An open letter to vendors seeking customers via social media

First impressions in sales cold-calls are everything. Don’t send a message that padlocks a door before it can be opened.

Keyboard on desk behind social media icons on wooden cubes with the text “make a good first impression” on a larger rectangle
Keyboard on desk behind social media icons on wooden cubes with the text “make a good first impression” on a larger rectangle

I just passed 10,000 connections on LinkedIn, largely curated around three main areas of subject matter. Not surprisingly to anyone who knows me, these areas are:

  • Accessibility / disability
  • Diversity & inclusion
  • UX / design

I am averaging two cold call contacts per day at the moment. Which doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize it is probably close to 750 per year. Once upon a time, MANY years ago, I did cold calls several summers in a row for my father’s hardware sales company. I was trained by the Obi-won Kenobi of cold callers. I am the Princess Leia of cold calls. The folks who are constantly cold calling me on LinkedIn for the most part aren’t even close to getting it right.

So, part vent and part helpful hint, if you are an service provider or are trying to sell tools here is how you SHOULD be doing cold calls / first contact from the perspective of the person being sold to.

Do some basic f*cking research FIRST !!!!!

  1. Know who I am. My name is not Jane Smith. It is not hard to find info about me on the Internet. And anyone who starts a conversation with “Dear Sir” automatically gets ignored, in my opinion, deservedly so.
  2. Know what my employer does. Don’t contact me trying to sell me things before you know what SaaS, Cloud Services, and enterprise software is.
  3. For gosh sakes, DON’T attempt to engage me by asking quesetions that can be answered through YOU typing the question in Google. It shows disrespect for the value of my time, and I will not respond.
  4. Don’t ask me for a referral to a different department in your first contact. Why would I do that when I don’t even know you?
  5. DON’T spam your services or your cause in response to one of my threads. That will get you blocked fast.
  6. Form e-mail does .. not .. work. Jumping into solutioning headfirst without any relevant data is not what I value in partners.
  7. Wait a respectful amount of time before sending your first contact. If you send it seconds after I accept your invitation to connect, that reinforces that you don’t ask and answer the questions you need to know before you should be making contact.

Did you look at my competitors and see what they are doing in accessibility? Look at press releases describing what new products I may have coming out? Read about new laws or new lawsuits that may impact me? Are you recommending a webinar I may not have seen? Have you read a single article I have written?

Those are things that should be done BEFORE you reach out where you can demonstrate that you can add value above and beyond just basic accessibility testing.

Research takes time.

Good research takes a lot of time.

But good research significantly increases the chance of being noticed by the person you are reaching out to.

And there are few business opportunities that are so time-sensitive that they will go stale before some basic research can be accomplished.

To a certain extent, accessibility testing is a fungible commodity. There are 62 guidelines I need validated to make sure we are following them correctly. Anyone with a reasonable amount of appropriate training can do that. The decision WHO I will chose to partner with in doing this work will largely be based on your value-add above and beyond your organization’s ability to check those 62 guidelines.

And woe be to the unfortunately overlay / plug in company employee who has NOT read my thoughts on what a pox they are on disabled society and then cold calls me. I just shredded one poor guy for doing that exact thing a couple of weeks ago.

“Free trials” are useless to me

This is not a mindfullness app we are talking where I won’t notice the $4.99 charge on my credit card if I forget to cancel within 14 days.

I work for a fortune 200 company. The amount of paperwork it takes to onboard a new service vendor is astronomical. “Free” does not eliminate that paperwork. Licensing new software is even worse because it involves reviews by IP attorneys and reviewing vulnerability tests for cloud based services. Free doesn’t even BEGIN to cover the paperwork and headaches. Free adds zero value to me, but what it does is make me think you are desperate, which in turn makes me wonder why.

Don’t send me a six screen list of prices as a LinkedIn message

While price is always a factor, and sometimes a tie-breaker, for the most part, prices are not what “seal the deal” in accessibility. And any business relationship based solely on price is precarious (for both sides) at best.

Make sure any collateral you send me or web pages you send me to are ACCESSIBLE !!!

I cannot state how important this is. I spend a few minutes looking at screen reader, multimedia access, keyboard use, and magnification tests at a minimum on every home page of every vendor that is trying to sell me something. If it sucks, I make sure they know I think so.

It never ceases to amaze me how many self-described Disability / Accessibility vendors or “experts” launch ridiculously inaccessible sites, from the color choices down to focus order

  • You are definitely not doing the world any favors by ignoring your own accessibility problems.
  • You are REALLY not improving your standing in the eyes of potential customers.

In effect, accessibility vendors with inaccessible sites and solutions want to make money from the trouble facing people with disabilities, while still themselves being part of the problem. That is not OK.

If your site / solution isn’t accessible, it doesn’t matter to me what other value adds you bring, your potential future partnership with me is dead.

Do not lie to me (not even a white lie)

Lies are death to business relationships. In my case, accessibility is a small community. References and certifications are easily checked. If you say your organization did accessibility texting for “XYZ Widgets”

  1. I’m going to check the accessibility for XYZ Widgets and see how good it is, and;
  2. I will contact XYZ Widgets accessibility (probably without telling you) and ask about the relationship

The coverup is worse than the crime. I have a zero strikes policy with respect to this type of behavior. When you are supposed to be on your BEST behavior trying to impress a potential customers and your pants are on fire, that doesn’t bode well for the future.

I’ve had prospective vendors try to convince me that:

  • IAAP made a mistake leaving their name off the certification list
  • TTv4 and TTv5 are really the same (not even close)
  • That they had some made up accessibility certification that I’ve never heard of
  • That their staff of fully able-bodied professionals can do accessibility work better than people with disabilities.

I get it, companies aren’t perfect. You don’t have certified personnel or employees with disabilities? Fine. But you had better be prepared to tell me what you do that insures your people have experience equivalent to or better than certification. But don’t BS me or get defensive about the value of the certification or people with disabilities itself. Instead of reacting defensively, how about looking at it from the perspective that you may have just received the most important piece of free advice, possibly ever.

English fluency counts

I know it’s not fair, and I’m sorry. But if we are doing business in English and you send me messages full of partial sentences without properly conjugated verbs or easily discernable points or CTAs, that sends several unconscious messages:

  1. You don’t care enough to check your work before you send it.
  2. Your organization don’t have enough money to hire people who are fluent in English.
  3. There is an increased risk were I to choose you as a partner, that I will send instructions that will be misunderstand resulting in zero value in the work completed.

So, what does work?

Invest the time in creating an elevator pitch. There is lots of information on how to do this online. Here is my advice for creating an accessibility elevator pitch. Then use the pitch as part of the core of your initial contact.

Guess what keeps me up at night. Then tailor your message around how your products and services can help me sleep better. (learned that from Jayzen Patria).

Invest time in selecting a few high quality contacts, do a substantial amount of research, and reach out to them. You will get a higher response than spamming all contacts with the same useless message.

Keep the details on an *accessible* web page. LinkedIn has a small amount of real estate to read messages, even on laptop, and smaller again on mobile. The UI is clunky for scrolling is super clunky. If you send me a message where I have to scroll, chances are I will only read the bottom of the message and you will lose the lead. Keep your messages to 50 words or less, and point people in small, bit.ly like links to an accessible web pages for the details (such as your list of clients, products, pricing information)

Keep the message clean. Decide your key point and stick to it. Decide if you are selling yourself or the company, and be consistent. Rambling messages do not help your cause

Written by

Accessibility Architect @ VMware. W3C Silver, ITI & IAAP GLC committees. Degrees in CS, law, business. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter.

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