This idea may be countercultural, but salespeople try to cheat nature at their peril—nature has been around since forever (literally) and has seen it all. Recently, for instance, my inbox has filled up with pitches insisting that I should automate my prospecting, especially since their strategies and tactics are good enough to make the messages seem personal—as if things like referencing the day of the week would make contacts believe that I wrote the email myself. Here’s the kicker: in at least two recent cases, the salesbots, er, salespeople have suggested they can help me create new "relationships."
Spam Ain't Much of a Relationship
There is a great scene at the end of the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales. Josey Wales (played by Clint Eastwood) is confronted by a bounty hunter, who asks, "Are you Josey Wales?" Wales answers, "Yeah. Are you a bounty hunter?" The bounty hunter replies, "A man's got to do something for a living." Wales shoots back, "Dying ain't much of a living, boy." Spam ain’t much of a relationship, either. If there is no cost for a relationship, then there is no caring. When there is no caring, there is no relationship. Relationships come with a price, paid in time, attention, and energy, all proof of caring.
Let's test how well automation would work in your real relationships, starting with your significant other. After all, it's a lot of trouble to go to the store, buy a card, select a gift, order flowers, and book a table for two at, say, Jean Georges. Instead, use any number of automated services that will do each task for you so you can save time to do something more fun than run errands designed to please your love. Don’t forget to tell your loved one how happy and proud they should be for you outsourcing these things so efficiently!
But then, why stop with software solutions? On your mother’s next birthday, hire someone to go to her home and sing Happy Birthday. You’re far too busy dominating your market to do something as banal as visit in person. So slip the performer an extra hundred bucks and have them take your mom to a nice, but not too expensive, dinner—maybe split an entree. The woman that gave birth to you might deserve better, but half of Silicon Valley can’t be wrong, right? Right?!
Transactional Communication Leads to Contacts, Not Relationships
A contact doesn't equal a relationship. The more transactional the communication, the more certain that you have no relationship, even if there’s no automation at all. The fact that you send a message is not evidence of communication, and it's even less proof of a relationship. If the first metric of a relationship is that it comes with a cost, the second might be the nature and frequency of your communication.
This afternoon, I had a pleasant interaction with a barista at a local coffee shop, the kind that roasts their own beans. Even though she remembers my order every time, if you asked her to describe our relationship, she would give you a blank look and perhaps tell you I always order a large dark-roast coffee. Given that this particular coffee house doesn’t scribble your first name on your to-go cup, I doubt she even knows my name.
The Four Elements of Commercial Relationships
A commercial relationship is often condensed to three elements: Known, Liked, and Trusted. I would add that real trust comes from creating value, arguably the most important way to differentiate yourself from your competition. Automation may get you known, but not for anything good, and stacking up the last four emails with every new message will make it really hard to like you. In fact, every time your CMO promises to run a “campaign,” just assume they mean “barrage of third-rate spam.”
Building trust does take time, but not as much as you might think. It's mostly about being a decent human being, keeping your commitments, and telling the truth, especially when the truth is inconvenient. After all, your reputation (what other people believe about you) is far less important than you character (who you are when nobody is watching). Even though I might be the only one who knows I didn't actually write or send any of those “foolproof” marketing emails, I would know.
Becoming a Trusted Advisor Requires Hard Work
It never pays to cheat nature, and success never rewards laziness. You should never fear hard work, especially when you’re creating new relationships. Most professional relationships are easier to start with a telephone call and continue with a face-to-face meeting, continuing on through the sales conversation. Some of these relationships will span the rest of your lifetime.
If that sounds too tough for you, go ahead and write (or buy) your spam sequence and sit on the edge of the virtual pond, waiting for a nibble from one of your three thousand nine hundred lines in the water. Congratulate yourself for being too clever by half. Savor the hours—hours!—you can spend playing online poker while your coworkers waste their lives on the phone. But don’t expect to become a consultative salesperson or a trusted advisor when your opening move is bamboozling your prospect. Even if your emails pass the Turing test, if you treat your work like a transaction, your clients will treat you like a vending machine.
Shortcuts are for dabblers, poseurs, has-beens, wannabes, and never-will-bes. Mastery of any craft requires that you do the work yourself.