You know when you answer the phone, because you’re expecting a call from a client or friend, and the unfamiliar voice on the other end says: “How are you doing today?”

Immediately you know that the caller does not give a fig about how you are. Sometimes I reply with too much information about my clogged sinuses, lady parts or pretend cancer.

communicate as acquaintances, not friends
me and real friends

Don’t ask me how I am
Usually, though, I say “Fine. What are you selling?” On the off chance they could be selling something I’m in the market for. Otherwise, why are they wasting time pretending to care? The caller may gasp, as if “selling” were a dirty word, solemnly insisting that “no” this call is not about sales but a chance to save a child, an endangered species, money on my cell phone bill or to maximize my investments, sales, home value or mileage.

Another giveaway is name-mangling. If you are my friend, or even an online acquaintance, you know that I go by Barb, not Barbara. My last name, Sawyers, should not be difficult for anyone who read, or heard of, Mark Twain’s classic Tom Sawyer. Sadly, it is. In the rest of the world, where many of these calls originate, this unfamiliar name inspires “Swayer” and similar fumbles. Please, get it right or don’t say my name.

Don’t say my name
Because this name-use is fake friendly, I don’t follow the advice of email marketers, who insist that my newsletter should start with “Hello, Susie” or whatever. I assume that all my subscribers are smart enough to know that this an email list. The true friends know who they are.

Then there are the marketing emails that fake friendship by leading with hollow small talk, usually a comment on the weather or season, reminiscent of those mimeographed letters my aunt in Manitoba used to send everyone who’d left the prairies. Or maybe they took that old sales course that insists that weather is the basic commonality for striking up a conversation.

Don’t talk about the season
Here’s an example I received from a self-proclaimed internet marketing expert last month, when the kids were still in school and summer had been officially underway for only a couple of days. “How’s your summer going? Did you manage to get some rest? If you are still planning to or if you are already back, our summer publishing contest is quite timely!”

Does he really care if I got some rest? And does he think I would continue the conversation with someone who asks if I’m still planning to or already back? Piss off.

Then there’s this one: “We are rapidly approaching the halfway mark of  2012 and what a busy year it has been! Here in London, we’ve already survived the treacherous rains during the Jubilee and the Olympic madness is just around the corner.”

Don’t tell me what I know
Keeping in mind that I am ploughing through at least 50 emails, why are you telling me that we’re halfway through 2012? I know. I also know about the rain and the Jubilee and Olympic madness. We get British news in Canada. Do you think I care about you, whoever you are? Even if you were a distant relative, I would be getting impatient, waiting for you to ask if your nephew could crash at my place in Toronto or some other point.

My point is that strangers should not pretend to be friends when they are phoning or emailing me. I won’t know if I’m interested in the contents of their message until they get to the point. So hop to it, before I hang up the phone or close your email. Selling is not a dirty word, unless you pervert it with fake friendship.

Even with friends, I like to know the point of the email right away. Is this a stupid chain letter I don’t have to open? A funny video I will get back to when I need a break? An urgent request? An invitation to dinner? My smart friends put it in the subject line or first sentence, then ask me about my weekend or whatever later. Live conversation may follow because we are already friends.

Not even Facebook friends
So phone jockeys and email marketers, and the people who write for them, please remember that we are not friends. Not even in the Facebook sense. You need to hook me in a few seconds by informing me of the point of your message and why I should care. You can communicate in a friendly style, but don’t pretend a mass email or phone campaign can create true friendships.

That is my point. What’s yours?

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5 thoughts on “Don’t pretend we are friends

  • July 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    What is your stance on using personal names in email marketing? Since I follow your blog, your name is familiar to me yet I still appreciate “Sticky Communications” in the subject line.
    I see more and more companies — for example my local chamber of commerce — using a variety of staff members’ names and making no mention of their company. In most cases, I automatically delete it without reading it because I don’t know the ever changing cast of characters even though I am a chamber member. Can this artificial familiarity please stop too?

  • July 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    As I explained in this post, I don’t use names in the salutation for my monthly newsletter. Too phony. In the “from” I use my name, because research shows that people are more likely to open an email from an individual than an organization. Similarly, if you subscribe to this blog, it comes from barbsawyers, the name I also use on Twitter. Because most email marketers are using names,though, it’s losing value. Often I open only emails from people I know or whose mail I welcome into my inbox, just like you with your chamber of commerce. I don’t think that artificial familiarity will stop, though we may see some volumes decline as fewer are opened.

  • July 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I hate those calls, too, and usually respond to the insincere, “How are you?” with “I’m fine, WHO are you?”

  • July 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    You took everything I think when so-called salespeople cal and put it in writing, Thanks.

    I especially like your response about using a name in your newsletter. I’ll think about it 🙂

  • July 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Trudy, you’re not the first person who has told me I wrote what they are thinking. When will marketers figure this out?

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