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Marketing Advice From a Frustrated Customer (and Beginner Marketer)

Annoying selling tactics you shouldn’t use with clients

Photo of a black man looking annoyed and suspicious
Photo by SHVETS production on Pexel

“Everyone who is selling you dissatisfaction is working for their own selfish ends.” — Seth Godin

When I read this on Seth Godin’s blog, I thought about my dentist.

I was sitting on his dental chair when he’d just finished checking my teeth. He looked at me and said, “You have a small cavity. Now, if you want to leave it like that and risk feeling pain day and night in the future, no problem. Or else I can treat it. Your choice.”

I was 19 then and knew nothing about selling or marketing strategies. But I felt there was something wrong with the way my dentist was selling me his treatment.

He was using fear.

I remember thinking, Why does he need to scare me? Why can’t he simply say he found a cavity that needs to be filled?

I’m 36 now and I’m a beginner marketer. I sell English language courses and book clubs for freelancers, solopreneurs, and small business owners.

I’m not a marketing expert. But I’ve been exposed to selling tactics and strategies for decades and, as a customer, I’ve felt frustrated many times by the way people tried to sell me their thing.

The advice in this article comes more from those frustrations than from my experience as a seller.

Let’s waste no time. Here are six things I wish no marketer would do.

Not Keeping Promises

You invited me to sign up for your “Better Writing” newsletter saying you were going to give me tips on how to improve my writing.

Great, I needed that. So I signed up.

Why do I now keep receiving emails from you pushing me to buy your expensive writing course?! I get one email a day about that! Man, I thought I was going to get tips! Look what you’re doing to my inbox! It’s a mess!


Oh, and I unsubscribe from your podcast too. I clicked on one of your episodes titled “How to Write Better: With Writing Expert, Tim Novel”. I did that because I wanted to hear you and Tim talk about writing, but all I got for the first 10 minutes was your sales pitch for your course! Yuck!

Better marketing: Put yourself in the shoes of your listeners, watchers, email subscribers, and readers.

Do they really want to hear a sales pitch at the beginning of every episode of your podcast show? Do they want their inbox clogged with your “BUY NOW” and “JOIN TODAY” emails? Can you create useful stuff without constantly selling your thing every time you put something out there?

I think you can.

I’ll like you more if you do that. And I’ll buy more from you as a result.

“Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision — even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone — according to what’s best for your customers.” — Derek Sivers, “Anything You Want”

Treating Me Like I Have No Balls

I’ve come across marketers whose message is, “Investment is courage. Be courageous and invest in my thing.”

Investing in an expensive service or product doesn’t require courage. It requires money to invest. So when you tell me to be courageous, what I actually hear is, “If you don’t buy my thing, you’re a ball-less man who’s afraid to commit.”

Let me prove you wrong. From now on, to show you I’m brave, I’ll do everything without your help.

Better marketing: Don’t use manipulative tactics that play with people’s self-esteem. That shows you don’t respect them. That’s a sign of a big ego. That indicates the only person you care about is yourself. And if that’s the case, then you shouldn’t be running a business.

Pretending You’re a Genie

Photo of a genie
Photo by Diego F. Parra on Pexel

“Sign up for my $500 1-hour private consultation and transform your mindset and your business!”

Interesting. I didn’t know that all I needed to transform myself and my business was $500 and 60 minutes.

But I agree that change happens in an instant. You read a book, someone tells you something inspiring, you hear a life-changing story, and suddenly, somehow, you start living and thinking like you’ve never before.

Okay, I’ll trust you. I’ll give your consultation a go.

One hour later I’m $500 short and nothing has changed. Of course, it hasn’t. You didn’t even bother to ask me questions before the session. You didn’t spend time getting to know me as much as possible in advance so you could provide a better service.

I should have noticed you’re not a genie but a lazy, greedy “professional”.

You won’t see me again.

Better marketing: Failing to deliver what you said you were going to deliver has drastic results. In the best-case scenario, people will lose trust in you and won’t come back. In the worst-case scenario, they’ll also tell their friends. You definitely don’t want that.

So it’s better to be realistic, charge less, and slowly build trust than overcharge a couple of times for the genie you’re not and lose people as a result.

Using FOMO

“3 spots left.”

“Sign up by 2 p.m. to get a discount.”

“The price will go up tomorrow.”

“My thing will disappear in 1 hour. Act fast!”

These tactics do work, so I understand why you’re using them. You’re trying to pressure me into hitting your “Buy” button. You’re giving me an incentive. But you’re not being kind to me. You’re pushing me to make a decision using FOMO.

You’re just like my dentist.

“I’d like to invite you to join my course. There’s absolutely no pressure to sign up. Take your time to decide whether this is for you or not. If you think it is, you’re welcome to join — any time.”

Much better. This is the type of marketing George Kao teaches. Gentle, confident, authentic.

Send me an email like that and you’ll get me with your calm selling voice. I might not even know you, but I trust you already. I’ll join you.

Better marketing: If you’re confident about what you’re selling, if you know your thing will change lives, then you don’t need to use fear in your marketing.

Using FOMO tells me you’re afraid that people won’t buy from you. You’re not confident enough about what you’re offering to the world. If you don’t trust your product, why should I?

So instead of manipulating people, invest energy in improving what you’re selling. Make it — as Seth Godin says — “remarkable” and leave FOMO to the insecure, still confused, selfish marketer.

“To truly serve people means to respect their agency and sovereignty, to allow them to make genuinely educated free will choices.” George Kao — Authentic Selling (2nd Edition)

Misusing FOMO

“Buy my thing. It’s usually $8,999 but only for today you can get it for $76!”

Seriously? C’mon, who’s gonna believe that?! I’m not a marketing expert, but you’re definitely not one either.

You’re lying to me already. You’ve lost me from the start.

Better marketing: If you really need to use FOMO, please use it properly. I’m not that dumb.

Claiming You’re Indispensable

“You won’t be able to succeed without my thing.” Really? How do you know? 
I’ve come across such messages many times. Marketers don’t say this so overtly, but that’s essentially what they’re communicating.

Do you like arrogant people? Me neither.

So, sorry, marketer, but I don’t need you and your arrogance.

Better marketing: Every time you’re communicating something as part of your marketing, ask yourself, “Would I use such language with my best friend?” If not, improve your message.

Concluding Story

A few months ago I sent an email to Marta, one of my potential clients, offering her a discount on my book club.

Hi Marta,

How are you doing? I just wanted to inform you that if you want to join the 10-week book club I’m organizing for May 22, you can do so at a discounted price.

  • $190 for the basic plan (instead of $220)
  • $290 for the advanced plan (instead of $320)

I’m offering this discount to you and a few other people who have shown particular interest in my work (articles, podcasts, newsletters, videos, etc.). A sort of “fan price” let’s say.

If you think this 10-week reading community might be of interest to you, let me know. But don’t feel you have to justify yourself in case you have to decline the offer for any reason. No stress. No worries. Be happy.

Thank you,


Marta replied:

Hi Fabio,

In this world of “Do you really want to die electrocuted because you haven’t invested money in my improvement program?” it’s very refreshing to receive an email like this.

No pressure. No overconfidence.

You deserve to hear it: I appreciate it very much!

Marta couldn’t join my book club. She didn’t buy my thing. But I was glad to hear she didn’t feel pressured, harassed, diminished, threatened, intimidated, or put off by my email.

I wish you to receive more emails like the one Marta sent to me.

And I hope you’ll find a great dentist too.


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