Happy Halloween, folks! I always love seeing the morbid creativity that comes along with this holiday. This morning, I spotted a grim-reaper-evil-clown hybrid, a dead (and possibly frost-bitten) fairytale princess, and a good old-fashioned ax murderer. But as terrifying as these costumes are, I just keep thinking that they do not compare to the bone-chilling horror that comes with bad business communication. Do you feel me?
Being in and out of the offices of my clients, I get to hear the rantings and ravings of executives quite often; lately, I've even been in the room for some of the most horrific communication blunders that have occurred in the name of a sales. And they all seem to boil down to these three common themes:
1. "Your Business Sucks!"
A couple of months ago, I was working with a client who had built a startup that grossed about half a billion in revenue, which by all accounts is impressive. The company is at a cross roads in which they may be getting away from the service they were originally doing and there are naturally some growing pains.
During this time, a certain executive consultant set a meeting with the CEO of this company to sell himself and his service. Within two minutes, he was was telling the CEO everything that was wrong with the company in a laughable tone, painting himself as the hero that could come in and fix everything.
For lack of a better phrase, I call this the "Your Business Sucks! Tactic." This is one of the most amateur moves a professional can make during a pitch, not to mention, it's downright unkind.
Number one, as an outsider looking in, this guy had no idea about the inner workings of the company or the real challenges they faced, so he was making stabs in the dark. Secondly, all of the disdain and fear mongering he was spouting didn't make him look strong and knowledgeable, it made him appear cruel and desperate. And no one wants to work with someone like that. Scaling a startup is hard; you don't go into someone's hard-earned business like a bull in a china shop. Ever.
I've seen this tactic play out in professional settings, romantic relationships, and yes, even political campaigns. If it works on you, you'll instantly regret that it did.
2. "You Have to Act Now!"
This old school "I'm calling you on a Wednesday and you need to give me an answer by Friday" sales tactic has got to go.
When you work in marketing (for example), you get a lot of sales pitches for sponsorship. And when you're managing a budget that was probably set at the beginning of the year and it's September, there are numerous people that need to agree to an unexpected expense.
Too many times, I've had a sales person call me and pitch sponsorship space that costs $50,000+ only to give me a week or two to decide. They usually say something along the lines of "Well, I'm not trying to push you, but space is filling up. So if you don't let me know by Friday, you'll probably lose the slot." And I usually let them know that it'll take longer than that because we need time to review and approve the unexpected expense, so if we lose the spot, we understand.
Inevitably, they call a few months later to ask if we still want the slot.
See, all of the phone calls trying to sell us on it told me that spaces were not filling up. Because if they were, they wouldn't need to call me. Transparency works in sales and all business. Pushy behavior is a red flag that sends a clear message that the product or service being sold is probably not all it's cracked up to be.
3. "I'm Doing You a Huge Favor"
If someone ever tells you "I'm doing you a huge favor," you should probably do your own self a favor and not allow them to whatever it is they were going to do.
Say you start building a relationship with a new person in your network. You want to show that you're committed to being of value to her, so you consistently show support by introducing her to the right people, getting her work, or lending a hand with a specific project that requires your area of expertise.
You keep providing this value without asking for anything in return for quite a while. Then after a time, you finally ask for something reasonable and she makes a huge production out of it. "I'm doing you a HUGE favor. You're going to owe me big time," she says. Then after the thing is done, she constantly brings up the time she did you the favor, without remembering everything you did.
People like this are very rarely dumb. They know what you've done for them and they want you to continue doing it, while putting in as little effort as possible, so they try and make you think they've done so much for you. Which begs the question, do you really want to associate with someone like this?
Great business relationships are mutually beneficial. In the best case scenarios, both parties are mindful of offering value to one another. If someone is behaving with this martyr-like mentality, you need to set them straight. If it's not productive, you may want to think about phasing them out of your network.
As a business leader, you have the ability to cultivate a nurturing and inspiring environment for yourself. Being horrified out of our minds is nice on Halloween - but let's not let the novelty wear off by inviting this kind of scary communication during the rest of the year!