Last week I spent 86 minutes and 36 seconds on the phone with a sales rep from Citygrid.com. I received a call from a rep within 24 hours of claiming my listing. Naturally, the message she left was all about how she was there to "help" me with my business profile and wanted to spend "a few" minutes on the phone with me to walk me through their website and show me how to get the most of my profile. I knew it was a sales call. This is not my first rodeo.
She walked me through her little presentation, which I was supposed to be watching from my computer, but I was taking down the Christmas decorations instead.
I don't love these sales calls that masquerade (weakly) as "customer service" calls with friendly, helpful reps that try to convince me they're on my side and want to help me get the most out of their websites. Just tell me upfront you want me to advertise on your site, tell me what advertising consists of, and then tell me how much it's going to cost me. Better yet, send me an e-mail with a PDF outlining all this information and then wait by the phone until I call you.
Of course, that isn't the most effective way of convincing people to commit to advertising, so the Citygrid gal was just one more loser in an increasingly long line of losers I've dealt with lately. And by "loser" I mean, literally, people who have lost my business.
Thing is, sites like Citysearch, Yelp, and Merchant Circle, et al, are free sites. They offer listings for free. When you, as a consumer, do a search for say, "nail salon in Visalia," you might get a listing for, say, The Art of Nailz. When you click on it, you don't actually go to the official website for The Art of Nailz, you go to a listing for the Art of Nailz on Citysearch. Kinda like looking through the Yellow Pages, right?
Well, we all know it didn't cost you anything to do the search, and it didn't cost you anything to click on the link, and it didn't cost you anything to visit the business listing on that site. And it won't cost you anything to create a profile, sign in, and write a review for the business either. And, it didn't cost me anything to create a profile, sign in, and claim that business as my own so that I could add business hours, pictures, etc., to the listing.
OK. So, I get that these sites offer "enhanced" listings and extra promotion that could conceivably lead to increased traffic to my business listing. But, let's get real about these advertising prices, shall we?
I full on laughed at the guy from Yelp when he finally got around to giving me rates. $300 a month for a minimum one-year contract? Seriously? And he just could not understand why I thought this was insane! There was absolutely no consideration given for varying levels of advertising need. It didn't matter if I was a solo artist in a small town with a low cost of living, or if I had 25 techs to keep busy in a city with a higher-than-average service price.
At least Citygrid was offering a more realistic rate that allowed for differing levels of need — with a $20 a month fee and $.85 per "hit" to my listing on their sites, and a promise that I could set my monthly cap and no minimum contractual obligation. Cool, I thought I might give it a try... except she wasn't willing to do less than $200 a month. In fact, when I said I'd be willing to try the service at $100 a month, she sounded downright insulted, informing me that "this level of advertising usually starts at $600 a month."
Well, it's nice to know that they do offer a flat fee option for $200 a month. And I genuinely might have decided to try it out, if she'd allowed me to politely get off the phone at the 35-minute mark when I knew that I would not be agreeing to anything that day.
See, I think it's insane to make impulsive decisions about your business finances like that. I need to get the information, consider the pros and cons, compare it to other options, and then make an informed decision.
I knew at 35 minutes into the conversation that I was not going to sign up that day. But she kept me on the phone for an additional 51 minutes, trying to twist my arm with classic sales tactics that ranged from insinuating that I wasn't truly "in charge" of making financial decisions to old-fashioned guilt.
One has to wonder how these companies justify their rates for advertising on sites that are already, essentially, free for both the consumer and the business. I pointed this out to the sales rep from both companies — that it seemed a lot like they were trying to charge me for a cow after I'd drunk the milk.
Neither of the reps thought that was very funny and they both failed to see the analogy at all. At least Citygrid girl had a rebuttal; the Yelp guy was just insane. Like, I-couldn't-hang-up-on-him-because-I-was-having- too-much-fun-making-fun-of-him insane.
Ultimately, I just feel like many of us don't have $200+ a month to budget for advertising. And for those of us who do, I think it's better spent at a truly local level, and I don't think it's a good idea to put all your advertising eggs into one basket. While I realize that there are a lot of people out there who are going to say $200 a month is less than we should be spending on advertising, I also know that the reality is that is a significant budget for most sole proprietors out there.
I have to say though, if you enjoy bickering with sales reps, just claim your listing on one of these sites!