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Jan 14 22

The Ethics Of The “Unsubscribe”

by David Brock

Recently, I’ve had some “interesting” conversations with the CMOs about their email marketing strategies and the marketing messages they are inflicting on me. I

There are different laws, regulations and recommended practices on email marketing, both how one gets placed onto and email marketing list and how one “unsubscribes.”

The CAN-SPAM act is one of the simplest/most benign from a marketing point of view. Things like GDPR have some tougher conditions.

Somehow in the regulations, one can “subscribe” to email marketing outreaches simply through emailing a question, downloading a paper, or making a purchase. Even if a person is not intending to “subscribe” or expressing a willingness to be put on a email mailing list, marketers often classify these as “subscription requests.”

Marketers by list from many sources, some which people have legitimately subscribed to. In addition to getting email addresses, marketers put those people on their own lists, with thinly veiled reason that demonstrate their “compliance with the regulations.”

And there are those that put every email address they can on their email marketing lists, even if there is no semblance of a request or interest on the part of the victim prospect. At least within North America, enforcement of the regulations seems to be virtually non existent.

As a result, we find ourselves on dozens to hundreds of lists we had no desire to be part of.

When we find ourselves on lists we don’t want to be on, the regulations provided us the vehicle through which we can ask to be removed–and that request is to be honored.

We see this in the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of these outreaches. At least it’s supposed to be there, but too many fail to provide this. Perhaps you can send a response asking to unsubscribe, but those may not be honored.

Often, we do see unsubscribe links at the bottom of the email. They are tough to find. Often they are embedded in paragraph’s of disclaimers that accompany the message. Also, marketers try to find the smallest font possible to display the message. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a 1 point font, but I suspect marketers have developed these. And, while all other “links” are usually highlighted with a larger font and a different color, so people don’t miss the link. marketers make the unsubscribe link very difficult, it’s always a very small font, the traditional indicators of a link are disguised so you find it only by scouring each line with your mouse, cursor.

Should you be lucky enough to find these hidden unsubscribe links, you are taken to a site to unsubscribe. Sometimes it’s a simple, “Sorry to see you go,” sometimes you have to reenter your data, or they ask you if you really really want to leave, or they survey you about why you are trying to make such a dull choice.

But, hopefully, you’ve achieved success, you’ve unsubscribed. You will no longer get marketing emails from this company, perhaps there’s the final “sorry to see you go, and here in large font and bright colors is a re-subscribe link.”

It seems some small victory to get one less meaningless marketing email in your inbox.

Until the next morning…..

Sitting prominently in my inbox is a marketing email from that company! I thought I unsubscribed! Sometimes, they say, it takes several days to get you off the list. Even though all of us understand the technology, the marketing automation systems have the capability of removing you immediately.

But you let them give you the excuse, saying you will be patient for a few days.

And every day, you get another email from them and another and another.

When enough time has passed to cover the “several days to remove you excuse,” and you are still receiving emails, you call again. “How come I’m still getting all the crap that you think I’m interested in when I’ve told you I don’t want it??!!!”

Marketing has, it seems in the past year, discovered a new trick. When you unsubscribe, they do honor the unsubscribe request–eventually. They unsubscribe you from a list. What you never know until you start making nasty calls to CMOs is they have actually put you on several lists. Even though you never requested or knew about it, when you are put on a list, they now put you on several lists.

They comply with CAN-SPAM and unsubscribe you from one list. But you are still on a number of other lists, so they can “legally” send you more emails.

A few months ago, I bought something from a major retailer. I never asked to be on the list, but since I ordered online, I knew that order expressed my “interest” in they harassing me daily with more promotions. Having been through this before, I diligently searched for the unsubscribe and did just that.

But I continued to receive 1-2 marketing messages to buy something every day. I unsubscribed to each one, but they kept on coming.

Those of you who know me well, know that patience is not one of my virtues. I had been dealing with customer service, to no avail, so my next step was to call the CMO. At first, he tried to dismiss me, but somehow the topic that I’m a blogger on sales, marketing, and customer experience came up. And the possibility that I might write a post that could get exposure to over 300K people happen to come up.

He decided to help me. (Yes, I can be an asshole.)

In fairness, he didn’t know what some of the clever people in his organization had done. It turns out, my original order gave me the privilege to be put on 33 different mailing lists they had. So while I was diligently unsubscribing to each list, they put me on so many, that it would have taken me a very long time to get off their lists.

The CMO and I had an interesting discussion of customer experience. I told him, I liked the products they sold, but would struggle to buy again, because their system would force me to go through the same process again and again.

I don’t know if they have made any changes, he was going to have his team look into their practices. But I’ve found another source of the types of products they sell. And with them, I get unsubscribed on the first request.

This morning, I had another similar situation with a financial services company. Because it’s tax season, they are sending me, daily, all sorts of stuff on investments, creating taxe deferred income and so forth. My unsubscribe requests didn’t seem to be working.

I talked to another CMO, this time we found I was on 9 lists, which he was able to remove me from immediately.

As sales and marketing professionals, we wonder why customers and prospects don’t respond to our outreach. We send millions of messages to millions of people every day, yet we don’t get the responses we hope, so we send millions more.

People are drowning in email they never wanted in the first place. Then we game the regulations and what people want, with the tricks I’ve outlined—and I’m sure there are clever marketers coming up with more.

We may be doing it to ourselves. We may be doing the things and implementing practices that drive the customers away from us, rather than attracting them and inciting them to buy.

Jan 13 22

Critical Selling Skill: Literacy

by David Brock

Reading Is Fundamental has been the mantra of a children’s literacy not for profit by the same name. I’m writing the management team to suggest they expand their services and offerings to sales people.

Like everyone, I get inundated with emails and social platform prospecting outreaches. They fall into three categories:

  1. Less than 1% are relevant, interesting and I follow up to learn more.
  2. About 50% are irrelevant, unfocused, and just uninteresting. They are usually not the greatest prose, but at least I get their point, regardless of how bad they are.
  3. About 49% are unreadable. They may be something I might be interested in, but they have been written by people who probably failed third grade writing classes. Below is one I received this morning:

“Hi David — I hope you’re doing well, and having a great start to the new year and the Q1 quarter. We’re inviting people who share similar backgrounds to an exclusive session below.

It’s great that EXCELLENC values management consulting. I was reading news that there is a deadline for nominations and that it’s closing soon. I was skimming through it, and hope to share more.

I’m David, Sales Consultant, at [Name Withheld] Digital Marketing. We’ve helped companies similar to yours, and please accept [our invitation for an exclusive session (attached deck here) ] (link removed) to learn more.

Have a wonderful rest of your week!”

Upon receiving this email, I suspected it might have been written in a language that is close to English, but not quite. Dutifully, I copied it, pasting it into Google Translate. Google came back with the same text. So it, apparently was written in English–it was simply illiterate and unintelligible.

Some observations:

  1. EXCELLENC is not a spelling error, it’s part of our company’s email address (long story). But seeing the name of the company referred to in that manner, is always an indicator the person has no clue of who we are and what we do. Most likely they got the email from some list.
  2. We do value management consulting—less for ourselves, more for offering consulting services to clients with facing tough growth issues. So I really don’t understand what the author is trying to to communicate.
  3. Then there’s the sentence, “I was reading news that there is a deadline for nominations…….” Huh! I quickly went to Axios to see if they were announcing a deadline to nominations. Neither were deadlines announced in the WSJ or the New York Times. I realized the news might have been in my social media news feeds, I looked at my LinkedIn new feeds looking for deadlines to nominations. I have no idea what this person is trying to say. Nominations for what? Are we nominated, should we be seeking a nomination? Should we be nominating somebody for something? I did sign a petition for nominating a neighbor to our local community board–is he referring to that? What is he trying to tell me and why do I care?
  4. It’s interesting he is representing the services of a Digital Marketing Agency. I wonder why I need to go through a deck of some sort to register. But more importantly, my experience of Digital Marketing Agencies is they tend to provide digital content to attract interest. And I suspect this email is an example of the quality and clarity with which they deliver that content.
  5. This is the third email I have received from David. Each is exactly the same, each is unreadable.

Sadly, 49% of the prospecting emails I receive are unreadable. They may be things I might be interested in, if only I could understand what they are saying.

Reading and writing are fundamental, if you are unintelligible, you will fail. Consider taking a course or maybe enrolling in Reading Is Fundamental’s literacy programs (lie about your age in the sign up form).

Jan 12 22

The Algorithm Conundrum

by David Brock

Everything in marketing and sales is about “the algorithm.” Each of us is a critical part of algorithm’s–actually we are probably critical parts of hundreds to thousands of algorithms, since each is optimized for different purposes.

There are algorithms that track our online behaviors, theoretically to present content that is more aligned to interests derived from our behaviors. The theory is to make it easier to find things the algorithms think we might be interested in.

Since the algorithms, are designed an implemented by people other than ourselves, the reality is they better serve the designers’ interests than ours. That is, the designer may have biases about how they’d like to guide us through their sites or platforms.

This is not a new occurrence. Over 20 years ago, I was curious about the customer service mechanisms of a company. They were the benchmark of outstanding customer service. I was a CRO of a large technology company and wanted to get more insight for what they were doing and how they were so effective. We conducted a test, my team was using this company’s tools. Every time I called in on an issue, I would have my VP of Technical Services call in with the same issue. When he had an issue, I would call in with the same issue.

We found we were handled very differently. He was very technically knowledgeable and an expert with these types of tools. And I….. well I still struggle to walk and chew gum at the same time. This company recognized the differences. The people that answered the question from my VP of Technical Services complemented his technical capabilities and curiosity very well. The people responding to my similar question were very patient, used short sentences and single syllable words. You can imagine the conversation went, “See Dave log-on. Log-on Dave, Log-on…..Wow Dave, that’s great, let’s go the next step…”

That use of data about each of us and how to best help and support us was very powerful and created an outstanding experience.

So algorithms are important and very critical in creating great customer experience.

At the same time, algorithms can be very destructive, either accidentally or maliciously. The news is filled with all sorts of nightmare stories of malicious use of algorithms to misinform, misdirect, manipulate us, or worse.

Hopefully, the majority of times this is not malicious, but an unintended consequence. For example, one of the major problems most algorithms have is reinforcing confirmation bias. As we search for certain things, the algorithms tend to feed us things that support what we are searching for. We like certain content, so we are directed to similar content, with similar points of view.

The problem is, often, the most useful content might be things that challenge our thinking or present us differing points of view.

There’s another problem with algorithms. Often, it’s less the problem of the developer of algorithms and more the problem of others exploiting the algorithm and gaming it.

For example, early in Clubhouse’s launch I found the platform powerful and interesting. As people flocked to the platform, they started understanding the algorithms, and gaming them. As a result, the platform has become useless to me. I can’t find the content I want, I am inundated with messages from people who have gamed the algorithms in ways that serve their purposes but that have driven me off the platform.

We’ve seen the same thing with virtually every other social platform. Facebook’s challenges are well known. LinkedIn is less useful to me today then is was 18 months ago. And 18 months ago, it was less useful to me than it was 4 years ago.

It’s not because of the platform itself, though LinkedIn has changed many of it’s policies to make it easier to game the algorithms. But it’s how people who want to exploit the platform leverage the algorithm.

It used to be, I rarely received spam in LinkedIn. Now 100% of the InMails I get are spam and 65% of the invitations I get are spam– or even not real people. Several years ago, I was amused getting an invitation to connect with “Dave Brock.” This individual looked just like me and had my exact profile. He was my twin, my clone!

I’ve been engaged in a discussion with a follower about leveraging endorsements and recommendations to improve my “SEO” within LinkedIn. The discussion is interesting but bothers me. For example, in my profile I have 1000’s of endorsements. 90% of those, I don’t believe I deserve. They are from people with whom I have had little or no engagement, they are in areas that have little to do with my real competencies. But they feed the algorithm–improving both my SEO and that of the endorsers.

As a result, the value of endorsements has become “0.” They have no meaning, they are only manipulations of the algorithm.

We see this in LinkedIn content. A year ago, a writing style known as “bro-etry” was highest ranked by the algorithms. Today, it seems that surveys are the highest ranked. So one sees surveys about whether surveys are useful or not having high rankings.

Algorithms have been and will continue to be an increasing part of our lives. They can be useful and they can be destructive, and more often, they are just plain annoying.

As we get annoyed with certain platforms because of how the algorithms are being gamed–destroying the value of the platforms for all except those who revel in gaming each other; there will be new platforms developed. Those, in turn will lose their value because of how they become gamed, and we move to the next and the next and so on……

And perhaps, the people who coined the term Artificial Intelligence knew what they were talking about. Most of us focused on the intelligence aspect of the term. Instead, what we may be seeing is a greater emphasis on the Artificial aspect of the term.

Sorry for the long rant—it’s been a bad few days on social media.

Jan 12 22


by David Brock

Our jobs, as sales and marketing professionals, is to drive change. We can only do our jobs when our customers decide their current state is unacceptable. They need to address new opportunities, they need to solve problems, they need to rethink and do things differently.

Often, customers incite themselves to change. Perhaps it’s problems, perhaps competitive threat, perhaps it’s being opportunistic. Sometimes there is a visionary leader that provokes that change.

Sometimes, it’s we that incent the customers to change, whether through our content at our websites, our customers talking to others, or our prospecting.

Our ideal customers are those that want to think differently, that want to do something new, that think they can improve.

They don’t settle for the status quo. They don’t settle for the way they’ve always done things, they are compelled to look at something new, to challenge their own thinking and practices.

Perhaps, it’s the “shoemaker’s children” syndrome, but I always find it amazing that when our success is based on the ability to incent and support our customers’ change initiatives, we seem to be content with settling.

I don’t know how many conversations I get in where:

  1. We are happy with win rates less than 30%, focused on achieving our goals through greater volume.
  2. We don’t get the results we need from our prospecting programs, so rather than rethinking and redesigning those programs to resonate with prospects, we double down on doing what isn’t producing results by doing more volume.
  3. We know we are best when we focus on our ICP, yet to make the numbers we cast wider and wider nets, pursuing people and organizations far outside our ICPs. We try to make our numbers not through improving focus and value, but through doing what
  4. We know we can leverage technology to help improve the efficiency of our people, yet we don’t use the tools ourselves and accept very low compliance/utilization of the technologies we pay for.
  5. We know coaching is one of the highest impact uses of management time, yet the average manager spends less than 30 minutes a week in coaching activities (in total).
  6. We know for training to “stick,” we have to continue to reinforce it, integrating it into our processes. Instead, we continue to spend millions in training that is forgotten within 30-60 days.
  7. We know that customers are hungry for help, they need sensemaking, and that they look to sales people for that help, but we don’t develop the capabilities of our people to provide that help.
  8. We know that onboarding and time to systemic success requires 9 or more months, we know the subsequent sales cycles may be 9-24 months, yet we accept average tenures of 18 months.

When we consider it is unacceptable for our customers to not change, we settle for what we’ve always done, even when it doesn’t produce the outcomes we want.

Perhaps, we would help ourselves, our organizations, and our customers, if we stopped settling……