Damned If You Do & Closet Skeletons

Friday, 16 January 2009 at 4:55 am Pacific USA Time.

This week is one of those times where I look around and wonder who the winners are. In this economy, everybody's struggling and on edge anyway. An eBay announcement comes out. Companies look good, companies look bad. Sellers are happy with the announcement, sellers are unhappy with the announcement.

Some people have strong reactions. We might both have strong reactions but be on opposite sides. We certainly saw that this week. And there may be no right answer or wrong answer. Everybody who posted passionately or angrily or confused could be right. I could be right and someone who feels the opposite way could also be right because we're looking at different things. I can dislike a company because I don't think they were as honest as they could be with their customers. You could love that company because they gave you great work and great service. Both can be true and right at the same time.

It's an interesting situation. Something I do that you thoroughly hated, someone else loved. Something I said for which you demonised me, someone else thanked me for. Someone called me a liar at the same time someone thanked me for the truth. People who told me on Wednesday that I was a liar and scare mongerer apologised to me on Thursday. Information had come out that made some people realise that I wasn't lying and I wasn't trying to scare them, though some people are still riding the "scare mongerer" bandwagon.

People were telling me to never name other companies by name (even if they're doing something wrong or lacking truth) at the same time people were telling me to not hide company names when I have something to "expose" because people don't feel fully-informed when they don't know who I'm talking about. People told me I should publicly disclose every negative run-in I've had with another company while people were telling me that it's a horrible business practice to say anything about having a problem with another company in your industry. If I don't disclose everything, I must be lying… and if I disclose things, I am unprofessional because no company with any dignity would ever disclose how another company carries out business practices most people would find unpleasant, unfair, or inappropriate.

Some people said, "How dare you talk about a competitor." Well, I have
been saying for years that we don't compete with these people. While we
both do design for eBay, that's where the similarity ends. We don't
offer the style of design they specialise in. They don't offer the
style of design we specialise in, nor do they offer any of the other
services we have been offering for years, ie: eBay listing strategy
consultations. I joke it's like apples and BMWs. :) Companies who like
what we do are unlikely to want them. Companies who like what they do
are unlikely to want us. So there's enough pie for both companies, and
I don't see them as a competitor.

For 1.5 yrs, I hadn't been disclosing these things that were going on. I had been hoping that if I didn't kick back when I was getting kicked, another company would decide to stop kicking me. But some people are that special type of bully who keep kicking even when you're not kicking back. This week I kicked, and people threw a fit. So I've learned that the best way to kick back is to hire professional bloggers and have people posting in forums under real and fake names, and put people on the payroll to tell my story, but not to put myself out there as the source of this info. It looks like that's all you have to do to get your info and spin out there without looking like you're doing it. I applaud the smoothness of that.

If you're breathing and reading this, you probably have a competitor somewhere, and maybe you've seen that competitor do some dirty things. I've seen some truly dirty things flung my way and flung between companies in my industry. Like what? Well…

  • Did you know that some companies will "trade" leads they get at shows? You give me all of your leads, I give you mine, you get contacted by a company who never scanned your badge. Maybe you end up on mailing lists for companies you never met.
  • People emailing and calling each other's clients. My clients get emails all the time from designers trying to win them over. My clients get calls from competitors of the software they're using now. One of my clients was getting so many calls from "the other guy" that they finally told him they were "going out of business" just to get him off their back. They didn't go out of business.
  • People who have "professional bloggers" and other hired guns are out in blogs, message boards, and other spots writing anti-competitor stuff while trying to look like some regular guy who has this opinion. That means that if you see a message board post that says that Software X sucks, you don't actually know if that's a regular guy with that real opinion, or someone who got paid to say that.
  • Comparisons may not be honest. I've seen websites and brochures comparing Company A to Company B. The company who didn't write that showed the other company to be awful in every area, even if those things weren't true.
  • Similarly, I've heard people try to compete with us by telling people completely untrue things about my company… like we only started working with eBay sellers like a year ago, so we have no idea what we're doing. We started working with eBay sellers in early 2001.
  • Cold calling. Did a company you weren't looking to hear from just find you and call you?
  • Companies call each other pretending to be potential clients. Not only does this waste time, but it's designed for the competitor to learn how the other guy sells, what he might be saying about this competitor, and pick their brain for ideas.
  • At an event last year, we had the bizarre experience of having a company who's not top on our list spend a good amount of time standing at our vendor table, listening to what we said to people, and when we took a breath, they took that potential client by the arm and brought them to their table.
  • Last year, a guy who heard me give a speech at an event about what my company does told me that he heard Competitor X give nearly the exact same speech about what they do at an event I wasn't at weeks after the event I spoke at. I wasn't there, but that's how he described it.
  • Companies are using your eBay listings to advertise themselves more than eBay allows. eBay's rule about crediting an outside company is very well-defined. You get one image of a certain size, you get no more than 10 words of a certain size written in HTML, you get one link, and you can only mention services you provided for that seller. One software company advertises their templates under templates we designed for people who use their software. So this is non-compliant with eBay's rule, and has always seemed dirty to me.
  • I have heard about companies who try to mess with competitors by adding the competitors' staff to known spam mailing lists.
  • People embellish their eBay expertise. I've had plenty of people come to me after working with someone claiming to be an eBay expert or consultant of some sort but the advice they got actually drove their business down. 
  • I remember being in a weird spot in early 2008 when subscribers to one of the software companies were told by their Account Managers that eBay was going to change the Item page, and that As Was eBay templates would stop working. This wasn't true. eBay announced possible changes to the Item page in June 2008, but our templates work quite well in the proposed new Item page AND those changes aren't even implemented yet, a year after my clients got this scare.
  • I remember seeing a panel of software people at an event. No matter who the audience asked a question to, one person up there kept answering the questions about how great his system was, and oh, he just wasn't so sure if anybody else's system did that. It was very awkward to watch.
  • A software company some of my clients use had a shaky 2008. Many of our clients wanted to leave them, and move to other software. This company decided that the best way to avoid that was NOT to fix the bugs or deal with the support requests, but to deny people the data exports they were requesting.
  • I remember sending one of our happy clients to one of the software companies because I thought the software was a good fit for him, and we don't offer software. The software sales guy was saying things that were so bizarre to my client that my client got me on his cell phone, called the guy back, and put him on speaker. Rather than sell my client on his software, the sales guy spent all his time badmouthing my company with things that weren't true. My client was saying, "I'm happy with them. I want to know about your software," and the guy kept going on about us. He lost the sale, which was a shame since I handed him someone ready to sign with him.
  • When I first started out in 1995, I remember local hosting companies hacking into each other.
  • For the last week (as I write this), I've been getting prank phone calls. British voices swearing on my voice mail. By the way, the British accents make these sound much less threatening than they may have been intended. :) But the question is: who would do this? I can't imagine any of my loyal clients taking the time to prank call another design company. I think my clients are really busy selling and running businesses. So I would narrow this down to say that the calls most likely come from another company in my industry, or the minions on their payroll.

I am not saying that any particular company was part of some or all of the above points. I'm saying this is what goes on out there. Some I've experienced, some I only heard about. Some you may think these are just fine and not dirty. You're welcome to your opinion. My point? There is probably NO company out there that hasn't done at least one thing that you'd find dirty. Maybe they regret it, and maybe they were proud of it, and plan to keep doing that. If you're going to hang me for doing something you don't like, just know there are dozens of things that go on behind the scenes that would probably make you think poorly of most companies you know!

I've done one thing on this list. I'm sorry, and I'm not going to do it again. Any other companies out there want to admit to any of these, apologise, and promise to not do it again (and then really not do it again)?

Back to this week…

This week, I am FAR from the only person posting things publicly about what's been going on this week. Many people are hurt and upset and angry. I've seen plenty of posts from people I don't know, and they are saying the same things I am. Some are saying more scathing and accusatory things than I am. Many drew those conclusions without knowing me or reading anything I was saying about the situation. But nobody's talking about those people because many are posting anonymously. I still have to master that. :)

Many people are taking out their negativity on me even though I didn't hurt them. You may not like something I've done or said, but I didn't hurt you. I didn't break your Store, and I didn't make you spend more money on your Store. If something this company did messed with your eBay sales or Store or caused you to spend extra money, they did that. I had no control over that or their decisions. If I did something to hurt you, I want to know more about it, and apologise. I want to apologise to people who felt bothered by things I said.

I'm sorry for the people who didn't like hearing the truth or how I chose to share it. I wonder if the company who hasn't been as truthful as they could have been is sorry for what they have caused people. I don't remember seeing an apology from them. Well, here's mine. I would like to keep standing up for the truth, but I'm sorry if my style rubs people the super wrong way. I'm sorry that I still make mistakes. :) Someday, I'll get it right and be able to balance telling the truth and not standing in front of a target. :)

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Categories: Just An Observation

Comments Closed

4 Responses to “Damned If You Do & Closet Skeletons”

  1. ian says:

    now that was a good read. i do believe thats one of the first truly honest thing (whilst being as PC as possible given the current climate) i have read from yourself / this blog.
    thank you! now, i do still stand firm… to my previous opinion, but i do also believe (i can not know for sure, i wish i could) that even though the other company (/companies) have acknowledged said areas, it is still fully their view and responsibility up uphold a service to their customers. this week, given the way things are going… have gone and will continue to do so… alot of people have come out of the wood work and shown themselves for a section of what they really are. I will fully admit, im glad i am not in the ebay store design section of employment (i like a solid job where any changes are down to me / i have a large part in the making of) but i i do feel that people should be awear that there are issues out there just maybe not “bad mouth” as some people describe it… to be honest… its a self fulfilling prophecy… its not good.
    all i can say is… people will have to wait, they will have to give it time before the dust settles and they can count their losses… i just hope its not devastating on all accounts.

  2. As Was says:

    Hi, Ian. I still say that everything I’ve posted here and in other places has been honest. I know some people haven’t wanted to believe it, or pass it off as a scare tactic. But I still stand by everything I have said, whether or not you believed or agreed.
    And you raise a great point. Some true colours certainly came out this week. I did something out of character for me this week. I made a mistake, I’m admitting it, and I’m sorry.
    A colleague told me they were going to do the same thing I did, and I’ve tried to talk them out of it. Not sure if they went and did it anyway.
    But looking at how other companies are acting during this time is telling. Some are paying attention, some are not. But in the end, there will be pie for everybody. :) Everybody will stay in business, we’ll make our clients happy, and life will go on.

  3. Alex says:

    I have been waiting to read something like this for a very very long time, someone needed to stand up and say something to a particular group of companies/marketers/spammers/cheaters or whatever they want to call themselves!
    That is why I stayed away from that group for a long time, I just kept listening to their lies over and over again, but just stayed away.
    An example of that is some of my seminars and power points were stolen, even though I did say they can share it as long as they tag it back to me.
    That is why I created Wahol.com for free! It’s my way of kicking back, it’s there, it’s truth and it’s for free, yeah I got sponsors, but I am not charging the people to learn or to share, because I truly believe that sharing is giving.
    I heard some stories and actions that you have done in the past, and I 100% agree with everything that you did so far, and for that I have to tell you one thing: Keep karma in mind. What goes around, comes around. It’s been proven so in my case, and I assure you that people and companies like your competitions that have that kind of bad karma, they will get it back, let me rephrase that: It will fire back at them very badly.
    For now, I don’t think you need to apologies to any one. :-)
    With regards,

  4. As Was says:

    Hey, Alex. I appreciate you saying that. I did something I think was wrong, and it was on my list up there, so I do want to apologise. I should apologise, and I am.
    I do believe in “what goes around comes around,” which is why I always do what I can to help people, including those who aren’t clients, and to make our client projects go well. Not everything always goes well or ends perfectly, but I always try. I know my intentions are good, and I will continue to do my best for people.