Thursday, March 14, 2013

Please release me! Held hostage by bait and switch

Several months ago I received an email invite to participate in a webinar being offered for “free” by a company.

The topic of the webinar was something along the lines of how to have great meetings. The description (at least the part I paid attention to) implied tips and tricks and other useful information would be covered.

I signed up and later signed on to the event.

Wow. What a disappointment.


It turned out the whole content of the webinar was devoted to this company’s specific event planning product. Period. There was nothing useful offered about how to conduct great meetings.

It was a bait and switch ploy. But, it was free, so I listened for the hour hoping for some useful tidbit (as they promised) and signed off a tad steamed.

Then the phone calls started.

Once or twice a day a representative called to ask if I was interested in the service. I said no and asked them to please stop calling.

It took more than once, but the phone stopped ringing.

Then the emails started.


I replied to at least one and explained that I wasn’t interested at this time, but, if I changed my mind in the future, I knew how to contact them.

The emails kept coming.

I scrolled to the bottom of the message and clicked the unsubscribe button.

But the emails kept coming. I unsubscribed again and that’s when I noticed something unusual. I was not being allowed to unsubscribe to all email from that company, but only from one specific sender.

The emails kept and keep coming. Each one from a different person.


I find this very deceptive and very annoying.

This company is essentially holding me hostage and forcing me to receive their emails.

Technically, they are following the letter of the law since I don’t receive emails from the people I’ve unsubscribed from.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to have to unsubscribe from receiving email from each of their hundreds of employees – one at a time!

This is a tactic that is not endearing me to them. It’s annoying me.

First, they lured me in with a deceptive invitation, and now they won’t let me go.


If you are going to offer a free webinar – or any other “free” service – to potential customers, first and foremost, make it useful to them.

They know about your services and if they are interested they will let you know. But until they do, leave them feeling positive about who you are as a company.

If they’re not approaching you and they unsubscribe from your emails, leave them alone! Continuing to push your way into their inbox is not going to convert them to becoming a customer.

Deception is never a good business practice.

(BTW: After several more unsubscribes and a couple of complaints, eventually the emails ended.)

Shoulda, coulda, woulda

So what should have happened with the webinar? What could have been done to make it a better experience? What would have made for a positive result?
  • Keep your promise and deliver value: If you are going to offer something "free" to potential customers, such as a webinar, workshop, and so on, deliver the useful information you promised. Focus first on giving your participants a positive, valuable experience. Make sure they will walk away with something they can use immediately. Any mention of your product or service must be subtle, brief, and truly contextual. Don't force fit the your "advertorial" into the information or go into an extensive demonstration. If you are presenting tips for running a successful meeting, then, as it makes sense, as you deliver each tip, suggest how your product and service can help on these points.
  • Include time and opportunity for questions. If you've provided truly useful information and whetted their curiosity about how your product or service can help them, your participants will want to know more. Let them ask about the features during a Q & A. Everyone will be more receptive to learning more about your product or service after you've won their trust.
  • Get explicit permission to call. As tempting as it is to start calling participants simply because you've now captured their phone numbers, don't. Let them know that you'd like to call them and then ask them if that's okay. When you do call, if they ask to not be called again, take them off your call list and don't call again.
  • Avoid playing tricks with emails. Making it difficult to unsubscribe from your emails is as annoying as telephone spammers spoofing various numbers trying to get through to you. If the emails you send are thoughtful, creative, engaging, and clever while providing additional useful information rather than just another sales pitch, they are more likely to get read.
Acting with integrity will win you far more business than playing bait and switch games with current and potential customers. Focus on delivering value and quality rather than engaging in cheap tricks.

Have you experienced a bait and switch tactic? How did you deal with it? Did you ever do business with the company? Please share your story in the comments section...

And now, a musical interlude....

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