Dear assorted financial and professional services salespeople who have been contacted me since I announced the incorporation of Path 101,
No matter how much you try, you all seem the same to me... and the same to every other entrepreneur and new business. You're selling something and we don't have a lot of money to buy stuff.
Our initial inclination is that what you're selling we can somehow get on our own--besides which, other than computers, most of us have never made purchases the size of your average bill... particularly not for services that we imagine the web will outsource, open source, crowdsource, steal, hack, borrow, remix or simply disrupt.
Let me tell you the story of how one business differentiated themselves in a world where everyone seemed the same, the prices were high, and entrepreneurs didn't quite understand what they were getting...
When I started with Union Square Ventures, Fred and I were blogging on our personal blogs, and our website was some professionally designed but utterly useless brochureware. We initially wanted to address the issue of how we prevent our personal blogs from being seen as the faces of the firm and so I made the suggestion that we just use a blog as our corporate home page.
It wasn't long before we fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship between venture capital firms and entrepreneurs. We opened up our process, our thinking, and most of all, we wanted, and got, lots of feedback. People thought of us differently than every venture firm out there who just had a form or info@ e-mail inbox to dump business plans in. It became, and remains, a real sustainable advantage. While other VCs have created their own blogs, to my knowledge, there aren't any firms that have gone the full monty and changed their official corporate presence into something so interactive and open. It reflects the fact that while there are many individual VCs who think differently about VC relationships, there are few firms who make openness and communication part of the very core of their principles.
Frankly, it was inspired by the very companies we want to interact with. Nearly every single startup maintains and gets value out of a corporate blog. It's how we do our PR, our marketing, our community feedback, and sometimes business development.
So, financial and professional services salespeople, why then do you insist on e-mailing us mailing list form letters, or sending us PDF attachments to propriety market research? I can't reblog a PDF and all your form letters sent from Salesforce look the same.
I'm busy right now. Really busy. I'm running a company that's trying to get product out the door. You want me to make time for you, but what have you done for me? Clearly, you're reading blogs enough to notice when people raise money, but you're not actually reading them for content. You seem to have missed the new business model: provide as much value as possible and demand less.
What do I mean by that? How about, for starters, creating a company blog for your firm. If you're a recruiting firm, start writing about how to negotiate offers. Start releasing all the data you can on salaries you're seeing the market. Weigh in on the "finding developers in NYC" debate. Talk to us how we talk to our community... in an open and interactive way. And how about throwing me a freebie? What's the lifetime value of a recruiting client that runs a successful business? What's your margins? I'm surprised that recruiters don't ever offer heavily discounted or free referrals because if they found someone good for me, I'd be convinced of their value and probably use them again and again later on... and probably also make lots of referrals. Right now, I'm still convinced I can find people on my own, so show me someone I would have never ever found.
Real estate salespeople? Tell us what the going rates are. Tell us the pros and cons of sharing real estate with other companies. Blog your best deals.
Insurance agents? Well, insurance seems kind of important, but we don't really know. What do we actually need? What's a ripoff? You could get a lot of buzz by releasing some really good articles about what things to consider in the lifetime of a startup.
I have a meeting with a young recruiter next week who's been really persistent and has engaged me in conversation about the market, but after that, I'm not making time for any salespeople who don't provide me and the rest of the community value first. I want a link to your blog... not a form letter. Send me a "Hey check out our firm's article on the current state of the NYC real estate market." That's all I need. It's how we communicate with our market and its how you should, too.
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