Being somewhat affiliated with the marketing functions here at EMC, I tend to be rather sensitized to how I'm being marketed to by other organizations.
My frustration with their approach is growing rapidly; there doesn't seem to be an easy cure at hand; and there's no sign of better days ahead.
In a nutshell, it seems that a massive amounts of marketing effort is being spent to annoy me. And I'm struggling to understand the root causes as to why that might be.
My real fear is that my beloved EMC might be sometimes guilty of the exact same behavior -- and that's not good!
Let's Start With Unsolicited Email
On an average business day, I am the proud recipient of between 20 and 70 unsolicited pieces of B2B email marketing pitches. Absolutely none of them are relevant to my role, my interests, or my needs. On bad days, I have to spend significant time weeding through all the junk to find that important message, perhaps from my boss or co-workers.
The message they're sending is simple and clear: we can't be bothered to figure out anything about you, so here's our junk, hope you like it. It's not like I have narrow interests either -- there's lots of stuff out there that interests me, but it never is sent as an unsolicited B2B email pitch :)
To be specific, I can't ever remember clicking on *any* email soliciation *ever*.
More recently, I have been religiously clicking "unsubscribe" over the past few weeks in a noble experiment to stem the tide. Frankly, it isn't even making a dent.
In an effort to better understand the problem, I have divided the senders into three categories.
The first category I classify as "clueless". These are mostly business-to-business pitches that are poorly constructed, and seem to be tossed to the wind with no regard as to my role, my interests, my needs, etc.
Since these are mostly smaller companies, my perception of these outfits is simple: they have absolutely no clue what they're doing.
Cluelessness isn't a great brand attribute.
The second category I describe as "annoying". I unsubscribe, and they come back -- usually from a different angle -- in a week or so. Sort of like mowing the grass. In essence, I think I've migrated from one of their lists to another through the act of telling them to go away and not bother me anymore. Or their unsubscribe function isn't working.
Again, I would tend to discriminate against doing business with anyone who uses these practices.
The third category I describe as "deceptive". The act of unsubscribing from one of their lists means they immediately sell my name as "validated" to other purchasers of email lists. Since I have multiple email addresses, I can clearly see cause and effect in play.
Having now attempted to unsubscribe from literally of hundreds of email lists, I've found there are a few unsubscribe functions that -- yes -- make you go through an extended registration process for the privilege of requesting that you not be bothered by them anymore.
Their chutzpah is astounding.
Large-scale filtering doesn't appear viable option, as I routinely get personal emails from customers and partners I want to do business with -- in addition to their corporate spam. Part of my role is to be somewhat accessible to the outside world :)
My best guess is that I lose about a half-hour a day dealing with unwanted email. Assuming I work 200+ days a year, that's several weeks of lost productivity each and every year, not to mention associated costs with IT infrastructure, etc.
The Unsolicited Phone Calls
The phone rings, I naively pick it up. On the other end is a hapless person with a wind-up pitch on something or other that's completely irrelevant to either me, EMC, or anything else for that matter. It is immediately obvious that they have done absolutely no homework whatsoever.
I used to politely explain that we had no need for what they were offering; that would inevitably lead to a request to be introduced to someone else who might be interested. I would then explain that it wasn't really my job to act as an inside sales agent on their behalf, and so on.
Now I have a wonderful admin (Karen) who filters 100% of my calls. And, if in a moment of carelessness, I forget myself and happen to pick up my own phone in my own office, I cut the call off in about 10 seconds and rudely hang up.
I feel somewhat justified that I'm showing them the exact same level of respect and courteousness that they've shown me -- e.g. absolutely none.
The Unsolicited Blog Comments
Somewhere out on the interwebs there appears to be a service you can subscribe to where human beings are paid leave "link bait" on your blog. The offers change over time -- right now, it's the True Religion Outlet, Justin Bieber Shoes and Instant Internet Wealth.
They cut and paste some random word salad from somewhere, and leave a link to their website. Every day, I spend about 10 minutes or so scraping the crud off of my blog. This morning, I had 15 of them. Sigh.
Same observation as before: completely ineffective, a total waste of their time and mine, and I end up annoyed as a result.
So, Why Is This?
My first observation is that the costs of things like unsolicited B2B email are far too low, and don't include externalized costs -- like my time and resources to receive and process it.
I would not be opposed to some sort of tax or levy being imposed on bulk emailers in an effort to make their costs more accurately reflect my costs. And, yes, I believe this is a legitimate role of government to adjust poorly functioning markets where there are clear externalities that lead to sub-optimzed behavior.
My second observation is that direct B2B marketing must be a close second to economics in being a "dismal science". I can't begin to fathom as to why any business owner would hand over large sums of money to a "marketing professional" that ends up routinely annoying their potential customer prospects as a normal part of operations.
What are they teaching these people? Whatever it is, it isn't working.
My third observation is that -- yes -- if you put your name out there, you're going to attract this sort of unwanted attention. In my mind, this is sort of the price you must pay if you're going to be an externally visible member of your organization.
But I'm strongly thinking of creating an alias :)
Towards A Better Model
Occasionally, I'll get a hand-written soliciation email from someone who's done a modicum of homework. Their communication shows they have enough interest to find out who EMC is, what we do, and -- more specifically -- the kinds of things we're interested in.
I may be able to help them -- or not -- but I will take the time to read what they've written, and respond in a similarly thoughtful fashion. I would think most business professionals on the receiving end of these soliciations would do the same.
Occasionally, I'll get an unsolicited phone call along the same lines -- someone who's done a bit of homework, and wants to talk to me for a specific reason that's valid to me and my company. And I'll give them a bit of time and advice as a result.
In today's internet and social world, it's not really all that hard to do a bit of homework ahead of time. I routinely do this sort of prepration before meeting with customers and partners. I've found that 10 minutes can make all the difference in how the conversation will go.
It's also a sign of respect for their time and their sensibilities.
And, like most people, I'm pretty adept on searching out information (and people!) that align with my interests. Unless you can put something in front of me that interests me, I'd prefer to do it myself.
How About You?
I'm somewhat concerned that my challenges here might be unique. If you're in the B2B marketing business, what's your take on this?
More importantly, I'd like to hear if any of you out there are having the same challenges, and -- more importantly -- what you're doing about it.
Because I'm going nuts here :)