B2B Companies: A Social Media Cautionary Tale
B to B Companies: Social Marketing and A Cautionary Tale
B to B Companies: Social Marketing and A Cautionary Tale

Dear John,

I’m sorry to have to say this to you but I don’t want you to contact me any more. The last email you sent pretty much did it for me with you and your kind.  What you said  is so annoying that although I didn’t say this to you directly (because I don’t even bother to answer your calls and emails), if I were to talk to you I would say, “You don’t have the right to email or contact me.”

In case you forgot what got me so upset, here it is:


I was hoping to get a few minutes of your time this week to briefly introduce myself and  my company.  We are the industry’s  best price/performance advanced traffic manager – helping enterprises and ISPs maximize application through a high-performance and  scalable Web Application Delivery Platform.

Is there a convenient time for us to chat so I can further explain how our solution can  improve application performance? I look forward to speaking with you.

You’re not alone, John.  A lot of you guys pull this.  Here’s a voicemail  from earlier in the same day from someone just like you.


I tried reaching you today but unfortunately got your voicemail.  Are you available  sometime this week for a brief 10 minute Webex?  I’d love to show you active  campaigns  we’re running with sites similar sites  and to answer any questions you  may have.

Would this Wednesday around 12:00pm PST work with your schedule?

Look forward to your reply.

I don’t want to sound picky, but I’m not on PST, so why would you schedule a meeting that doesn’t even relate to my time zone?  Could it be because you don’t even have a clue where I am?

John, cold calling went out the door with door-to-door salesmen and mass marketing and yet, I get an average of five emails and calls from you guys every day … often double that.  The absurdity of your approach can only be compared to a stranger coming up to me on the street and asking me to go out for a cup of coffee.  Actually, since I almost always want a cup of coffee, it’s more like a stranger coming up to me on the street and asking me to buy a toaster.

Where did you go wrong, you ask? First of all, you never really tried to establish a relationship based on being helpful.  I realize this takes time, but so does building a business.  Your cold call is to selling what playing the slot machines is to earning a living.  Second, you never tried to understand anything about my business.  Maybe if I were desperate for ways to spend my time and did decide to take your call, I know that your presentation is going to be as canned as the message I hear when I am on hold at my bank.

Stop talking and pushing what you have.  You interrupt me at my office in my email and on my voicemail and the one time I did pick up the phone it turns out you barely knew who I was. Did you even look at my company’s website, Facebook page or Twitter stream?  If you did, you wouldn’t talk to me the way you talk to every other company. Why wouldn’t you do some homework and wow me with your knowledge of my business and how you’ve found some low-hanging fruit that your product would fix?  Oh, I forgot, that would require effort.

What could you have done to make this work out?  Maybe if I heard you speak at a conference, and thought you had something helpful and interesting to say I would give you my card. Maybe if you tweeted great links that helped me understand more about the issues I am dealing with in my business I would choose to follow you.  Or, perhaps you could blog on a topic I am focusing on to build my business, and I could learn to care about and respect you.  Or better yet, maybe you are so awesome at what you do that someone who used your service told me about it.  It would be a start.

Yet, even these opportunities got flubbed.  I spent a lot of money and time coming to a conference a few months ago.  I visited your booth and asked for some information. You gave me the elevator pitch in language that may as well be Latin–something about an end to end solution that helps you leverage bla bla bla.   When you talk to me maybe you could pretend that both of us are human?  Then, to top it off, when a “more important” person came into your booth you turned away.

And here’s a tip that would really win me over: when we get down the road a bit and you know more about my business and I am clear that I need what you offer, don’t just keep following up if you don’t hear from me.  Help me justify the ROI to myself and my CEO.  If you could work with me to help me to at least give a credible projection of how I could  succeed financially by connecting with you, I’d be yours.

There are things you could have done to become interesting to me; to make me trust you; to make me want to connect with you. John, a relationship takes time and effort and you weren’t willing to do what it takes.  The fact is that you never even knew if I was in the market for someone like you.

For future reference, don’t call me, I’ll call you.  And, I’ll only do that if I’m interested  and if you’ve given me a reason to think you’re different from the other guys.

P.S. From now on, whenever I or my friends have a problem with people like you, I think we’ll just send this link instead of answering.  You won’t mind the canned response will you?

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About the Author

Ilana Rabinowitz
Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.
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  • J Scott

    How do sales people learn about your company unless YOU give the information? If you think marketing is sitting at a desk waiting for people to contact you, well… Good luck with that. If I cold call it is because I have a service that might improve your business. If you aren’t interested in hearing the offer, then that is your loss. I just move on to someone who isn’t dumb enough to think that every good opportunity is one they initiate. Why do I cold call? Because I can offer a solution that improves a prospects business and I make money offering it. The fool who sends me this link? Ha! Their loss. I wish them the best, but know those that think they have all the answers themselves will never reach their full potential.

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  • N. Lamborn, SPHR

    The CTO at my company recently recommended a brilliant strategy to the massive numbers of solicitations we receive of this nature. His response is “I would love for you to come to my office and spend an hour with me to pitch your product. I charge $1,000 per hour to listen to sales pitches, and if we decide to move forward with purchasing your product, we will credit that $1,000 towards the purchase price. Do we have a deal?”

    So far, we’ve had no takers. Wonder what this says about what they’re pitching?

    • Jscottlarson

      The CTO sounds like a short sighted fool. Why would I pay a fool $1000 to offer a product or service that can improve his business? I am interested in a mutually beneficial relationship. If the CTO is asking such a stupid request and getting no takers it says nothing about what people are pitching and everything about his/her arrogance. I guess such dismissals make your CTO’s ego feel soothed, but they do little to improve your business. I would never hire/work for some so blatently proud of their own arrogance.

  • LG

    Ilana, I gather you have had the good fortune to have never been in Sales, real sales I mean. Not direct marketing though a catalog or website, where you don’t ever deal with your customers one to one.

    Cold calling IS cold AND difficult, but sometimes it enlightens you to a product or solution of which you would have otherwise been unaware. Most good managers will LISTEN to new ideas and products. HMMM I have always been shocked by marketing managers who refuse to listen to the value proposition. Tunnel vision is a malady that will result in your business faltering.

    Of course, I agree that salespeople who just ‘throw it at the wall’ without vetting the prospect beforehand, and devising a strategy to provide value are wasting their time and yours. But your attitude is very hauty, not only from a business perspective, but from a personal one as well.

    What do you recommend a salesperson do to get your attention? Move into your building? Marry your cousin?

    • Ilana Rabinowitz

      I’m sorry to say that there is little a salesperson could do to get my attention if I am not in the market for what that person is selling. If I am in the market for a service I will ask for referrals from others or I will have already established contact by reading their corporate blog, choosing to listen to their webinar or subscribing to their newsletter. If I were to listen to every salesperson’s value proposition I would spend 2 to 4 hours a day doing just that based on the number of contacts I receive.

      Maybe cold calling works often enough to make it worthwhile. It does seem like a very difficult way to do business though.

  • Unfortunately mass e-mailing does work to create awareness and magazines still carry many adverts, again, to create awareness as does search engine results, facebook , linkedin (Kreatek), again to create awareness. (Kreatek). You may delete the first, second, third…one hundredth and spam filters may catch other e-mails (Kreatek), but consistency breads awareness. (Kreatek).

    There are a few who will buy from the first phone call, not many. (Kreatek).
    So the more you read (Kreatek) the more you become aware of (Kreatek); at least in name. When we do finally meet at a conference after my talk about Collaboration you will be warmer and may even say, you know, I’ve heard of you guys.(Kreatek)

    Good post and yes I agree, the more you spend researching a prospect the better the chances especially if you find that one nugget of information that connects you and the person you are about to call.

    And one final note, please don’t think Kreatek at 8:30 this evening.

    • George, do you really mean baking “breads” awareness or did you mean that repetition BREEDS awareness?  Please don’t bake any of my awareness.

    • George, do you really mean baking “breads” awareness or did you mean that repetition BREEDS awareness?  Please don’t bake any of my awareness.

  • So true Ilana! Particularly loved this line, “Your cold call is to selling what playing the slot machines is to earning a living.” I know if I receive a cold call, they have about 5 seconds to catch my attention and it's certainly not going to happen if they sound like they're reading off a script!

  • Well said, Ilana. Your post vividly illustrates how traditional cold calling is rapidly moving from merely a low productivity selling method to actually being counter-productive – irritating and turning off potential buyers to further contact with a seller. I wrote about this 6 weeks ago in my blog at The Forum Corp http://tinyurl.com/6z5dzks . The debate rages on the internet about the value of cold calling. Sales people must absolutely prospect for new business contacts and opportunities consistency and creatively. The problem you capture so well in your “Dear John” letter is the failure in imagination and empathy on the part of sales people who cold call indiscriminately and with little to no preparation. Social media is rapidly changing the way buyers make purchase decisions, so sales people must become much savvier in how they find and initiate contact with new prospects.

  • Gadsby

    Her next book should be an IDG Dummies book entitled “How to be arrogant”.

    She's been fooling a lot of people and organisations, it seems, to have had such recognition.

    Reading the above, I'll assume she habitually walks quickly past homeless people and tells them to get a job under her breath.

  • Slosby

    What an arrogant bitch!

  • Harygolden

    She's just a prima donna. Who cares what she has to say?

  • Hazepeel

    This aticle is NOT about Social Marketing. Perhaps reading a definition of what Social Marketing is might help. http://www.social-marketing.co… Please don't confuse the two. Thank you kindly!

    • Hazelpeel

      http://www.social-marketing.co… definition of social marketing. Perhaps you meant social media??

    • Thank you for pointing out the definition of social marketing as marketing for social good. My intention in using the phrase social marketing, was to encompass social media (using digital tools for social interactions) with other forms of relationship building marketing like networking at conferences.

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  • CAB

    The reason you receive these calls is because most sale organizations still live by the archiac school of thought that making as many 'dials' as possible will yield results. Throw enough crap against the wall, and eventually something will stick. This methodology is based soley on volumn.

    A few years back, I attended a national sales meeting where a panel of 7 senior-level execs shared thoughts on what it takes to for them to meet with a sales professional with whom they've never met or done business. In no particular order, they said:

    1. Know something about my business/industry/job.
    2. Understand my competition
    3. Be able to articulate how your organization can help them achieve organization/department/personal goals such as increasing market share, lower costs, and M&As.
    4. Provide solid examples of how you and/or your company have done all of the above.

    In order to do this, a sales professional needs time to research their prospects. Most don't have the time because their management is soley focused on managing metrics (i.e. dials, connects, conversations, etc.) If you ask a person to give you 80 calls/ day, do you know what you get? You get 80 calls/day. You get 80 empty, meaningless calls because that's what they need to do to keep their job.

    What most sales executives fail to understand is that sales people have chosen this profession because they want to make money. If it were up to me, I would completely eliminate these meaningless metrics, and start by hiring the right people, tell them how they get paid, for what they get paid, and how much they get paid, and let them do what you pay them to do. It creates a Result Only Work Environment (ROWE). In addition, sales reps/manager will be better able to focus on real deals/opportunities, and not logging/managing bogus numbers that have no real impact or results.

    • TTyk

      80 meaningless callsper day / sounds like you have also worked for Linevsky at some point

  • Ilana,

    I think that your insights related to “doing the homework” are spot on and I could not agree more. That is a very very important aspect of the selling process and I agree that “telemarketing churn” (dials/hour) are not the best method of selling to CMO's and VP's.

    However, I must respectfully disagree with “cold calling went out the door with door-to-door salesmen” I suspect that Evan, your national accounts manager, still makes cold calls. If he is not looking at new people and meeting them for the first time then he's not doing his job. All first time meetings are considered “cold”

    Although I'm not in disagreement with the importance of many things that you cite, the general tone of you commentary has a bit of an “air of arrogance” that is somewhat disturbing. Again, it's no so much of the content as the tenor.

    In looking over you LinkedIn profile it does not appear that you've done much direct selling yourself and you don't appear to have much of an appreciation or respect for the sales profession.

    BTW, I've been following a discussion on Quora that may interest you “what makes a social media expert?” http://tinyurl.com/26danw9 I mention this as your profile indicates that you have 'expertise' in social media.

    Perhaps, in order for sales people to have a better understanding of you and your company you might change your “my company” link to “Lion Brand” or is it “Lion Brand Yarn Company”? I'm not sure, are they different companies? One has a company profile and the other does not.

    Many years ago I made a cold call on a company, just to get the right contact name and drop off a business card. I was immediately taken into the President's office (quite unexpected as this was a campus of company buildings) He sat me down and saw the look of shock on my face. He said “you're surprised to meet me? I meet all sales people and learn either something about what they're selling, about them, or, worst case about their techniques or things about their companies promotions and marketing so we can take the stuff and use it for our sales efforts”

    I've found myself in conversations where I've looked a salesperson in the eye and said “You know YOU are a great salesperson, your competitor probably upsets more people than you, he doesn't know his product, he's horrible with follow-up, he should probably be fired, BUT, once I got past that, they actually have a damn good product and he's out of the loop once I sign up with them”

    As a professional I tend to look past “bad selling” and look at the merits of a product. If their canned bullet point info is interesting I ask and find out who can answer my questions. In my opinion if you are basing business decisions on your emotional perceptions and reactions that's probably not doing the best service for your company.

    • Bernard, I am sorry you think that the note came off as arrogant. I certainly do not feel superior, I feel frustrated and sometimes angry at the onslaught of calls that are inappropriate. I am unhappy that I can't take the time to respond to 30 – 40 calls and emails every single week and when I do, and try to explain that I am not a good prospect, I end up in a debate with someone who isn't willing to hear this. I used to, as a courtesy, respond to every sales call because I realize that selling is hard, but being bombarded means that I can no longer do that and that potentially useful calls get filtered out as well.

      • …And I am sorry if my comments where too harsh. I can understand the frustration. I just deleted 5 emails today like the one you described. I read them all and I did look at one website.

        You are right, it's the spam level stuff that is really annoying particularly the ones that come from competitors who's offering to us is for products and services that are outdated… kinda like get solicited for a typewriter and them pushing after I've said we use computers.

        I think, like in many industries, 2% of salespeople give the other 98% a bad name. There are many reasons, some of which have been outlined here (dial counts, call reports, etc) but I've also found that some of the bet salespeople whom I have dealt with over the years went thru those horrid “trial by fire” dial counts when they started. They tend to hate and realize it's bad, but the experience turns them out better.

        The problem I suppose is the people who have just had those experiences are left with baggage and then hang up when the person who actually has a really good product call. It's sifting through. Have a great day and thanks for sharing your thoughts. All ideas are good if it stimulates conversation and makes us all think

  • Ordze

    Ilana, I was living in your article as I read it. I absolutely cringe when I pick up the phone and hear the silence after saying “hello”, yet another auto dialer connecting me to someone who tries to sound as though they know me and I've supported their charity or business before, bla, bla, bla. As a Realtor cold calling is a popular option to drum up business and guilty! I've done it and after 200 calls finally see success. But in the end this is not a good use of time and the results are poor, and most likely ticked off some people. On any given day I'd much rather mingle and connect on social media or even better, in person!

  • And to think, I was just about to send her a cold email ;). I was actually having this argument and I think Ilana hit on the exact point, it takes a lot of work to know people and their needs/viewpoints. In an era where a lot of information is out there about each person, we should do a bit more research to personalize the experience (check linkedin, company website, person's blog) instead of expecting that because of our instant connection abilities, a person will immediately respond.

  • Doug

    It's not their fault…it's their idiot managers who insist on cold calls and canned VM messages from sales training classes. I used to have a manager that insisted that you make 50 cold calls per day in the hope to get just 1 person to answer. Didn't work then, won't work now. Wake up management.

  • Ted

    More research into your Prospects will always yield better results. This guy is ignorant and won't buy anything anyway. Especially if he does not believe it his his “own idea” Go on to the next one. Find one of his colleagues who is more straight forward, they will help you and influence the sale. People do get irritated if you have not done your homework, but sometimes even when you have done your prep, you still meet a “Giant” like this and it requires a different approach. Most telemarketing rooms are just geared for Numbers and not Nuance, and that is what he is reacting to and that is why this “idiot” took the time to send that “Dear John” Email in the first place. “Uh, I am King, you bastard, don't call me anymore.” -call him 2 weeks later he will not remember you. Use a different approach, name, etc He might become a buyer, for example use Direct Mail on that person instead of Cold Call. Persistence can also overcome these situations. Just some thoughts from my experience.

    • Interesting thought process Ted. But, if you read carefully you would realize I am not a guy, but, whatever, details don't matter.
      Just remember, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

  • Hi Mark and Anna, I appreciate it. I got my first chance to send the link. All I had to do was say “Dear Josh” instead of “Dear John” Hey, that's what they do with us.

  • Seogo

    Let it go man. The guy is probably trying to feed his kids and survive tough times and doing the best he can out there. Give him a break. The reason he moved away from you at the conference was probably because he identified you as a professional tyre kicker (pretty close given the boxes you require ticking prior to doing business with someone) and just maybe he didn't want to spend the rest of his days pretending to be your friend, tweeting you or attempting to generate a spiritual connection with you for a low value order and so moved on to an individual which his intuition told him may actually be prepared to part with some cash in return for his product or service. This is how the world works. It's called selling. And different industries have different ways to approach it, as in time spent developing prospects versus reward. If nobody sells (in volume), nothing happens. You do what you do. He does what he does. And the world keeps moving. He probably made 15 calls and got 3 leads in the time it took you to compose your rant. And at least he has the balls to communicate directly with another human being instead of taking the keyboard warrior route. Grow a set and call him if it's that big a deal.

    • I appreciate that the sales process can be frustrating. If this approach works for you, good luck with it.

  • bookmarked!

  • Mark Silva

    Wow. Totally agree. I've been feeling rude and a bit of a low-level irritation over rebuffing these sales tactics as I prioritize one of our most precious resources of time. I felt the passive aggression was transforming to outright aggression as they perfected this sales approach. I'm going to feel a lot better referring those that successfully circumnavigated all my screens to this post. Thanks. Be great. Cheers.


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  • Marnie G.

    I love how you rant! It's the rant I always hold back when getting “prospected”. Brilliant. No more holding back.

  • Absolutely fantastic. There's nothing that bothers me more than unprovoked sales pitches. My phone rings daily with things I need to buy. I'm always getting emails about Why I need this or that. Bah. Learn what I do, why I do it and see where your product line fits in. THEN we can talk turkey. Thanks for this… glad to know there are others out there too that realize that the sales process has completely changed. Get with it or get lost.

  • It was ironic that as I was reading this I received an email to our info@ account. “Did you know if you did this bologna and bought this ….” An extremely refreshing article to read today. Enough of the instant gratification and starting thinking about the people you are dealing with. I appreciate your insights and share your sentiments.

    • Jonathan, not surprising. I guess it is the philosophy of, “if I make virtually not effort” what could be the downside. Sad.

  • Excellent post! It's amazing how little effort it would actually take for some people to rise about a large chunk of their competition (a.k.a. noise). They might say there's no time for that additional work. I think it's pretty obvious what having a higher percentage of closed deals based on standing out from the competition and knowing your customer would do to your need to contact as many people as possible.

    • Thanks! It's true that it is more work to research and create a relationship but at least it is productive work.

  • Aural Addict

    The only thing worse than getting one of these is getting two…

  • Ilana,

    I absolutely love this article! Thank you.

  • You're not alone! I understand how you feel tee hee! great post.

  • Ken and Nick I'm really happy to hear people in sales understand the frustration with these calls. I sometimes feel guilty ignoring calls and emails but unfortunately, it's the only way I can prioritize how I spend my time.

  • I love it Ilana. Bravo.

  • Great post Ilana. I can definitely relate as I get these types of emails and calls on regular basis. I do understand their motivation and the only reason why I read through the emails is to see if 'John' writes something unique. I'm disappointed every time.

  • What a fantastic Dear John letter, Ilana. I

  • Amazing. You have no idea how many times I have told the sales people at my company to do the research and participate in the community before blindly calling someone. Well said!


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