Assuming Enthusiasm

Published on June 17th, 2011
Coach Brooks, showing his enthusiasm during an MIT track meet.

YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN SUSPENDED. These letters, about an inch in height and brick red in color, caused a client of mine to go into a mild panic attack. How much business would they lose if they lost their email marketing service? The results could be devastating for a small company with clients spread across the US and Europe. But mailchimp takes spam seriously, and will flag an account regardless of whether the action was an innocent mistake or not because they have to in order to ensure the highest level of email deliverability—a critical component to their business. Still, the swiftness and severity of Mailchimp's response can catch anyone off guard, particularly when the sender assumes that everyone on the list is eagerly awaiting their newsletter. Instead, a significant number of people receiving the email flag it as spam.

What? Me?

"But I'm not a spammer!" I sympathize every time I hear this. I already did my part asking the hard questions: Did you get permission from each person on this list? Did they ever ask to be removed? How long ago were they added to your list? I understand their optimism, but I always import their list with fear in my heart for the inevitable suspension, which has become a rite of passage for people taking their email marketing to the professional level. There is no judgement here. We all assume people are as enthusiastic as we are on our topic of interest. What, you don't like fly fishing? The tango? Japanese anime?

Assuming enthusiasm in business

The setting: a presentation at Drupalcamp Colorado 2011 titled "The Client's Perspective" (a big thanks to Monarch Digital for organizing this talk). The invited speaker smiled sheepishly as he told us that "My business plan was me sitting on a beach in 6 months." I love that optimism! But 6 months and $10,000+ later, he decided to scrap this opportunity business and start a new venture based on his mistakes and what he learned from them. I understood his experience all too well. When people told him that typical sales conversion rates were 0.5%, he scoffed and _knew_ he'd be able to get 10% without even trying. After all, it's clearly a great product (assumption 1) that everyone knows about (assumption 2) and they need it as much as we do(assumption 3).

I've suffered from a similar set of assumptions this past year. The product we're developing is amazing, in my honest but clearly subjective opinion. And usually, the clients can see the value proposition after we've walked them through every facet of the product. But do potential clients whip out their check books after am elevator pitch? And is that a realistic scenario for any company selling a technology no one has even scene before? A lot of assumptions can lead to a lot of aggressive predictions and bad business decisions. Instead, see your product through the eye's of a client who doesn't care... yet.

Assuming enthusiasm in relationships

Adam (name changed to protect the innocent) told many stories, sometimes dozens of times to the same people. He was animated. He was buzzing with energy. He stuttered constantly while trying to get to the punchline before finishing the setup. And people laughed, not because of the story, but because of the sheer lack of one. Not everyone was as excited to hear about food coloring in pancakes or that one long road trip to some obscure pond. He'd finish the story and make a face to let us know the story was done, the only way we knew the alleged punch line was reached.

This is an extreme example, but we all do this. I assume people are as interested in Drupal/writing/personal development as I am and can't wait to rattle off my stories. But are people nodding because they are interested? Or is a mild form of dozing off while their eyes glaze over and they go to their happy place? I'm sure I get a little of both.

Honestly, I personally loved Adam's stories. He clearly was passionate about everything in life.

The art of not assuming

This is simple in theory, but difficult to achieve in practice. After all, we hear our own opinions run through our mind all day. The perspective of others get just a small slice of that time and attention, so it's no wonder that our beliefs about a situation, topic, or person become so lopsided. What if we approached this a different way? What if we asked some hard but important questions right in the beginning? Instead of assuming people are still interested in your newsletter, ask and provide a way out. Instead of assuming clients want your product, ask them what it would take to say yes and if there are any things making them say no. Instead of assuming people want to hear a full explanation on how to use Drush on the command line to update Drupal modules, you might first want to know if they've even heard of Drupal.

Assuming apathy

It's equally important to not assume people are apathetic to your cause, desires, etc. To believe no one cares can create internal resistances that prevent us from pressing GO. Seth Godin is a fantastic motivator in this arena, inspiring people to be initiators versus mere dreamers, and ultimately shipping our ideas and products instead of doing revision after revision, preventing the outside world from ever seeing our ideas come to fruition. But creation requires course correction to adapt our vision based on new information. It's a delicate balancing act, but one worth exploring to prevent stumbling into either camp (e.g. self-delusional versus self-depreciating).

Focus on the passionate people.

Not everyone wants to receive your newsletter, but there are many people that probably do! By focusing on the ones that are actually enthusiastic, you can build a very powerful tribe of similarly minded people. Go for the popular at large and you may find it takes a lot of effort and resources with little return. Not everyone will like you, but some will like you a lot. Go for the latter.

Where are you assuming enthusiasm or apathy?

What aspects of your life do you assume people have the same level of interest as you? And what has the result been? I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

 

Image courtesy of the MIT varsity track team. Coach Brooks was always enthusiastic, which was awesome and led to a lot of passionate athletes.
 

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.