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Professional courtesy; a thing of the past?

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You know the story. You make a call to a client, prospective client, partner, (insert person in organisation with whom you’re trying to make contact). The Gatekeeper promises to pass on your message. Your call is not returned. Or you call your contact, reach their voicemail, leave a simple message requesting a return call and again, your call is not returned. You wait a day or so and repeat the process with the same outcome. You call again; same response – nothing!

You’re keen to share some ideas with this person that can help their business and this scenario can apply to people you already know, people you’re trying to get to know, or people other contacts have referred you to. You scratch your head in bewilderment. Why don’t they return your call? Are they busy? Did the Gatekeeper not pass on your message? Did they erase your voicemail before having a chance to write down your number (and believe me, I’ve heard some fantastic excuses)?

If you’re in sales, do they simply think you’re a pest and have nothing to offer and their time is too valuable to give you? Or is it a matter of people lacking the professional courtesy to return your call? Sadly, I think there’s a definite increase of the latter. When it comes down to it though, isn’t it just basic good manners?

Take for example the ‘lapsed’ agency client I had been working with, who had a new Marketing Manager on board. I’d spent hours connecting with him, showcasing the agency’s strategic and creative capability, demonstrating an understanding of the category in which they marketed. We developed a healthy professional rapport that eventuated in him briefing us on a brand campaign. The brief was (at best) light, so a fully developed return brief was delivered to ensure nothing was missed and the approach was agreed to. With the brief signed off, a strategy, creative rationale, concepts and channel plan was developed.

Literally the day before the afternoon meeting scheduled to present all the work to him, I heard ‘on the grapevine’, that we were actually ‘pitching’ for this brand campaign work. There had been no discussion of pitching at any point in the briefing process, so I made a call to the client to ask the question – was this a pitch?

My phone never rang. So I called again. No response. The day of the presentation came and I called the client first thing in the morning. No response. I called his mobile at lunchtime. No response. At this point we decided as a team not to attend the presentation (and potentially waste our IP on a less-than-professional scenario) unless the client called. The 3pm timeslot for our presentation came and went.

To this day, I never heard from the client. But they know I know, as I’ve seen them at various sales and marketing forums and they’re keen to avoid me. This went beyond a lack of professional courtesy to a case of bad client behaviour. Not only were the hours I spent wasted, so too were those of the creative director, strategic planner, media researcher and planner and my account executive. The cost, not just in head hours, but also in the actual intellectual property developed and applied to the brief, was significant. Let alone the damage to their reputation.

Now this may be an extreme example, but it happens frequently. Working in sales and marketing, I spend a lot of time connecting with people, offering up solutions and ideas to business issues. We all get busy. We all get time poor. We forget. We can’t be bothered. We get overwhelmed. We’re all human. But if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, think about why they’ve called you and return their call — you just might end up with something amazing or solve a business problem that had been bugging you for ages. You might even look like a star for connecting your organisation with this person/service/opportunity (insert world of opportunity here).

My Grandmother used to say ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you’. I reckon she was onto something!

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