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April 24, 2007
Welcome to Bait & Switch: Yes, I'm Talking to You
 

I've been watching service businesses pull some serious crap for years. I keep thinking a new economy will enter our lives and just stop what most everyone knows is a truly awful practice.

But still, even after downturns, upturns, the price of coffee goes up, terrorism, wars, famine and Katrina…firms persist in pretending to sell people to new clients and voilá—having them disappear after the ink is dry. In kids' parlance: What's up with that?

I'm talking about Bait & Switch. B&S is when people waltz into a meeting to sell the service and then disappear once the agreement is filed and the work begins. So all that facetious charm and canny fanciness is replaced by bargain youth. Not that there's anything wrong with young people. It's just not who was being proffered as the doer of the deeds.

Every now and then I'll meet an executive who says to me "In your line of work, Richard, who actually does the work?" Then the flashback music begins to play. I start to consider: Well, doesn't that always seem to be changing.

See, in every firm that offers a service you can't simply decide who on a daily basis will handle your needed duties. You have to be flexible. At RLM, Gumby is our spiritual leader! Please remember that anyone being paid could jump out at any time. These days, people often don't show up for work because of sniffles… Or they leave because their boss didn't try and buy the moon for them. Yet on every given day someone has to do the actual servicing of customers.

That means it just has to be the larger-than-life folks who sold the service in the first place!

Why must I report B&S so cynically? Because I'm constantly shaking my head about whether or not businesses who do it every day think those whom they sell to are just plain stupid. Biz people are smarter and more knowledgeable about scams than ever before (what's original really?), and you'd think that anyone presenting a false case would know better. If you sell someone who is constantly clucking and folding their arms, you better believe that guy is thinking: "Who are you? Will I ever see you again? Is anyone here as fabulous as you?"

Everyone wants to know why firms do it, and it's my job to tell you this. Basically, it's cheaper. Why should the stars have to get their hands dirty? Have they not, uh, earned the right to be grand and special, to waltz untouchably? What fun it is to pontificate and make up hyphenated words and dress nicely…and get out of the office at 5:50. Plus they get to boss people around. [Insert evil laugh.]

They get to have fun and offer bullshit money to someone who sweats for them.

What to do, what to do. Ask the tough questions! Here is a brief selection. If a reader wishes the complete listing, write me at Richard@punkmarketing.com and I'll be fully unabridged with you:

What percentage of business do you, oh fancy speaker, do for me?

How many assignments do you work on like for real? Who else would be involved in this? And, bud, may I meet these people?

How many hours do you spend on actual non-sales-like-work each month?

Who does research, and can analyze and counsel me and just make me feel like I'm The Man?

Who reports to me on what's up?

Who's my real day-to-day? Give me his home number.

Are you at work every single gosh darn day?

Who works for a living?

Have you always been so seriously flashy? (If I were you, I'd ask him where he got the tie, or where she got that beaded broach.)

P.S. Sure there are people who can be trained and do what the big cheeses do and be worker-bees; there are folks who are good at "making service." I get it. But now I must warn you: it's a rarity. Most sales people are SLICKSLICKSLICK, and people who are your daily contacts are pretty raw. And so follow our quiz above and get what you fucking paid for. Oh and if you are handed off to someone named Tiffany, my advice is to run, not walk.


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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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