Friday, August 19, 2016

How To Human, Episode One: Contacting A Vendor & Doing It Right

OR - A Brief Guide to Not Being A Total Jerk In An Online Conversation With A Commission Based Artisan / How To Get What You Want From Someone You Don't Know.

Team Rocket Don't Like Jerks.

Executive Summary:
If you want to buy something from someone online, be polite when you communicate with them. Say hello. Say something nice. Ask them your question. Be brief. Say thank you. If you can't afford it, say thank you again and move on.

To summarize, I'm an executive

Introduction & Reasons to Follow These Guidelines:
You may be thinking to yourself "Why would I want to go to all the effort of reading this blog post and following its advice, when I already know how to communicate with people and really don't need any help... ya jerk!" and you may be right. Here is a brief list of tangible reasons to follow the guidelines of communication outlined in this post:

  1. You are more likely to get what you want.

Yup, that's about the long and the short of it. I will even expand upon this to say you are WAY more likely to get what you want. Like, 50 times more likely. Being polite not only serves your needs, but it also brings a little happiness into the life of the seller.

I REALLY want a better musket!

Getting what you want can take many forms. It might mean, at a high level, that the seller provides you with the service you are interested in. It could also mean they get it to you faster than anticipated, because they enjoy working with you. It could mean they give it to you cheaper. It could mean they give you discounts on future purchases. It could mean they pay extra attention to ensuring quality in the piece they are making for you. It could mean they provide you with more frequent updates. Now I am not accusing a seller of avoiding these activities when encountering a rude customer, only that your chances of receiving them increase drastically when you take the time to not be a jerk.


Who Benefits Most From These Guidelines?
The target audience of this post are people who communicate via vendors with emails that fall into one of the following categories:

Rude - There's a huge chasm between being what you might consider "to the point" and coming across as a total rude jerk. Remember, email doesn't have any context to it, or history. You may be totally fine speaking to your friends of 20 years in a certain way, but that won't fly when approaching a vendor. If your email simply says "How much for foam armor" you will probably not get a favorable result. Remember, you're setting the stage for your relationship with a vendor in your first email. If you come across as rude, that's a harbinger of bad tidings.

How much for foam armor???

Disrespectful - Remember, a vendor doesn't owe you anything. Even when you give them money, this does not mean they are your servant. It only means that you have entered into a transaction where you have agreed to pay an amount of money for an item or service. It does not grant you the freedom to be disrespectful, demanding, or unruly in your dealings with them.

Bad Grammar - You may think commerce transcends grammar, or that it should, but at the end of the day it doesn't. Remember that the person on the other end is a real person, trying to run a business, and would probably much rather be in the workshop building stuff rather than slogging through unanswered emails. One way to make that experience infinitely more pleasurable is to use proper grammar. Don't email using the same shorthand you might use in a text. Avoid emojis. Write in full sentences. Use spell check.

It will be with elated glee that I dispense funds upon you Tuesday,
for the opportunity to acquire a succulent feast of grilled ground
beef twixt a sesame seed bun on this very day.

Not Getting Desired Results - Tired of emailing vendors and never hearing back? Tired of hitting your head against a brick wall and getting the same results?? Maybe the problem, dear reader, is you. Switching things up and following a format that typically gets good results might be just what you need. I can say from personal experience that in general, when I get an email that is rude, I simply ignore it. Even if they are asking for an item that I know has a good profit margin, it's worth it to me to not have to deal with someone who doesn't have the common courtesy to deal with me in a respectful manner on our initial communication. I mean, come on. Come. On.

How To Initiate Contact With An Artisan, Craftsman, Vendor, or Seller. With Examples.
Based on my decades of experience as both a vendor and a buyer, I recommend the following guidelines for your initial communication with a vendor:

  • Be polite
  • Be brief
  • Use proper grammar
  • Say nice things
  • Introduce yourself
  • Try to form some kind of connection with the seller
  • Ask your questions clearly
  • Be polite
  • Above all else, be polite
To make things simple, as people tend to have different perspectives on what it means to be polite, I will provide you with a formal structure to use on your introductory inquiry to any vendor. I feel very confident that following this simple structure will position you to have the most success possible with the vendor. And remember, the benefit to following this formula is that you get what you want. Here's the format:

[Salutation] [Name of vendor],
[introduce yourself]
[Brief detail of how you found vendor]
[Praise of vendors work]
[Description of item you are interested in]
[Specifics of inquiry, as needed]
[Thank vendor for their time and attention]
Sincerely,[your name]

That's it!! It really doesn't take too much effort to put an email like this together, and I PROMISE you it will maximize your results. Let me give you a few practical examples:

Greetings Punished Props,
My name is Matt and I am a rabid Overwatch enthusiast. I was scanning through my facebook feed the other day and a picture of you came up holding what looked like a battle axe from Skyrim. Truly impressive work! It looked like it came straight out of the game! I am interested in seeing if you make the pistols that Tracer uses in Overwatch? If not is it something you might consider taking on as a commission? If so, please let me know what the price would be and when you might be able to fit it into your schedule.

Thank you so much for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely, Matt

Does this pose objectify me?

Here's another one, with a request for alternate vendors:

Hello Volpin Props!

It's a pleasure to be writing to you, as I must confess I am a huge fan of your work. I have followed your blog and facebook page for ages now, and have learned so much. Thank you so much for sharing all of your prop build walkthroughs. I even saw you speak at PAX one year, which was really great and informative. I am writing today to inquire about a helmet from my favorite anime, "Appleseed." I'm interested in commissioning you to build a Briarios helmet as seen in the first feature film. I am working on a limited budget, so any flexibility you might have in time frame or materials would be greatly appreciated. If you don't have the time or interest in this project, might you be able to point me in the direction of someone you know who can help?

Thank you in advance for taking the time to reply to my email.


And here's one where I'm just looking to buy a catalog item that they sell, though it's needed by a certain date:

Dear Miss Sarley,
As a fellow PokemonGo enthusiast I was absolutely thrilled to stumble across your website where you are offering team themed clothing. Your designs are absolutely amazing, and I can't believe stuff like yours isn't already in stores! So great!! I would love to get my hands on one of your Team Mystic hoodies. If you can please let me know what the total plus shipping to area code 92625 will be, and how I can best arrange for payment, I will get it sent to you immediately. I am hosting a PG party at the end of the month, and am hoping that leaves enough time for us to complete this transaction.
Thanks so much for making these available. You rock!

Team Mystic? Really??

Please feel free to cut and paste this text and customize it to fit your particular needs. And if you have success with them, please drop me a line or write a comment below telling me how it worked out for you. If you have your own suggestions, or ways this format can be improved, please do the same. It's really not that hard, requires only a few minutes of effort, and will yield incredible results.

What To Do If They Don't Respond?
Sometimes vendors get busy. In fact, that's typically an ideal case for an artisan who earns a living based on commission work. They might have a giant queue of emails in their in box, or perhaps they have a certain block of time set aside during the week that they take away from the work of actually producing items for answering emails. Don't let your enthusiasm (or lack of patience) dictate how long a vendor has to respond to your email. I think one week is a very reasonable time frame for a vendor to reply to your inquiry. If a week goes by, I believe you have two possible courses of action.

  1. Email them a second time, but do it in a polite, tactful way. For example: "Greetings Vendor Joe, I wrote to you last week to inquire about your but did not hear back from you. Knowing how busy you must be, and how spam filters have a knack for sometimes routing important emails to a spam folder, I thought I would take a moment to write again to confirm that you received my original email. I am very eager to do business with you, and look forward to your reply. Thank you again for your time."
  2. Take your business elsewhere. Perhaps this seller just isn't good at communicating, and I can promise you from experience that is never a good trait upon which to build a commerce based relationship. If they don't have the business sense to answer your inquiry within a week, or the business model/availability that supports it, do the smart thing and don't do business with them.

What To Do If You Cannot Afford The Price They Are Asking?
Sometimes, the item you are interested in is simply not within your price range. Don't take this as a personal insult, and more importantly don't take this as an opportunity to inform the seller that their price is too high... for you. (I've written a separate blog post about this very topic. Check it out here) As a rule of thumb, artisans work long and hard on the items they are offering for sale, and to be frank it's deeply insulting when someone tells them that they feel their price is too high. If it is indeed too high for the market to bear, the market will tell them that pretty quickly. They don't need you and your limited understanding of their financial goals or value of their skills to inform them of it. Just let it go. (elsa) If the price of the item you want is too high, I believe you have two options to chose from. In sticking with the guideline of "be polite" in this article, you should execute one of the following:

  • Tell the seller thank you for responding to you, but you are unable to afford the item at this time.
  • Ask the seller (Politely) if they are firm on their price. Sometimes sellers add in a little "wiggle room" to their pricing so that they can offer discounts to a customer who perhaps is ordering more than one item. Or maybe they have an inventory they are interested in liquidating, and would consider knocking a few bucks off to make it more attractive. Wording here is important. If you are polite, a vendor just might be willing to work with you on price. Then there's a whole list of things NOT to do when you don't like the price. Though this list is not by any means exhaustive, here are some things that you should NOT do under any circumstances.
  • Tell the seller that he is price gouging
  • Tell the seller that they are an idiot for expecting that much money for something as simple as the thing you are trying to buy.
  • Tell the seller that for that price, you could just make your own.
  • Tell the seller that you are poor and deserve a lower price than what they are asking.
  • Tell the seller that they would make a lot more money and have a much better business if they would just sell the item to you at a price that works for you.
  • Tell the seller pretty much anything other than one of the two options I listed above.
  • Promise the seller further purchases in the future if they can just cut you a good deal on this item today. (please see "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" for further insight)
  • Tell the seller that they would make a fortune if they would cut their price in half, as they would sell twice as many.
  • Tell the seller that you know how much materials for the build would cost, and it's WAY less than what they're charging!
  • Tell the seller that it's for charity
And worst of all , for the love of god, no matter what you do, under no circumstances should you ever say the following thing to a vendor, in any form:
  • It will be great exposure for you, so giving it to me for free or at a deep discount is the smart thing to do.

There is a whole movement on the internet discussing the fallacy of "exposure bucks" and I highly encourage any person interested in offering exposure as a form of compensation to research it. Perhaps you will learn a thing or two about commerce and the artisan. Wil Wheaton has done some excellent thought leadership on the topic and I highly recommend his blog.

Future Dialogs With The Vendor
Let's say your initial email gets a fairly quick response from the vendor, with pricing information that works with your budget, and everything seems to be doing smoothly. My advice for future communications with the vendor is this: maintain your politeness, and let the vendor dictate communication styles. If the vendor starts using emoji and txt-like abbreviations, take that as a cue to change your communication style. If the vendor skips a formal greeting like or sign off, that means you can do the same. Adapt to THEIR style of communication, but always be polite.

What About When The Deal Is Done?

Was I supposed to fold? Or was it hold?

As with things in real life, maintaining a relationship with a vendor can be a wonderful thing. They might have stuff in the future that you want to buy! Maybe they are a really cool person and you want to be friends! Who knows! When you finally receive the item you paid for, you should put a bow in the entire affair by sending them a thank you email. It doesn't have to be long, or even full of praise. Just write them a quick note that says "I received the battle axe today and it's great. Thanks so much for all of the hard work you put into it." or something like that. It can even be shorter if you want, but it REALLY SHOULD BE something. Leaving the vendor hanging after they send off something that they probably put their heart and soul into is dismissive and insulting. If you're happy with your purchase, take five seconds out of your day to let them know. A tiny bit of effort from you could very well be the difference between them having a great day, or having a crappy one. After all, sifting through all of the emails from people who HAVEN'T read this article has got to be heartbreaking.

Thank you for reading this! If you have had an experience that supports (or doesn't!!) what's written in this article please post in the comments below. If there's anything you think should be added, that would help too!

Thank you Bill Doran for your feedback on this article.