It’s a notion I got from Mark Manson in the context of dating but I think it maps over perfectly into marketing.
There are only three types of potential clients you will ever experience: responsive, neutral and unresponsive.
- Responsive people will come across your work and light up. They’ll get excited and want to sign up and hire you after learning a little bit about you. They’ll be curious, want to know more and ask you a lot of questions. These people are a ‘yes’ to what you’re up to in your business.
- Neutral people will listen to what you have to say but they won’t react much. They’ll sit there in your workshop politely and take it in. But they won’t sign up for much. They may be cordial and listen respectfully but they for sure won’t seem ‘into it’ like the responsive people do. These people are a ‘maybe’ to what you’re up to in your business.
- Unresponsive people will actively pull away, show disinterest, might even be rude. These people are a ‘no’ to what you’re up to in your business.
And how you deal with each of these three people is different.
With responsive people, you just need to enjoy them and make it really safe and easy for them to buy from you. You want to have your sales funnel worked out so they can engage at the level that feels best for them. If you try and push or ‘sell’ to these people, things get weird. They’re already sold on you. Just relax, enjoy them, engage them and look for what is the best fit.
With unresponsive people, just bless and release them. Really. Just let them go. It’s not a fit (at least not in that moment). Trying to convince these people to hire you or buy from you is the road to burn out.
With neutral people it’s a different story. The neutral people aren’t sure. They’re on the fence. And your job is to get them off the fence (with no bias towards which direction they fall – towards you or away from you).
To be clear, I’m not talking about pushing them or making them do anything. I’m talking about revealing yourself and being vulnerable enough.
Let’s back this up a bit.
If they’re on the fence, why are they on the fence?
They’re up there because they’re not sure enough about who you are, your point of view, your overall purpose of your business, the results you offer or problems you solve etc. There’s something about your platform that is fuzzy and that results in them not knowing if it’s a fit. There’s likely something they see that they like (which is why they haven’t left your presence) but also somethings they see that they don’t quite get (which is why they haven’t bought).
But why is there fuzziness in the first place? Often because we’re scared to share the full truth of how we see things.
A typical approach with neutral people is to try to keep them around by being really ‘nice’ and not offending them in any way. People will build their email list by sharing useful but not that exciting or honest content. It’s kind of ‘meh’. It’s nice. It’s fine.
But, if you do this, they will consistently fall off of the fence away from you.
It’s like the dreaded ‘friend zone’ in dating.
They’ll tell you how great they think your business is but they won’t ever hire you.
But there’s another approach. And that approach is to be really honest about your platform and your intentions so that they are able to make up their mind and you can either go deeper with them or, quite frankly, stop wasting your time in ‘building a relationship’ with them that was never going to go anywhere anyways.
But, this requires us to let go of our people pleasing behaviours and to start being really honest about who we are and what we think. It might also mean directly asking someone if they’d like to be a client or be open to a conversation about working together. You might find that people who were dancing around with a ‘maybe’ they’d like to work with you suddenly become a ‘no’ when you directly ask them. Which is wonderful to know. Your asking them (depending on how you did it) didn’t cause them to not want to work with you, it created the space to reveal what they may have already been feeling for a while but were too nervous to tell you.
And here’s the challenge with those things: they all make you vulnerable. You are putting yourself out there and risking rejection.
If you’re honest about your quirks, people might not like them.
If you’re honest about your point of view, people might strongly disagree and attack or belittle you for it.
If you’re really real about the specific kinds of people you’re best at helping, you might lose folks who aren’t that.
If you’re honest about the larger cause you’re most passionate about that drives your business, you might lose people who are more passionate about other causes.
But on the flip side, if you’re honest about these things: some people will love them.
I think that our fear of being vulnerable is what keeps others from knowing us and therefore being able to decide if we’re a fit. We often feel shame about really revealing ourselves and yet it’s the very thing that will inspire others to get off the fence. Will you repel some folks? Sure. But you will also far more strongly attract others.
I can tell you that the blog posts I’ve written that have gotten the most positive reactions and cemented people as fans also got some of the most negative ones and the most comments overall – were the ones where I was most vulnerable and honest.
Just the other day I wrote a post called, ‘I’m Broke (And I Don’t Care)‘ and was flooded with over 100 comments. Or the post, ‘Why Charging What You’re Worth Is Bullshit.’ Or the post ‘Slow Marketing‘. Or the time I encouraged people to do what they could to get the Conservatives out of office in Canada and wrote about it in my post Elections, Polarizing & Having an Opinion.
If they are neutral towards you, the answer isn’t to be neutral back. If you find you’re attracting a lot of neutral clients and you want to change that, they answer is this: be even more vulnerable and honest.
The goal of marketing isn’t to convince everyone to work with you.
To state that even more strongly: the goal of marketing isn’t to convince anyone to work with you.
The goal of marketing is to attract the people who would be a perfect fit for you and to actively disuade people who are not a good fit for you (with a bit of wiggle room there). Marketing is more a filtering process than anything.
Consider this logic: If you attract someone who is not a fit for what you offer, they will have a bad experience. They will then tell their friends about their bad experience and now you’ve got bad word of mouth. It’s not actually that what you were offering was bad – it just wasn’t a fit for them. But I promise you the rest of the world will not make that distinction.
On the other hand, if you attract the perfect kind of client who’s in exactly the right moment in their life to work with you they will almost certainly have a good experience. And they will tell everyone they know about that. And now you have good word of mouth.
But it’s so easy to waste your time on trying to keep the neutral people around. Or to attract them.
But in the end it doesn’t work. Here’s the common dynamic. You get a speaking gig for thousands of people. Amazing. What an opportunity. Then you get a chance to write an article on a well known blog. So you do those things and, cleverly, offer them a free gift to sign up for your email newsletter. And, to get the free gift, a number of them do. Your pipeline of new clients is now so full, you tell yourself. Any day now you’re about to break through. Fast forward three months and nothing has changed.
Here’s what was really happening, people saw you. Thought you were interesting. Were intrigued to know a bit more but were mostly neutral. They saw a ‘free’ offer, got excited and signed up for your email newsletter which is also very neutral and not opinionated at all and they got bored, stopped reading it and really never intended to buy in the first place. You were hooked on hopium that your pipeline was full. But it never really was. So, we keep trying to get in front of more and more people, hoping that might change it.
But here’s what will really change it: being willing to be a lot more vulnerable with those crowds.
I don’t mean standing up there and weeping about your childhood and asking them to hold you.
I don’t mean standing up there and telling them how nervous you are to be there (though that can be endearing).
I mean being willing to be very honest about whatever parts of your journey you’ve gone through that make you qualified that you care to share. I mean being willing to share where you’re not perfect, your quirks and kinks. Being willing to let them know who you are and how you see the world and the nature of their issue. Being honest vulnerable will polarize your audience. The more vulnerable you are, the more polarizing you will be.
Your ability to attract perfect clients is in direct proportion to your willingness to be vulnerable and deal with the reality that most people are simply not a fit. Luckily, you don’t need most people as clients to have a thriving business. You only need some.
Here’s another way to look at it: I’d look at your neutral clients as the white blood cells of your business. If you have a lot it’s indicating that you are sick. And the disease may be from your own lack of honesty and vulnerability because of your fears. But most businesses see the white blood cells as a sign of health and seem to want more of them. You want less neutral people and more highly responsive people. You want less maybe’s and more yes’ or no’s right off the bat.
When you really start stepping out with your full truth, you will repel so many more people (who were not a fit) and you will attract raving fans who love what you are about (who are a fit). Withholding the truth in the beginning doesn’t really help. Sure you might get more clients to begin with, but eventually the truth will come out and those people will leave.
The only question is, how vulnerable are you willing to be?
Here are some ways you can explore being vulnerable. I’d love to hear what additional ideas you might have:
- Ask Their Intentions: If you’ve got someone who’s been hovering around, neutral, asking for free advice for a while, consider just asking them directly, ‘Hey, I notice you’ve been around and come to a number of the free things I’ve been offering and I was just wondering if you were thinking of coming to the the upcoming full weekend. I’d love to have you there.’ Either way, now you know the truth and energy gets released which is a relief. It doesn’t have to be heavy, but if you’re wondering, you can always ask. They might just say ‘yes’. I was hosting a party in London, England and I got three people to come to my weekend workshop by simply saying, ‘Are you coming to my weekend? You should come! I’d love to have you there!’ Simple. Asking is vulnerable but powerful.
- Go on a Rant: This is one of my favourites. Look at your industry and ask yourself honestly what you see is missing. And then let yourself rant about that. Sleep on it and if it still feels true, even if it feels edgy, put it up and share it with the world in a video or your blog.
- Set Boundaries: Are clients always asking you for ‘just a quick opinion’ or a ‘five minute favour’? Tell them the truth (which is that you’d like to be paid for your time). I usually say something like, ‘Thanks so much for writing. That’s a great question and I totally get how frustrating that can be. My rates and such are here. Let me know if you’d like to book some time. I hope you’re well otherwise :-).’ And tell your clients what you expect from them before they hire you. Be real with people about your needs.
- Lay Out Your Map: You likely have a very strong opinion about the best way to help people on their Journey from their problem to the solution. Consider being even more explicit and honest about it. Lay the philosophy and steps out as clearly as you possibly can. Let them take a look at it for themselves and see if they like it or not. It can be tempting to be vague and try and trick people into signing up for a program based on vague promises. It’s not worth it. Laying out your map is more effective anyway.
- Share Your Story: Did you go through the same struggle as your ideal clients? Do you still struggle with the same issue in ways (but have learned more mature ways to deal with it when it comes up)? Consider sharing that.
- Fire Clients: Do you have clients that are a constant drain on your time and energy? Fire them. For real. Let them go. If you’re not, why not? Because you need the money? Because you’re scared they’ll be upset, hate you and tell the world what a fraud you are? Letting go of bad clients frees up so much energy for a good client to show up and for you to be strong and attractive when they do.
- What Else? Any other ideas or examples you can think of?