Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Sometimes It Ain’t About You

Posted by debrahelwig on March 20, 2009


Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about Tuesday.

Tuesday Whitt.

Tuesday died not long ago of a devastating form of cancer called neuroblastoma. She was two years old.

Her mom, Jessica, blogged the family’s experience – and as the friend of a friend, with small kids of my own, I watched, prayed, waited, and hoped along with hundreds of others reading Tuesday’s story.

Then suddenly, too soon, she was gone.

Shocking. Devastating. For the family, for their friends, for every person touched by her mother’s phenomenal blogging journey.

Then, just yesterday, I got a call from my neighbor and dear friend Ruthie. She’s been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, another awful cancer with difficult treatment and a difficult prognosis. Now, instead of relaxing through retirement, Ruthie’s family and everyone who cares about her will be pulled into a world of doctor visits, ports, chemo drugs, bone marrow transplants, and more.

Mind altering.

Tuesday’s death, Ruthie’s illness – these are the kinds of situations that stop me short. For a time, they change my actions – and reactions – to everything around me.

And it’s not just me. Things like this are happening everywhere, not just in my little circle. Accidents. Cancer diagnoses. Failed careers. Failed marriages. Suicides. Things that completely take our breath – and our attention – away.

So why is it, when we reach out to clients with email, with invitations, with new products or services, and get no response, our first and only instinct is to blame the marketing plan?

Here’s a news flash: sometimes it just ain’t about you.

Your seminar might be the exact thing I need. Your service might save my business. Your product might be the answer to my dreams.

But if I’m 100 percent focused elsewhere, riveted by news like Tuesday’s or Ruthie’s, I won’t pay attention to you. It doesn’t matter how well crafted you’ve made your content or how relevant you’ve made your nurturing campaign.

Business – every kind of business, especially professional services – is ultimately about relationships and personal needs. How you handle non-response, or a response of “not now, please,” is every bit as important as shaking hands over an enthusiastic “yes.”

Zappos shoes knows this. In 2007, I Heart Zappos was a social media shot heard round the world, a testimony to grace and commitment to the people behind business relationships. A story where a big mail order house had the open communication with its customers, the flexibility, the sympathy, and the heart, not only to take a late return from a woman whose mother had died, but to send flowers and a sympathy card as well. With no promise of return. With no tangible benefit from the exchange. And with no measurement of how well that woman had responded, or not, to their latest email campaign.

The success of Zappos – and the fact that Tuesdays and Ruthies exist – speaks loudly to the fact that ROI alone as a measure of marketing success is flawed. Measuring response rates doesn’t tell you why your message fell on deaf ears. It doesn’t give you a way forward with the folks you didn’t reach. It doesn’t build relationships.

If you want to be successful, then care deeply about the people behind your messages. Give them a way to share what they’re going through if they want to. And if they don’t respond, be patient. Don’t let an ROI spreadsheet or a marketing plan make you forget that every number represents a life, being lived in both good times and bad.

Sometimes it’s OK to forget the spreadsheet and just be responsive. To them.

Because sometimes it just ain’t about you.

To make a donation to the Tuesday Fiona Whitt Memorial Fund, or to donate to pediatric cancer research, visit

2 Responses to “Sometimes It Ain’t About You”

  1. Stephanie Hill said

    I think this is a very timely post. Especially with the current economic clients, it is all too easy to become focused on the bottom line and forget that in a very real sense, we are all in this together. Thanks for the reminder, Debra!

  2. […] last time I was swamped with TOO-MUCH-FEELINGS and TOO-MUCH-BAD-STUFF, I wrote a post called Sometimes It Ain’t About You. The truths in that post still hold: when people are overwhelmed by bad stuff going on around them, […]

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