You are not a conversion: Small business and the lost art of being genuine

This is the part of writing that’s the hardest: Although I’ve had a small business for 20 years, I still get to show the world just what a slow learner I am sometimes.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from an amazing old friend with whom I’d lost contact years ago. By ‘amazing’ I mean someone I love and who randomly pops into my head all the time. She always seemed too busy to get together, calls and emails went unanswered, and I chalked it up to how some friendships fade over time. Although it made me sad, I just shelved it in my mind and moved on.

All this to say that getting an email was a big deal. It literally made my eyebrows shoot up and a big smile crease my face when I saw her name in my inbox. The note started out very friendly and chatty. She asked how I was doing, how my work was going, she’d love to find a way to get together and catch up, etc.

Then she casually dropped in a description of the political candidate that she’s been volunteering for this fall. So-and-so’s hopes and dreams about a change for the better, and so forth. And by the way, how I was going to vote in this election? Which seemed a bit weird. But hey. I was so happy to hear from her that I punched the “Reply” button right away. I answered her questions about how I was doing and what I was up to. I asked about her family, her travels, her life. I praised her candidate. And I suggested we have coffee.

I never heard back from her. I tried one more time, in case email had been having a bad day. Nothing.

The penny drops at last

When I received three more of these emails from other friends, with similar radio silence, I realized what was up. This is (I learned, slowly) a tactic from the playbook of political candidates. All their phone/email volunteers use it. There’s no warmth toward me whatsoever. It’s just a suggested script, and she had no actual desire to be in contact on a human level.

It’s okay—lesson learned, and I’ve always got my big girl pants on. But it tripped a larger conversation in my head. (Come on, you know me; even a bad hair day can trip a larger conversation in my head 🙂

This happens online a lot, doesn’t it? We get missives from various kinds of service providers that are full of warmth and support and friendliness, designed to make us feel seen, feel heard. That button pushed, they progress into a pitch for whatever it is the person’s promoting that they know will make our quality of life even better.

When we reach the scarcity part of the email or sales page—only three spots left! I won’t offer this again this year! the price will go up next year! And there it is. That pit-of-the-stomach moment when we realize what we’d hoped was some sort of genuine human connection was actually just a textbook strategy. When we see we’re really just part of someone’s spreadsheet under the column “conversions.”

The emails from friends? Well-meaning, yes. Serving a purpose, yes. But do I matter? All I am to a political candidate is a conversion—am I, or am not, going to vote to give them the job they want?

When did we stop seeing each other as individuals?

When did we lose the awareness of individual needs, pains, and desires? At what point did we convince ourselves that we’re doing people such a favor with whatever we’re “selling” that we needn’t bother paying attention to how impersonal and mechanistic we’re being? When I’m having a (now rare) glass of wine while working in the evening, I’ve been known to talk back to websites like that: “Do you know how obvious you’re being? Do you think I believe you actually care?” (for an amusing visual, imagine Gordon the Dog growling at the screen, which often happens)

Don’t even get me started on the name “ConvertKit.” If you use it, and of course it does have its uses, PLEASE make sure it doesn’t say “ConvertKit” anywhere near your forms (like right below them, in tiny letters). Let’s not be part of the depersonalization problem.

Since we are all both creators/sellers AND consumers, you’re going to see a lot of the word “We” in the following sentences. Sorry.

We are not just conversions. We are people, with a pulse, a sick dog, a cough that won’t go away, a nagging sense of not-being-enough, too little time to cook a healthy dinner tonight, insomnia, a job we detest but can’t seem to escape.

We are not conversions. We’re people who have a glimmer of hope when they find something—your coaching program, your book, your workshop—that might ease our stress. Maybe we’ll even get some sleep tonight if we believe hard enough.

We are not conversions. We’re people willing to pay for the privilege of being treated like people instead of another cha-ching in someone’s PayPal account.

There has to be a better way

It’s time to stop converting and remember what it’s all about: Being of service, making someone else’s day/night/dinner/life/work better in some way, and being a person of integrity as you do it.

If you agree with this, and want your promotional materials to be genuine and compassionate, here are some things you might pay attention to:

  • Think about the person you’re speaking to with your promotion. Visualize them as a person; give them a face. Consider going to https://images.google.com and finding a face for your ideal client (hint: start with the word “face” and then the adjective that describes how they might currently be feeling: frustrated, stressed, underpaid, scared)
  • With that face in your mind (or even better, on your bulletin board) read your sales page out loud to them. Pay attention to how your voice sounds. Where do you shift into sales-pitch language? Where do you stop talking to them as though they’re standing right in front of you, and instead move into convincing an anonymous “them” to buy your stuff?
  • Find your most intuitive friend who might be interested in what you’re offering, or able to look at it objectively. Have her read your sales page and track how she feels with each paragraph. Have her use words like curious, interested, hopeful, surprised, disappointed at price, delighted with price, doubtful, confused. Ask her to call out any places where it ceased to feel as though a conversation were taking place, and instead she was being “funneled” into buying.
  • If you’re part of a mastermind group, local business group, women’s group, or Facebook interest group, see if you can find some folks who would be willing to examine your sales page and give you honest feedback—anonymous if need be, via SurveyMonkey.com or similar—about how the page feels, where they shift away from being seen/heard and start to feel “sold”, what they might change that would make less formulaic and more human and kind.

We are not conversions. We are people, with our own unique needs, pains, and desires. And in a world where it seems like it’s all about “the art of the deal,” if we’re treated with kindness and respect all the way to the “Buy Now” button, we will choose your offerings over all others.

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