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Unsolicited Sales Calls Suck (So Don’t Make ‘Em)

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m having an argument with the sales folks in my office (I’m in marketing). I’ve created a form for a white paper download on our website. The form asks people if they’d be interested in a sales call to talk about our services, and it provides a yes or no option. The sales folks are furious and say that if someone fills out a form, the person has surrendered their information and it’s open season. In other words, the person will get a call whether he or she wants it or not. I disagree. What do you think?

—Morgan S., L.A.

Answer: I worship at the altar of Seth Godin and firmly believe in asking permission every step of the way. If you offer free content on your website, and I have to fill out a form to get it, I do NOT think you should “assume the close” and follow up with a sales call. Nor should you add me to your email newsletter list unless I ask to be added (any disclaimer saying that you are adding me since I filled out the form does NOT make me feel better, even if it covers your ass legally).

Like you, I get a lot of pushback from clients because they think more is better, when often times, it’s just more. If 50 forms come in, but only 12 have specifically requested that you contact them for follow up, the sales folks often can’t focus on the 12. Instead, they become fixated on the other 38 (methinks Freud would have something to say about this obsession).

“But we need to follow up with those people,” the sales folks whine. Um, no you don’t. Focus on the 12 who want you to call. Focus on crafting messages and providing follow-up materials that will continue to lead the people through the sales process. Why waste your time on calling all 50 and getting frustrated by hang ups and voice mails and, as a result, not spending as much time on the 12 who do want to hear from you?

My information is sacred. At least, I think it is. So shouldn’t the person who’s trying to win my business treat it like it is, too?

Yes. However, the sad truth is that so few do.

As Seth Godin would say, “sounds like an opportunity to me.”

By the way, for those who would argue that no one will offer up their information if they’re not forced to, I have a handful of client websites that proves that theory false. (I wish I had more than a handful, but most of the others aren’t brave enough to allow their prospects a choice.)

The Value of Good Copywriting

I received this email a couple of weeks ago (I’m not editing it):

Hi,

I am looking for someone to write web content for some of my clients and I would like to know what do you charge to write a 300-400 page. I have ongoing projects so this will be a long term project.

Thanks

– Don

What’s the problem with this request? The problem is that the prospect is thinking in rates rather than the value of good copywriting.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand money talks and people need to be mindful of budgets and bottom lines (hell, I’m a small business owner, too). And I understand we’re in a tough economy. But when a web or marketing guy says to me, “How much do you charge to write 300 words of website copy,” he’s doing a major disservice to his client because he’s devalued what content can do: content can convert people into leads/sales or it can cause people to click away. This guy’s query smacks of “This is short copy, so it shouldn’t cost a lot.”

I was much more forgiving of this five years ago (even two years ago). But not today, at least not from a web/marketing guy who should have some understanding (if he’s serious about what he does) of the direct link between kick-ass content and conversions. This guy is stuck in ’90s Rateville instead of today’s Value City, at least according to this email.

Please know that I’m incredibly diplomatic when it comes to responding to people like this. Heck, we all need to learn about the wonders of Value City at some point (I did), and I’m always happy to share my knowledge and experience with a fellow freelancer. Here’s my response.

Hi Don,

Thanks so much for your email and for your interest in my copywriting services. I quote per project since every project is a little different.

Here’s what my quotes cover:

  • Talking to the client to get to the heart of what the company does…and figuring out how to engage the company’s core customers and prospects.
  • Providing input on design and the site map
  • Reviewing competitors’ websites to see what they do well (and what they don’t do well)
  • Reviewing all collateral materials (including, ideally, any messaging research that’s been conducted by the marketing people)
  • Crafting engaging copy for each page and following SEO best practices. This includes writing compelling, keyword-rich headlines; writing persuasive meta descriptions; and writing compelling calls-to-action (in addition to weaving keywords into the copy).
  • Brainstorming ideas for compelling offers (e.g. white papers). I’d charge separately for any writing that’s involved with these offers (i.e. I’d charge a separate fee to write the white paper).
  • One round of revisions

Note: I don’t typically focus on word counts per page (my main goal is converting site visitors into customers…sometimes this requires more copy and sometimes it requires less).

To give you an idea of my project quotes, I’m working on a 20-page site right now and charging $price redacted. I require 1/3 of the project fee up front and the balance is due within 30 days of the client receiving the first draft.

I write b2b and b2c copy. My style is conversational (which I believe is effective, regardless of the industry). However, some industries are a bit more “corporate” and prefer a more formal tone (think financial, insurance, etc). I refer these projects to colleagues who specialize in these areas (their rates are comparable with mine). I’d be happy to share their info.

Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to learn more about your business as well: are you a web developer, marketer, or…? Feel free to send me a link to your website or to send me portfolio samples. Also, how did you hear about me? If you’d prefer chatting on the phone, I’d welcome it. (I’m around during the holidays.)

Thanks again for your interest. Oh, one more thing: I’m booking into February at this point.

Best,
Robyn

Note: I used the word “rates” in my response to him. Why? Because this guy is my audience, and I need to talk in his language. I’m not going to convince him to go from caring about rates to value overnight, but it’s my hope that my email planted the seed.

I never heard back from the guy (even after sending a polite follow up that said “Just wanted to make sure you got my email to see if you have any questions), and I’m sure there’s more than one reader out there going, “Well, duh. You’re kind of blunt. And the guy was only talking about 300 words, and you overwhelmed him by talking about full-blown sites. This is overkill. And your price was probably sticker shock. Not to mention your closing line ‘I’m booking into February.'”

It’s true. I am blunt. For a reason. The person who responds to this email saying, “Yeah, let’s talk some more,” is someone I’d probably want to work with because he’s showing me that he’s seen the lights of Value City and would like to get closer. (Or that his email didn’t tell me the whole story, like maybe he really is a resident of Value City, but that this fact just didn’t translate in his query.)

Is it overkill? I don’t think so. Even if I’m writing only one page of copy (and I can’t for the life of me remember when I’ve been hired to do just that), I want that copy to work (i.e. convert), and that involves much more than simply sitting at a keyboard and banging out 300-400 words (why 300-400? Search engines don’t require specific word counts anymore, if they ever did).

Sticker shock? I’d be willing to bet that’s what this guy experienced when he saw my quote on the 20-page site, but that’s because he’s not thinking value.

Was my last line a “show-off” line. Nope. I’m booking web projects a month out (at least the completion of said projects). If this guy was looking for a 48-hour turnaround, it would be a waste of time to continue talking, so I think it’s only fair to say what my booking schedule is like (And yes, dear readers, it’s true: saying I’m booking a month out DOES sound like I’m selling myself by showing I’m “in demand.” The Copy Bitch has to don her pretty little sales hat from time to time. She is a working girl, after all.)

By the way, value won’t ravage your bottom line. It will improve it. And value won’t hurt your budget, if you base your budget on value. But if your budget is based on cheap rates, well, remember what your mama used to tell you about getting what you paid for.

Customer “Engagement”: But What if the Conversation isn’t Satisfying?

Dear Copy Bitch: I keep reading that I need to engage my customers in conversation, and I feel that my team and I already do that. So why am I not seeing more “benefits” from this engagement?

—Confused in Manchester, NH

Answer: Indeed, the buzzword these days is “conversation.” Engage your customers and have conversations with them. That’s all well and good, but I have a question: what if the conversation isn’t satisfying to your customers? Is it enough for your business to simply be having the conversations, or should the goal be to have satisfying conversations?

Here’s my philosophy: don’t try to engage your customers in conversation unless you’re willing to make the commitment to having satisfying conversations. Now, I realize that you won’t be able to please every customer or prospect you come in touch with. And I’m not saying all conversation has to be intellectual or life changing. Like porn, a satisfying conversation isn’t something I can necessarily describe. But I know it when I see it and experience it.

Here’s a true-life example that recently happened to me. This example is a mixture of some satisfying and unsatisfying conversation.

Here’s the story: Since I live in Massachusetts, I’m required by state law to have health insurance. Since I’m a freelancer, I pay for my own health insurance. The Health Connector is an independent state agency that helps people like me find the right health insurance plan, and it promotes Commonwealth Choice and Commonwealth Care on its website. I get mine through Commonwealth Choice. Back in February, Commonwealth Choice offered e-pay, which I immediately signed up for. I do 99% of my personal and business payments this way for two reasons:

  1. It’s ultra convenient for me
  2. It’s a green solution–no more bills in the mail.

However, after having been on e-pay for six months, I kept getting paper bills: the amount due was listed as $0, and there was a return envelope for payment. This went against my whole greener solution. I went on the website to see if there was any information about why I might be getting a paper bill in the mail.

On the FAQs section of the e-pay website, it said (and still says) this:

Question: Will I continue to receive bills through the mail if I enroll in e-pay? Will it show my payment status?

Answer: We will continue to send you a regular monthly bill in the mail.

I don’t know about you, but that FAQ didn’t make any sense to me. So I called Commonwealth Choice and had a very unsatisfying conversation with the customer service rep who took my call. I explained my conundrum, and she didn’t make me feel like I had a valid question. She simply told me they were “required” to send me paper invoices. I asked if she knew whether this would change since it was a policy that was wasting paper, and she said she didn’t know but that maybe people in IT were working on it.

I decided to turn to Twitter, and sure enough @HealthConnector had an active account. So I tweeted. Here’s how it played out:

ME: @healthconnector Why do you waste paper by sending me “invoices” for $0 (with a return envelope for remittance) when I pay automatically online?
4:10 PM Oct 22nd from web

HC:  @RobynBradley Hmmm. Good question. Are you a Commonwealth Choice member? And if so, how long have you had E-Pay?
4:57 PM Oct 22nd from TweetDeck in reply to RobynBradley

ME: @HealthConnector Commonwealth Choice. Signed up for E-Pay right when you started it back in Feb/March. One reason I do epay is 2 b green!
6:09 PM Oct 22nd from web

So far, so good. I was pleased with the rapid reply. And for the record, I respect “I don’t know, but let me find out” responses–I appreciate the honesty. Satisfied so far? You betchya.

But then four days went by (including two weekend days, so we’ll forgive that). Here’s what happened next.

ME: @HealthConnecter Any word on why I’m still getting paper invoices? Signed up for auto e-pay back in February. ’tis a waste of paper.
9:50 AM Oct 26th from web

And another two days…

ME: @HealthConnector Any word?
1:47 PM Oct 28th from web

Finally a response…

HC: @RobynBradley E-pay is here, but the e-billing is not yet built out. Until it is, paper is how we confirm your payment status. We’re on it.
5:04 PM Oct 28th from TweetDeck in reply to RobynBradley

HC: @RobynBradley Sorry for the delay, btw. Needed to confirm the status of e-billing. Thanks for reaching out — and for going green!
5:07 PM Oct 28th from TweetDeck in reply to RobynBradley

How satisfying was this conversation for me? I’d label it “so-so,” and here’s my point: I had someone or something engaging me, the customer, at every step of the process (i.e. the FAQ section of the website, the customer service rep, and @HealthConnector). But not every engagement step, not every conversation, left me satisfied, and here’s why:

1. The FAQ section left me unsatisfied. An easy fix? Simply explain that e-pay and e-billing are two separate things (I’ll admit it; I didn’t know this until I went through this experience). I’d also recommend that the FAQ section not only explain the difference, but also why the Commonwealth Choice folks decided to release e-pay first as opposed to waiting and releasing e-pay and e-billing at the same time (like most other companies do; out of all the vendors that I pay electronically, this is the only one where the e-billing component isn’t working in tandem with epay).

2. Customer service reps should be prepped on these answers as well, and they should be encouraged to acknowledge a person’s query about it and express their understanding as to why someone who is trying to go green would be frustrated by getting a useless invoice for $0 AND a useless return envelope in the mail.

3. My initial interaction with @HealthConnector was totally satisfying. Then it wasn’t. But then it sorta was. I appreciate the “sorry for the delay,” but the answer didn’t make sense to me (I actually then had to research that e-pay and e-billing are two different things) and the “thanks for going green” comment felt a little hollow because my whole point is that the current situation isn’t totally green yet (it won’t be until e-billing is released, whenever that will be; saying “we’re on it” is okay, but vague).

So what are the takeaways from this?

  1. Simply engaging with customers isn’t enough. You need to make the commitment to leave them satisfied, which requires you to try to get in their head and think like them.
  2. Look deeper into their questions. My first tweet to @healthconnector mentioned the waste of paper and my second tweet mentioned that I do e-pay because I want to be green and my point is that receiving paper and an envelope in the mail every month detracts from my feeling of greenness. But neither one of these important issues was really acknowledged anywhere along the customer engagement process (not by the FAQ, not by the customer service rep, and not by the Twitter exchange)
  3. Now, I realize you won’t be able to satisfy all customers. But what can you do and say differently that would satisfy more of them? How can you change the tenor of the conversation to make it more effective and satisfying?

So what would have satisfied me?

  1. Better FAQ answers
  2. A customer service rep who didn’t make me feel like I was wasting her time
  3. Acknowledgement that the company isn’t totally green yet (since it just has e-pay), but that it hopes to be totally green within x-amount of time. Oh, and thanks for my patience during the wait b/c it must be frustrating getting the paper bills.

What do you think? Is simply having the conversation enough…or do we need to strive for satisfying conversations?

UPDATE: I originally published this post in November 2009. Today, as I write this update, it’s 7/31/17 and the Health Connector finally launched paperless billing a couple of months ago. It only took EIGHT (!!!) years. Think of all the wasted money on paper and postage.

My Prospecting Process: This is How I Roll

Dear Copy Bitch: Tell me more about your process in nurturing leads and prospects. I’d be curious to hear how you go about it.

—Curious in Canton, Mass.

Answer: Dear Curious…for me, it’s not about the sale. It’s about honesty, building relationships, and, at the end of the day, creating something (i.e., copy) that helps a client’s business get more conversions and sales. Want me to put my money where my mouth is? Here’s a real-life example (and an almost “real-time” example) of a prospect who came over the wire this morning and my resulting email conversation with him.

From: Cool Prospect
Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 9:05 AM
To: robyn@etrobbins.com
Subject: Radio Ad

Robyn,

I’m not sure if you do this but I am looking for a 30 sec radio ready ad to be sent to me by email. If you do this what would be the cost?

Thanks,
Cool Prospect [name changed for privacy]

 

From: Robyn Bradley
Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 9:12 AM
To: Cool Prospect
Subject: RE: Radio Ad

Hi Cool Prospect,

Thanks for your email. I do write radio ad copy. Questions:

1. What is the product or service that’s being promoted? (Can you point me to a website?)
2. What’s the goal of the spot (e.g. branding, driving people to website, getting people to call, etc.)?
3. Where will the spot be running, and do you have any demographic information on the radio station or stations (the radio sales reps will be able to get you this info)
4. How long is the radio flight for?
5. Where will the spot be produced?
6. When do you need the copy?

Best,
Robyn

From: Cool Prospect
Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 2:05 PM
To: Robyn Bradley
Subject: Re: Radio Ad

Robyn,

Here is my response. [Editor’s Note: I’ve highlighted his responses in red]

Thanks,
Cool Prospect

1.  What is the product or service that’s being promoted? (Can you point me to a website?)

Here is the site: [Editor’s note: redacted for his privacy; he sells a cool birthday party alternative to the classic “moonwalk rental,” but I won’t give away more than that]

2.  What’s the goal of the spot (e.g. branding, driving people to website, getting people to call, etc.)?

Introduction to the concept, A great easy party for mom, Drive people to the site

3.  Where will the spot be running, and do you have any demographic information on the radio station or stations (the radio sales reps will be able to get you this info)

I would like to be able to run it at any type of station

4.  How long is the radio flight for?

Assuming you mean how long it will run, until I feel people know us

5.  Where will the spot be produced?

Don’t have a place

6.      When do you need the copy?

No major rush

NOTE: At this point, I went to his website, Facebook page, and Twitter page, and I did a search in Google’s free keyword tool on some keyword phrases. Then I responded to his email.

From: Robyn Bradley
Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 2:46 PM
To: Cool Prospect
Subject: RE: Radio Ad

Hi Cool Prospect,

Thanks for the info. Here are my additional questions and thoughts.

Do you serve a certain geographic area? I looked real fast on your site, but where you’re located didn’t jump out at me (though I see you’re in South Carolina based on your Twitter account). Do you haven franchisees set up across the country, or do you only serve SC right now?

Regardless, here’s my honest input: radio might not be the best place to spend your dollars, at least not yet. Radio tends to be expensive, and it’s more about the “long-term” with radio (I worked in major market radio for 13 years [in Boston]). Also, stations have different audiences. A radio spot that’s run on a 12+ station (geared towards tweens and the 18-34 set) would be entirely different than the spot you’d run on the “mom” station (mix stations or adult contemporary). I’m thinking you’re going after both of these audiences.

I think you’re smart to have a FaceBook page and Twitter presence. I’d work on really building these and creating the conversation with your core audience. Who makes the buying decisions? Is it moms? Dads? What age group is your sweet spot? 8-12? 13-17? Is it more popular with boys rather than girls, or is there an even split? What would be the best way to get in front of this younger audience? (Radio probably isn’t since radio listening among younger people has decreased thanks to iPods and iTunes.)

Some quick hitting thoughts for developing your brand and getting traffic to your site:

  • Do cross-promotions with gamers: you advertise on their sites, they advertise on yours. Or perhaps you can do some sort of incentive with some of the games…when people buy certain games, they get a coupon discount for Cool Party Idea for Kids.
  • Optimize your website. According to Google’s keyword tool, “birthday party ideas for kids” has an average 3600 global monthly search volume. Yet, there are only 2000 competing pages that use that phrase in the title tag. Finding the phrases your audience is searching on will take your site to the next level in getting traffic. Once your site is optimized, a pay-per-click campaign will also likely be a better use of your money (rather than radio ads)
  • Take advantage of traffic for “moonwalk rentals” and create a page that targets this keyword and gives the top ten reasons why your Cool Party Idea for Kids is better
  • Have you created a 12-month marketing plan for your company? If not, that might be the best place to start. From there, you’ll know your month-to-month budget and all the marketing tasks that need to happen. Social media can be effective, but it’s a ton of work to do right (and very much a 24/7 gig in the beginning).

I’m known for my candor…it wouldn’t be fair of me to simply write you a radio spot that probably won’t deliver much (no matter how well it’s written) when there are more pressing marketing tasks at hand (e.g. optimizing your site) and other marketing programs that might be more effective (such as pay-per-click).

Feel free to ask me questions. I can also provide you with marketing and search engine optimizer recommendations.

Best,
RB

And that’s where things stand right now. Yes, I’ve put some time and thought into this prospect, and there’s no guarantee that I’ll get anything from it. That’s okay. My hope is that my free advice resonates with him and that he follows some of my suggestions. At some point, Cool Prospect may run into someone who needs a good marketing writer. My hope is that he’ll say, “Gee, I can recommend someone who gave me some solid advice.” And even if this doesn’t happen, that’s okay–hey, I got  blog post out of it!

(I earned my Copy Bitch moniker for other reasons. That will be a post for another time.)