Archive for Marketing & Sales

Providing Free Services or Products

“It’ll be good exposure for your business.”

How many times have you heard that phrase or something similar when being asked to do something for free?

I really dislike this phrase. It’s presumptuous and often not based on fact.

The underlying basis of the pitch is that it’ll be a good marketing opportunity for you…so therefore it’s not really asking that big a favor for you to do something for free.

It can be free services or free products, but it still has a cost for you in time or cost of goods, or both.

Whether it’s providing donated products for a nonprofit fundraiser or leading a free workshop in your specialty for a group, the presumptive quid pro quo is that providing this “freebie” will ultimately be to your benefit.

But is that likely to be true? And as small business owners should that marketing long shot really be our motivation when we give away our goods or services?

I don’t believe so.

Free Isn’t Really Free

I’m often asked to do free workshops or provide pro bono services for organizations. And I do. However, I’m very clear that I do it because I believe in the organization’s mission or cause, not because it’s disguised as a marketing opportunity.

Sure, maybe I’ll meet a prospective client or get a new business lead, but the only thing that’s certain is that it’ll cost me time and out of pocket expense…and that it’ll be good for whoever is doing the “ask.”

So when I agree to a request, I understand that it’s actually a donation or volunteer opportunity to support an organization, not a free marketing opportunity.

There are probably thousands of variations on this theme. But whether it’s using my intellectual property to provide free content for an organization’s conference attendees or it’s auctioning off an artist’s donated work to raise money; it’s all the same result.

The real benefit is on the other side of the transaction. And I just wish we’d stop playing “let’s pretend” about it.

Choose When to Donate and When to Market

As business owners, we need to be clear with ourselves about why we do, or don’t, agree to a request for goods or services. Is it an instance of making a donation to some kind of worthwhile cause or is it a marketing opportunity with real potential for return? Then we can decide whether or not to participate based on our true motivation.

I’m happy to write a check or put my volunteer energy into a good cause, but there is something that irks me about being complicit in this “let’s pretend it’s good for me” approach.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very strong advocate of businesses supporting community activities and nonprofit organizations with both money and volunteer time, but there are many other more targeted and cost effective ways to market my business.

Marketing is a data driven activity that has a predicted financial return on the investment.
Donating is an activity that comes from a commitment to support a worthy cause.

We need to be clear about our reasons and expected return for participating in either activity.

Make an Informed Business Decision

Let’s keep the two activities separate. As small business owners, let’s be vocal and upfront about the probable lack of marketing value when we are asked to do something for free. We can be gracious and say “sure I’d love to donate my goods or services” to support the cause.

If you decide to do it, be articulate about why you are doing so. It’s a way to be clear about the value of what we are providing and reinforce that our motivation is to support their organization, not our business.


Customer Service – Not!

woman customer service repAs I recently listened endlessly to a chipper voice recording telling me how important my call was to my cable service provider, I found myself once again musing about exactly how atrocious customer service generally is these days. We talk a lot about how important it is & the business press is always full of articles extolling ways to improve it, but I can’t remember the last time I had truly exceptional customer service.
I think that’s pretty telling. Generally, it’s less expensive to keep a customer than to acquire a new one. So it is in most business’ self-interest to treat an existing customer well. And, in the absence of being treated well, our expectations as consumers have been lowered to the point that we expect lousy service.
Think about how many times you have had to make repeated phone calls to get results…or have been disconnected just when you finally managed to reach a person, instead of a menu option. And each time, you were probably treated to a lengthy variety of menu choices and repetitively annoying messaging about the importance of your call.
So, what’s the business lesson? Outstanding attention to a customer will definitely make you stand out in the crowd. So put yourself in your customer’s shoes the next time you are asked a question or presented with a customer service request. Look at it as an opportunity to cement your business relationship with this customer. And if he or she tells friends about having a positive experience with you, you have a potential future customer positively pre-disposed to using your products or services. Customer loyalty is definitely worth money in the long run.
If you think my call is important, then answer it quickly and resolve the problem or question in one phone call. The real problem is that there is really no recourse for bad customer service. Sure, we can stop using a particular vendor – but frequently there really isn’t any competition available.
And not using a vendor in the future doesn’t help us to deal with whatever the current dilemma is, as my recent experience illustrates:
After a comprehensive search, I purchased a fairly expensive computer system from one of the leading manufacturers. And, as an admitted geek, I was really looking forward to getting new toys to play with…to say my enthusiasm was curbed by the end of the process is quite an understatement.
The online sales process was easy – but then the trouble began. When the system arrived, the operating system installation was defective. I then wasted about 3 days of my time dealing with customer service, installing and uninstalling software and waiting for a needed software CD to arrive. And, on top of everything else, they wanted to charge me shipping to overnight the CD which I needed to repair what they had done incorrectly in the first place.
That’s when I had reached my limit – and that’s when they lost me as a customer forever. A supervisor ultimately waived the fee, but I shouldn’t have had to waste more time asking him to do so.  Adding insult to injury, the company actually sent me 6 customer satisfaction surveys to fill out – clearly they like to waste my time in that regard as well.

I did fill one out and included my contact information and order number, but there was no follow-up about the horrendous scores I gave them. This isn’t customer service – this is going through the motions.