One way I generate interest in our product, and start conversations with business decision-makers, is to sponsor and exhibit at high-level but intimate industry events. There I hold a contest to generate awareness of our company and move conversations along.

It’s a true contest—not a drawing—and the top two best participants each wins a prize (it pays to come in second!). We often receive praise for how realistically the contest mimics a high-risk issue the industry is currently experiencing, and how much fun it is to participate. People like the prize, too.

The prize is, and has been for a long time, the current version of an Apple iPad. I’ve been doing this since the iPad first came out (even awarding one a few weeks before it became available commercially). People love them…and I love people.

In the past twelve months alone I’ve placed orders for 24 iPads—24 winners!

After the event, once back home, I place separate orders via Apple’s online store, and have the iPads shipped directly to the winners. Everyone’s happy: the winners get their prizes, we generate goodwill and possibly enter into sales cycles, and even Apple makes money off our success. What could possibly go wrong?

Today’s order got canceled by Apple. This one really hurts, as an existing customer won the iPad. You see, after you’ve become a customer of ours, we still like you.

The automated cancellation email stated the following:

Apple is unable to fulfill orders that exceed the quantity limit per customer, or that ship to an international, freight forwarder, or an APO/AFO address.

Since my recipient is located in Texas, and I was shipping to the street address of the business, I was rather curious to find out what the violation was. After calling Apple, I’ve learned that I am a channel violator. I’ve placed too many orders (at full price, mind you), and the current order will not be un-canceled and shipped.

I am too good a customer.

Dave Stuart, Apple Business Representative, tells me that Apple will not sell me iPads if I wish to give them away as prizes, but they will sell me gift cards at the same value (and would I like to purchase one?).

I’ve been cut off.

Just you wait until they find out that I’ve gamed the system (unknowingly). Last October I placed an order for an iPad as a gift for my wife. I used my personal credit card, which has a different billing address than the corporate credit card. But I’m still the same violator. I just told my wife I probably wasn’t permitted to give her that gift, and she’s none too pleased…

Just like US Airways (see post), Apple punishes its good customers.

Marketers listen up: There has got to be a better way!