One-to-One Spam?

My esteemed colleague and fellow E-mail Insider David Baker and I thought it would be interesting to indulge in some intra-E-mail-Insider debate. It all started when David posted a job description on a private e-mail discussion group he and I are part of. One of the other members of the group e-mailed the address listed in the job posting, offering his company's services as an interim solution while they where looking for the right person to fill the job.

The CEO was apparently irate and felt he had been spammed--which led to a private, now public, discussion between David and me about what constitutes spam. Specifically, is one-to-one correspondence via e-mail between companies considered spam, if the Company A has not explicitly asked to receive communications from Company B?

You can read David's thoughts on the matter in this Monday's E-mail Insider. While equivocating a bit, it is clear that David believes (or at least his client believes) that this type of unsolicited communication is indeed spam.



However, he is completely wrong.

In fact (since as readers of this column know, it is not in my nature to equivocate), I'll state definitively: it is ludicrous to think otherwise! Unsolicited one-to-one communication between businesses has been going on since the caveman strolled over to the secretary in the cave next door, trying to sell his neighbor stationery.

As David quoted me as saying in Monday's column, "How else does business get done?" What David didn't quote was part two of my statement: His irate CEO should take a stroll down to his own sales department, where he will most likely witness the same tactic going on.

Let's face it. David--who is a friend of mine, by the way--is from the rarefied world of a top agency. I'm an entrepreneur. We look at the world from different perspectives. I've never met an agency person who didn't hate advertising (David being the exception, of course). I've never met an entrepreneur who didn't love his product.

Entrepreneurs KNOW they have a product that potential clients will WANT to hear about. The clients just don't know it yet. The product will save the potential clients money/time, make money for the client, solve a problem that seems unsolvable, create efficiencies where there were none. Who wouldn't want to hear about such a wonderful product?

And how are they going to hear about it? Through a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign on the Superbowl? Not bloody likely. They are going to hear about it because the entrepreneur called, met them at their place of work, pinned them down in an elevator, or... simply sent an e-mail telling them the wonderful story about how they were about to save them some money.

Money spent on trade shows, TV campaigns, print ads and the like, could be going toward hiring a new customer service rep, or a new developer to make the product better. By using the best, cheapest, and most convenient form of communication (for both sides of the equation)--e-mail--the small and medium-sized businesses are doing both themselves and their clients a huge favor.

I would much rather receive a well-crafted e-mail about a product or service my business can use than answer a phone call. And I would much rather receive information about a service that can help my business than not receive it.

No, I'm afraid David's CEO is dead wrong.

Sales is a numbers game. No salesperson worth his salt is going to spend the time to construct a well-crafted, targeted e-mail unless the person receiving it is qualified in some way. Will there be people who are irate? Sure. But that is just the nature of the game. Some people don't want to be sold no matter what benefit the product brings.

Salespeople know that everyone they speak to can benefit from their product--but only one in 10 will say yes. They are trying to find that one person. And to eliminate the most efficient method to reach that person does no one any good. In fact it does both parties harm, because it makes the cost of doing business higher, which benefits neither buyer nor seller.

So my suggestion to David's CEO is this: chill, Phil. It's just an e-mail, Gail.

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