How To Get My Money


This document is now mostly obsolete; a much-improved version appeared on the IBM DeveloperWorks site, and a reprint of that is available over in my opinions page.


I discuss how it is that you can market things to me over the Internet, and have some hope of getting me to part with my money. I discuss both what will work and what will not, and give examples. I originally wrote this years ago. Now I'm not alone; for more material along similar lines, if a bit buzzword-heavy, check out "the clue train".

This is a work in progress; not everything is done yet. The idea of it being done is a little silly, even. Last modified December 14th, 1999. Don't let the absence of a prohibition here make you think something is okay or desirable; I may just not have run into a particular kind of rudeness yet. Similarly, don't assume something isn't okay, just because I don't mention it. Above all else, think. You want my money? Put some effort into finding out what I want, and providing it.

Contacting Me

Don't Bother Me
Don't contact me. If I need to be in touch with you, I will find you. I have at my disposal millions of dollars worth of publically available search engines. People will tell me about your product. In short, the chances are fairly high that I don't care, or that I already know. If I want notification, I'll ask for it explicitly. If it is necessary that I be contacted, be absolutely sure that your contact is short, relevant, and to the point. Tell me if my car will explode; don't take the opportunity to tell me about your new dealership.
Play By the Rules
Use appropriate venues. Post a single announcement to an appropriate newsgroup, preferably an announcement or commercial newsgroup. If you post multiple times, I'll assume you're a crackpot. If you post to a non-commercial group, I'll assume you're rude.

Email (From you)

No Junk Mail
If I didn't ask for it, don't send it. No, I don't want to know. I'll find out when I want to spend my time looking it up. Sending me "announcements" I have not asked for is theft; you are stealing my computing resources and my time.
No Tired Stories
Don't give me the lie about "this is a one time mailing" - I get most of them at least three times. Don't claim you'll remove my address if I ask you to. I have more than ten billion valid email addresses; I am not about to waste my time sending you a list. It is not my job to support the costs of your market research.
Listen to Me
If I tell you that I am no longer interested, stop. Do not send me "just one more announcement". Do not leave me on the list based on my "evident past interest". Leave me alone. I'll let you know when I want more information.
No Trickery
Do not assume I want to be on a mailing list just because I express some interest. Do not give me a little tiny checkbox to hit if I don't want mail. Assume that I do not want to be on a mailing list; rest assured I'll tell you otherwise if I need to. Better, make sure you ask and I answer - use a pair of boxes, with neither checked, and make sure I check one before you accept the form data. Then I'll have made a conscious choice.
Don't Make it Worse
Do not sell my name or address to other people. I have gotten more junk mail in my postal box from my ill-advised decision to register a certain product than I have from anything else I've ever done, including getting married.
Offer me Choices
Don't just have the list of "addresses we email". Let me ask for patch announcements relating to only one of your products, if that's all I want. Distinguish between "patch announcements", "new version announcements", and "news about other products". Maybe I'll want them all; maybe I won't. Let me choose. I'm more likely to decide to buy an upgrade if I like the way you've supported the current version, and I'm much less likely to if you've spammed me.
No Fake Trust
When I tell you your policy bothers me, don't say "but it's certified". If it is, the organization "certifying" you has done you a disservice. My experience with such organizations has led me to believe that, if you were trustworthy, you wouldn't be "certified", because you wouldn't need it.

Email (From me)

Accept Support Questions
Do not autorespond saying you don't take email support questions. If you aren't taking email support questions, you aren't ready to be on the internet at all, please go away until you're in the current decade. Email support is cheaper and more convenient, both for me and for you, than phone support. Snail mail is unacceptable for the vast majority of problems.
Postmaster Must Always Work
Make absolutely sure that, no matter how badly everything has collapsed, the address
works. It is required by the RFC's, and it is the first place I will go if I have any trouble sending email to anyone else. (Anyone else at your site, that is.)
I Sent Email For A Reason
Don't write back saying "thanks for your interest, send me a phone number so a sales rep can contact you". I chose to send my request via email (rather than calling) because email was convenient for me. If I want a change of venue, I'll suggest it.

World Wide Web

Readable Plain Text
No frames. Text readable. I haven't got the time to load up the latest set of security holes every time I want some information. Don't rely on graphics. Pictures of text make you look like a form-over-content nut.
Search Engine
A search engine with a link to it labeled "search" on the front page. It should work. It should not give me weird NT errors.
Downloads and Files
Downloads. Product updates, demos, patches. FAQ's. Do your best to make sure I can answer my question or solve my problem as quickly as possible without having to take the time of one of your agents. Don't be afraid to point to a user-run resource page, even if not everything it says about you is good. I'll respect your honesty.
Good Information
Information. Make full lists of bug fixes available. Label everything with its size in kilobytes. Label everything with a date, so I can tell whether it's newer than my current version. Make sure the update page lists the version of the newest patch, and tells me how to find the version in my existing program.
Email Connectivity
Email addresses. Make sure I can contact, at a bare minimum, a sales person, a technical support rep, and/or a management/policy person. Make sure you have a contact for your web page itself, and make sure your mailer system works. Please no submission forms; I like my mailer. Let me reiterate: I use a program to send mail. I like it. I prefer it over using web forms. I am more likely to take the time to drop you a line via email than I am to fill out a web form. Also, since I originally wrote this, I noticed another thing: About half the web forms I encounter produce some kind of "internal error" (generally associated with Windows NT). If I send you email, and it bounces, I have a copy of the message I spent ten minutes drafting. If I fill out a form, I just wasted my time.

General PR

Tell Good Stories
Put up interesting information about your company. Publicize successes. Talk about your involvement in the online community. Please, none of the "we've been active since 1988" stuff, tell us how you've been involved! Tell me your employee runs the Usenet Kook of the Month contest. Tell me about standards committees you're active in. Tell me why I should like you.
Admit Mistakes
Don't hush your mistakes up; put a big apology up where everyone can see it. I'd rather know that you did something wrong and understand this, than hear rumors that you did it and not have any idea.
Offer Value
Don't just put up ads. Put up resources I might benefit from even if I'm not a customer! This way, I get something for reading your web page. For instance, this page could be seen as a kind of ad for my ISP; if you read this, and you like it, maybe my ISP would be a good place to host your next web page, or maybe you want one of our web consultants.
Be Human
This is the hard part. I want to get to a real person. I want to talk to someone who isn't following a script. I want to talk to employees who will occasionally say "Well, this is our policy. I don't like it very much, and if you don't like it, here's who to talk to." The most negative customer service experience I've had in 1999 involved "customer service" people who were not allowed to leave the script, and who were not allowed to put me in touch with anyone who could leave the script. I'm an ex-customer now. Don't worry about "appearing professional" all the time. If I pay you, you're a professional - that's what the word means. I'll be more likely to pay you if I think you're real people.
Never Lie
If I write to complain about getting spammed, don't say "maybe someone else put that address in by mistake". I use specially created unique addresses, which are unique to each company I deal with. I know where you got that address, and I know that you thought you could get away with spamming. When you lie about it, and I find out, I no longer respect you or trust you - nor should I. Don't lie. You will, eventually, get caught, and then we will all laugh at you.

Find Out More...

One of the things I've suggested to a lot of companies is that they provide valuable resources as a way to advertise their products. With that in mind, if you like what you just read, you may want to talk to me (or my company) about advertising or marketing, web consulting, or maintaining mailing lists. For more information, check out our corporate web page. Thanks!

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