How to Not Solicit Sales in the Coming Weeks (Months)

Wow. In the past two days of working from home, I’ve received dozen of emails from well-respected companies who shamelessly reference coronavirus to prompt sales. This practice of using FUD to attract customers is never advisable, but it is especially despicable now. In this article, I’d like to show you a few examples – and I will rewrite them to something that these companies might actually admire when they look back in six months.

Here is a direct cut-and-paste snippet of an email solicitation I received yesterday from a Gartner sales representative:

Real: Sequoia Capital has dubbed COVID-19 the "Black Swan of 2020" given the virus' impact on the global economy and future growth rates. As the good times slow, and economic uncertainty arises, the importance of a proactive, alternate strategy is amplified and lessons from the '08 recession cannot be ignored.

The Gartner note goes on to solicit paid services from the research giant. Sigh. Now, I’m all for getting advice on my business, but I wonder if this email reflects the type of calm, steady judgment that leaders expect from an advisory firm. Below is a much better email that I’d have rather seen from this company (which is admittedly my direct competitor). I guess they might consider the rewrite below as some free advice from me to them:

Better: Through decades of work, we’ve learned the importance of pulling together in tough economic times. To that end, we’ve refocused our Community Engagement Program to improve outreach for seniors who need assistance in their homes. If you’d like to do something similar in your company, reach out and we will help you.

Now I have no idea if they are doing such a thing (I suspect perhaps they might), but doesn’t this improved email accomplish so much more in the long run? This type of note would have a much different effect on my thinking about Gartner than that awful sales solicitation sitting now in my junk folder. Here is another sample snippet I got today from Korn Ferry, the large global recruiting firm.

Real: As the COVID-19 outbreak spreads across the globe, companies of all sizes and industries must grapple with one unexpected talent issue after another, from keeping employees safe to managing productivity and leading a suddenly virtual workforce.

Their note goes on to offer me the umpteenth webinar solicitation that I’ve received this week on how to manage your workforce during a crisis. Sigh. Apart from the fact that I highly doubt any company would turn to a recruiting firm for advice on how to keep workers safe, I think Korn Ferry misses an enormous opportunity to do good. If I worked there as an executive, this is what I would have sent instead:

Better: As a recruiting firm, we understand the stresses of job uncertainty and times of unemployment. If you or a loved one might be suddenly unemployed as a result of this difficult economic time, then please feel free to visit our resource center where we offer heartfelt advice on how to manage. We have kids too, and we want to help.

Now, I doubt anyone will ever come to love a recruiting firm, but this note has the potential to expose some real humanity. I have zero relationship with Korn Ferry, or with any other recruiting house, but I sure do hope they take my advice. My daughter, for example, is an freshly-unemployed New York City actress who is devastated with the rest of her community. Korn Ferry could help. Here’s a final example from Uber’s CEO:

The safety and well-being of everyone who uses Uber is always our priority. We are actively monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and are taking steps to help keep our communities safe. As we all adjust to new precautions, I want to highlight a few actions we are taking . . .

The note goes on to explain Uber’s support for public health authorities, assistance to drivers, options for food delivery, and so on. Apart from the grammatical error in the first sentence, and the unnecessary expansion of coronavirus (we know it is COVID-19), I think this is an excellent letter from Uber, one that does not require any rewrite. It is informative, helpful, and recognizes Uber’s responsibility to the community. Good job.

Please get your sales and marketing team together right now (uh, virtually), and discuss how your communications will look in the coming weeks or months. Instead of proposing yet-another webinar or use of FUD to sell widgets to home workers, why not propose doing something really, truly nice for the community? The litmus test is how your solicitations will look when this is all over. Do something great today that you will admire tomorrow.

Good luck and stay healthy.