[UPDATE: Mr. Vogels contacted me to communicate that the name of the salesman was fake, and that the "email is a sales 'honeypot,' a fake VP to attract attention to which others reply." Upon further investigation, it appears Mr. Vogels is correct.

I'd like to apologize to both Mr. Vogels and readers for misreading the situation, and express appreciation to Vogels for handling things graciously. You can read the full explanation here: Why I Was Completely Wrong About Amazon's CTO.]

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels is widely regarded as one of the top influencers and thought leaders of cloud computing, and was once named the "Cloud's Most Influential Executive."

Last week, a salesman committed a grave error when he cold-emailed Vogels, pitching him a deal on one of Amazon's very own products. It began like this:

"Hi Werner,

Is your company still considering going to the cloud?"

Admittedly, the email is pretty funny--especially considering that Amazon Web Services is one of the largest cloud service providers in the world (with more than $10 billion in annual revenue, according to TechCrunch), and Vogels is one of its founding fathers.

Apparently, Vogels thought he'd use this email to teach a lesson to salespeople everywhere, by sharing it with his 166,000 Twitter followers, along with the message:

Oh, and one more thing:

Vogels included the full name of the guy who emailed him.

Ouch.

I've got nothing against making an example out of this huge mistake. (After all, criticism is an opportunity to learn and grow.) But completely humiliating a salesperson (a guy who happens to be selling your product, no less) in front of thousands of people is a sign of big problems.

Of course, tone and sarcasm can be difficult to interpret in written communication. Giving Vogels the benefit of the doubt, the tweet could be viewed as a friendly attempt at humor.

But in cases like this, perception is reality. And the responses to Vogels's tweet show that it may take a while for the salesman in question to live down his mistake.

(Note: Before you call me a hypocrite for naming Vogels, remember that his tweet was public. The salesman's email wasn't.)

Unfortunately, this just feeds into Amazon's biggest problem: its reputation as a company that lacks emotional intelligence.

[My forthcoming book, EQ, Applied, is a practical approach that illustrates just how EQ works--and doesn't work--in the real world.]

The company's been under a microscope since a scathing hit piece by The New York Times that painted the e-commerce giant as having a major empathy problem. (Employee rebuttals haven't always helped, depending on your perspective.)

Granted, Vogels has a great point: The automation tool this salesman's using definitely needs some fine-tuning. But why call out the guy who's trying to sell your product--and making your company money?

All of this could have been solved with a single, easy action:

Vogels could have blurred out the salesman's last name. He would have made his point, got some laughs, and spared the little guy some embarrassment--instead of throwing him under the bus.

The good news: As a company, Amazon has shown evidence of being able to learn from criticism--including from that Times article from last year.

Let's hope everyone takes a lesson from this one, too.

Published on: Nov 28, 2016
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