Prove you are bigger than being big

I’m launching a new effort, and as such, I need a Twitter account, a PayPal account, a web hosting account, a this account, a that account. And so on.

It’s no secret that I like small business. Big corporations who treat people like commodity annoy me as a matter of course. It’s not that all big corporations do this, but a vast majority have yet to figure out that when I sign up for an account with them, that’s the big sale they just made.

It’s not what they sell me after I sign up that counts. It’s that first sale, the one where I say to them, “I want your service, and the product you sell.”

That’s their moment of opportunity. What they do from there, how they behave, determines whether or not I spend money with them. If I say I prefer a hands off approach, that is me giving them a manual to making an effortless sale.

What I do not want under any circumstance — and big corporations really don’t get this (not PayPal, not Twitter, not even my beloved Amazon) — is their marketing thrown at me like great dane doo, as if I am standing against a wall waiting for a stray micro-pile to accidentally inspire the buy impulse in me. Not going to happen. Ever.

I’m talking about the auto-subscribe to email lists, and the barrage of sales emails that follow. I’m talking about the direct mail list they added me to without asking. I’m talking about the phone call list I am apparently on even after I told the rep on the very first call, “Don’t call us if you want our work. We will call you.”

This bad marketing behavior is not exclusive to large corporations either. Small business owners who try to emulate big companies do it too. Size doesn’t matter in this practice. It is universally bad marketing behavior. Here’s why:

Imagine you’re at the checkout counter at your grocery store. You’ve just purchased a cart full of groceries, when suddenly a checker jumps in front of your path, blocking you, waving her arms and hands maniacally like a person trying to trip out someone high on hallucinogens, and says, “Thank you for purchasing groceries, and could I interest you in more groceries right this very moment?”

Not one person would answer yes at that moment. Not one.

Then as you’re leaving the store she does it again with the hands and arms in my face, and the next day, she appears at your home and does it yet again. Next, you find her in my car as you leave the office, interrupting you again.

This scenario is a tight parallel to how online marketers operate today. The most likely response is an unsubscribe, a recycle, a hang up. The most likely response is a lost customer who will never come back. Why? Because you’ve proven you are happy to annoy them.

After that first sale, the big one where I sign up, the company’s primary job at that point is to keep me happy, which means by default they should be doing everything possible to not annoy me.

Beating a person over the head to make a sale is not marketing. In fact, it’s the opposite of marketing. It’s abusing the privilege of having made a sale. It’s chasing the customer away.

The bigger, bolder move, the one far more likely to yield repeat business, is to be happy at having made the sale and taking a hands off approach. Prove you are bigger than merely being big.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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