“The worst they can say is no. It doesn’t hurt to ask.”

But sometimes it does.

Seth Godin gave a great example of this in an interview on “Behind the Brand”, citing a ham-fisted email pitch that made him lose respect for the person sending it. When he politely declined, they replied with that cheerful line, but it had in fact hurt them for asking.

“Well actually it does,” Godin said, “because I won’t view you the same next time.”

He didn’t say that to the person of course, but as an explanation to the audience. It’s good to put ourselves out there, but we have to be deliberate about how we do it.

This happens a lot in sales when people play it like a numbers game. Churn ’em and burn ’em, prospect fast and keep moving. It sounds logical when you have lofty goals, but you’re burning bridges just as fast.

Here’s a recent example that really sticks out for me.

Someone my wife and I hadn’t talked to in probably six years reached out suddenly. Let’s call her Rhonda for the purposes of this discussion.

Our last communication with Rhonda was years ago from networking. Needless to say the sudden contact was a surprise.

Rhonda barely got past “hello” when she mentioned she’d gotten into essential oils and asked if we’d be interested in buying them. My wife replied that she already buys essential oils from a trusted source.

“Oh ok then,” Rhonda continued. “Well you should try Doterra brand and see the difference some time.”

Then it got even more awkward when we told Rhonda we’ve tried Doterra.

Yeah, I get it. This approach is common with MLMs, so Rhonda probably didn’t see the harm in it because it’s what “everybody does”. (We’ll leave aside that that’s not even true.)

Rhonda might have set the phone down also thinking, “Eh, well it didn’t hurt to ask.” But here’s why it hurts:

  • No relationship re-establishing after years of no contact — straight into selling as if people are just dollar signs.
  • No explanation of Rhonda’s passion for the product, why it’s useful, or questions about whether the listener is even a good fit for it. As if all humans who breathe air need the product, and are therefore disposable.
  • When the listener makes it clear they don’t need Rhonda’s product, Rhonda continues selling anyway, which is an attempt to invalidate the listener’s opinions. Rhonda didn’t even ask what brand we used.
  • After Rhonda was unable to sell her product, she promptly ceased communication and vanished again. Not even an attempt to make the contact seem like anything more than a sales shakedown. This further reinforced the concept that people are disposable.

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

At best this approach is lazy and a little desperate, but there is no positive takeaway. Rhonda not only didn’t make a sale, but she embarrassed herself trying.

But that was just one call, right? And to a person Rhonda hasn’t talked to in half a decade.

Except that the type of person that does that is going down a list. How many times can a person portray themselves this way before the perception of their whole network changes?

As many people will tell you, our networks are only as good as what we sow into them. People recommend us because they trust us. When we behave as if people are merely commodities there is no trust.

And trust is difficult to win back once we’ve squandered it.