Want this post in 5-seconds? Marketing isn’t just about getting “the word” out. It’s about reaching your best customers—the people you love working with and who drive your business forward. But how? There’s more to it than that…
Marketing has a problem: people don’t understand what it is.
That’s a broad statement, and it’s a little unfair. But a lot of people—so very many people—think of “marketing” in the wrong way. And for small businesses especially, that can be dangerous.
Too often, marketing gets reduced to getting more “leads.” Or even getting more “customers.” The focus is on more. Reaching more people on Twitter. Having a bigger email list. Getting more, more, more people through the door (whether or not they ever come back).
And it makes sense.
Small businesses are often caught in a kind of limbo. You need to bring in customers to have a business. But once you have the customers, you don’t have time to go out and get any more customers.
Time spent serving customers means no time to get more
So you spend your time serving customers until…they’re all served. You’ve gone from having lots of business to no business, and turn to marketing to get more business in the door fast.
These is true even for marketing agencies! A ton of marketing agencies are terrible at marketing themselves—because they need to spend most of their time marketing their clients.
The cycle repeats:
- No customers. Much marketing
- Much customer. No marketing.
- Ahhh no customers! NEED MORE MARKETING!
What if the cycle were different?
- Much customers. Little marketing.
- Still much customers. Still little marketing.
- Still much customers. Still little marketing.
The cycle can be changed. If you change how you think about marketing.
Instead of thinking about marketing as a way to “get the word out” or “build a brand” or “generate leads” or even “get customers,” marketing needs to be considered as a way to filter out the people you don’t want to work with.
Marketing needs to be a way for you to find your best customers.
When you do marketing, you have more tools at your disposable than any other marketer has had in history. As a result, you have more control than ever over the type of people you attract to your business.
If you think now about your customers and clients, I’d bet you can imagine some customers you really like, and some customers that are…less than pleasant to work with.
What if you could work only with your best customers? Or even mostly?
When you refocus on your ideal customers, a lot of things get a lot easier.
- You know which marketing tactics to use. When you target a really specific audience, you can narrow down your marketing (and stop spending so much) on tactics that don’t reach those people.
- Your can serve your customers better, because you know they’ll be back. A great customer is someone with the potential to become a long-term customer. That means you can provide better service—without worrying that your time is wasted.
- Your customers become your best salespeople. When you reach the right people and have excellent service, your customers become advocates and evangelists. They tell their friends and actively help your business grow.
- You can grow your business by making genuine connections. Working with “problem” customers is tiring. And less profitable. When you work with your best customers, your business grows and your life gets easier.
That probably sounds good, but how do you actually do it? It takes a new understanding of marketing (and some specific tactics) to find your best customers.
Marketing as a filter, not a magnet
Inbound. Lead “magnets.” Automated lead generation.
The buzz around terms and ideas like this has increased sharply in the last few years. You can’t take two steps in the marketing world without somebody saying “content is king.”
And to be clear, automated lead generation is an ideal situation. When you’re wondering how to generate more leads, or need to do lead nurturing, or are looking for lead generation strategies to grow your business—having leads come to you is pretty much the dream scenario.
But what gets missed a lot in these conversations is that you don’t just want “leads.” At least not in the generic sense.
You don’t even want “customers.” You’re looking for your best customers, and that means your lead generation needs to be focused on reaching those people—and deliberately not reaching others.
The real dream scenario is to automatically attract amazing customers who will spend their life savings, buy you a new sports car, and put your grandchildren’s grandchildren through college.
Or at least, ya know, buy stuff on a semi-consistent basis.
Doug Kessler, a content marketer and co-founder of Velocity Partners, made this point back in 2013, when he wrote about how great content marketing is a filter and not just a magnet.
Terrible customers take more time. More energy. They lower your team’s morale. They don’t come back for more. They don’t tell their friends about you. At the end of the day, they spend less, make you less money, and are more annoying in the process.
But there’s more to it than that.
How does focusing on your best customers
get you better results?
It’s one thing to say “focus on your best customers.”
As you’ve been reading so far, you’ve probably been nodding along. Most people agree with “work with your best customers,” because everyone likes working with their best customers and gets annoyed by terrible customers.
But it’s another thing to actually put “focus on your best customers” into practice.
- It’s another thing when a potential customer comes to your door offering lots of money for a big project
- It’s another thing when you have to choose to turn them away
- It’s another thing when you have to actively repel customers
I’ve watched this happen at small companies. A company looking to increase their revenue says they only want to work with great customers and clients—but then a big project comes along and it’s too tempting to pass up.
Even when the customer is horrible.
These projects have red flags everywhere. Scope creep starts immediately and never stops. Deadlines fly by. The client is unresponsive. They never, ever go according to plan.
Even when the numbers seem big up front, the long term effects of serving bad customers can be devastating to a business.
Verne Harnish runs a consulting group that works specifically with fast-growing companies. In his excellent book Scaling Up, he argues that demotivating your employees is one of the worst mistakes you can make in your business.
And, sometimes, keeping morale high means firing bad clients.
All of that says something about the effects of bad customers. But why are great customers so much better?
How specifically does focusing on your best customers help you grow your business?
It’s cheaper to get customers (and keep them)
Selling to your best customers takes less explaining.
When what you sell is a great fit for the people you’re selling to, you don’t need to convince people to buy. Your cost per lead goes down. Your customer acquisition costs go down. Your marketing speaks directly to the needs of only your best customers—and their decision to buy become a total no-brainer.
What’s more, the value of an individual customer goes up.
Your best customer are the people who love what you offer, and those people are more likely to keep coming back again and again. They’re also more likely to spread your business through word of mouth (but we’ll talk about that later).
Because these are the customers you love working with, and because your best customers are easier to deal with in the first place, you’re likely going to provide a better customer experience
This opens up a whole new area of your marketing! And a much more profitable one.
Your existing customers are the audience most likely to buy from you. Customer segmentation that lets you target existing customers is a simple way to get more business—and keep a relationship going. Instead of constantly hunting down new leads, you can sell to existing customers.
What makes marketing expensive? Not focusing on good customers.
Unfocused marketing means spending a lot more of these
If your marketing is focused just on getting people through the door, you attract a lot of people who will buy once and then disappear into the wind. It’s expensive to keep finding more one-off customers. You can’t keep buying customers over and over an expect to come out on top.
An article from MIT’s Sloan Management Review titled How to Identify the Best Customers for Your Business draws a distinction between “transaction buyers” and “relationship buyers.”
Transaction buyers are looking to make decisions relatively quickly. They aren’t all that interested in which businesses they buy from—they just need to buy something that fits their needs.
In other words, they’re interested in making a transaction.
Relationship buyers, on the other hand, are in it for the long haul. They want to work with companies that they trust to deliver results over the long term, and they’re more likely to stick with those companies for a long time.
So much of marketing is focused on optimizing the transaction. Coupons, flash sales, discounts, flashy forms, clickbait headlines, and even the results of many A/B tests (and optimization of individual ads).
Individual transaction tactics definitely have their place. But over-relying on the transaction is going to attract more transaction buyers.
Not enough marketing focuses on optimizing the relationship. Personalized follow-up. Long-term communication. Automation that delivers value over time. Messaging that appeals to your best customers, instead of just driving clicks.
Customers are assets. An existing base of customers is one of your most valuable business assets. When you think of long-term customers as assets, of course you should narrow your focus to the assets that are the most valuable!
Word of mouth, referral marketing, virality, and “buzz”
Focusing on your best customers opens up one new marketing channel, because you can sell more stuff to your existing customers.
But it also makes another channel more effective—referrals.
Especially for small businesses, referrals can be a huge source of business. For freelancers, consultants, agencies, and individual service providers—whether they’re personal trainers, therapists, or carpet cleaners—referrals can fill your entire pipeline.
Why does focusing on your best customers lead to more referrals?
People tell their friends about things they love. Not products they sort of like. Not products that they got that one time it was on sale.
Why does focusing on your best customers lead to more referrals?
- Your business is a better match for their needs. Your best customers aren’t the people who need something that you “sort of” can do. They’re the people that you serve completely—what you do perfectly matches what they need, so they’re more satisfied.
- You can provide a higher level of customer service. Because your best customers need exactly what you offer, you can answer even their most specific questions.
- Your service is better because you like working with them. When you don’t dread talking to a customer, your responsiveness to customers increases. The level of service you provide goes up, because you can offer them more of your time.
- You can ask for referrals directly. When you amaze customers with an incredible experience, they’re happy to spread the word.
All of those factors improve the experience of your customers—and because your best customers spread the word and spend more overall, you can afford to take the extra time to deliver incredible service.
How Heather saved 10 hours every week by
getting rid of “zombie leads”
Heather Read was a full-time family photographer with a problem. She had too many leads.
Early on in running her photography business, Heather made the excellent decision to focus on local SEO. People looking for family photographers could easily find her website through Google, and she had more leads than she knew what to do with.
And her leads weren’t becoming customers.
Heather was spending a ton of time following up with each lead, but a huge percentage of her leads weren’t really a good fit for her business. Too many of these “leads” were really just looking for the cheapest photographer they could find.
Heather needed a way to identify customers. People she really wanted to work with. People who were:
- Ready to hire a photographer
- Willing to pay her fees
- Interested in her style
So she did. She focused her attention on being more selective—and instead of trying to reach out to everyone directly, she looked for ways to qualify leads.