Eliminating the Sleaze Factor in Marketing

In the twenty years that I’ve been teaching entrepreneurs about sales and marketing, the most significant barrier to success named by my clients and students is that they simply don’t like to market and sell.

The roots of this dislike are varied. Sometimes what gets in the way is fear of rejection, or self-doubt of one’s abilities. Other times it’s lack of knowledge or inexperience; most of us don’t like to do things when we feel we can’t do them well. But a theme that rears its ugly head over and over again is this: a belief that sales and marketing is dishonest, manipulative, and sleazy.

You might expect me to argue that these negative portrayals of marketing are not true. But in reality, they often are. Most of us experience on a daily basis inauthentic marketing, manipulative selling, and attempts at persuasion that rub us the wrong way. When we note our distaste for these tactics, consciously or unconsciously, we allow them to color our attitude about marketing in general, and our own marketing in particular.

Of course we don’t want others to think of us as untruthful, manipulative, or pushy. So once we characterize sales and marketing as deserving of those adjectives, a natural outgrowth is that we begin to avoid doing it.

I’m not suggesting that you, the person reading this article, are a sleazy marketer. In fact, I suspect it’s much more likely that you aren’t. But it just may be that you need to convince yourself of that truth in order to raise your comfort level about sales and marketing. To that end, I offer the following guidelines.

You are NOT a sleazy marketer, if:

  • You only promise what you know you can deliver. You don’t make unrealistic promises and overblown claims, because you know they backfire in the long run. Even when exaggerations like these convince customers to buy, when their purchase doesn’t live up to the hype, they feel misled and dissatisfied. Unhappy customers don’t make repeat purchases or refer others.
  • You always represent your abilities and experience accurately. You’re not afraid to let customers know how good you are at what you do, but you don’t feel the need to fabricate a background that doesn’t exist. Instead, you play up your strengths, tell stories about past successes, and rely on positive references.
  • You explain why you are good rather than why the competition is bad. You know that running down the competition only makes you look jealous or defensive. Your competitors are also your colleagues, and can often become some of your best referral sources. You don’t hesitate to stress your unique competitive advantages and emphasize the benefits of your products and services, but you do so without disparaging others.
  • You never trick people into taking or returning your calls. You wouldn’t think of asking someone’s receptionist to put through your call by giving misleading information. Nor do you leave voice mail messages implying that your call is for a purpose other than the real one. The most productive sales conversations are always with people who are open to having them.
  • You ask for permission to follow up or to add prospects to your list. When you ask a prospect “may I call you again next quarter?” you are both agreeing that a follow-up conversation is worth having. You’ll feel more confident making future contacts when you know they are welcome. You also know that subscribing people to your email list without permission only annoys them, so you always ask first.
  • You stop selling when it’s clear the customer doesn’t need what you’re offering. In a sales conversation, of course you respond to objections with counterpoints, but you do so respectfully, and never push customers past their own comfort zone. When prospects make it clear that they don’t have a
  • current need for your products and services and don’t wish to continue hearing about them, you thank them for their time and move on.

Post this list by your computer and your telephone. Read it over before writing marketing copy or making sales calls. Do whatever it takes to reassure yourself that your own sales and marketing is honest, ethical, and authentic. Once you are confident that any hint of the sleaze factor has been eliminated from your marketing, it’s my bet that you will want to engage in sales and marketing more enthusiastically, with more pride, and more often.

By C.J. Hayden

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