Monday, January 16, 2012

Walking the Tight Rope

There's a fine line between branding and hard-selling. At first blush, it doesn't seem so hard. One sounds passive and the other is so in-your-face. Yet, we often find ourselves crossing the line from professional self-promotion to the dark side of hawking our wares.

When you meet a salesperson, do you cringe, wondering what gimmick he'll use? I'm on guard the minute one walks up to me. Furniture, cars, clothes, security systems, cable TV, jewelry . . . you know what I'm talking about without me explaining it, don't you? They try to tell you what you need. They sometimes talk over you. They act as if they know what's good for you . . . better than you do.

Jennie is my connection at the local nursery. As an outdoor and gardening enthusiast, I see Jennie a lot. Yes, she knows me now, but I love the way she addresses customers.

"Hey, can I help you?" Then she actually stops and listens. She nods as they explain what type of plant died, or how the amount of sun they have on a particular bed is causing the plants to wilt, or why they can't seem to find the right bush to go beside the porch without it getting in the way. The customer is in charge. She waits for them to stop explaining . . . or waits for their direct question. Then she solves their dilemma. They walk away feeling they practically solved their own problem because they directed the conversation.

When you thrust anything in front of a potential customer, you challenge them. It almost becomes a dare. It assumes you know best. the move feels like you are trying to corner them. Professional salespeople will tell you otherwise.

I've taken the attitude that anyone selling anything works for me. Therefore, I expect to be handled well.

When you feel infringed upon, the sales tactic is wrong. Take note of that next time it happens. What is the person doing wrong that made you defensive? Let's go over a handful of mistakes that handicap branding, and ultimately sales. Most of this list came from a fabulous blog post I discovered a couple days ago called Personal Branding Blog. Yep, it's a little in-your-face, and I don't recommend most writers read it religiously, but I've learned I can lurk on business and blog websites that have nothing to do with writing and learn a lot of tricks.

1. Automatic messages.

When someone signs up for your blog, newsletter or even Twitter messages, don't shoot them anything other than a thank-you with links, in case they want to delve further. Hitting them right off the bat with "Buy My Book" or "Attend My Signing" or "Like me on Facebook" is presumptuous.

2.  Spamming.

Yes, people still do it. But now they do it on Facebook messages, LinkedIn messages, and listgroups with disclaimers that say "forgive me if you've read this already but this is a cross-posted message." Spamming isn't just for email anymore! If someone follows you on Facebook, don't presume they want mass messages about a book signing, exhibition, nonprofit project, breast cancer awareness mission (what's the color of YOUR bra?), or help us do an anthology that won't pay the writers effort. Treat people like individuals and they'll love you so much more.

3. Asking to Connect.

If you want someone to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or otherwise, make it personal. "Will you follow me?" says absolutely nothing. Mention what you have in common. Do you love their book? Have you heard them speak? Did someone mention them elsewhere? Did you see their blog? Even if you just saw their name mentioned and heard they were an expert, excellent writer, chicken raiser or Clemson fan, say it. Don't just say, "let's connect" without a purpose. Connecting isn't about the numbers; it's about the quality of the connection. Make people want to know you. Be interesting.

4. Asking to Forward.

Listen. If your work, post or ideas are good, they will be forwarded, copies, pasted, reTweeted, etc. Don't say, "retweet this" or "send to all your friends" or "post this." You sound desperate.

Be your creative, social self. Fight to always stay on your game. Address people as if they were friends. You hate it when the government treats you like a number, or the bank thinks you're an account instead of a human being. Enjoy readers as people, and they'll love you in return.


The Owl Wood said...

Just had a quick look at the "branding blog" link - and just as my mouse was moving to cancel because it took so long to load - up pops an advertising overlay begging me to sign up for the site before I've even had a chance to read it (or glimpse it through the overlay)!

Instant shudder.

Hope Clark said...

Most professional blogging and branding sites want you to sign up. I just close them. The info on these sites can be quite phenomenal.

Lyn Fairchild Hawks said...

These are great points, Hope. If we're going to truly connect with other people, friending folks without messages isn't true connection. I've been guilty of this--something I swore I'd never do--and I'll see a face I know from the past up on FB and with a click, "friend" them. Ironic verb if there ever was one. And considering that my use of FB is part of my growing platform, I have to be very careful about this. Yes, we do sales, but we can't be grasping or mercenary. Fine line, like you say.


Jennifer Fitz said...

I have a very small twitter feed, and I get a new-follower alert now and again. I always go look at the profile, and can tell right away if it's someone who has a common interest, or who is just going around "following" people in order to get more followers and look more impressive.

I've very turned off by the spam-type followers. In contrast, if I know someone has a genuine common interest, I'm thrilled to connect, and to promote their work when the occasion arises.

Kelly Robinson said...

I joined an online group for bloggers with the same focus as myself. I thought it might be a nice way to find other relevant blogs, maybe get my own self out there, get ideas, etc. Within 24 hours my email inbox was packed with emails from members asking me to check out their blog. It was too much, far too soon, and it was a big turn-off. I unsubscribed immediately. The folks whose blogs I might have really liked missed an opportunity by being far too aggressive.

Joy said...

Hope, There is some great information here. My only problem is that "selling" or being too aggressive is receiver defined. There are times when I want to be sold, so I can sift through the information and figure out what questions I should be asking. Haven't you ever gone to the fair and watched the guy trying to sell the knives, steamer, or floor polisher? It is fun to watch them work. The Ka-Boom man made a reputation for himself by his ability to make his product shine. Some people might be turned off by his approach, but the thought is that there is another likely sale right behind the customer that walked away. Yes, it takes a lot thicker skin than I have to do this for a living, but writers do the same thing--if you've ever been standing by an editor at a conference, you've heard people selling. I'm sure the person doing the talking just thought they were helping the editor out to find their wonderful manuscript.