This has to STOP…

by Derek Halpern | Follow Him on Twitter Here

I’ve got three things for you today: A rant, a lesson about selling that will serve you well, and a quick request.

Let’s start with the fun stuff, the rant…

Look At These Two People – Don’t Do What They Do

This week, on Facebook, I posted about a new piece of software I developed (with a partner). It’s called Zippy Courses (it’s a WordPress plugin for online course creators) and I’m sharing it with the world on August 1st.

I didn’t make a big deal about it, mainly because I’m not looking to sell that many copies of the plugin… yet. We’re only doing a soft launch this week.

A few people were excited. The NYT Best-selling author Chris Brogan said, “Dude. I totally need this. Wow!” Another reader, Pamela, said “I was just thinking about how I needed something like this. Perfect timing!”

I was happy. Until someone forwarded me this:

Course poaching

Yep, you’re reading this right.

People are excited about the new software I created… and a competitor messaged some of the people as a way to turn my potential client into theirs.

What’s funny was this: THIS WASN’T THE ONLY PERSON WHO DID IT. Someone else forwarded me this email:

Course poaching

Me being me, what do you think I did?

I called one of them on the phone. I messaged the other on Facebook. We’ve since worked out our problem together, but they left me scratching my head.

Why?

They both said “This happens all the time.”

And I believe them. Recently I started using a new piece of software to power my popup on Social Triggers. It’s called BounceExchange. And every week, like clockwork, I’ll get an email from a competitor that says, “I see you’re using Bounce Exchange, you should use us instead…”

Strange.

That’s when I realized: If there was a riot in San Francisco, tech people would loot anything and everything… just because other people were doing it.

Sigh.

What CRACKS ME UP is this:

I asked them how they’d feel if I went down their client list, and messaged each of them. Both of them said they wouldn’t like it. Naturally.

Oh tech people.

They notoriously HATE marketing and selling. And they’ll slam people who try to grow their business…

…but then we look at their actions. Behind closed doors, when nobody is looking, they’re marketing and selling in the worst way possible.

I’m me. I LOVE competition. I grew up playing chess, had a stint as a professional gamer, and nothing makes me happier than beating someone who’s trying to beat me.

But this has got to stop.

Not because it’s slimy. Not because it’s border-line unethical. It has to stop because this is a HORRIBLE way to win business.

And that brings me to the lesson…

When you’re looking to sell people on something, you can either look for a new customer…

…or you can attempt to persuade someone to switch from your competitor to you.

On the surface, you’d think the switch is easier. After all, they’re already using a product like yours.

But in reality, convincing someone to switch from one product to another is one of the hardest things to do. Especially if they’re not showing any public display of frustration or annoyance.

And while they didn’t start using my product yet, approaching someone who’s clearly excited about one thing, and trying to push that excitement on to your product is just as hard.

That’s why, when you’re selling, you shouldn’t focus on the switch. Instead, you should focus on growing the market by finding new customers. It will be much easier to convince them to buy.

I’ll explain.

Let’s use my popup by BounceExchange as an example. If you see I’m using it, you could try to convince me to abandon my company and use you…

…or you can find blogs like mine that don’t use BounceExchange. And say something as simple as, “it looks like you’re not using a popup like your competitor, Social Triggers. We offer a product similar to what they’re using if you’re interested in learning more.”

And guess what..

That would work much better. I’d probably be mad that you’re name dropping me in your sales email, but this is completely above board in my book.

And you wouldn’t be crossing a grey line during your business development attempts.

Now I have a request…

What I realize about this whole debacle is this:

People aren’t bad people. They just don’t know how to market and sell their products and services the right way.

Either: they never learn, or they never had the right experience.

That’s why I’m putting together all new material on selling. And I’d like to hear more about what you’d like to learn about.

So, if you could take a second and fill out this short questionnaire, I’d be eternally grateful.

Thank you!

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben

I’ve got mixed feelings on this. From a sales perspective, you’ve got a qualified prospect without prospecting using this strategy. When you market to someone using a competitor you have a good idea about the problems they are trying to solve and that they are willing to pay money to solve those problems.

Also, there are bad products on the market or bad products for certain verticals. If a marketer or salesperson offers a compelling reason to switch, that’s useful to the person who bought an inferior solution.

That said, I don’t employ this sales strategy. I have some of the same reservations that you mentioned. I think, however, that there are honest companies who have thoughtfully decided to go this route too.

I prefer to go the other way around. Grab a list of websites using a technology and then offer complementary products or services. You just started using this CMS? Great, here’s a training course. You use an advertising platform? Great, I can add value managing it. Etc. That’s a win for all involved.

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Mark Davie

I agree in that it is not the worst practice ever… It does help to know what solutions a business is using online if you are offering competing services.

I mean this is happening in hundreds of other more developed markets/industries. But in this particular example it looks lazy because it simply lacks originality and it is a product with plenty of potential customers out there.

It’s off topic but I was wondering how Bounce Exchange has been going for you? Personally, I can’t get over the monthly fee, but I can see that if you had enough traffic you could justify it.

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Matt Roberts

Don’t compete with rivals; make them irrelevant !

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Tom Buford

Agreed. Which means you’ll never have to compete on price ;-)

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UH

I hope to find my own blue ocean someday…

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Jen Roberson

Blue Oceans aren’t found, they are made. I had heard the term blue ocean before but I never knew where it came from until I saw the book at my local library.The book, Blue Ocean Strategy outlines the exact process for creating a blue ocean through specific exercises and thought processes. Definitely worth the read for any business trying to make their mark on the world.

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Tom Buford

Great post and a reminder of what some folks are willing to do to get a client without ever taking time to build any trust. In fact, these two examples are doing the exact opposite which is backed up by the fact that one of your readers, with whom you’ve already built a relationship with, forwarded this crap approach to you.

And good for you for having the stones to call one up. I would love to have seen his/her face when you called them out on this. “It’s done all the time.”??? So is mugging!

Love your stuff…

Cheers,
Tom

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jordan f

Great thoughts….but “grey” line? Are you suddenly British? JK. Keep the good stuff coming!

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Piers | Crowdfunding Dojo

Yep. We get contacts like that about switching to this or that all the time. In our business we teach people how to get their projects funded on Kickstarter or Indiegogo (the 900lb gorillas of the crowdfunding scene), but only yesterday we had a guy repeatedly come in suspiciously plugging GoFundme at every opportunity. This is yet another one of the thousands of micro startup sites trying to come into a very well entrenched market, and generally throwing themselves on the rocks as it were. (I mean, why anyone would care about your “Kickstarter-like platform, especially for Latvian Jugglers” I’ll never understand…)

Of course he had no avatar, no recognisable username, an email at a free account, and his profile only showed comments on our site. Also he never mentioned any name or anything that could identify him or any project. Just statements about how much he loves them because they’re so much better.

Very effective guys. *sigh*

Anyway, time to go fill in that survey. Thanks for another great post, Derek.

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Jon Petersen

Thank you for pointing out that we should be fair and honest with our marketing. I am in the Pain Relief business using Massage Therapy and Acupuncture as my tools. We don’t look at our local fellow clinics as competitors, but rather as cooperative businesses. Yes, we may lose a client to them or they may lose a client to us but that is really not a problem. Our main competitors are: 1. OTC drugs such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen that provide temporary relief of muscle pain and 2. people who don’t know or understand the power or value of our alternative medicine techniques. In both cases, I think the proper answer would be educating our potential clients about the potential results that we could achieve with our techniques. The same as you related in your blog: the proper marketing tools are not to try to steal clients from other businesses but rather open entirely new market bases using education about our products.

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jesse

Readjusting and shifting your marketing efforts to users who aren’t on board with your competitor but targeting your competitor’s competition is a better marketing -> solution.

Let’s call it “competitor’s comp”.

Open-site-explorer opens a world of referral traffic which you can base this off of.

And quite frankly, my company’s competition is Amazon, but could we even fathom the idea of pursuing their member? No.

Provide a product or service that parallels theirs, with a distinct advantage.

Pairing up “ares” vs. “theirs” is a foolish marketing campaign and should be banned by your CMO.

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Meg Geddes

(Well yea, Derek. Also because it’s slimy)

I was one of the people contacted by your competitor. And I told the company that it didn’t matter what they were offering, they were now off the table because I didn’t like the way they were generating leads. I recommend products to clients nearly ever week, and that company has zero chance of busting through my radius again.

Keep doing that to people, and it adds up.

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Nathalie Lussier

I believe that one of the main ways to build loyalty even in the software business is through building strong relationships with your audience and customers.

That’s why when our PopupAlly plugin launches on Monday, we know we’re going to have many of our free users upgrading because we gave them great software and more importantly we treated them amazingly and took care of them.

The software business is no different from any other business: it’s about people. Period.

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Lizzy Love

just one question, why would you be mad for someone name dropping you in an email? especially if they arent saying anything bad about you wouldn’t it benefit you to have them spreading your name around?

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Mark Stevenson

I believe the answer to competition is the WOW factor. Your product should be more than a step above the competition. When someone launches a product, one may not be afforded the luxury of putting out a WOW product immediately. But the goal should be to have that one ingredient that, as Matt said, it makes the competition irrelevant.

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Laura

Derek, this is great, I love the stance you took here. you’re a genius :)

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Dave D'Aoust

That’s right, make them irrelevant, don’t compete, create a blue ocean!

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Nyk Danu

Slimy slimy slimy! These tactics looks so desperate! I often have web designers troll my site and then send a message which goes something like “hey great website, but we noticed you don’t have ____ or ___ why not let’s us help you blah blah blah” to which I reply thanks for the ideas I’ll pass them on to my Tech Goddess ( website designer). Do people actually think this works? I would never hire some random stranger who’s work I don’t know! I believe in referrals and always hire by word of mouth. Cold calling is dead. These folks need to hone there craft and build there own base of loyal clients.

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Hazza

The problem here is they used your name in their strategy.

I don’t think “the switch” is necessarily the problem, or the worst way of getting new business. It might be the hardest, but it might be worth it, depending on the business. I think that’s important to note.

I’m not sure if this is happening all over the World, but in the UK, banks are constantly trying to entice people into switching their preferred bank over to them by offering incentives, like £100 cash bonuses.

The banks know that a new customer is worth a lot more than £100, because they’ll end up using their other services e.g. loans, credit cards etc.

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Jessica

It depends on how high the switching costs are…and right now there are no switching costs to pull people away from Zippy Courses because you can’t buy it yet. My loyalty to Zippy Courses only exists because I trust your content. But someone else who hadn’t been part of your audience for a while could easily be persuaded by one of these messages, spammy as they are.

If I see a promotion from Delta Airlines to fly me from Seattle to New Orleans and I like that promotion, and then I see a better one from Southwest, you bet I’m flying Southwest. I have no loyalty to any US airline whatsoever. But try to take me away from my web hosting provider…my bank…or any other company that would be a pain in the butt to switch away from…and I’ll tell you where to shove it.

tl;dr: I can’t wait to buy Zippy Courses.

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Clay

Great article! I have been pitched multiple times recently just like this! I generally just ignore them and focus on my reader’s questions, they are so much more important.

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Eric Deeter

Another point: do you want the kind of customer who is that fickle?

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Juan Fernandez

“They notoriously HATE marketing and selling. And they’ll slam people who try to grow their business…”

Pot, meet kettle – I doubt there is a more anti-marketing marketing guy online than Mark and his scummy clickbait email subjects. Is targeting a competitor’s customers with this methodology aggressive? Yes. Does it “need to stop?” No, it doesn’t, and it won’t until it stops producing results – simple as that. Don’t like it? Harden the fuck up then, Nancy, it’s rough out there.

Here’s some advice for you, Mr. Marketing Guru: build a product that is so good your users aren’t swayed by your competitors efforts.

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Quentin Pain

I love your strategies Derek. When I was at a seminar in January I was talking with a prospect about their problems and how they could be fixed once and for all and another delegate was listening in. Just as I thought I had won a new customer, this other delegate piped up that she knew someone who was ‘perfect’ at was I was offering and “if she liked, she would introduce them to her”. I was so gobsmacked, I stood there in stunned silence.

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Kathleen

Wow, Quentin. I’d be gobsmacked too.

Online it’s called spam. In person it’s called rude! :o)

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Quentin Pain

Thanks Kathleen.

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Carleea

Sorry, Derek, when I saw your hookline “This has to stop”, I assumed you were talking about Gaza!

That’s something we should all be talking about – children are being massacred.

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Brian

I must know…
Which game were you a professional gamer at?

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Derek Halpern

What game didn’t I play? ;-P.

Send me an email at derek@socialtriggers if you want to hear more.

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Andrew

This does seem a little slimy to me, but more toward the prospect than the competitor. It seems foolish, so I imagine if I were a competitor I’d think, “let them make fools of themselves!” But as the customer I’d be like “stop bothering me.”

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Samuel

You are honoring and respectful to not disclose who sent those emails. Your solution this problem is good: Find the people who don’t have a solution at all.

Really, it’s unethical to poach customers from competitors, but it’s foolish to even mention to the customer that that’s exactly what you are doing in the first place.

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Kathleen

For the first time ever, I totally disagree with your idea Derek :0)

If someone emailed me and said, “It looks like you’re not using a popup like your competitor, Social Triggers. We offer a product similar to what they’re using if you’re interested in learning more.” I would go STRAIGHT to Social Triggers to find out what product YOU were using, and then use THAT, figuring you had already done the research and decided on the best product.

In my world, informing me that a site that I admire, uses a DIFFERENT product than the one you are trying to sell me is just going to send me AWAY from your product.

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David Newell

Hi Derek, I enjoy your emails, I save all of them… For this one I read right to the bottom, first, I then did the survey!!
Second, I clicked the ‘link to the post’…
I am sitting here in awe!! Apparently we may be somewhat joined at the hip.
As per usual you hit the bullseye….
Persuading wastes time and energy.

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Mik at MikS Music

Being in a cutthroat competitive field (music licensing) I’m more than used to others trolling my posts and blatantly trying to plug their own services. Always considered that unethical at least but assumed that’s the way it works these days on the Web. Glad to see that most people still don’t see this as a “norm”. Great read, thanks!

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Nata

So true, Derek. Back in the early days of my career I was in a meeting where a manager kicked out a salesperson after two minutes, because he was trying to convince him how their product is better and cheaper than what the manager was already using. He almost physically threw the guy out the door.

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Jamie

I think, as a lot of people have mentioned, is that it comes down to building trust. Ultimately people are buying you not just what you offer. If you have built true trust and developed real loyalty you can sell pretty much anything

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Gwendoline

Thank you for the piece Derek. You’re changing the whole game, aren’t you? I think that is very cool. No wonder the slimy ones want that je ne sais quoi, (that unique thing you’ve got). But that’s the thing – we can never ever be like ‘the other guy’. It won’t work for long. I think it’s short-sighted to try and generate leads that way.
And well said, Jamie. In fact, “it’s all about the relationship” is pretty much the tagline these days, for therapists. I also agree, it is an ill advised, slimy and unethical way of doing business. In my world, I believe in ‘what goes around comes around.’ Plus there’s something vaguely desperate about it. And because business today is perhaps, “all about the relationship” once you HAVE a solid, trustworthy one with your customers – even when a competitor can offer a similar service for less money, they still won’t leave. That’s my experience anyway. I certainly have no plans to leave my bank for anyone offering me £125. Even though the bank in question has won multiple awards and is often on the ‘best current account’ list. I love my bank and the way they do business. That’s the kind of loyalty to aspire to. Same with Apple. I’ll never have any other phone ever again but an iPhone. Maybe this is remarkable and in this day and age, perhaps customers are generally far less loyal. Maybe I’m slightly bonkers. But I’m sure I’m not the only one :D Keep doing what you’re doing Derek. We like.

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William Williams

If you question a customer’s decision to use a competitive product, you’re actually calling their judgement into question which is insulting. If you run down the company they’ve chosen, you’re telling them they are inattentive and are unaware of the companies weaknesses. You may win the argument but you’ll lose the trust of the potential customer.

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Ivete

This reminds me of all the comments I get on my “Why I Quit Fiverr” post that say “Use my site instead!” . . . every time I get one of those I think, does this marketing strategy really work? I never approve those comments or click those links, so the answer is no!

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David

Yea me too! Spam exists because spam works, so part of me thinks that this method works in some strange way, but I can’t imagine it does so maybe it is just marketing by someone who does not know how to market.

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Fatima

If they aren’t slandering you or making false claims about your company/product, then I don’t think business is about coloring within grey lines.

Jon Peterson here pointed out that they offer pain relief through massage therapy and that other massage clinics are not viewed as competitors. There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same reason why doctors and teachers don’t generally view other healthcare and education professionals as “competitors” in the traditional sense even if that’s exactly what they are: the bottom line is the welfare of the client. This is naturally more accentuated in some industries than others.

But here’s the thing: that’s exactly why competition is necessary.

The idea of client loyalty being something that must be earned and maintained is exactly what drives many of the best of us, but it doesn’t work if every company stakes out their patch of earth that nobody else is allowed to trespass on–and here’s the key part–by virtue of it already belonging to them. No. Just no.

Really, there’s no grey line here: the people who love your service are NOT going to be swayed one bit by this approach, and you’re absolutely right that if a marketer doesn’t realize when they’re barking up the wrong tree then they need to stop. (And preferably get another job.) If anything, this will only make those clients even more loyal to you because they’ll have consciously put themselves right in your corner when propositioned to “betray” you. (Just spend two minutes watching a political or religious debate and see the power of a cognitive bias in all its reinforced beauty.) Honestly, thank those competitors for that; you couldn’t have done it without them!

BUT then there ARE people who might be swayed. These are the people who weren’t happy with what you had to offer, for whom your service was not such a great fit. So what does that mean? It means somebody found a service they are (or think they will be) happier with, you got rid of an unhappy or unmotivated client, and the country’s economy is better off for it on the whole.

It’s a lot like romantic relationships, I suppose: if they don’t come back, they were never yours. You may or may not expect out of courtesy that people won’t hit on your partner, but even if they do–your relationship is only as committed as your partner’s decision to flirt back or not. That commitment is what makes the difference to your future together, not other people’s interest or lack thereof.

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Suzie

Interesting post as always Derek. Something I found interesting, aside from the not so great tactics they used, the first email had a very obvious typo in it. If they aren’t bothering to check the message they are sending out I’m not so sure I want to do business with them. May seem picky on my part, but being picky on the details can mean a lot when competition is heavy.

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Carol J. Alexander

Why, when we look up into the night sky, is the North Star more noticeable than all the other stars? Because it outshines them. Not because it’s trying to sabotage the other star’s brightness, but by being the shining star that it is. What are we doing to outshine the other stars?

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Joanna

Totally agree. It does happen all the time and it is a very wrong way to win any business. My sense of trust goes out of the window immediately when I am the recipient of a similar approach of a marketer.

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Romuald

Derek, this statement isn’t true:

“…or you can find blogs like mine that don’t use BounceExchange. And say something as simple as, “it looks like you’re not using a popup like your competitor, Social Triggers. We offer a product similar to what they’re using if you’re interested in learning more.”,

And guess what..

That would work much better.”

Odds are they will choose the plugin the big competitor’s plugin because you have tested them before.

And if they don’t do that, they are not clever. I’m 99% sure you’ve invested time and resources to choose wisely the right plugin. Why should my company redo the work you’ve done?

That’s called the Drafting technique?

Or I’m wrong?

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Pimp My Product

I usually like your posts but this one is bs!
It’s called competition. If a prospect has self-identified and they are ready to buy then you better guard that info. if a competitor gets hold of it (i.e. by reading Facebook posts ) then it’s fair game.
It has happened to me and we’ve done it to others. It’s fair.
But if someone is already a customer it’s not worth going after them (just yet) because they already bought a product and converting them to your position requires more energy than finding a new customer.
If you don’t want your competition calling your prospects then hide the info.

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David Newell

Hey ‘Pimp my Product’,
Keep doing what you are doing. You will be a first in online ‘persuasion’, when you have about 5 seconds to achieve your goal. Talk about ‘Mission Impossible’!
I won’t say it is ‘fair to go after’ competitors clients through social media posts. But I will say it is ‘stupid’. Wasted company energy and resources!
By the way ‘BS’ is relative and negative. Hiding won’t help.
Instead, you should work on developing a set of positive energy related goals.
Persuasion is best left to your mother, not your online business.
Just a thought.

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Caroline

Here’s a story, taught me a lesson and showed me what I felt was AGGRESSIVE – UNPROFESSIONAL and will not do in my business. I’m involved with selected facebook groups within my industry, I like to know what’s happening and if the training I design is relevant. I was part of another trainers page – never to take from others – I’d rather praise or comment if I like something (and build a potential relationship with someone like minded). So working from home I suddenly saw that this other person had requested to join a group I’m in and within seconds another and another – “that’s funny I thought” but then a request went to my local business. Now it was a hang on – she’s going though my face book. You see it’s a very small local business there was no way she could have found the other groups and this very small business. I was really p*%%£$ – Blocked her and contacted others plus posted a I am sorry if you have been contact by X and what had happened. With the groups she got in her first post Sales ad – regardless of if the group pinned a NO advertising. Free competition I agree – its sales, but personally I’d rather work with ethics and not HACK off potential clients. I still see her on other sites / and at events – but there is NO way I will ever work with her / communicate anything!! there’s the balance, I sell on my strengths and build relationships – not underhand, aggressive or put down of others.

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Marius Fermi

I’m a bit confused here, Derek.

This is sales and marketing tactics but this article makes it sound like no one has ever seen this before? Literally one of the oldest methods of trying to “steal” leads yet I’m completely stumped as to how you are making sound like it’s a terrible act.

Maybe I’ve been in sales and marketing for too long now but I literally would expect this, especially as “Sales 2.0″ is growing and focusing on social selling.

Yes it’s a used car salesman sleeze ball move, no it doesn’t generate much business but it draws attention albeit more negative than positive. But traffic is traffic on the WWW.

Someone is always out there trying to steal your piece of the pie, you only need to screw up once and that lead already has a backup plan.

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Cody

I agree with Ben and a few others here. Find a way to provide complementary products and services that people are looking for not to try to poach people interested in your same category.

You might be able to get away with this if they don’t have such a strong relationship with the competitor but on facebook? or interacting in a more social manner you are pretty hard press to gain much (but I don’t know their numbers or success rate just guessing).

I’ve had tons of Udemy clones email me offering the world if I join and throw up my content to their sites. I’m not always thrilled at the emails and so it’s much harder for me to really say yes.

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Carla

Amen!!!!
That is all.
Filled out the questionnaire too.
Excited for what’s to come!
Thanks Derek,
Carla

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Dale Hardiman

Great post here Derek. This happened to me in the space of two minutes by two different people in two different companies! They both tried to tell me that my company was no good and why I should join theirs instead without even making any attempt to get to know ME and what I want.

We need more ethical people like you in this industry.

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