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Don't Call the Baby Ugly

Many years ago, I started my advertising sales career selling Yellow Pages Advertising. While it was a long time ago, it was not the Bedrock Yellow Pages. One story I will never forget from that time was one of my colleagues made a sales call to a business that at the time had a half-page ad in the phone book. Not only did my colleague explain the value of upgrading to a full-page ad, as you might expect, but he decided to go the extra mile and help this business owner by working with him to improve the ad copy. You see, the ad was drawn to look like a comic strip to tell the story of the business. My colleague explained in great detail how there was too much copy in the space, that the message was terrible and illegible, and that he would be much better off starting from scratch. Can you see the kicker coming? Turns out the ad was designed by the business owner’s wife and it was her pride and joy. Oops. I don’t quite exactly remember how small he reduced his ad but suffice it to say my colleague had to make up the lost revenue on this deal.

Let’s fast forward to a few weeks ago when I received an email from a Business Development Manager in my company mailbox explaining to me in great detail the many things that were wrong with my website. How the look was dated, the copy was insufficient, and that basically it was a miracle that the Internet Police had not busted down my front door and taken me away in chains for such a reprehensible site. Now, in looking back, I’m sure he didn’t go that far, but that’s how I remember it because, you see, a while back I spent an entire weekend agonizing over the look of my site, calling on friends and experts I knew to give it a fresh look and researched the Hell out of new website trends.

I get hit up with many sales calls and emails. Most I just let pass. Some I reply to because I am genuinely interested. I try to put myself in their shoes as best I can because of my long career in sales. This one, however, begged for a reply. My response was as follows, please excuse the redundance of the earlier story:

Dear James, Thank you for your inquiry. I would like to leave you with one free piece of advice from someone with over 35 years of sales experience. It is much more effective to advise a potential client that you have solutions that can help their business than to point out faults. You never know who may have designed the site. I am reminded of a former colleague from my ad sales days that described how awful a client’s advertising was only to learn it had all been done by his wife. Take this with however many grains of salt you choose. We will do our best to muddle through without your assistance, Have a nice weekend. Rob Simpson Managing Partner

He may have never read it. He may have taken with a grain of salt or chalked it up to ‘it takes all kinds’. But it reminded me that some lessons in sales are eternal, and this one is “Never Call the Baby Ugly”. There were at least a hundred different ways that my colleague from 30 years ago and the Business Development Genius that contacted me could have gotten their point across and been non-offensive. Start with a question, “That’s an interesting ad, can you tell me how you decided upon it?” “My company has a great deal of experience in making websites more effective, I think we may be able to make yours even more productive if we could schedule a call.” Very rarely what you say gets you in trouble. It’s how you say it. I realize this blog won’t change the world and it’s only a matter of time before the next doofus (that is a well-documented term for certain salespeople) does the same thing. But if I may help just one person to change it will be worth it. And it not, it’s therapeutic to tell funny stories. Be smart out there.

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