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Sunday 23 September 2012

Business development #fail on Twitter: How NOT to pitch to me.

I believe passionately in the power of professional networking. Specifically, reaching out either in-person (usually at networking events or professional seminars) or via wonderful tools like email, LinkedIn or Twitter to cement a solid business relationship. Almost every day I receive an approach from an advertising/marketing agency, media owner, technology provider (particularly around mobile apps right now) or people looking to work for or with me (job opportunities).

I can’t speak for every brand/client-side marketer but I assume that I’m not alone or particularly unique in receiving these requests. I strongly suspect that marketers’ at most big brands are facing the same issue. Why wouldn’t you want to approach a Marketing Director, Digital leader or key decision-maker at a great brand like adidas, Chanel, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, NestlĂ© or (in my case) Samsung?

When done right it opens you, and the company you work for, to wonderful opportunities, better media and marketing and of course, great new partners. The problem is that very often, it is done so poorly or with such little consideration it often comes across as rude or ignorant. That’s why your calls or emails are not returned.

I recently wrote a guest blog post for Firebrand Talent, which goes into detail on how best to approach client-side marketers like me. I've written a commonsense set of 6 guidelines that I hope more people will take to heart. If followed, you're guaranteed to improve your sales success and build better relationships. The article, titled Agencies, media & digital companies: Your sales pitch sucks can be found here:

So with this in mind, I recently had a very strange encounter on Twitter that's left be frustrated and bewildered. I was asked by a supposed expert in social media and digital reputation management in the Philippines Tony Ahn if he could pitch for Samsung work, and get an introduction to the local marketing team. I say supposed, because the Twitter exchange ended in him insulting me personally - isn't that something a digital reputation expert hoping to win new business should try to avoid?

Here's what happened: 

If you are not familiar with the terms MAYABANG or YABANG, they roughly translate into arrogant or conceited in English.

Now sure, I might have come across as harsh but I hope the criticism would have been taken in the spirit of improving the communication or finding common ground. After all, my time is limited and I could simply ignore the conversation right? That may be a fair call. But to then take it to a personal level and get to insults, well that's not cool at all. What I find so bewildering about this exchange is how this is coming from an expert in digital reputation management and social media, who is clearly interested in winning new business.

So what do you think? Was I too harsh and deserve the insult? Or is this a case of a senior PR/social media person forgetting where they are (Twitter) and not practicing what they preach? Please let me know in the comments section below.

Update 1: There's a little more fuel that's been thrown onto the fire. This really doesn't seem like the best way to manage a relationship online...


Saurav Mukherjee said...

Blizzare! I am left speechless on reading that offensive approach....

Saurav Mukherjee

Jay Pring said...

Wow, I can't believe anyone pitching digital crisis management could engage in such an unprofessional conversation. As an agency head myself, I understand the desire to seek new clients and build relationships, but this is NOT the way to go about it.
Most of the clients we work with are time poor, which is why they often engage an agency in the first place. Our role should be to help, to guide, and to do the heavy lifting when needed. It is not to badger, insult and waste time. Perhaps tony needs to spend more time understanding his area of expertise, and most importantly, knowing who the key digital influencers are in this region before he makes such a fundamentally stupid mistake again.

ben yeow said...


Marc Foi said...

what is really insane is that Tony has a live Twitter feed on his site, so everyone can see what he's said to you... definitely not good advertising for his supposed celebrity social media services.

Sean D said...

Dear Damien,

Please give us all Samsung's APJ budget 'coz we're brilliant at digital stuff.

Any better?

Tony Ahn said...

Hi Damien,

After reading your blog post, it is clear to me that I have offended you, and for that I apologize.

I was caught off guard by your response to my request, and was embarrassed by your referring me to read the "Your Sales Pitch Sucks" article.

Businesses are filled with people and people don't speak that way to each other in the Philippines.

The lessons I have learned from this situation are: 1) Cultural diversity is a double edged sword and I need to withhold judgement until I have more information; and 2) I will not use Twitter to ask for a referral as 140 characters isn't enough to do it the right way.

This situation needlessly absorbed both our time, and I'm sorry that I escalated it so that it did so.

--Tony Ahn

rachel huang said...

As a marketer on the client side, I'm faced with a lot of requests and pitches from different vendors and agencies. More often than not, I've had to say 'no' if it's not relevant to my business. But never have I seen an agency insult a potential client the way Tony did.

It seems like Tony doesn't grasp the irony of him being a reputation management expert, especially when he just dug a hole for his own reputation very publicly. I would marvel that anyone would even consider using the services of someone like this to manage crises when he seems to like creating crises himself. Not to mention that he doesn't seem to understand the power of digital and social media (which he claimed to be an expert in), and he's just used that to essentially bury himself.

The half hearted apology above is clearly a backpedalling to the negative reactions that his insults to Damien have garnered so far. It was clear that when he used capital letters in a langauge he thought Damien did not understand, he meant to insult and offend. To pretend that he did not realise that his mean spirited slurs would insult someone is just ridiculous.

Worst of all, he said that people apparently are not direct in terms of business dealings when he mentioned 'people don't speak that way to each other in the Philippines'. Yet, he called Damien names and insulted him through various ways/times. Is this how people speak in the Philippines then? Through petty slurs and insults?

If Tony means to apologise, he should do it sincerely. The lacklustre one above simply makes him looks worse.

Unknown said...

Hi Tony,

Thank you for taking the time to read through my blog. I'm happy that you've learned from this experience. I really appreciate you taking the time to write that you're sorry, and have apologized if there was any offense caused. I hope it's now clear that if you use social media to label someone as mayabang and yabang, then take the additional time to explain that I was "full of myself", among other things, that this is only ever going to be perceived as an insult. No matter how you feel about your agency sales pitch not being well received, it is not smart to personally insult the person you have contacted asking for a favour.

I genuinely hope you understand I was trying to give you additional insight into how best to approach me, and other similar potential clients, by referring you to the blog post on my recent, and very real, experiences on the right way and wrong way to approach me for agency services. I'm sorry that this caused you embarrassment, that was certainly not the intention. I hope in future if a client-side marketer takes the time to give you tips on the best way to approach them, you take it at face-value. Or if there's confusion, simply ask a question or clarify (and avoid leaping straight to public name-calling).

Best of luck for the future.



Tony Ahn said...

Thanks for your response, Damien. I guess part of the issue at the root of this is that I wasn't pitching you. I was asking for a referral.

Rachel, I didn't presume Damien wouldn't understand, as Google translate is just a couple clicks away. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm forthright and I "call them as I see them." To put it politely, I thought Damien's response was discourteous without provocation. Damien himself acknowledged he "might have been harsh." My response was disproportionate, however, and so I apologized. When i said "people don't speak that way to another in the Philippines," I meant that people are careful specifically because response to perceived insult can be serious business here.

Damien, I get the impression that something inadvertent happened in your communication with me (please correct me if i'm wrong). If I'm online, and i come across an article called "Your Sales Pitch Sucks," I wouldn't presume that was directed at me. But in a public arena, when someone tells you to read an article with that title after you approach them for a referral, it certainly appears directed at you. And I took it that way, although now i see that's not how you meant it. Thank you for clarifying.

Anonymous said...

A very unfortunate development indeed, also highlighting some of the dangers of digital interactions. Where body language, a smile (and a few drinks) could have cut short - and possibly improved the bonding - here is an interesting example of communication gone wrong through the limitation of the platforms used. I know both individuals and can assure you that they are both lovely, reliable professionals. A great case study indeed.
The value of Face to face networking is not yet dead :)


Diane said...

What he doesn't understand is that in asking you for referral he is pitching you. You aren't necessarily a gatekeeper, but you have a responsibility not to refer anyone willy nilly to your colleagues. This type of attitude is why people are rude to receptionists or personal assistants. Any time you contact anyone associated with a business you are making your pitch.

J said...

In my opinion, you were wrong and shouldn't have said "that's an unimpressive sales pitch" in the first place. He wasn't pitching, and you were already dissing him.

Anonymous said...

Pitching or not, he was gracious in his asking until you ungraciously responded after he tried to further explain. You said were you "too harsh and deserved the insult?" I'd
day yes. You came off as a bit high and mighty. Your position and your time constraints are no excuse.

Anonymous said...

Well the fact that so many of us are reading and commenting on this has given Tony lot of attention. Albeit notoriety. :)
Thats classic social media mktg.

Anonymous said...

Damien, I think you forgot that Twitter is a public arena when you told Tony his sales pitch was unimpressive, and directed him to read an article called "Why Your Sales Pitch Sucks." Would you have said that to him in person in the presence of others listening to the conversation? If so, I think everyone in that room would think you were full of yourself. Why do you talk to people that way? Why choose to be unkind when being kind takes the same number of keystrokes?

Anonymous said...

That last comment...absolutely agree! And I must say this blog with its two most recent posts that accentuate the negative doesn't seem such a nice place to visit.

Janice Wee said...

That's doubly shocking, coming from a digital crisis management expert.

Nina Athena said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic. This is really helpful and informative, as this gave me more insight to create more ideas and solutions for my plan. I would love to see more updates from you.

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