When Marketing Ears Slam Shut

Facebook combs through your responses to find what you want, what you like, and sells it to marketers. Google tracks your keywords and Target knows if you are pregnant before your family does. Every marketer hungers for first-hand information, hints of how you spend your money, what coupons you might want and which you might ignore.

So why is it, when companies have clients in front of them, expressing opinions,

Nautilus from information2share.com

the company seals its ears tighter than the Nautilus approaching Paris? It’s not just a communication problem. It’s also a training problem, and a creativity problem. And that’s why I am interested. I think companies are afraid of creativity because it might torpedo the status quo and the marketing plan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went to the gym tonight. I’d scheduled some time with a trainer to concentrate on my upper body strength. The trainer walked in, big guy, impressive muscles, and told me he had 14 years experience and he could get me down to my ideal weight if only I would commit to a plan he designed.

“I came in to learn a routine for my upper body,” I said. He spoke over me and told me that he knew more about how I gotten out of shape than I did. (Really? Is interrupting a client and telling them what they need going to make them feel comfortable?) I waited till he was finished, and again said what I wanted. He gave me a sheet to fill out (that assumed I lacked discipline, was lazy and wasn’t motivated and didn’t want to admit it), and disappeared. He reappeared with the manager who began to tell me how wrong I was.

Talk to the hand from barelyablog.com

Again, I told the manager what I wanted. He held up his hand in the “Talk to the Hand” gesture, and said, “Hey, no need to get angry here.” Wow. I wasn’t angry. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be asked about my present routine and why that wasn’t working. It didn’t happen.

I tried again. “I’m not angry, I am trying to communicate my needs.” The big guy interrupted me again. I listened carefully and realized there was some sort of liability involved if I didn’t do the starter routine. The manager and the big guy double-teamed me, telling me that people “like me” (women? writers? over 50? those who need upper body strength?) need to do a routine planned by the health club, because, you know. . .they have all that experience. They were now speaking loudly and slowly as if I were one of those drunk guys wearing a wife-beater shirt in a poorly-lit, shaky-camera cop show.

Time is short and so is life. I want to use the gym because it is too hot to walk now. So I became very quiet, docile, and let them tell me about the experience they had and how I had to break my muscles down and how gaining 10 pounds of muscle would help me lose fat. And I remained compliant while the big guy took me around the machines I have no interest in and told me how to use them.Because if he doesn’t, the lawyers will get involved. He did not notice I wasn’t engaged. He pressed ahead, checking off  items on his new client to-do list.

At the end, he wrote up a routine for me. We had used maybe a dozen machine, and the health club had about three dozen. Many of them look alike to me.

Marketing, not listening. Or, losing business.

This was the second crucial moment that the deal could go wrong, that the gym might lose a client. Client loyalty depends on having the client feel smart, or at least competent.

“How do I know how to use the machine correctly?” I asked.
“I showed you how,” said big guy, briefly, writing down my routine.
“Do the machines have some sort of identification on them, so I can find the right machine again?”
“You will use the same machines as today,” said big guy. He was speaking slowly and loudly again, as if I were old and troublesome. And certainly slow.

I will admit to learning new things slowly. I will not remember the right machine, the right setting, the right way to set the machine, or the right way to use it. He was not going to help me learn. He was losing a customer and didn’t care. Didn’t know. He’d done his new-client routine and was ready for the next client. This is the biggest marketing mistake. Deserting the client while the client is unsure of the benefit of the product or service.

And that’s the training issue right there. Marketing department, are you listening? You won’t get people to use the machines if you don’t teach them how to use the machines. Not show. Teach. I learn nothing from doing what I’m told at a machine. I need to do it myself, with supervision, to make sure I know how. But that wasn’t going to happen, because, they have 14 years of experience and know why I am out of shape.

Big guy looked up. One more question on his part. “Will you be coming in around 9 or 10 in the morning?” he asked. Because, you know, out of shape women don’t work. They sit at home eating bon bons and watching TV.

As my silence stretched into oblivion, I realized that Marketing doesn’t know this is happening. They hand the new-client plan to training, who designs a train-the-trainer book, and big guy and his whole department memorize it and use it. No communication. No creative approaches to clients with questions. Just blind rule following. And then, when clients don’t stay, this well-known health club will pay huge money to Facebook, Google analytics and spyware to find out what clients are thinking. Because they don’t have a clue. They aren’t listening.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and trainer who saw a marketing plan fail today. She’s going for her three-mile walk tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. And it won’t be in the gym.