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Monkey See, Monkey Don’t?

Do you watch other business owners or mentors use techniques, technologies, strategies or tactics successfully – and then not try them in your business?

This isn’t just the domain of new, first time business owners who might be leery of trying something else, much less being swamped enough as it is.

Not long ago, I was sitting in a room with about 250 very successful business owners. Most of them had purchased the right to attend the seminar during a phone seminar or webinar.

While discussing entrepreneurs’ tendency not to stretch themselves (in particular regarding their sales/marketing), one of the speakers asked this question: “Everyone here bought access to this seminar during a phone seminar or webinar, so you know this selling mechanism works. Given that, how many of you use these types of seminars to sell your products?

No more than 20% of the people in the room raised their hand.

Remember, these are not new business owners. Most of them are running seven figure businesses. Yet most of them were not modeling the successful strategies that were working right in front of them – and in this case, strategies that had worked to sell them something.

What’s working right in front of you that you aren’t using?


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Why they don’t take your calls and don’t read your mail

The enlightened leader
Creative Commons License photo credit: seeveeaar

Do your customers and prospects let your calls go to voice mail?

Do they open your emails? If they were, you’d know (or should).

Think about why *you* let calls go to voice mail and why you ignore certain emails.

While you might be busy and decide to let calls go to voice mail, more often than not, when the caller id appears – you can’t think of a reason to bother taking the call.

Is relevance the reason?

Get relevant

Lets discuss a few examples.

I get my internet from a local cable provider. While they offer telephone and cable service, we don’t use those services. About twice a week, the “(cable vendor) Robocall department” (as the number is named on my phone) calls me to ask what TV, phone and internet service I use.

Every time they call, they ask the same question. They want to know what service I use for internet / TV / phone. Funny thing is, they’re calling to get information they already know. The caller never has any idea that I am already their customer.

It doesn’t have to be that way, even with an outside telemarketing firm. While I’d be unlikely to use one, that doesn’t mean they can’t be effective.

Most modern telemarketing firms are well beyond the stone age “dialing for dollars” mode of the past. They’re capable of taking a list you provide to them and filtering out existing customers from their call list. They are also capable – automatically, if you use a good one – of changing the script used by the caller so that they don’t seem totally uninformed.

If instead of “who do you use?” they asked something like “I see you use our internet, but not our cable…” and started the conversation there – that would at least be in context. Someone experienced enough to run a huge cable firm’s marketing and sales department should know this.

On the other hand, if you’re a small business owner, this makes perfect sense, but you might never have considered its impact.

If you send email or make cold (or even warm) calls, are the conversations pertinent to those customers? If they were, you might get a better response.


I have a 401K plan. The vendor regularly emails me… sell me their 401K plan.

These emails are personalized – they know I have multiple accounts with them. Yet they send emails that talk as if they have no clue about our business relationship.

These things make your company (and you) look inept, or at the least, like the left hand has no idea what the right’s doing. It tells me your systems and the people running them are just going through the motions, wasting money that impacts other people’s livelihoods and perhaps driving up your prices.

Doing things this way:

  • Starts the conversation in the wrong direction. You have just seconds to get enough attention to get peoples’ attention. Don’t waste it by talking out of context.
  • Makes you look like you have no idea who I am. Not in the “Do you know who I am?” way, but the “Do you know / care that I’m already your customer?” way.
  • Leaves money on the table. Instead of trying to sell me the thing that clients like me buy after buying the last thing I bought from you, you’re trying to resell the thing I already have.
  • Wastes the opportunity to discuss something customers care about – the thing they already bought. IE: Rather than discussing how to get the most out of my 401K, they’re trying to sell one.

Your marketing systems should know your paying customers and engage them in THEIR context with you – not as total strangers.


Recently a 79 year old national magazine announced they will become digital-only as of January 2013. This couldn’t have been a rash decision, given the contracts in place for printing and distribution, much less the internal changes/considerations necessary to make a change like this.

Yet a subscriber tells me she just got a renewal offer in the mail – and it didn’t say a word about the fact that it wouldn’t be in print.

When you communicate with your customers, be in context.  If 10% more people responded positively, what’s that worth?

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Don’t waste a single interaction


Last week I had to get on the phone to cancel an online service.

Not because I wanted to use the phone to cancel, but because it’s a requirement.

You see, you can sign up for this service online, but you can’t cancel it there. And you certainly won’t be doing it easily.

Yes, you read that right. You can sign up online, but canceling requires a phone call.

That’s so “Business can do no wrong, 1999” kind of thinking.

It reminds me of the old America Online (AOL). This is how they used to act. Butâ?¦

There ARE good reasons to require a call

I could see good reason for the call if they truly wanted to check to make sure that I couldn’t use their service. Obviously, that assumes that they’d put effort into making it a pain-free process to find out my situation.

Possible situations:

  • Maybe I couldn’t figure it out.
  • Maybe I found something better.
  • Maybe it wasn’t what I thought it was or didn’t do what I really needed (that vague thing called “merchantability”).

If I’m the vendor interested in improving my offering, I’d want to know those things when my service is getting cancelled by someone.

Why? Because that info will help me do a better job of selling my service in the future. It will also help me adjust who I market the service to and what it does.

A quick call for stuff like this is often faster and more productive for everyone but you have to make it fast, easy and pleasant. It’s a good time to leave a last good impression in a relationship that just didn’t work out (for now), and if time permits, ask what kind of changes would provoke the person to sign up again at a later date.

Hassle your customers

But that isn’t why I had to call them.

I had to call them because they intentionally designed a process to be more difficult than it was to sign up. They wanted it to be “work”, in hopes that I wouldn’t cancel and would just blow it off.

I know this because of what happened when I called.

First, I spent 12 minutes on hold. Overall, that’s not a huge deal because I put my phone on speaker and sat it on my desk, but it does indicate the importance they place on these calls. Or it shows that a TON of people are cancelling. Or both.

During the cancel process – in fact – during the very first interaction with the phone agent, I was asked if I wanted to purchase a “buy one, get one free” airline ticket.

I was so stunned by the out-of-context request, I had to ask him to repeat himself. I just couldn’t believe it.

Rest assured, there’s no relationship *at all* between air travel and what this online service provides. So why are they trying to sell me an airline ticket? Dumb.

Remember, all this lameness happened after 12 minutes on hold.

But they weren’t done. After all that, a six question survey about my satisfaction which should have been done by the agent, who didn’t even ask why I was cancelling. Otherwise, why make me call?

3 of the questions follow:

  • Would I recommend them? No. (An agent could have asked “Why not?”)
  • Rate the call wait time. (Your phone system knows how long I waited. Common sense will give you all the rating you need. It’s a feel-good question to allow me to vent.)
  • Do I feel valued as a customer? No. No. No. (Sorry, the airline ticket question failed to cement our love affair.)

Just in case there’s some doubt about how I feel about this kind of behavior: If this is how you treat your clients and this is how you do business, I hope your competition hires me to relieve you of those pesky customers you treat so poorly. I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

The lesson

Every interaction you have with a customer – no matter how trivial – is an opportunity to reinforce their impression of you (positively, I hope).

Don’t waste ANY of them on stupid, wasteful interactions like this one.

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Right message, right person, right timing

Recently, someone came to my website and went to the trouble to paste this message into my contact form:


My name is Ben Bigelow and I am currently working with the Cisco TelePresence team. We are working in conjunction to create awareness for the recently launched â??Why I Want Cisco TelePresenceâ? video contest at

This new contest is designed to entice individuals from around the world to submit their ideas about why or how they would like to use Cisco TelePresence.

Winners in two categories, Productivity and Shaping the Future, have a chance to win $3,000 each. Winners will also receive 5 hours of Cisco TelePresence at a Cisco Location (www.ciscomeetingonus) to connect with colleagues, peers, friends around the globe.

It would be great if you are willing to post about the video contest and encourage your readers to create their own videos.  They donâ??t have to be Ridley Scott or Cecil B. DeMille â?? all they need is a home video camera, some passion and a tad of creativity.  Most digital cameras can record short form videos, and the site is set up for easy uploading and includes a simple pass along feature.  We appreciate anything you can to help raise awareness for Cisco TelePresence and how it benefits entire organizations.


They included their name and what appeared to be a real (albeit non-Cisco) email address. The IP address even resolves to the same town where Cisco’s headquarters are.

But what didn’t they do?

They didn’t bother telling me what Cisco Telepresence is.

They didn’t describe the problems it solves, reminding me of the pain I’m in telecommunications-wise, and why I should be interested in finding out more, much less spending some money with them.

Instead, they asked me to make a video about a product I’ve never heard of. Makes absolutely no sense.

It’s not WWII

If I was already a Cisco Telepresence user and perhaps a product champion in their eyes, this message might have made sense.

Instead, it just felt like a German WWII bomber flying over dropping plane loads of pamphlets from 10,000 ft that explain how I’ve lost the war (you know, as I march on Berlin).

Don’t do that.

Take a close look at the marketing messages you’re sending out, regardless of their cost.

Are you sending the right message to the right person at the right time?

Are you sending a message that is in context with the relationship you currently have with that person?

It doesn’t matter if the message is delivered via email, telephone, tv, radio, newspaper, magazine, Twitter or whatever – the problem is the same if the message isn’t fine tuned for the situation.

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Pity the fool who doesn’t communicate

Over the last week or so, I’ve hunkered down in the perfect storm of communications.


I get a card in the mail asking me if the recent visit by a Bresnan Cable tech took care of the problem and if I was happy with the service. It’s the same guy who always comes to work on my cable issues. Treats you like a relative, even if he does sometimes have to come back more than once now and then. I wonder if they intentionally send the same guy. Smart if done on purpose (assuming the guy isn’t a bozo<g>).

Usually when I see him more than once in a week – it’s because cable boxes in general are just poorly made hardware commodities that fixing one thing exposes another thing (but later, of course<g>). But…that isn’t his fault.

Movie Gallery

During Thanksgiving week, my kids went up to Movie Gallery to pick up a DVD. My account was in lockdown. That was their terminology for it – ushers up nice images of Shawshank, doesn’t it?

Lockdown apparently occurs when you don’t return a movie for 3 weeks, I guess.

So my kids use their own account instead of mine and I later go up there – after finding the movie – to ask what the deal is. Turns out I’ve had the movie for 26 days (yes, it was a 3 day rental<g>).

Ok, my bad. However, I wondered where the reminder postcard was. Where’s the phone call asking where the heck I put the video?


I’d had the movie for a month – without a single call, email, postcard, carrier pigeon, etc.

Folks, as we talked in role reversal last week – look at things from your customer’s point of view. Late fees are not good. Why else would people agree to wait for movies by mail?

Before I left, I asked the clerk what the deal is with no notifications. They don’t mail anymore. Costs too much (what she was told – vs “Earns too much in late fees”?).

I ask why I wasn’t called. For years, they’ve been good about calling, even if it is after the movie is late.

Why don’t they send text messages 2-3-4 hours before they close in order to remind people about the almost-late movie that’s . Seems obvious that they want them to be late. “Late” might be legit / intentional, so why not let it slide.

Because it isn’t in the best interest of the CUSTOMER. “Pity the fools”, as Mr. T would say.

Her reply regarding the calls. “We can’t make the calls anymore. Corporate does that now, they have some kind of automated system…. but some people never get called. It doesn’t work too well.”

Repeat after me…Business is Personal. Think like the customer.

Wells Fargo

We’ll close with a little bit of good news.

I use Wells Fargo for a bunch of stuff.

I got a live call from a lady working for Wells 2 weeks ago. She called simply to “make sure we were doing ok”.

I said “Sure, why do you ask?”

She says (paraphrased, it’s been a week or so), “Well, a lot of people are struggling with their mortgages and stuff, so we’re calling all of our customers to check on them even if they aren’t late. If they’re having some problems and they haven’t told us yet, it gives us a chance to help them figure out a solution before things get worse for them.”


They may be a big lumbering megalith, but someone there really gets it. Yeah, I know. It’s a little self-serving on their part, but the positioning of the call is smart.

Making the call before it has to be made (even if it might never have to be made), that’s the brilliant part.

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The ladies really dig my shiny new membership card

Got a pre-election call from the National Rifle Association (NRA) the other day. It’s that time of year – my phone has been ringing off the hook with election-related calls. Yep, it came on the famous 13 call day (15 as it turned out).

The call is made under the guise of checking how you’re going to vote, but the real reason for the call is to find new members.

Anyhow, I had some ulterior motives for letting him talk, so I gave the NRA guy a minute or so just to see what he had to say (usually the call center delay is all it takes to get me to hang up). After a bit of small talk to find out where I was on gun-related issues, he said something about joining and that “your benefits include a membership card…”

That’s what he STARTED with.

Now, if you’re trying to sell someone a membership to the NRA on a cold call, is that really how you want to start a call with me? Is that the best benefit they could come up with? I know better.

  • He didn’t ask if I hunt (I haven’t in probably 30 years – Ouch, that makes me OLD!). If the answer is yes, the natural follow would be to find out more about what I hunt for.
  • He didn’t ask if I target shoot (I do, occasionally).
  • He didn’t ask if I own any guns (I don’t, got rid of a .410 shotgun a few years ago cuz I wasn’t using it) and if so, what I own and what I use them for. This would easily allow the caller to extend the conversation with questions about the history of them, where I got them, how I like them etc. Why? To develop some rapport and common ground.
  • He didn’t ask what I knew about the NRA and proceed to figure out which benefits of being a member would be important and beneficial to me – and focus on them.

If you’re cold calling (and I hope you have other, far better ways to generate leads), you have to quickly develop some rapport. Of course, the first part of that cold call is no different than your situation in an elevator, a trade show booth or when someone asks “So, what do you do?” and you *know* they could benefit from what you do or sell.

Had he asked the right questions, he would have found that I was interested in blackpowder instructor courses – because the boys in my Scout troop want to start a blackpowder shooting program. That requires professionally trained leaders. He might also have found out that I might be interested in the other training and gun safety programs they have – and perhaps that I could use a few of their experts at Scouting events now and then.

But he was too interested in selling me that shiny new membership card.  On a day with 13+ electioneering calls, that isn’t going to get me excited about staying on the phone and whipping out my credit card.

No matter what started the conversation, develop rapport. Sell benefits that make sense based on what your rapport has taught you about your prospect.


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Not ALL marketing is local. Nor is it personal.

So far today, my home phone has rang 13 times. THIRTEEN TIMES. My office is at home. It’s 2:20pm on Wednesday.

EVERY SINGLE CALL has been from the same political party, on behalf of that party, or from one of its candidates.

EVERY SINGLE CALL has either been made from an automated call bank that transfers calls to Botswana (or whatever) or they have been an automated pre-recorded call. 

NOT ONE CALL has been a personal call from a real person who asked if they could take a moment to find out if I plan to vote (I do), ask me to discuss or change my vote, or whatever. Not that it would change my decision, but that is irrelevant. 

13 interruptions. OK, 14 including the few minutes to write this post. Even if I don’t answer, its an interruption. 

Do you REALLY believe that an automated phone call from someone that you’ve never met would change their vote?

Every one of your candidates just lost my vote. I don’t care if the other candidate is the worst SOB on the face of the earth. And the candidates I know and see regularly – I’m going to tell them how they lost my vote, face to face, as a thank you to you and your party. I’ll see one of them tonight. I bet he’ll be THRILLED. 

Is that the kind of impact you want your marketing message to have? 

Don’t act like a political party. Don’t create marketing based on the “lessons” they’ve been teaching the last few months. Don’t misuse technology simply because you can. Dan Kennedy has a catchphase: “Be a welcome guest, not an annoying pest.” Words to market by, much less to run for office by:)

If you read this blog regularly, you should know better. I said it anyway, just in case.  

PS: Don’t even bother answering the phone.

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Telemarketing can work, but not like this

It’s a hair before 9pm and my cell rings. It’s a toll free number that I don’t recognize. For reasons I can’t explain, I answer it.

Turns out it’s a telemarketer calling because “my records show that you’re not currently receiving the Daily Interlake”.

I say “That’s because your records aren’t up to date”, perhaps with a slightly annoyed tone, but definitely not any more growl-y than that. The guy responds “Well, I apologize that my records are out of order” in a seriously snotty tone, at which time I think we’re done talking.

Blogs are good for venting, but I’ll save that for another time:)

Telemarketing to your lapsed customers (at least those you think are lapsed) is actually a positive thing when you take the trouble to do these things:

  • choose a company with an impeccable reputation and well-trained operators
  • provide them with up-to-date data on the people they are calling so they don’t immediately look like fools when the caller answers (lost sale, waste of time, waste of money, annoy the customer, etc).
  • make your calls legally, at a respectful time of day (ie: not mealtime, not 11pm, not 630am, etc)

Perhaps most people would just be annoyed at the call. Not me, at least not this one.

I appreciate the fact that a local newspaper business (albeit owned by a conglomerate of others) is trying to get my business back and they are doing something smart by trying to get their lapsed clients to re-subscribe.

Except…I’m not lapsed and they aren’t doing it as wisely as they should.

This would be an easy mistake to make IF you didn’t have a customer database. However, I know the Interlake has one. They just don’t know how to use it.

So how should they use it?

  • They should know how long it has been since they last called me. Historical behavior shows that they don’t.
  • They should clean their “lapsed customers to call” database of all current subscribers.
  • They should merge accounts, or at the very least, flag duplicate addressed accounts as inactive (or “do not call”) if there is an active account at that same address.
  • They might even consider contacting me to see if the old accounts are valid, and clean up their mess. But of course, that costs too much. If they called to ask if they could merge the accounts with identical addresses, or ask which billing name is the correct one, I’d be impressed. But they don’t.

The biggest piece of these steps is also the easiest. It’s the database work. What they really need to do, or get someone to do, is simple database work to match up what is clearly a set of duplicate accounts in their database. That would reduce these silly issues substantially.

Before you say, but but but but…

  • It is easy enough to exclude commercial addresses with multiple suites when doing a merge.
  • It is easy enough to exclude residential addresses with multiple apartments, dorm room addresses and so on when doing a merge.
  • It is easy enough for a new account person to use properly designed software that warns them that someone with the same last name has an account at the same address they are presently entering.


I don’t know if they don’t realize this can be done, or they are too cheap to do it, or if there is some other reason. What I do know is that calling active customers to tell them that they are not active customers is sloppy. When you do one thing sloppy, I wonder what else you do sloppy, and I start looking.

They already annoy me because they won’t offer a Sunday-only subscription. Doesn’t matter that the route driver is already on my street. Doesn’t matter if they charge retail for the paper. They just won’t do it. Isn’t Sunday-only better than nothing? Apparently not. I often read the Interlake at locations other than my home, so I rarely need it at home – except on Sunday.

So back to the specifics of the call…note that they called with a toll free caller id to a business number at night (or to my 800 number) at night.

Why waste money calling a business number at night? Sure, there are some businesses that will answer, but most are closed. Wasteful. These things happen because you choose a low-rent telemarketer (Google 866-327-3574 and you’ll find that it isn’t a reputable telemarketer).

I suspect that someone has decided to save 29 cents per call, not realizing that they are costing their business far more in lost clients. Frankly, I’d be surprised if it was the Interlake making these decisions. I suspect it originates from their corporate parent.

Either way, the Interlake has provided you with a lesson or two in what not to do when ordering telemarketing services to reach your (lapsed?) client list.

If you’re going to do it, do it smart.