I'm going to talk about this from the perspective of a staffing tools vendor because I'd be a target customer and I have some experience in the area (as a user). I guess it all starts with blogging, actually. When you are a relatively successful blogger, companies that want to market to you (and want you to market them to your readers...got that?), find it very easy to contact you directly. Like any hopeful sales person (and in the case of the start-ups, it's also the "CEO"), they want you to receive their product well and if they can close the deal or you will blog abut them, all the better.

This happens to me a lot. There's just been a deluge of staffing tools vendors entering the market after a really long drought (and lots of wailing by folks like me that want better tools). The e-mail conversation starts something like this: "Hi Heather, I recently found your blog and want to introduce you to a new product my company is developing"...and lately I've even gotten a "Heather, I'd like to get your view on the fact that resumes are not a good way to assess candidates", which led to "well, then let me tell you about our product" (I'm paraphrasing). Ugh. I don't really like being engaged in a sales call under the guise of a conversation about staffing, especially when the person doesn't seem to really want my opinion in the first place.

What I've noticed is that about half of the time, the e-mail string escalates into an argument about why I need their product, why my thinking is wrong about assessments/resumes/job posting sites/social networking tools/whatever. I'd like to say that I am shocked by the lack of sophistication in the approach, but I am not. The concept of cutting off your nose to spite your face comes to mind. I've seen it several times. So I am not just talking about one person here.

Staffing tools vendors, I am going to say one thing to you that you really need to think about, and this can be translated to other industry spaces as well, but listen up: someone in your target customer segment that does not like your product and is willing to tell you why is your best friend. Don't argue with the person. Don't try to convince them. Just listen as long as they will talk to you. You are getting free customer feedback; feedback you can use to improve your product or market it more effectively.

Have I seen people do this effectively? Yes! Jobster, LinkedIn and TheLadders. And I've continued to spend time with them giving them feedback on their product offerings. Did I say no to them originally? I did (but they didn't argue with me...they just listened). I turned into a customer when their product features matched my needs. We discovered this through the course of the conversations as newly added features were explained to me. And I sure do blog about them.

Listen, I understand that people are personally invested in their work, especially if they developed the product themselves. But if you don't understand your target customer, you have nothing. Critical customer feedback is much bigger than closing one sale.  And just because I might not be interested in your product doesn't mean that others will necessarily feel the same. You can absorb what I have to say or you can try to argue with me and prove me wrong. Your choice.

Sorry for the rant, but I've been on the receiving end of one too many of these e-mails lately.