ve requested a quote for your product, you have my permission to give me that quote. You have permission to follow up that quote until I either purchase or tell you that I won’t. However, you do not have permission to email me product information, great offers, new releases, or anything like that. Possibly, but even this is stretching it a bit, you have my permission to ask follow-up questions about why I chose or didn’t choose your quote.
This way, your marketing becomes a conversation with me rather than you saying what you want to say to a bunch of people who most likely aren’t listening. This way, I get something of value from our conversation.
Don’t get me wrong; you always have my permission to ask me for my permission. Ask me “Bjørn, although you didn’t go for our quote, may we send you an occasional newsletter containing information about our products?” or “Bjørn, sorry you didn’t bite this time, but may we send you product information when we’re releasing new version of said product?”. Perhaps even “Hi Bjørn, thanks for attending the SuperDuper SharePoint Event. We got your email as part of a sponsor deal, but want to make sure it’s OK with you to contact you further. Are you OK with us sending you a couple of product links and a video describing our products?”
By all means, have a huge Yes button available, but respect it if I don’t click it. And if I do click it, make damn sure you send me what you said you would send me, no more, no less.
Promises and Expectations
Think about it. If you buy a product for $10 and you get something completely different than what you expected, would you be likely to want to keep doing business with that vendor? How about if you purchased something for $10 and got exactly what you wanted? I know that at least I’d be much more likely to both recommend and continue business relations with the latter company, the one that gives me what I expect and you promise.
Now, what changes if the prices goes down to $1? Am I more happy to get something that doesn’t do what it says on the tin?
What if the price is zero? Why would I be more happy with getting something other than what you’ve promised or I requested, if the price is below a certain point or even free?
You’re not getting happy customers, you’re getting people who feel they’re not getting what they want or worse, something other than what they expected and you promised.
Think about it once more and keep doing that until you realize I’m right, as always.
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