The other day, I got the following message on Facebook:
“Hey Tad, just want to say how much I love you work and continue to follow your blog and content all the time.”
These kinds of messages always find a good home in my world. It’s easy to think that people like me are constantly told how much they are appreciated, but it’s not always the case. You put things out in the world and, sometimes, have no real idea how they land.
So, when someone takes the time to express their appreciation, it means a great deal even if I don’t always have time to respond personally.
“Oh you.” I replied. “Thank you.”
And then the conversation took a turn for the worse.
“I’d love to tell you more about a really conscious company that offered me a great detox. It’s a 10 day transformation cleanse.
May I share a video with you?”
I sighed, “Let’s slow this conversation down just a little bit.” I was already feeling exhausted for having to have this conversation with someone again. I already had a sense of where it was going. “Is this a company with which you are personally involved? Is this a MLM type company (even if it might prefer another term) and, were I to sign up for this cleanse, would you receive any financial compensation?”
I wasn’t feeling upset, or at least not that feeling alone and not really towards the woman who was writing to me. It was an upset about how this culture fails us and how the sales training of MLM companies utterly fails people. I was sad that this conversation needed to happen still. Though, given where I began in sales myself and how aggressive and pushy I was, I am in no position to point fingers at anyone.
“It’s a network marketing company that supports sustainability and offers non GMO, organic foods and products.” she said. “I offer the product as part of my nutritional services. I prefer these than the past retail products I used to recommend.”
I paused for a moment to decide how candid I wanted to be with her. I decided to be as direct as I could.
“Thanks for clarifying. This isn’t something I’m interested in right now. And… ” I paused for a moment to decide how candid I wanted to be with her and decided to be as direct as I could be. “Here’s what felt off for me with this. It felt like a mini ambush a bit. You opened with a sincere compliment and then, suddenly, I was being pitched. It felt like the conversation was opened in one way and then, immediately, became about something else. A woman I used to date met a woman at a cafe. They had a great conversation. The woman invited her out for coffee and she agreed because the interaction had been so nice. When she got there, the woman began to pitch her on Amway and her heart broke a little bit. Her head was swirling in wondering how sincere the compliments and good connection had been at all. I don’t doubt that your words to me are sincere and I’m grateful for them and… there’s a beauty to directness too. I’m sitting with what might have felt better for me as an approach here. Here’s one I’m imagining…
You: “Tad, you came to mind today and I wanted to reach out to you about two things. The first was that I just read _____ blog post recently and I loved it and I love your work and wanted to tell you. And then, as I thought about you and knowing that you’re into health and wellness, I thought you might, or might not, be interested in something I’ve been involved in. Do you ever do cleanses? I don’t know if that sort of things is something you’re interested in.”
Tad: “Sometimes. I should probably do it more.”
You: “I know the feeling. Well, to put it out there, there’s a ten day cleanse I’ve come across and it’s the best one I’ve found. I wasn’t sure if you’d want to know more about it or not but there’s a video I can send you about it. No pressure on this. And a disclaimer, it’s an MLM company so, if you signed up I would make some money but there’s also a direct link I could give you where you could buy it directly and I wouldn’t get any money. I just think it’s a great thing. Again, no pressure, I know you’re busy.“
“That sort of direct conversation, with context given as to why you thought it might be relevant to me, with the disclaimer about the profit motive might have felt a bit better. It just suddenly went into a pitch. And I appreciate very much that you asked permission to share the video. That feels good. How does that all land for you?” I asked hoping this had not been too much for her but also aware that I had not asked for her pitch at all and it had found me in a Facebook message on my personal profile and leveraged that connection and opportunity for her business.
I reflected on the incredible importance of Permission Marketing in which you don’t market to people without having their permission to do so first.
She replied, “That’s very good. Thank you for for offering that suggestion. Sorry if it felt intrusive. I’m a bit excited about it and what I experienced. I definitely will apply this as it does feel better. My appreciation for your work is authentic and sorry of that felt otherwise.”
It was a relief to feel her openness to my words. I have had to cut off relations with colleagues in the past because they couldn’t hear my feedback on similar issues. “I think part of it is that Facebook is such a personal medium for me and so I assume messages I receive here are in that vein. MLM is a very tricky situation because the level of stigma around it is large (and not unearned). What that means is that, if people even get a sniff that it is MLM there will be pressure present because now they will see you in a particular way. And if they smell it and get the sense that it’s being hidden, all of the alarms go off. This is all true in sales in general but it’s extra true in MLM. There’s a need to be direct but also to keep focused on constantly diffusing pressure.
The best person I know around this is Ari Galper of Unlock the Game whose work is based in how to constantly be diffusing pressure so that an authentic conversation can unfold. It’s something I also explore in depth in my ebook The Heart of Selling: An Interview with Mark Silver.
Another approach that could feel really good would be to simply message me and say, “Tad, can I pitch you on something?”
I’d likely say, “Ha. Sure. What you got?”
“And then you could give me your best pitch for your cleanse with all of the disclaimers and ‘no pressures’ etc. And then I’d be able to sit with it and see if it felt like a fit. There would be no suspicion about intentions. I think sometimes people think it’s not very ‘hippy’ or ‘conscious’ to be that blunt and direct but it’s actually deeply appreciated if it’s balanced with a detachment, a lack of assumption that this is going to be a fit etc. A hard pill to swallow is that our natural enthusiasm, unchecked, will often read as sales pressure. On your end, if feels like you’re being authentic and effusive and, on the receiving end, it comes across as pushy. It can be hard to tone down our vibe. It can be hard to be chill about these conversations but it’s important to remember that most people have an incredibly hard time saying ‘no’ and so our passion can actually be something that bullies someone into doing something that doesn’t feel right for them. It can have us want to move the conversation faster than is right for the other person. There is a deep need to keep slowing ourselves and the conversation down.”
I reflected on how my colleagues Jesse and Sharla often speak about the importance of surfacing the concerns the others might have before signing any documents. They suggest that you literally stop the conversation and say, “Are there any concerns you have that might stop you from moving forward on this?” and then to really, really listen.
It had me think about my recent practice of creating an ‘are you sure?’ page that interrupts and slows down the buying process.
It had me think about how selling and marketing feel so unnatural to so many of us and how brave people are to even try, like this good woman did, to extend herself and take the risk of offering something she believed in.
It reminded me of how many people have had some version of the following experience:
“I went to a 1/2 day workshop about envisioning your future and I liked the information and the presenter. The women then offered free 1 hour consultation to go deeper and see if we could work together. During the 1 hour consolation I told her something pretty vulnerable (I don’t do vulnerable easy but she seemed like she was genuine) and then later in the call she used that information in a way that made me feel bad about myself and like pressure to work with her. I will never work with her. Now if someone offers free time, I say upfront I just want to know more about your ability to support me but if you are going to do a hard sell I will not waste your time. I really felt like she had no integrity – I’m sure it’s something she learned from her coaching course – but it felt very mean. (Feel free to post this anonymously if you are sharing this with others).”
It reminded me of the heart of my work and my commitment to the idea that marketing can feel good.
The real work in selling, for most of us, is not about learning how to be more convincing, it’s about learning how to identify and remove sources of pressure so that we can have a human conversation with people instead of giving them a pitch.
To read more thoughts on my notions of how to approach people with graciousness I recommend reading The Classy Cold Approach.
I also recommend reading A Client Says I’d Love to Work With You… And Then You Never Hear From Them Again by Rich Litvin in which he explores the notion of “Questioning their ‘yes'”. Brilliant stuff.