Unsubscribe: Can you market with thin skin?

With no current financial-planning needs, the weekly message from an adviser neither calls me to action nor annoys me. She’s a friend, so I read and, with one button, delete. For too long, an online real estate marketing firm emailed me four to eight times a week — after five attempts to unsubscribe, I may have succeeded.

For any startup, there’s a line between getting the word out and bugging people. After a few years, it’s still hard to cool the steady-on’s ardor and diligence to push and pitch and persuade. The smaller the business, the more painful the “unsubscribe.”

The sequence teased my small-business insecurities — click; open; “please unscribe” (sic).  With breath held and a churn in my stomach, to me, her hastily misspelled “unsubscribe” reeked of frustration or anger.  Although kind enough to say “please” and “thank you,” her request made me feel insignificant and worse, irrelevant. No fancy apps; no IT guys; no monthly email service, just a small business trying to create monthly awareness. I asked myself, “How can someone in the same business object to us trying to survive?” Well, they can, and they have the right.

A gentleman responding to another piece suggested a commercial email service for a more professional look.  He sent a very instructional note along with the request to take him off our list. Out of curiosity, I counted more than 450 characters in his message — my calculator tabulated 39 years of single-button deletes.  Yet, he was right: Good marketing means good listening.

My brain moved on, but my heart burned to respond to the woman in my same business — I just didn’t understand. The closer you are to the business makes the process feel like a high school break-up complete with a “dear-John” letter wanting to “still be friends.”

The history buff in me knew how Civil War president Abraham Lincoln wrote angry letters to timid generals, tore them up and then tossed them into the trash.  After the unscribe request, I proudly waited a full week before meticulously crafting a fact-filled and unemotional letter worthy of the Smithsonian archives.

Straining carefully to show openness to advice, I asked for clarification on how our one message a month could be improved so as not to annoy. I dreaded any unsubscribes but couldn’t fathom getting one from someone in the field; an insider to the industry; a comrade in arms.

My missive reasoned how my business offerings directly matched her title and role in the organization.  If only I could demonstrate how much I could accomplish, she’d see my value and run to my doorstep.

The rhetoric soared, and the letter sailed. It opened doors of kindness and courtesy. I learned that the important part of marketing is the effect on the receiver, not my perception of serving and contributing. Another lesson was that anyone can have a bad day and not relate or align with what I put on a pedestal.

The business owner or marketer is not the star of the show. We’ve all learned how the prospect must be ready, willing and able. After the letter, I was blessed with wonderful insight and respect from multiple people. Although never hearing from the designated recipient, I’m proud that I spoke up, took action and learned a thing or two. The successful achiever’s skin thickens while learning to take the heat and continue to grow.

My letter gradually morphed into a self-aware request. It asked for feedback and advice on ways to present and market my business. I took the blame and accepted responsibility. Oh, and my financial-planner friend — I’m still pleased to get her weekly updates; that means she’s still around.

Rick Griggs is the inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool and founder of the Griggs Mastery Academy for professional development. Contact him at rick@griggsachieve.com or 970-690-7327