Don’t take all the bait — just the nugget of gold
It still astounds me to this day the things people will type in far-from-anonymous emails, particularly to businesses (including ones they’ve never patronized). Furthermore, I’m not talking about teenage bullies or unproductive couch potatoes with no lives. I’m talking about seemingly accomplished, bright, or at least sane people who still have the gall to engage in a secret pastime as a keyboard warrior, despite the fully exposed reputational risk they’re inviting with their not-safe-for-work language.
How do I know these people are sane or accomplished? Well, here’s the irony of it all: They often leave the email signature in plain sight, without a shred of worry or remorse.
My thought process as an owner of multiple businesses who’s been on the receiving end of these hate emails: Yes, sir, that is your full name, phone number, and hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile in the signature, so you aren’t exactly being “stealth” with your trolling…
Oh, and I should also clarify that these trolls aren’t customers. Instead, they’re often either wrong-fit prospects or disgruntled people who simply got caught in the web of some misdirected marketing crossfire and haven’t yet figured out how to “X” out of an ad or click “unsubscribe” on an email.
All that said, these haters aren’t always sending substance-less, expletive-laden messages that should be ignored or deleted.
Occasionally, there are nuggets of gold or truth — or golden truth — in these hate messages that may actually reveal how your business, product, service, or marketing content is objectively being perceived by strangers. In fact, sometimes these haters just may unlock the very key to significantly improve your business with their backhanded insults…and they haven’t a clue they’re actually helping you out — if you let them.
I recently encountered a brazen troll whose digital insult shocked my entire team by inadvertently answering a question we’d been avoiding for years. It turns out it took a hater to make us take a very scary plunge.
I rolled my eyes, scanning the angry message with my mouse hovering over the “delete” button, just when an unexpected sentence stopped me in my tracks. With a furrowed brow, I reread the email, took a screenshot of it, and texted it to my business partner. I don’t typically save or forward hate mail, but this one was different.
No, it wasn’t a homicidal rant; those don’t phase me anymore. It wasn’t a litigious threat or a fake hacker’s ransom note and extortion request (yes, I’ve seen it all). Instead, this message included a phrase I’m sure you’ve heard before:
“When something seems too good to be true, that means it is!”
As I reread the hate message from top to bottom, I realized that this person didn’t necessarily dislike my company; he simply didn’t believe we were legit. In retrospect, his message was almost logical — or it would have been if we didn’t have hoards of media write-ups, real customer testimonials, awards, and indisputable proof points embedded in most all our marketing and on our website… Nonetheless, that didn’t matter.
He may never have gotten far enough in our marketing content or even visited the website to see those proof points, and that’s fine. Something about the minimal digital interaction he had with our business’s marketing content led him to conclude it was too good to be true… which means it was good, but something was discrediting us at first glance.
It didn’t take much digging into his message for the elephant in the room to bashfully raise her trunk and flag down the issue: our pricing.
This person, despite being a hater and potentially outside our target market, still acknowledged that the services we claimed to offer were good. However, they came across as so good, so full of over-the-top added perks and benefits, that they seemed unreal, untrustworthy, and hard-to-believe, especially for the price we were charging.
Here’s the irony: We’d recently added significant perks and benefits to our offers, and objectively speaking, they do look pretty chock-full of value. Upon adding those enhanced perks and benefits, we had briefly questioned whether we should increase our pricing to reflect the added value.
In terms of margins, the enhancements won’t cost us anything going forward, so we don’t really need to increase pricing. That said, we did start to feel a twinge of a mismatch between our improved offers and our old pricing. When we broached the discussion of increasing prices, at least one person on our team would vehemently object, bringing up the obvious rationale: We’re in a recession, and money is tight for many people, especially with inflation. Raising prices now would be a huge mistake.
Maybe for a price-sensitive prospect for whom our service was already a splurge, raising prices would be the nail in the coffin that cockblocks a sale. However, we aren’t in the business of being the cheapest offer around, and our service has life-changing and significant results that almost always (if not always) provide the customer an outsized outcome far in excess of the value commensurate with the prices we charge.
Point being, our target market doesn’t come to us for a bargain; they come to us for the immense and tangible, proven value we provide. Undercharging for that — particularly as that value has materially increased with the enhanced offer — only undermines our credibility and likely makes prospects (like this hate mailing one) question our legitimacy.
This discussion isn’t just about pricing; it’s about the fact that sometimes (arguably often) playing it safe and choosing the less-scary option in business backfires.
Years ago, when we launched our first iteration of this service and had minimal proof points (from our beta testers only), I was the one who suppressed our pricing, tried to overdeliver with free lead magnets, and bent over backwards for the wrong customers. Why? I thought I was playing it safe; in hindsight, I couldn’t be more wrong.
- People didn’t trust our introductory pricing, even though it was launched during a previous economic crisis when people were incredibly tight-fisted and price sensitive.
- Giving too much away for free attracted customers who wanted more — and more, and more — for free. We created unrealistic expectations and pandered to an insatiable, impossible-to-please audience, which was mostly a factor of how and where we were marketing. Why did we do it? It felt safe, since everyone else in our industry did it.
- When met with a custom request or 20 million pre-purchase questions, I promised the moon and vowed to make miracles happen. Again, the issue with bending over backwards for customers is that it sets an unscalable precedent.
Since then, here’s how we’ve changed our business:
- Prices have increased by 3x to 5x (depending on the service), and that’s before the current price increase, despite the fact that we’ve actually pulled back on just how much customers get for each service in the name of scalability.
- We give next to nothing away for free. Oh, and we don’t market on those channels that groom customers to expect the moon. Yes, it’s unpopular, but I’d rather be unpopular and profitable any day.
- We sell what we sell and are honest when it isn’t a good fit for a customer, rather than customizing services just to make a sale. If I wanted a one-to-one completely customized service business or freelancer gig, I’d have one, but this is a company I’ve built to be largely automated and scalable, and that requires some discipline and uniformity. We know when to say “no”.
At the beginning of launching your business or attempting to get enough traction to prove your concept, it can be tempting to play it safe, slash prices, give away the house for free, and bend over backwards in ways that make no sense long-term. That said, those practices aren’t just unscalable; they’re unprofessional, and as we learned recently, sometimes making your offerings seem too good to be true is the very red flag that will push skeptical prospects away.