People often have a very imaginative view of public relations. The fairy god-PR-mother waltzes into the market, swishes her wand a few times, and the results are immediate. The brand instantly becomes popular, and sales skyrocket.
But what many people forget is that other brands have their fairy god-PR-mothers, too. Subsequently, we get a lot of emails, blog comments, and social media mentions echoing the tune of:
I want to achieve [insert unrealistic goal] by [even more unrealistic time span]. Does your company have what it takes?
What do you do? Do you lie, agree, take their money, and then roll in cash, while they bask in disappointment when a month goes by and they’re not famous yet? Or do you tell them the truth, and miss out on a business opportunity?
Publicists aren’t the only ones faced with this kind of dilemma. Lawyers, doctors, and virtually anyone in a consultation role are confronted with issues like this in one form or another, every day.
When you Lie
When a business is new and eager for sales, the temptation for lying is strongest. A lot of startups merely agree with customers, reassure them, and then hope the customer won’t notice, won’t mind, and won’t throw a fit.
But when a customer spends money — especially ongoing, or a large sum — they are likely to notice, to mind, and to throw more than just a fit in a store. Many may refuse to do business with the company thereafter, due to unfulfilled promises.
They may also share their experience with their colleagues, your potential customers; give your company a poor online rating; and may turn to social media and blogs to post about you ripping them off.
These are all detrimental to the credibility of your company — and if the client decides to sue for false advertising, there goes your money, as well. Few small businesses ever recover from a big lawsuit, especially if the suit is a result of death or serious injury caused from the expectations you set.
So, while rolling in some extra cash from a naive client might seem tempting at the offset, it’s really not worth it in the long run.
When You Tell the Truth
So what happens when you tell the dreaded truth? When you click that send button on the email, or have that talk to explain no, your product doesn’t do that; and your service cannot achieve that specific goal in that timeframe?
Unfortunately, most times a client will opt not to work with you. They will believe either you or your product is incompetent, and that they can find exactly what they need, if they keep looking. More often than not, what they eventually find is someone willing to lie. In fact, don’t be surprised if that client comes right back to you after a tough lesson learned elsewhere.
And if it is a case where other products or services may have been able to handle the requests you can’t, then let them do what they do best, and you do the same. Much better to say no and serve your own niche, than to bite off more than you can chew, and suffer the failure and embarrassment.
There are a few clients, however, who will thank you for setting them straight and show their gratitude by doing business with you. These customers tend to have a lot of questions in the beginning, but if you are patient and honest, you will earn yourself a loyal customer.
You can never fully eliminate instances where a customer will assume your product or service does more than it should, and refuses to see reason. Nor the instances where a customer with a nerve-grating ego drops the “Do you have what it takes?” line.
But you can help to reduce these instances by educating your customers and the public at large. Companies can host events, lecture at colleges, speak at conferences, attend trade shows, create podcasts, and publish books. They can also focus their attention on blogging and social media.
The idea is to place the information wherever your target market is most likely to come across it, and engage with it. This is why it’s important to know who your audience is, where they hang out, and how to reach them without intruding on their personal space.
When your potential customers have a better understanding of what you do, how it benefits them, and what your limitations are, it shortens the sales cycle and makes the work process a lot easier.
So the next time a customer makes a request for you or your product to do something you’re clearly not capable of? Just say no.
About the Author
Alexis Chateau is the Founder and Managing Director at Alexis Chateau PR. She is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.