We’re bombarded with messages from experts about getting close to customers.
How close? Really close! Lustful words like embrace, love, and passion have migrated from romance novels into business blogs. Marketers freely infuse love as a marketing schtick, with buyers as the intended objects. But when sellers get amorous, I remember the words to Are You With Me Baby? by the LeRoi Brothers: “At least tonight, you know that I’m in love with you.” Explanation, not needed.
Not long ago, buyers and sellers engaged under a more restrained vocabulary. They kept a comfortable distance from one another through “arms-length” transactions. Hugs? No thanks. Passion? No way!
“’Make friends and your friends will make you’ contains a philosophy that if lived, will put many a dollar in your pocket, and greatly increase your own happiness. One must first be a high class human being before he can become a high class salesman or business man,” James Samuel Knox wrote 100 years ago in his book, Salesmanship and Business Efficiency. That was the most lascivious excerpt I could find in the 406 pages of my well-worn edition. How I long for nostalgia!
Today, Jim Knox would be turning in his grave. Executives don’t need moral integrity to succeed, just good software. “Hello, we’re Salesforce. We help make your customers love you,” proclaims the CRM company’s ad that appeared in The Economist. The ad copy underscores the unilateral nature of the company’s love-vision, “When customers love your company, new ones join the flock, leads increase, sales and deals close faster, and your business grows.”
Love and lead flow – there’s a curious juxtaposition! But today’s marketers have little compunction marrying the two. I understand. Both create heart palpitations. What troubles me more is making customers love you. That just seems weird.
“How does your business’ advertising, and for that matter your brand experience, employ these ingredients to draw people into a ‘loving’ relationship with your brand?” Joseph Michelli wrote in a blog, Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy: Loving Your Customer and Your Message. That he chose to put loving in quotes says a lot. It suggests that the word has been stretched beyond its intended meaning. If you’re searching for love, you’ll find plenty of it in selling, where it serves as a convenient, overused shorthand for complex ideas requiring more effort to express.
VisionCritical, a software company that helps clients “better engage and understand customers,” offers an e-book, The Four Tenets of Customer Love. Under the banner, “Make the commitment to love your customer,” the book explains, “Empowered customers expect candor and honesty from the companies they deal with. When engaging your customers, be forthcoming about your objectives, give clear directions about the nature of their participation and ensure they understand what you are planning to do with their ideas, comments and suggestions. In short, explain what you want, why you’ve engaged them and how you see them contributing.”
Fine ideas, all of them – once love has been subtracted. The word becomes corrupted and transparently fake in the context of a seller’s most visceral, basic intentions: closing a deal, making a revenue goal, hitting a profit target, or grabbing a market share.
Listen to a title or two on the flip side of the love-your-customer ballads:
• “If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense”
• “Crush your quota”
• “Accelerate your sales”
• “Increase your closing rates”
Selling’s conflicted rhetoric: Slow dance to Love Your Customer, but stoke your sales libido by listening to these other popular, fast-paced hits.
“At least tonight, you know that I’m in love with you.” Refreshing honesty, great candor. But who wants buy from a marketer who has a similar goal? One who says, “At least for the duration of what we expect will be a profitable business relationship, you know that we’re in love with you.”