Ten ways to make your company difficult to do business with
How often have you been ready to buy a product or service only to be frustrated by the hurdles some companies put in your way? It could be something simple like just not getting back to people or not having a phone number on your website, or something more complex like poor website design or navigation. As well as my personal hobbyhorses, I asked my LinkedIn network to share their experiences and they came up with some thought-provoking and sometimes sobering feedback.
Don’t pick up the phone or reply to emails
Yes, unbelievably, we have stopped seeing the ringing phone as a buying signal. I recently visited a hotel in the north of England to book a cycling weekend for 12 people. A decent gig for them outside the high season – or so you’d think. I visited the hotel in person to check it out and yet when I came to book, the phone rang out and nobody called me back. I followed up the call with an email to the address on their expensive looking website. Still no reply. Maybe I will just have to drive up there again with a cheque book ….then again. Tim Nightingale of Nisus Consulting had a particular pain point…literally. A good example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He laments: “I needed £3k’s worth of dental implants. Dentist recommended two specialists locally. After getting initial quotes I went back to A on phone. Held in queue. Was told I was important and someone would be along shortly. Then message morphed into: ‘sorry we’re closed’ – from same call. So, I emailed them to explain they had a problem. Never even got a reply to the email. B got the job.”
Don’t tell them your address
A number of contributors like Grant Audemard of Fluidlink were annoyed by companies that don’t put their physical address on their website. What’s the big secret? People are going to find out where you are based sooner or later. I was amused recently however when our Bond Street (Macclesfield) address was misread and I was offered a “meet up and a coffee” in Bond Street (as in Monopoly) seeing that we were “so close!” If you are good at what you do it probably doesn’t matter where you live, and for companies who prefer to shop local, the fact that you are close at hand will be a positive bonus. As Nigel Davey of SME Needs points out: “Most businesses prefer to work with local suppliers so a location is a minimum – and don’t get me started on people who are ‘everywhere’!”
Make yourself hard to get hold of
One of the most popular complaints was about companies not displaying a prominent landline phone number on their website or not showing any phone number at all. People like to find out information before they speak to someone more than ever before, but when they actually want to buy a B2B service they like to call. If they cannot find your number then it’s likely they will move on. If they only find a mobile number they may call or they may decide that you are a one-man-band without offices or staff and deduce that you are not a good partner for the long term. Nigel Davey extends this to social media: “It still amazes me how many people don’t put contact details and locations on their social media profiles.” Phil Shipperlee FIoD concurs: “I often ignore companies that make it difficult for me to call them.”
I would add to this a personal bugbear of mine which is easy to fix. If you don’t put a phone number in your email signature I have to look it up on my contacts and that takes time. I may not have you in my contacts even though we have spoken before so please, pretty please, with sugar on top, put a phone number on every email.
Have a website that sUX
Your website may look very Shoreditch with lots of animation and fancy graphics but if it’s difficult to navigate or doesn’t work on mobile devices. Amy Archer of Creative Leopard makes a plea for companies to get the basics right, “Avoid having a website that takes too long to load, or is unresponsive to the device you’re using,” she advises. Some companies spend tens of thousands on UX (User Experience) testing to make sure that there is a logical customer journey from interested to engagement and ultimately to purchase. Your site will never be perfect but a commitment to constantly evaluate the user experience and adapt accordingly will pay dividends.
Don’t tell people what you have to sell
David Tsang of Thoughtpoint makes a plea for companies to explain in simple terms what they sell. “Tell people what you do and what services you provide within the first paragraph of the website. Too many companies are deliberately vague in their pitch, being almost afraid to be a specialist and therefore looking like a jack of all trades. Most companies’ pitches focus too much on what they have done for past clients and not enough on what they can do for the potential client!” he says.
Confuse the customer
If you are a specialist there is always a need to reference common terminology and language but this should not be at the expense of alienating potential customers. Bear in mind also that non-technical people may be involved in the buying decision like…the board.. and they will need to understand what you can offer just as much as the technical specifier.
Sue Thomas, founder of Thomas Miller adds to this point and argues for more direct language: “Companies that write impenetrable jargon and self-important gobbledygook on websites and marketing. They make what they do sound complicated and grandiose to make customers feel small, but at no point do they tell you what they do or what they sell.”
Make your pricing a mystery or a straightjacket
Sometimes you just want a rough idea of costing so that you can get an idea of whether the purchase you have in mind is within your budget or whether you need to look at a different approach or a lower spec. Kevin Newport of Simoco Wireless Solutions cites: “The difficulty in getting ballpark costing for a project without having to go through a gatekeeper called ‘sales’.”
He advocates offering a range of prices and then homing in on one or two or three models that are commonly supplied. “I think (this approach) would enable more innovation with customers exploring a wider range of potential solutions,” he concluded.
Jason Jones of Access Self Storage however points out that sometimes by giving an unrealistic price you can create a hostage to fortune saying: “Psychologically an advertised rate creates an ‘anchor point’ in the mind, so regardless of how inaccurate that may be, any increase based on actual requirements is still measured against it.
Rush your customers into making a quick decision
A number of people felt that companies were a bit trigger-happy on the call to action and that they would prefer to be able to find out more information before buying. This is in line with people’s consumer experience where you want to have most of your questioned answered online before hitting the buy button. “Having a website that doesn’t give me an option to research the answers that I need other than by speaking to a sales person – I am not ready for the hard sell yet.” commented Joe Shear of Lollipop and Hélène Passignani of Thomson Reuters who complains of: “Aggressive CTA (calls to action) in marketing – the whole difference between ‘buy now’ and ‘discover more’.”
Use weasel ways to entrap customers for short term gain
A lot of people were unhappy with companies that took your subscription seamlessly via the website and then made you call a premium rate number if you wanted to cancel. This may prevent churn in the short term but it creates a wellspring of ill feeling and resentment in the long term, like the old 1990s water-cooler agreements that were almost impossible to get out of. They would have complicated terms of cancellation like “you must give notice 120 days before the anniversary date.” If you left it to 90 days you were back on board for another year’s expensive supply of something we now get virtually free of charge from the tap. This is now seen as sharp practice and disingenuous. People don’t like being tricked into something they no longer want and B2B memories are long.
Be unclear on what’s been agreed
Finally, and this applies particularly in the service sector, if you don’t write down on paper the details of what has been agreed between buyer and seller then things go awry very quickly. Everything has to be done within a budget so it’s important to spell out what’s included and what’s an extra. Try and be as specific as you can in your statement of work to identifythe things you are going to do, the responsibilities of the client to enable you to achieve them and the key success factors. Payment terms need to be clear, which sounds obvious but is a common area of dispute. There is always scope for disagreement and negotiation, but if you start with a clear written document at least you will reduce the chance of discord and disappointment on both sides.
(Thank you to all who contributed.)