SharePoint Vendors – You’re Spamming Me!

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.

– Christian Buckley

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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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

9 thoughts on “SharePoint Vendors – You’re Spamming Me!”

  1. Bjorn, your use of my quote above is out of context. I was talking about people who complain about sponsors marketing to them at all, and was not specifically about email. One thing I think we can agree on is that there are many more bad marketers out there than there are good marketers. I find it interesting that you are fixated on a single point — getting your permission to email you — when nobody is disagreeing with you (well, except those lazy marketers).

    The problem is in how you define “permission” versus how I define it. Part of the idea of opt-in/opt-out is that its not just a one-time thing — you need to have opt-out with every message you send, allowing for further refining of your distribution list. And another part is to pair your list with data from other sources: downloads of whitepapers, registrations for events and webinars, sign-ups for raffles at my booth. Marketers spend a lot of money on extending their customer data, purchasing demographic and psychographic data that helps them to better identify the purchasing habits and potential interest of their prospective customers. The more mature marketing systems out there go way beyond the typical CRM platform in tracking marketing campaigns, with algorithms that predict messaging overload and prospect fatigue.

    “Permission” is a moving target. Someone gave me permission, through their opt-in at the latest event, to drop them an email to tell them more about what my company does. The first thing my company does is to screen the list for names already in our system, including those who have stated DNC (do not contact). We don’t email those folks. For those who are in our system already and who have not opted out will receive one message — those who are net-new to our system will receive a different (introductory) message. At any point, if one of those people asks us to stop emailing them, we do. That’s the way it is supposed to work, and after time, we learn more about them, see them at other events, and possibly sell something to them. That’s how it is supposed to work in permission marketing.

    Knowing all of this, I’ll once again state that there are incredibly lazy (and mostly junior) marketing people out there doing none of this additional footwork to refine their marketing leads. They don’t watch the sales pipeline to understand which messaging, and at what frequency, has the greatest impact on their sales. That’s unfortunate. These people deserve your ire.

    But back to your original complaint — the fact that sponsors receive an opt-in list: I think your protests are much ado about nothing. But it makes good prose, right?

    1. Christian,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. I took your quote out of context because my article isn’t a response to you, it is general advice to vendors. Your role in this was simply to inspire the thought that lead to this post. As such, agreement with your original premise or mine isn’t required or even relevant; it’s a different discussion.

      To continue with your comment, though, you’re quite right in that many vendors utilize good, strategic email marketing. I frequently read, with great interest, emails from some companies because they have grown on me rather than forced themselves on me. I feel I can respond to them, and I have, and they will listen. With my own mailing list for USP Journal, I always try to respond in person if someone asks about something or sends a comment (with a few exceptions when there have been overwhelming amounts of feedback). If they unsubscribe, I thank them for any feedback and for signing up in the first place. Granted, I don’t have more than around 3,500 readers on that list, but even as busy as I usually am, I can easily manage the amount of interaction they and I need.

      However, as I briefly mentioned in a follow-up comment on your post, ‘the other’ vendors are wasting valuable opporunities from lack of knowledge. In this article, I try to point out better ways; not to protest but to tell them they should behave differently if they want improved results. Perhaps there aren’t enough practical steps and more of a behavioural text, but it’s still meant to be constructive 🙂

      There’s no ire here, or wrath, or anger, at least not by my standards.


    2. For the most part, I agree with Bjørn on this one. Axceler may be an exception, as there’s plenty of bad behavior out there.

      I try assiduously not to opt in – mainly because if I want to know about a vendor’s products I can ask the people I know there – yet I get the “thanks for stopping by our booth” emails every single time. In most cases, I haven’t stopped by the booth, requested anything, opted in intentionally, etc.

      Unlike Bjørn, I immediately unsubscribe, yet the cycle starts all over again with the next event. I have my mental list of the vendors that do this, and to be honest, they tend to fall to the bottom of the list of vendors I recommend to my clients. If they annoy me, they will annoy my clients, plus I consider it an indication of how they view their customers – potential or otherwise.

      As for the conferences that have the auto opt-in attitude, they aren’t doing the vendors any favors, either. By giving the vendors the contact info of people who don’t want info, they set the vendor up to annoy the attendee with the “thanks for requesting our information” emails.

      I’m fully aware that we’re all in this to make money and that someone has to pay the bills. Marketing poorly to people who don’t want it isn’t a winning strategy for anyone.


      1. Marc,

        Unsubscribe is an option and I do that at times, but sadly, at that point, it may already be too late. In Gmail, I often get a ‘Attempt to unsubscribe and report spam’ but I’ve sadly at least once, probably more, seen that this just tells the spammer that your address is active and suddenly you get emails from related but different vendors.

        The reason I know this is that I use one-purpose email addresses, a feature of Gmail where you can add +anything after your regular address (like that will still end up in your regular inbox. This allows me to immediately see where an address originates and I can also block these one-purpose addresses easily if they become abused, as at least one have.

        This is only a factor for vendors that do not adhere to US (or other civilized countries) laws, though. With a global audience, that’s becoming increasingly irrelevant.

        In any case, the point here is to advice vendors that regardless of their interpretation of the legalities or what they’ve briefly read about marketing, that they are rapidly alienating people with their behavior.

        I’m going to Copenhagen for the European SP Conference. I’m contemplating whether to bring a hardcopy of this article and simply give it out to the vendors there. If nothing else, it may get some of them to think a bit before they contact me.


  2. Bjørn, full disclosure first – I’m a fan of yours and enjoy (often silently agreeing) with your perspectives on the many subjects you’ve covered over the years.

    I get your point about permission based marketing, and (unsurprisingly) I agree in general with your position on spam.

    On the flip side, given that many organisations employ rather one-dimensional “shotgun” style approaches (as opposed to the structured model outlined by Christian) to e-marketing, and that this is unlikely to change in the near future, surely it is better for the community to take a little pain in the form of naïve and fumbling approaches from vendors than to have the vendors pull out of event sponsorship thus crumbling the model of “free to attend” events?

    Distilled down into its constituent parts your post essentially states “we should have our cake and eat it” which although ideal is neither likely or practical.

    This may be another discussion entirely, but as lawyers are fond of saying “somebody has to pay”…

  3. Pingback: SharePoint Vendors: You're Spamming Me! | Mastering Sharepoint
  4. All valid points and a good spirited exchange. I live the same life as Marc when it comes to emails at events I “speak” at, when I attend events, and know this goes on, I give the ‘standard fake email’ that I only use for conferences. If I expect something from a vendor, I check it, otherwise it has a rule to dump its content in 30 days.

  5. Vendors are all trying to solve the same problem: How do we find people who *are* interested in our products? We know there are people out there who would really appreciate them, but we don’t know how to find those people. Some of them may not be actively looking for a solution; just silently cursing SharePoint’s shortcomings.

    It’s like standing in a crowd of people at a concert trying to find out if your friends are there. Some (obnoxious) people would be tempted to shout “Hey! Stuart’s friends? Are you here?”. To which most of the replies will be “Shut up!” or similar. You could organise them to text you when they arrive, but what if you don’t know who’s coming? What if they don’t even know you’re there?

    I know it’s a facetious analogy, but hopefully it illustrates the problem from the other side.

  6. I’m bombarded daily by Sharepoint vendor spam….despite never using Sharepoint nor attending any event. Seems Microsoft, or some other information sleeze, has decided to to sell/give my email away just because “technology” is part of our domain name.

    In my book these Sharepoint vendor spams are little different than the porn and lottery winner spams. It would be as stupid to respond to the Sharepoint spam as the others.

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