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When Is Spam, Spam?

You have probably received an email that starts:  “I came across your website and I would like to propose my services…” or “Please pardon the interruption, but I would like to propose our services…”

What is your first gut reaction when you see this? If you’re like me, probably to hit the “delete” button. And if you’re feeling particularly peeved, you might hit the “Identify as Spam” while you’re at it.

But the temptation to send out these kinds of e-mail is huge. You need to let people know that you exist. And everyone is doing it, right?  So why are you still doing it, even if the return on these kinds of campaigns, whether by e-mail, postal mail, telephone, social media update or ad, or other means, is pitiful?

I agree that it’s important to reach out and let people know what you offer. How you do it, though, is the difference between generating indifference or interest. So what is the difference between a message that captures a prospect’s interest and one that turns them off?  When is spam, spam?  

Whenever you plan on sending a promotional e-mail, make a prospecting call or meet someone at a networking event, keep this golden rule firmly in mind:

Every contact you make must bring something of value to the recipient.

If your communication or your contact does not meet this requirement, then it IS spam in the recipient’s eyes, whether it be an e-mail, phone call or in-person encounter, and especially whether you intended it to be spam or not. Spam, therefore, is in the eye of the beholder.

We are bombarded by pitches that do nothing more than interrupt our train of thought. When you offer something of value, with no strings attached, you quickly break through the noise and get noticed.

The “something of value” doesn’t need to be huge. It can be a simple open question, phrase or tidbit to pique their interest.

In my article “Build Your Credibility By Being A Content Creator“, I talk about five ways to add value:

1. Education: lessons and recommendations that emerge from your experience with your customers (for example, case studies);

2. Demonstration: Describe how to do something related to your specialty (for example, this “how to” article);

3. Opinion: Your comments on situations or the news, always related to your specialty and how you want to be known. Your opinion demonstrates how you interpret situations and propose solutions. Be careful to remain respectful and politically neutral;

4. Recommendation: Provide resources (books, articles, videos, contacts) related to your specialty;

5. Information: Communicating news about your specialty, passing along items from the media demonstrating various aspects of what you do (example: a tax specialist passing along news of changes to the law).

The key is to engage the prospect, ask questions, build rapport and credibility, let them find out who you are while you learn about them. Flirt with your prospect before proposing marriage.

Here is an exercise to turn the next annoying interruption you receive (e-mail, phone call or contact) into a learning moment: take a look at the message, and ask yourself: “If I were in the other person’s shoes, how could I reframe the message to bring something of value in the contact?”

When you ensure that your first contact brings something of value to the person you are contacting, you start building good will – the currency of trust. And if it is done right, you end up being able to pre-assess your prospect to see if he or she is a good fit for you. And that’s an important step to getting More and Better Clients.

For more information

This post was inspired by listening to an archived episode of  “The Age Of Persuasion” available on the CBC Radio site: http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/2009/02/season_3_episode_breaking_the.html

I heartily recommend listening to the whole series, Saturdays 10am on CBC Radio One, on Sirius and on the web at

The writer and presenter of the series, Toronto copywriter Terry O’Reilly, keeps an interesting blog http://www.terryoreilly.ca/ and Twitter stream http://twitter.com/AgeOfPersuasion

I wrote two essays on the topic of “interruption marketing”:

Here is the post that discusses how to add value through “content creation”

Here is a post where I directly address someone who “cold-called” me:

And the Monty Python sketch that gave rise to calling Spam, Spam:

Direct link on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_eYSuPKP3Y

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