My nasty bar fight with Ben Settle taught me how to turn batshit-crazy complainers into paying customers

Young pretty businesswoman woman headshot.

This is the face I made when I saw some of Ben’s subject lines

I love meeting famous copywriters in the hotel bar at AWAI’s annual Bootcamp.

But when I saw Ben Settle sitting there, drinking beer with his friends, I felt a surge of anger that I couldn’t ignore.

It was crazy. I’ve never met him in person and yet I’d been holding a grudge against him for months. Maybe more.

I don’t know if he realizes (especially since I was giving him the stink eye right off of the bat), but I am actually his ideal customer. I really get a kick out of writing emails to my list… and people like getting them. I get lots of compliments.

The problem is I don’t always get as many sales from those emails as I need.

(Before I go any further, I have a confession. I have no interest in getting “more hours”. My biggest ambition is to spend less time at my desk and still make more. Is that so wrong?  I have three young children who need a lot of time and attention. If I can just figure out how to use my newsletter to make more money my life will improve in such a dramatic and profound way that it brings tears to my eyes every time I imagine it.)

That’s where Ben Settle enters the picture… he knows how to turn emails into income.

I’ve been getting Ben’s sometimes-more-than-daily emails for at least a year… maybe two. While a lot of small business owners fret about sending emails out too often (they’re afraid of “bombarding” their readers) Ben tells people to write emails much more often and make an offer every time so that you can make money.

He has done very well for himself sending out daily emails where he sells something. Rumor has it that he makes over a half a million dollars a year working fewer hours than I do. He shows people exactly HOW to do it in his newsletter, Email Players, which costs $97 per month.

Ben Settle appears to have the solution to the #1 problem in my life. What could I possibly have against him?

I’ll tell you what!

I was about to fork over $97 for his newsletter when one of his a female readers accused him of not being very welcoming to women, and in general, sounding like a male chauvinist. He said that he looked at his numbers, saw that most of his readers were men, and so he was going to write stuff that appealed to his readers and his buyers… which were men.

Even though I know that it makes perfect sense to look at your numbers and write stuff that appeals to your audience, I was still pissed. What about me? I was willing to pay him month after month, but now I felt overlooked, and underappreciated.

Just so you know, I can hold a grudge. Every time I saw a subject line from him like “How to pick up hot chicks with email” or “Why blonde chicks never get speeding tickets” my fury grew.

There was an email about an upcoming podcast episode titled “The strange (and amusing) parallels between psycho chicks and bad clients.” He and his guest were going to discuss “What copywriters should tell their woman to do when she nags and complains to him while he’s trying to work.”

First of all, that sentence makes it sound like ALL copywriters are men. Which means that I’m not included in the group. That copywriting is just a big old boys club with a giant “No Girls Allowed” sign.

Then there was: “Why entrepreneurs always attract batshit crazy chicks.”

Again, it just makes it sound like ALL entrepreneurs are men. It makes it sound like we live in a world where there are two categories of people; male entrepreneurs and the bat-shit crazy chicks who are attracted to them (… and they’re just sitting around dreaming of the day when they can nag and complain when the men try to work).

I couldn’t stop obsessing!

I see myself as an entrepreneur… would Ben Settle automatically lump me into the “batshit crazy chicks” category?

There was only one way to find out…

I moved my drink into my throwing hand and walked up to his bar stool. Rather than tell him what a big fan I was (which would have been true and polite) I told him that I didn’t read all of his emails and I thought he was deliberately trying to repel me from his list.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Every time I’m on the verge of buying, you annoy me with your sexist subject lines.”

Yup. Those were fightin’ words, and he and his friends stood up and formed a semi-circle around me.

I probably looked aggressive and bitchy, but I felt pretty nervous. I was expecting him to blow me off, embarrass me, or somehow put me into my place.

Instead, he smiled and said, “What specific subject lines piss you off?”

It was my chance to tell him what I really thought, to his face. But I found myself completely thrown off by the look of eager expectation on his face. It was so disarming, that I set my drink gently on the bar. I wouldn’t have to throw it in his ace after all.

Then I told him in as much detail as I could what was going through my mind when I got his emails, and telling him why they were turning me off and making me now buy. He continued to ask questions, and treat me like someone giving valuable feedback (rather than someone trying to start a fight.)

I said that I would go back to my room and show him the exact email that he sent that originally set me off.

But when I got to my computer, I couldn’t remember where the exact email was. Instead, I typed in “chicks” and got 13 emails from him, all with the word “chicks” in the subject line.

I sat down to write my “angry” email, but realized that I had already forgiven him… and was ready to buy his newsletter.

Here’s why:

  • He did something completely rare and unexpected:  He stopped what he was doing to listen carefully to my complaint and actually hear what I had to say. All too often when people get in fights, all they do is try to prove that they are right and the other person is wrong. They’d rather unfriend each other, fire their clients, or they bottle it up for months rather than lay everything on the table and get past it.
  • He didn’t try to tell me that I was wrong.
  • He made it easy to get it off my chest by asking a lot of questions. Normally I find it really difficult to tell people about problems that I have with them. I clam up. This time I was able to say what I needed to say.
  • He stayed calm. Why does that matter? It just let me know that he is successful enough that one complaint isn’t going to bother him.
  • He did something that made me laugh and reminded me why I wanted to be his customer in the first place. As I was telling him off, rather than get upset he seemed pleased that he made me have a reaction, even if it was negative, which I thought was funny. The whole point of marketing is to get people to respond, and he was clearly processing everything through the “how are my readers responding?” filter. Even as I was telling him what I thought was wrong with him, I was still thinking that I want to be more like him.
  • He made me feel important. He listened as if my complaint was actually valuable to him, because it gave him an opportunity to get even better.

The next time one of my customers complains or comes to me with a problem, I’m going to take a page from Ben’s book and do my best to stay calm, listen to the person and use the complaint as an opportunity to improve an area of my business and improve the relationship with that individual.

In many cases, people come up with problems and objections just before they’re ready to buy. If you handle the situation the right way, you can make the sale. (I ended up getting the subscription, and am checking my mailbox for the second issue right now).

How about you? Do you have any tricks for handling complaints? Tell me about them by sending a note at [email protected]


If you don’t do this you are losing sales

Ben Settle

Ben Settle

Last week I talked to Ben Settle, one of the world’s leading email marketing specialists and editor of the Email Players Newsletter. 
Before I go into his advice, I urge you to look at his website and sign up for his newsletter where he gives daily tips for doubling your sales using email. 

Mandy: You send out an email every day, and recommend that others do that too. How do you keep your emails interesting?

Ben: The most popular movies are the ones with the most ominous villains. Nobody remembers the hero, but they remember the villain!
You can do this with your emails. List all the villains in your customers’ lives. List all of the problems they face in life, and then write about those problems one at a time.
That will give you a lot of material for your emails, but also guarantee that they won’t be boring. Because you’ll be speaking their language. You’ll be in their world.
My dad lives in the same town as me, and he has gophers in his yard. They’re always popping up. He could read an email every day about gophers, and never get sick of it. Because it is a problem that he’s trying to solve.
Mandy: What techniques do you use to get people to read your emails?
Ben: I try to stay away from techniques and gimmicks. Instead, I just focus on the problems that people are dealing with.
Mandy: What would you say to someone who has a company but has yet to sent out a single email?
First of all, you need an opt-in list.
You can’t just export an Outlook contact list and start emailing people. When people opt-in they are giving you permission to email them every day.
There are so many email services out there. There’s Mail Chimp, Infusion Soft, Constant Contact. Most of them have websites and 30-day trials. I recommend going to all of them, trying them out, seeing what the interface is like, and choosing the one that you feel the most comfortable with.
Then when you have your email service, set up a web page (or outsource it . . . it’s easier that way) where you collect names. Drive traffic to that page. When you get some names on your list, start emailing them.
Mandy: How else can you do to keep your readers engaged?
Ben: It’s what I call “Infotainment”.
Sending emails every day is like having your own talk show. People will listen to talk shows for hours because they get information, but also because they’re entertaining.
You can be like that, too. Think about what you’re like when you’re at a bar, hanging out with a good friend and talking. Be that person in your emails.
It’s all about building the relationship.
If you want to find out more about writing emails that sell from Ben Settle, go to his website There you can sign up for his list. He will send you a PDF version of the first issue of Email Players for free (normally, the newsletter is a hard copy that comes in the mail). If you like it you can subscribe for $97.
If you want to find out more about email newsletter, click here to check out my interview with Heather Robson. The article is called, “How Small Businesses Can Increase Repeat Sales With Email Newsletters.”