Af-quack Fail: 6 Content and Marketing Takeaways

Marketing 101 tells us to Connect, Inform and Close. But it’s not as simple as that, especially when human prospects are pressed for time, not that interested, turned off by a presentation and scrutinizing value per dollar.

True marketing done well is art—a masterpiece that delights, moves and solves something within.

When a masterful Marketing Artist gets our business, we hardly notice because we’re getting the right thing. Our pain is abated and our decision feels sound.

When an amateur Marketing Artist graces our path, we’re left confused and disappointed, perhaps even annoyed or offended. Our time has been wasted and our pain remains.

Meet My Pain PointMarketing and Content Fail

So it was on a recent afternoon when I’d caved to meet with an Af-quack rep (out of respect, I’ve changed the company’s true name).

My husband had sic’d him on me so I felt a duty to at least entertain the prospect. We’d recently revised our individual health insurance with a mighty high deductible so that number/risk was foremost in my mind. I figured, Let’s see what this duck has to say..

The rep emailed me a short video to give me a taste for the company. I watched it and agreed to an appointment. It appeared there was a chance Af-quack could assuage my pain.

The Sales Call and Where it Failed

For the appointment, I drove to my husband’s retail store, a custom bike studio that specializes in high end road and cyclocross bicycles, primarily for the experienced and discerning cyclist (Cyclopedia of Redding, if you are interested).

After ten minutes of waiting, two men in slacks and jackets carrying insurance-y looking portfolios arrived. Are you the rep, I asked? Yes, and this is my trainer, he mentioned, introducing me to his partner. Oooh, nice handshake, his partner cooed to me, at which point I snatched my hand back. Creepy. Patronizing.

I led them to a back office and motioned to some chairs. Hey, that yellow and black bike out there? How much is that? The trainer asked. I have no idea, I replied.  (Note to self: This dude just completed his #1 Robotic Sales Call Instruction: Connect. It is clear he isn’t a cyclist and knows nothing about bikes).

The Awkward Crotch Part…

He began his presentation. Using his Ipad, he scrolled through dozens of slides touting the Af-quack company, its status among competitors, its history, its favorite bath toy … I might mention, too, that he held his Ipad between his legs. So not only did I have to be bored for 15 minutes, I was forced to stare at his crotch. Ewww. Awkward.

He peppered his presentation with statements meant to gain traction, for company’s such as yours, and that’s important to business owners like yourself, right? Right? 

Then he started down the litany of products he found especially interesting. He zeroed in on Accident Insurance because apparently he’d had an injury and Af-quack paid him $X/day. Or, he said, I could get this package or that package. And I could come out ahead in cash. Isn’t that a good deal? Isn’t it?


Still, not one question for me. Not one question asking why I’d agreed to this meeting. When I finally interrupted and asked about gap insurance, he looked at me and said, What’s gap insurance?

Throughout the presentation, his minion stared at me with a goofy Stepford-smile, nodding his head enthusiastically at key moments as if hoping we could connect on the sheer excitement of these fantasmical benefits.

They managed to convince me that if Af-quack had something for me, I 1) wouldn’t buy it from them, and 2) I would have to read the material and figure it out for myself.


Applying Fails to Content and Marketing

I’ve written before about yin and yang. Sometimes we need to see the dark to see the light. Same here. Bad marketing reminds us how good effective marketing can be. Here’s my take on 6 things we can learn from an Af-quack fail:

1. Be a solution.

Don’t lead with yourself. As I’ve written, you lose your prospect at Hello if you don’t establish their pain point first. If you can solve their problem, they’ll ask about you. This presentation made my eyes glaze over. I’d already watched their video. I knew what I needed but he never asked.

Your web content will be effective only if it promises to solve problems.

2. Be genuine.

Don’t ask stupid questions just for the sake of making a connection. Because it doesn’t make a connection. Know something about your prospect’s business before you pretend to be interested or stab at problems.

Hang out with prospect groups at business clubs or LinkedIn. What are they talking about? Use these points as conversation openers.

3. Be relevant.

Address prospect’s pain points, not yours. I could have cared less about accident insurance. But I heard about accident insurance over and over. It was like stuffing a website with keywords. You might get Google interested, but you’ll never find your prospect if you’ve chosen the wrong keyword.

Quality and relevant content is more important than killing it with keywords.

4. Be prepared.

Learn something about your prospect’s business. When the rep made the statement about companies such as yours, he completely missed it. He was referring to companies with more employees than we have. He made an assumption and wasted my time. Even when I told him we weren’t in that category, he said, Well, if this works for you, you’ll probably find a way. Uh. Wrong.

5. Be authentic.

Forced assent isn’t buy-in. Checking off your Sales Call Checklist doesn’t establish relationship. When he kept asking Right? Right? I didn’t feel closer to a purchase. I felt annoyed.

6. Be mindful.

Technology is cool and all, but staring at someone’s crotch is not. Use technology effectively. Garish colors, too much humor, bad layouts and poor content will kill even a relevant message.

How (Not) to Write a Reference Letter

You’ve just been asked to provide a reference letter for an employee. Seems like an easy task but judging from many I’ve seen, Letter of Referenceit’s harder than it looks. An effective letter of recommendation (LOR) can be a valuable tool for your former employee. It’s worth giving the letter the due it deserves. Here are 10 common mistakes employers make when writing LORs and how to fix them.

1. Forget to mention the candidate’s name.

⁃ Often a letter of reference follows a resume or an interview. Interviewers may be bombarded with keeping their own jobs afloat while finding a replacement for an open position. A “no name” reference letter will be tossed, guaranteed. No one’s going to take the time to match it with the one in a 100 applications littering a desk. You may as well not have wasted your time.

2. Don’t bother introducing yourself.

⁃ That’s right. Assume Future Employer (FE) should know who you are. After all, it’s obvious the candidate worked for you on the resume or application, right? FE needs you to frame your letter. They want to know you are someone with credibility, someone who knows the candidate in a way this company will need to know him or her. FE wants to know you are not a neighbor, Aunt Betty or, worse, Mom.

3. List every duty and detail the candidate did during employment.

⁃ Did you mention that the candidate made 10 phone calls each day and neatly arranged her pencils before walking to the copy machine? Details are king only when details are needed. Generalizations are acceptable here. FEs are scanning your LOR for key words like sales development or customer acquisition or manager. It matters what they did for you only in how it relates to what FE needs.

4. Do NOT give examples.

⁃ If you say Johnny was great with customers leave it at that. It’ll keep the FE guessing.

5. Avoid discussion of results and effects.

⁃ You wouldn’t want to confuse the FE with outcomes. Better they just know what your employee DID. Not true. Outcomes and how the candidate made a difference in your organization is what an FE wants/needs to see. See #4. Do give an example (“an” example) of a project where the candidate made a difference and how your company/customers benefitted.

6. Talk about what a great person they are.

⁃ We all want to hire “super nice” people. But nice doesn’t sell widgets, does it? Address a characteristic such as work ethic or teamwork. Give a brief example to “show” your point.

7. Discuss why you are glad they’re gone.

⁃ Your problem is my gain. Sometimes we are not so sad to see employees find the door. We’re amicable enough to offer this LOR but not enamored with much the employee left behind. Keep it to yourself and find something nice to say, even if it is as benign as “Johnny showed his loyalty to our company through his dedicated attendance.” Super vague recommendations reek of questionable employment performance. FEs can read between the lines.

8. Be verbose.

⁃ Use lots and lots of words. It makes you look smart. FEs have nanoseconds to review LORs. Be concise.

9. Leave your contact information off.

⁃ If FE is truly interested in a candidate, he may wish you to elaborate on a point. Not having accessible contact information makes vetting too complicated, which means too much trouble, which means a swift passover for the candidate.

10. Hand write the letter on binder paper.

⁃ Nothing shouts professionalism like good ole college-rule. Better yet, forego your logo.


Bottom line: If it’s a job worth doing, it’s worth doing well.


9 Marketing Tips Learned from the Kirby Vacuum Salesman

Note: This is a guest post by Laura Christenson. Laura serves up tasty social media morsels at Blogging Bistro and offers an array of social media services. She happens to be my mentor and friend as well.

Picture this scenario:

My workday opened with a two-hour meeting at the offices of one of my clients. On the way home, I swung by Costco to pick up some essentials (we have teenage sons, so milk, bread, and bananas are always in short supply).

As I meandered through the pots and pans aisle on the way to “bagel row,” I signed on a new client (imagine me on my cell phone, parked in front of the acrylic “glassware,” madly scribbling notes onto my pocket memo pad).

When I arrived back at my home office, I noted four “must-do” things to accomplish before my day ended:

  1. Synthesize notes from morning client meeting and send to the project team.
  2. Prepare and send contract and invoice to new client.
  3. Finalize curriculum for social media workshop I’m teaching in two days.
  4. Accompany my son to a meeting at his school.

I had just finished answering the day’s e-mails and was diving into my notes when a loud rap sounded on my front door. A cute, overly-cheerful young woman greeted me. (My distracted brain struggled to process this anomaly in a millisecond – Jehovah’s Witness? Nope. College-aged window washer? Nope.

She flashed a brilliant smile and asked, “Do you have a dirty carpet in your home that needs cleaning? We’ll dry-foam shampoo an entire room in your home right now, for free.”

This caught my attention. Because teenage boys in the home = dirt on the carpet. Lots of dirt.

“Do you have carpeted stairs? We’ll shampoo your stairs,” she offered.

I eased back from the front door and gazed at my carpeted staircase. Dirty.

Then I thought about our downstairs “man cave.” The video game/TV room. Extremely dirty.“You said you’ll shampoo anyroom? Like, say, a largish family room?”“Yes,” she replied, with a big, almost-genuine smile.“Will I have to sit through an hour-long sales pitch for a Kirby, because I don’t have time for that today.”

“Oh no,” she promised. “No sales pitch at all.”

That was my first mistake. Everything I had ever learned from attending numerous time-share presentations flew out of my brain and all I could think about was that grimy carpet in my basement. The carpet that would be magically transformed into a better version of itself – for free – and I wouldn’t have to shampoo it.

“You’re on,” I said.

Soon, a three-person team of Kirby-ites hurricaned through my home, lugging in what appeared to be a truckload of boxes. Holy cow! All this, just to shampoo our man cave carpet?

For the next three hours (count ‘em – THREE HOURS), my husband, our older son, and I watched, dazed, as the Kirby-ites vacuumed, pre-treated, re-vacuumed, and shampooed two square feet of our basement carpet (they did not shampoo the entire room, as promised). They did suck the dust out of our laptops and clean the ancient floor mats from our son’s car. They even vacuumed our sons’ sheets and mattresses, and showed us evidence of dust mites and other disgusting things that make their home in our beds. Eeeewww!

During the midst of this marathon demo, my husband and I tag-teamed. He picked our younger son up from wrestling practice and grabbed us fast-food burgers for dinner. I took our son to his meeting at school. When we returned home, the Kirby-ites were still there, vacuuming everything in sight.

My husband pulled me aside. “I told them we’re not going to buy a Kirby,” but they won’t leave,” he hissed.

When the three Kirby-ites (demo guy, trainee, and hard-sell manager) finally packed up and left at 8:10 p.m., our 15-year-old son surveyed our freshly shampooed square of carpet and commented, “Well, it looks clean. But not $3,000 cleaner than it was before.”

That’s right, folks. They were asking nearly $3,000 for a “50th anniversary edition” Kirby with all the bells and whistles. Gulp.

The next morning, when I had finally recovered enough brain cells to think straight, I pondered the lessons I learned during this direct sales demonstration. Other than having a small area of clean carpet and dust mite-free mattresses, there had to be some meaningful takeaway lessons from my three hours with the Kirby-ites, right?

Of course there are! Nine of them, in fact. You may wish to apply these lessons when selling your own products or services:

1. Show up, in person

When I receive e-mail sales pitches, I read the Subject line and then hit the delete key.

When a telemarketer phones, I interrupt with a firm, “No thanks,” and hang up.

But when an energetic “girl next door” type knocks on my door and offers to clean a room of my house for free, it’s really, really hard to say “no.”

Takeaway: When you’re pitching your services or products, do so in person whenever possible. Face-to-face contact sells.

2. Know your target market.

When Kirby-girl knocked on my door, she told me that their team was canvassing my middle-class neighborhood. “We’re shampooing Mary’s carpet across the street first, then we’re doing Frank’s down the block, and we need to do two more homes while we’re in your neighborhood today,” Kirby-girl informed me.

When she mentioned that Mary and Frank were in the process of getting their carpets shampooed, it subconsciously elevated my own trust level in the Kirby-ites.

The Kirby-ites are aware of the demographics of neighborhoods they target. They know whether the homes are owned or rented. They know the value of our homes and can make fairly accurate guesstimates as to our annual income. As such, they can predict that at least one of the homeowners on my block would fork out $3,000 for a vacuum cleaner.

Takeaway: Do your homework. Before you pitch your services or products, do extensive market research into who your ideal customer is.

3. Connect with your customer.

Kirby demo guy asked us about our interests, hobbies, and activities. In return, he told us stories about his kids, hobbies, and activities. He did so as a natural part of the conversation, which helped us view him as a real person and elevated our trust in him.

Takeaway: Your customers are not statistics, but real people. Get to know them as individuals, and find ways to show them you care about them.

4. Give away something valuable.

When the Kirby-ites knocked on my door, they promised they’d shampoo a room of my house. Since my carpet was in need of a shampoo, their incentive was of high value to me.

Takeaway: Think about a “loss leader” – a product or service you can give away without breaking the bank – something that will benefit your ideal customer in a tangible way.

5. Keep your promises.

Unfortunately, the Kirby-ites did not fulfill their promise to shampoo our entire room; instead, they dinked around in the room’s entryway (granted, the entry was the dirtiest spot on the carpet) for three full hours. As a result, part of the carpet in our man cave looks great, and the rest looks… not so great.

Takeaway: People remember negative experiences 20 times more than they do positive ones, and they’re more likely to share negative experiences with others. Fulfill promises you make to potential customers, and you’ll likely earn their long-term loyalty.

6. Let your product or service do the talking.

The Kirby demo guy asked us to get out our own vacuum cleaner. He poured a mountain of baking soda on our carpet and showed us how ineffective our vacuum is at, well – vacuuming.

He then vacuumed the same area with the Kirby, so we could see how effectively it slurped up every iota of dirt, dust, and hair. He made his point without uttering a word; he simply showed us swatches of black fabric he’d attached to the Kirby, loaded with gunk from our carpet.

He displayed at least 20 fabric swatches loaded with dirt from our carpet in conspicuous locations all over our family room floor. He then looked pointedly at said fabric swatches. And waited for us to get nervous and blurt out, “We must immediately stop paying our son’s college tuition and buy a Kirby instead!”

Takeaway: If you have a great product or service, and you truly believe in it, you won’t have to convince people to buy it. Let the quality of your product or the value of your service speak for itself.

7. Make the sale.

Partway through the demonstration, Kirby guy handed us a laminated sheet that listed the prices and features for three Kirby systems.

He hauled our old vacuum cleaner outside and left it there, a psychological trick intended to make it easier for us to trade in that “piece of junk” for a spanking new Kirby.

Near the end of the demo, he broke out “the black binder” and walked us through the endless wondrous benefits of owning a Kirby.

At the end of the presentation, he called in the reinforcements – the slick manager guy whose job is to play “bad cop.” Manager guy asked us directly (several times) if we would buy the system. When we said “no,” he didn’t give up right away, but followed up with, “What if I could make you a dynamite deal?”

Takeaway: Many of us spend hours polishing our pitches. But when it comes time for the call-to-action, we get squeamish. Get over it. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Will you buy this? Will you buy it right now?”

8. “No” means “no.”

When prospects do say no – or when they say “maybe, but not right now,” it’s ok to ask for clarification. But when they get that hostile glint in their eyes and start edging closer to the kitchen knife block, it’s time to pack up and leave.

The Kirby-ites packed their boxes as slowly as possible, deliberately cleaning, scrubbing, and polishing each component. They gently wrapped each tool in plastic bags and reverently placed each item into boxes.

Their goal was to show us how valuable this machine is, and what great care one must take of it. Their ever-so-slow packing procedure gave us plenty of time to ponder whether we’d made the correct decision in saying “no.”

They intentionally made us feel uncomfortable, hoping we’d get impatient and say, “What the heck. I’ll buy this thing, just to get you guys out of here faster!”

The “refuse-to-take-no-for-an-answer” that direct sales people use has always irritated me. I am polite to sales people because I respect the fact that they’re doing their job. But once I make a buying decision, I rarely change my mind.

Takeaway: When you’re selling your product or service, be aware of the body language of the person you’re selling to. Respect their “no” or their “maybe later,” and follow up with the prospect in a few days, after they’ve had a chance to cool off and think about their decision.

9. Zip your fly.

Kirby demo guy was dressed appropriately for the job. He had on jeans, sturdy (but attractive) work shoes, and a dress shirt and tie. He was professional, well-spoken, and friendly (but not overly friendly). Only one problem. His fly was unzipped, and his tighty whities were on display in all their cottony glory.

Takeaway: Before doing a presentation, sales pitch, or any activity that involves meeting a prospect in person, check and double-check every aspect of your grooming and attire in front of a full length mirror. First impressions do count.

Your take?

I’ve never been a huge fan of direct sales, but I know many people who are. Have you participated in a direct sales presentation (either as the seller or buyer)? What did you learn from your experience?