A clear sign of the times. I got a phone call from a local branch of a big ol’ bank.
“Hello, this is Stevie Ray.”
“Hello Mr. Ray. This is Jessica Langford from Big Ol’ Bank. I’m calling to talk to you about having Big Ol’ Bank help your company with its banking needs.”
“I…uh…thanks, but we’re pretty much covered in that area.”
“You’re happy with your current bank?”
“Okay. May I ask who you currently bank with?”
“I’m not really interested in discussing that right now.”
“I understand. Would it be all right to send you my business card if you need any banking help in the future?”
“Thanks and have a great day.”
The chance of my having a “great day” is inversely proportional to how many of those types of phone calls I receive. Let’s start with everything that Jessica, Jessica’s manager, and Big Ol’ Bank itself did wrong, then we’ll talk about the real nitty gritty.
First, she asked for something rather than offering. No one sits around in their office hoping they get the chance to give something away (okay, maybe religious professionals, but no one cares about their banking needs). She would have had much better luck with, “Mr. Ray, Big Ol’ Bank has been looking at businesses in your industry and your size and we’ve discovered some major mistakes that are costing companies money.” Knowing that most Americans are suspicious of “free offers” she could have added, “We’re not trying to get you to switch your banking to us. Of course if you did it would be great, but we think that no matter where you bank, with the tough economy we should offer any help we can for our neighboring companies to save money.”
The real test would have been for me to receive this great money-saving information with no strings attached. Right now, in this economy, it feels the most difficult to give. Give, give give!
Second, she didn’t do her homework. Lazy people aren’t trusted and they get no respect. She didn’t know anything about my company, so why should I give her the time of day? The great thing is homework these days isn’t nearly as difficult as it used to be. Every organization in the world has a website. The sad thing is, hardly anyone takes advantage of this simple tool. How hard would it be to pull up the homepage of the company you are calling? Take just sixty seconds to learn about them and say, “I understand you consult with food service providers to help them with transportation. We’ve done some work with a number of transportation companies in town and might have some good information for you.” If one caller actually took the time to learn about my company before picking up the phone, call the paramedics to come and revive me!
Third, she asked for inside information. I know that my company’s banking practices are not on the FBI’s list of classified information, but Jessica was asking me to provide information about my company before she had established any basis of trust. It is true that I would share this information with a total stranger who was calling on behalf of a survey or polling company, but they aren’t trying to get my business. Trust is based on what I perceive your agenda to be. If your agenda is to help me I will tell you anything, if your question is solely for your own benefit I won’t even tell you my shoe size.
Fourth, She sent me her business card What’s wrong with that?! How else am I supposed to enter all of her vital information into my database? What kind of a business person would she be if she didn’t have a card? The problem was, she asked to give me her business card, I didn’t ask her to send it. We have all been at networking sessions where someone suggests, “Let me give you my card.” Like most people, I’ll agree to take your card just to placate you, so I accepted her card. When it arrived in the mail, it went immediately in the trash, just like most of the cards you bring home from networking functions.
Jessica—and the boss who created this idiotic plan for business growth—think that she has done her job by “getting her name in front of a lot of people.” The truth is, I can’t even remember her name (I’m sure you guessed that “Jessica Langford” is fictitious. If there is a real Jessica Langford out there, I apologize. I’m sure you’re a nice person). I follow a strict rule; I never give my business card to anyone unless they ask for it. This means I must be so valuable that people must have my card. Accomplishing that goal is simple, focus on the other person’s problems and solve them.
Fifth, no follow-up. The phone call with Jessica took place a few months ago. I haven’t heard from her since. She should have ended the call with, “I’ll put it in my calendar to check in with you a couple of months to see if things are still going okay. And if I find any new information in the meantime I’ll send it your way.” I should have heard from her at least once by now, and that contact should have included something of benefit for me, not so she can ask for my business again.
Final mistake, “Where have you been all my life?” You call me now? When the economy sucks and you’re in trouble? Where were you when I first opened my doors and could have used some advice? Where were you when I relocated to this location (and your office was right around the corner)? You ignore me for years and now you want my business? I have two words for you, and they are not “Good morning.”
If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it said a thousand times over the past year, “One good thing about this bad economy is that it will weed out the lousy businesses who were just skating by on good times.” That is probably true, but being a business owner I feel a loss whenever any business fails, whether it is was run well or not. I would rather that this lousy economy teaches all of us to get back to doing business the right way. Not the panic moves of the phone-calls, the door-to-doors, or the “Now we want to be your best friends.”
If you want me to believe that I am important to you, treat me that way all the time, not just when you need me. Figure out how you can help me, don’t just ask me to pull you out of a jam. Keep in touch, but make the contact good for me, not just another way to ask for my business. Don’t be lazy, do your homework. We’re all going to have to work a little harder for the same dollar that, three years ago, just floated in the door, and that’s probably a good thing. Give your business a good image by doing business, not panicking.
P.S. Just as I was finishing this column the phone rang. It was a local hotel letting me know about a new “V.I.P. Special” that would allow me to…” That’s as far as I let the guy talk.
Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management. He can be reached at 612-825-1832 or firstname.lastname@example.org.