The Awful Truth About Unsolicited Advice, Part I: A Big Mistake You Don’t Want To Make

The other day I got the following unsolicited e-mail from a Web designer: “I just visited your site to check your copywriting service. You have a very good portfolio, but one thing that your website lacks is powerful design that would reflect such quality service. It just happens that I offer redesign service, so I decided to e-mail you.

“I have a lot of top-quality design templates to choose from. I also provide full customization/optimization service. You have a truly professional service and background, so I believe your online ‘look & feel’ should not be worse. If you are interested, let me know.” Can you spot all the mistakes in this e-mail to me?

1. It is an unsolicited promotion sent to an e-mail address where the recipient has not “opted in” — that is, has not agreed to receive such messages. Therefore, it is illegal spam. Not a great way to start a relationship.

2. The first sentence is misleading. He makes himself sound like a prospect interested in my copywriting services . . . which he is not.

3. In the second sentence, he gives me a critique of my website — a critique I did not ask for and therefore place no value upon (especially since I have never heard of him).

4. His critique is negative. He insults me within the first two sentences of our “conversation” — and I don’t even know who he is.

5. In the third sentence, he shows his true colors. He is not giving an objective critique with any real value. He is simply trying to peddle his services — without knowing a single thing about me, my goals, or my level of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with my current website.

6. The phrase “it just happens” has all the probity of a $3 bill. It’s obvious that this guy spends his time writing to website owners in the desperate hope that they’ll hire him.

7. The sixth sentence insults me again, telling me that my website is “worse” than it should be. It’s a common ploy that many service marketers — usually those without much business and hungry for some revenue — think will work: Tell someone that his widget (or whatever) sucks and that you can make it better . . . if only he will hire you. It seldom works.

Here’s why: To begin with, you are offering unsolicited advice . . . which is absolutely the worst kind. The work you are criticizing may very well have been done by the person at whom you are aiming the criticism . . . so you are insulting a complete stranger. An odd way to get people to like you. (And, remember, people usually do business only with people they like and trust.)

Also, you are giving a subjective opinion without any facts to back it up. In the example above, this guy has no idea as to how well my website is working, whether it is achieving its sales goals, or even what those objectives are. So how can he be in a position to judge whether what he sees is working? He’s not. And that reduces his already marginal credibility with me to virtually zero. So, what’s the root of the problem?

It’s this: To be a successful marketer, you’ve got to solve a problem that’s important to the customer. To solve a problem that’s important to the customer, you first have to identify what problems the client has and then identify those that are most important and urgent. What’s a better approach that he could have taken with me? Just about anything would have been better than pretending to give me an objective critique when, in reality, he was delivering a blatant sales pitch.

He might, for example, have asked, “If there’s one thing you would want to change or improve about your website, what would it be?” Or he could have offered to share with me some new Web marketing techniques that he has used for his other clients — techniques that worked well for them and that I might be interested in knowing about. Should you ever give someone unsolicited advice? Only under certain circumstances — and only if you do it the right way.