"The Navigator" News Blog

Stolen Credibility Kills Your Credibility

Because of what I do, I get ‘bad salesperson’ horror stories from a number of friends.  Some are just average – salespeople who don’t listen, salespeople who are too pushy, salespeople with bad manners, that kind of thing.  Some inspire posts and some are so routine as not to be worthy.

However, every now and then I get one that is SO bad that it makes for a lesson that all of my readers should have, and this is one such story.  It’s about stolen credibility.  What’s that, you ask?  Well, I define “Credibility” as “The characteristic that makes people believe what you say because it is you that says it.”  If you have to prove your words, you don’t have credibility.  But, did you know you could STEAL credibility (or try to)?  Well, you can, and this is how.

An email was forwarded to me.  It was a prospecting email, and it said (names removed to protect the guilty):

(Name), good afternoon. 

Last week I had a great conversation with (college), as well as (other college) about partnering together to improve student health on university campuses. I wanted to see if you’d have availability this Friday or sometime next week for a quick introductory phone call. 

My company works with universities to develop telemedicine programs that are focused on giving students 24/7 access to mental and physical healthcare. We’ve had robust positive feedback from the programs we’ve launched and I’d like to talk with you about how we could get involved with (your college)

Please let me know what time works for your schedule.

Thank you,

Bad salesman

So, what’s so bad about that?  Well, that became apparent by reading the email chain that was forwarded to me.  One of the many recipients of this email contacted the people from the two colleges that this guy talked to, and asked for input.  Here was his response – again sent out to a large group of recipients:

Apparently this vendor is using (college) and (other college) as a hook to reach out to all. Frankly I dislike this kind of sales maneuver.

He had one conversation with me and now is emailing all using our one conversation as a hook. It looks interesting but at this stage no more than that. (contact from other college)

Now, the problem becomes obvious.  The salesman started a sales process with two colleges, likely was unable to move the sales process past the initial conversation, so decided to name-drop the two colleges he’d spoken to in order to attempt to gain credibility for more sales calls.  He probably figured that what he was doing wouldn’t get back to the contacts that he was trying to leverage – wrong – and used their names without permission.  Bad move.

That’s what we call “stolen credibility.”  When is it proper to use the name of a customer or prospect?

When they give you permission to do so.  Period, end of story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll use the names of clients if we’ve had a successful experience AND they’ve given me permission to use their names.  The only time I’d use the name of someone who wasn’t a client yet would be if they gave me a specific referral during the conversation – and if I have doubts, I’ll confirm it with a question, making sure it’s okay.

This guy didn’t do that, and let’s look at the result.  First of all, the message got broadcast out and forwarded.  He won’t get the appointment with the prospect who received the email, and if the sales process with the prospect he did see and named wasn’t dead before, it is now.  His ethics, credibility, and integrity are now damaged.  And since his target market is a fairly highly networked world, he’s damaged his reputation with prospects he’s likely not approached yet.

The person who forwarded this email to me wasn’t even personally connected to the salesperson, the intended recipient, or the prospect who dislikes this sales tactic – it made it all over the world.

My guess is that the salesman knew that he was doing something shady, but figured he wouldn’t get caught.  You can’t think that way in today’s world.  Hitting “reply all” or “Forward” is entirely too easy these days.  Not only did he steal credibility, the theft got known all through his target market and ruined whatever credibility he had.

The new rule:  Whatever you send by email, assume that it will get forwarded around beyond your recipient.