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SPAM Works!

by David Brock on May 16th, 2011

I’ve been getting some interesting responses from my post, When Will Sales People Stop This Insanely Stupid Behavior?  A number of folks have correctly pointed out, if these techniques didn’t work, why do people continue to do them?

They are right–unfortunately, SPAM works.  Those un-researched calls, where people are basically dialing arbitrary lists, and many other approaches do produce results.  The thinking is, “We got 1 response for this 1000, so why don’t we do the same thing only for a million.”  The cost of a SPAM campaign is virtually nothing, so the logic is reasonable–for every million, we get a 1000 responses, we then can convert a small percent of those…why not continue.

I think what people implementing this strategy may miss is the negative impact of this approach.  They count the responses they get, but they never know the numbers of people they turn off–the people that make a choice they will not buy from this company.  Organizations using this approach never measure, “what are we losing because of our techniques?”  “how is this negatively impacting our brand, our reputation, the willingness of people to do business with us?”

SPAM “works” in another sense, the bad behavior tends to rub off on all of us.  We all seek ways to “stand out.”  As the noise level increases, too many organization chase escalating volume.  More emails, more tweets, always more quantity, but not necessarily more in value and thought.  We get caught in the sheer momentum of everything around us–crowd behavior starts to dominate even the well intended.

Prospects and customers escalate their defenses even more, more goes automatically into their SPAM filters.  Organizations block all mail coming from certain sites, so we find other alternatives.  The vicious cycle continues.

Then all of a sudden you see something–it truly stands out, not because of the flashiness or cleverness of the offer or copywriting, or the clever graphics.  Certainly, not because of the number of times it has appeared in our inbox.  Something stands out because it they seem to have read your mind.  The sender is someone you know, they have sent you something that hits home, that is meaningful, relevant, and timely.  It may not provoke an immediate response, but it’s something that stands out because they have reached right to what you need.  It’s not something that has been sent to millions, but it is deeply personal.  This can only be done by developing deep insight and understanding, by developing a relationship, by valuing that relationship.  It’s hard work–there are lots of tools that help us with that, but it takes time, thought, and precision execution.  It also takes resources.

SPAM works because it is the easy way out.  It doesn’t take time, thoughtfulness or resources.  It doesn’t require you understand who your customer is, what they value.  It focuses on the transaction, at the expense of the relationship–but if we don’t care about the relationship, then why not?

SPAM works because of the concept of “impressions.”  We do functionally the same thing in our relentless chase for “followers.”

SPAM will increase, it will exist in ever newer forms.  Buyers will become more clever in their techniques of trying to filter through the SPAM.  The cycle will continue because it does produce results–just enough to continue to justify the investment.

Ultimately, what we do becomes a choice.  It’s about how we value our customers, what we want to stand for, what customer experience we are trying to create.  As much as I like to think, there are better ways of doing things. SPAM does have its place for some organizations.

  1. Not to be too philosophical but I think we need to define what “works” really means…

    “Works” when? “Works” for how long?

    Does “works” really mean that you can somehow justify on a spreadsheet that A –> B? That doing something leads to something else?

    Imagine walking into the modern manufacturing industry, using that “works” definition.

    It’s a COMPLETE fail.

    Because “works” isn’t the goal. It’s just the ticket to get to the game. “Works Most Effectively” is the real goal.

    And that qualifier changes everything. Because no one even tries to defend that spam is a workable model for long term revenue generation.

    Perspective is important.

    Left to our own default patterns, we quickly revert to laziness and selfishness. Our core survival is all that matters.

    And survival isn’t selling. It’s running away…

    Dan Waldschmidt

    • By the way, drinking sugary energy drinks might “work” to help give you enough punch to keep running a marathon.

      But over time it’s clear that it only made you gain an extra 35 pounds, rotted out your liver, and gave you diabetes.

      It’s not where you’re at that matters. It’s where you are headed.

      Dan Waldschmidt

    • Dan, great comments, I think we are in violent agreement!

      There’s an interesting challenge, however. What works depends on what we are after—both in the long term and short term. If we don’t care about customer relationships, if we believe the market is sufficiently large to churn and burn through customers with one time sales, if we are satisfied with making money at the lowest possible margin…. SPAM and all it’s derivatives work. Despite the “free” cost of SPAM, and the costs of the mindless “dialling for dollars” calls we are all subjected to, people wouldn’t continue them unless they produced the desired result.

      If we are trying to create customers for life, if we want to keep going back to them, getting them to buy more, if we want to sell at the highest possible price, then what we have to do changes–SPAM and it’s derivatives are complete fail’s.

      What works, what works effectively all depends on what you are trying to achieve, how you value the customer, what kind of experience you want them to have. It would be unrealistic to completely discount that which we consider offensive, assuming people want to achieve similar things, that we all treat customers the same way, that we all want the same customer experiences.

      The thing is, for some customers, the practices that you and I would find abhorrent are perfectly acceptable.

      And that’s what makes selling so interesting–there are so many different things we can achieve and different ways to achieve it.

  2. Bridget permalink

    I have long used the analogy of machine gunners and snipers, not necessarily for sales, but in general for methods of approach.

    With a machine gun you don’t need to aim closely, you just fire out loads of bullets and you get something. Snipers on the other hand pick and choose. Don’t use so much ammo, may spend ages in position doing nothing, but if they’re any good, rarely miss the target.

    Both are – or can be- effective. Part of the trick may be knowing when to use which. I think it depends both what you’re selling (eg for complex sales a sniper is better able to target exactly where the shot should go, but if it’s a simple matter of office paper you might just want to hit as many people as possible and see who needs it right now) and where you are in the sales process (eg do you want to see whether this market segment has an interest in your offering or is it an established market where you know the level of interest?).

    …but on the whole I’m a sniper so in sympathy with you both!

  3. Josh Harrison permalink

    “SPAM” does work, if it didn’t a lot of us would be out of a job. It’s how you deal with it once you “hit” that matters.

    A company may ignore 100 emails from you, but one day there could be a requirement there, and trust me, if you haven’t been the person in contact, one of your competitors will be. It’s all about the service you provide after you get a “bite” that counts, you can SPAM and still provide excellent service.

    • Josh, unfortunately SPAM does work–there’s a sucker born every minute. There are sales people that will inundate their customers with the same drivel day after day, and as you suggest, one day they might “bite.”

      But there’s an alternative to this, that might dramatically change your hit rate–what if you could get a bite our of every 25 or every 10–imagine what that would do. A well designed (it doesn’t have to be complex or extensive) communication strategy that provides meaningful content to customers and prospects has much higher impact and creates greater results. That’s the difference between SPAM and nurturing your customer so that when they are prepared to buy, they pick up the phone and call you.

      It’s actually a very small change in work effort (but you have to be thoughtful), but a dramatic change in impact and results.

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