I’ve been thinking a lot about ways service providers turn off potential customers. As someone who provides a service, I don’t want to make the same mistakes I see others making, and more importantly, I don’t want piss off possible clients. This past summer, I witnessed some sales representatives who were so wrapped up in trying to make a deal with me that they forgot the most important thing: ME. Whatever service you provide, don’t take the following actions, unless you want to turn off a potential customer.
Approach them at the wrong time
In June, I was at one of the largest medical conferences in the country. My nonprofit had a booth, and I had won a scholarship to attend the conference. Between manning our exhibit and attending required sessions, I was running myself ragged. There wasn’t enough Starbucks green tea latte in the world to keep me going.
When a woman in her late twenties approached me to discuss what her company could do for my nonprofit, it wasn’t the best time. I politely told her so. We were getting slammed with requests, and most people either scheduled a specific meeting with me or agreed to follow up via phone or email after the conference. Not this woman. She insisted we sit down right then and discuss her company’s service. I needed to be somewhere. It wasn’t the best time for me. But she didn’t care. Her absolute disregard for my time didn’t make me like her or her company. I didn’t care their product was free. It was too late.
By approaching me at the wrong time, she left a horrible first impression.
Cut them off and interrupt them
The evening I arrived home from the conference I received a telephone call. Since the call came from my office line, I decided to answer the phone against my better judgment. As soon as I realized the person on the other end wanted to pitch me something, I stopped him. I told him I had just arrived home from a grueling conference and I was exhausted. Before I could tell him how to follow up with me, he interrupted me. He assured me what he had to say would only take a minute. I should have hung up on him, but I didn’t because I knew he would only call back. I’ve been in his position before, and until you get a solid NO, you have to keep calling back.
I waited for him to finish his pitch without hearing a word he said. I couldn’t tell you what his product or service was. I was too tired to pay attention, which is what I had tried to tell him. When he finally paused, I explained it wasn’t the best time, but I was happy to review his request via email. I gave him my email address. He assured me he would email me, but …
Follow up — the wrong way
Telephone man never emailed me, which is crazy. I gave him a legitimate email address, which is gold. His company could have been marketing to me until I unsubscribed. Instead, he called me. He didn’t send me one single email. What an idiot. As soon as he followed up via telephone, I blocked his number.
By following up the wrong way, he turned me off forever.
Don’t listen to their directions/wants/needs
Telephone man didn’t follow directions. Neither did conference woman. Despite not having the time to meet with her, I gave her ten minutes to pitch me, which made me late to a session. As I looked at the brochure she handed me, I asked her several questions about her company’s product. My nonprofit’s website is currently in eight languages and any plug-ins we add must be able to accommodate some if not all of those languages. When I explained our needs, she dismissed them. We don’t offer other languages she said. When I asked if her company planned to do so in the future, she shrugged.
I was shocked. She was attending an international conference. She chose to approach my nonprofit, which focuses on liver cancer, a disease that is the second most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Given the prevalence of liver cancer in Asia and Africa, we want to make sure patients can get information in their languages. Again she shrugged as if what I was saying made no difference to her. Then I realized, she didn’t care.
By not following directions and/or paying attention to my wants/needs, both telephone man and conference woman lost my business.
Telephone man was your typical telemarketer; he was pushy but I didn’t think he was too rude. Conference woman, however, was overbearing, inconsiderate, and rude. As soon as she realized I wasn’t as dazzled by her company’s product as she thought I should have been, she acted like a cold fish. Not only did her tone become flat, but her body language changed, too. She began turning away from me and averting her glance. I think she was eyeing her next target.
I couldn’t believe it. I gave her ten minutes of my time that I didn’t have, and she wouldn’t maintain eye contact when I asked her a few ‘tough’ questions. WTF? She seemed to think that her company’s product should sell itself because it was number one in the market. More nonprofits use it than any other similar product she bragged. But that doesn’t mean it is the best product for my nonprofit I replied. As soon as I said those words to her, she checked out of the conversation.
By being rude, she ensured I would never give her our business.
On the flip side …
At the same conference, a competitor with a similar product approached our booth. They are a smaller company based in Europe looking to break into the U.S. market. Here is what their two sales representatives did right.
- They never insisted on a meeting with me on their time. In fact, when they first came by our booth, I wasn’t there. My volunteer got their information and said I would follow up with them. They made such a good impression with her that she told me about them when I returned to our booth. I ended up meeting with them later when it was convenient for me.
- They never once cut me off or interrupted me. They seemed genuinely interested in what my nonprofit does and how their company could help. They offer their product in three languages (i.e., English, Spanish, Portuguese), and they were honest about the future of other languages. (It’s highly doubtful they will have Asian languages like the ones we have on our site.)
- They followed up the right way. I asked the lead person to email me after the conference. I also encouraged both reps to connect with me on LinkedIn. We’ve exchanged emails and when I asked for a sample of their product on another nonprofit’s site, I received it immediately.
- They were courteous, polite, and moreover, genuinely nice guys. People like to do business with people they like! The only reason we haven’t gotten their product yet is because our website is still new (June 1), and I want to make sure the kinks are worked out, such as the spam issues that have now been resolved.
The interesting thing about selling a product is how similar it is to fundraising, especially when asking for a large gift from a major donor. If a donor refuses to give, the four key questions to ask are:
- Is it the organization? = Do people like your company?
- Is it the specific program? = Do people like your product or service?
- Is it the amount of the gift? = Do people think the price is worth the value of the product or service?
- Is the timing right? = Do people need your product or service right now AND did you approach them at the right time in the right way?
An additional question in major gift acquisition for charities that cannot be underestimated is — did the right person ask for the gift? If the donor doesn’t like the person who is asking, he/she is unlikely to give. The same is true for your products and services. Be likable. Be authentic.
What turns you off as a potential customer? Can you remember a time when a service provider acted so inappropriately that you vowed to never do business with that person/company? Post in the comments. I would love to hear your stories. Thank you!