The Junk Mail & the Damage Done

Here’s a familiar situation:

It’s a typical weekday morning. You open up LinkedIn and see you have some new messages. One of them is from someone you don’t know, asking you to connect. You’re feeling open, so you do.

A moment later, this new connection — again, someone you didn’t even know existed ten seconds earlier — sends you a sales pitch. A long one.

You don’t respond, of course. Most don’t. But some do. And that one-out-of-a-hundred responder — whether they become a customer or not — keep these annoying outreaches coming. Because salespeople and direct marketers see a 1% return (or less) as a success.

That brand of lazy, me-first, long-odds sales outreach is bad for everyone. It’s bad for those who receive it. It’s bad for LinkedIn (as it degrades UX). And — guess what? — it’s even bad for the salespeople who initiate it.

Few would argue with the first two points. But many would argue with the last one. “It’s a game of percentages,” salespeople like to say. “Even if I connect on only a fraction of a percentage, I’ve generated free leads. It cost me nothing but a little time.”

Here are three reasons why that’s wrong:

1. You’re creating negative brand associations. All the people who get annoyed by your outreach and ignore you don’t just disappear into the wind. They walk away with a negative impression of you and your company. That will make it harder for you, or the next salesperson, to sell that prospect down the road. Now think about how many thousands of prospects — or tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands? millions? — with whom you’ve created those negative brand associations. Yikes.

2. Your process is mediocre. If your batting average is low, you don’t just take more swings at the plate. You work to improve your swing. If you don’t, you’re settling into a mediocre process. It’s lazy. And, counterintuitively, it’s forcing you to do more work to get any return. The longer you continue, under the belief that “this is the way it’s done,” the more you’re cementing in your mind that mediocrity is okay.

3. You’re being thoughtless. Great sales is all about empathy and thoughtfulness: about building trust, and, eventually, creating friends/allies. Blind outreach that’s all about what you want runs in the opposite direction of that. (NOTE: Some salespeople now have the gall to ask — after the fourth or fifth cold email you’ve ignored — to write them back and let them know if you’re not interested, so they can stop wasting their time. What?!? You forced yourself into my inbox, uninvited and unwelcome, yet think that I owe you some response? The hubris astounds. So does the stupidity.)

Here are three quick tips for turning it around:

1. Don’t sell/pitch! Not right away, at least. Few successful marriage proposals happen after one date. Share a few emails back and forth. Get to know the prospect. Seek their advice on something related to your mutual industry (i.e., let them know you value their knowledge and expertise). Then, when the opportunity presents itself, share some advice of your own (i.e., how your product/service could help them).

2. Be empathetic. Think about the type of person you’re reaching out to (by title, industry, pain points that follow). Then, craft your outreach accordingly. If you know that a VP of Widgetry in Industry X tends to struggle with Problem Y, you should say so. Let each prospect know that you want to help them, and show them how, specifically, you think you can do that.

3. Show respect. Be considerate of the prospect’s time, intellect and humanity. The problem with the “game of percentages” approach is that life is not a game, and people are not mere game pieces. Flesh-and-blood human beings have pressures, deadlines, psychological and emotional needs, etc. Forcing yourself into their world — even for a moment — and disrupting them to achieve your own ends does far more damage than whatever net positive may come back.

Doing outreach the right way increases your conversion numbers, improves the value of those conversions, represents you and your brand in a positive way, contributes to a healthier communications ecosystem (i.e., LinkedIn, email, etc.), and holds you to a higher professional and personal standard.

I’ve seen the junk mail and the damage done,
A little part of it in everyone,
But every bad habit can be undone. 😊


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