Start big, cut down and zero in – the three-step plan for getting to yes

Picture of odd-one-out

Isn’t the news exhausting?

Brexit, Trump, Syria, climate change, plastic in the oceans, data breaches. It just never stops. Sometimes, I feel worn out just trying to keep up so I don’t appear uninformed when my news-addicted chums are chewing over the latest twists and turns of the 24-hour news cycle. 

Then I had lunch with my friend K, and suddenly my perspective changed.

He told me he only just knew who Meghan was, and what happened when she met Harry. And then only because a friend had marvelled that he wasn’t an avid royal-watcher and filled him in.

Then again, he’s not an anything-watcher. 

“It’s all so ephemeral,” he said, with the slightly-pleased-with-oneself smile of somebody who’s been waiting for ages to drop ephemeral into a conversation. “Here today, gone tomorrow. Why should I care about it? In fact, my default mode is not to care about any of it unless I have to.”

So he doesn’t. And the result is that he has a lot more time to pursue things he does care about.

He’s focusing on developing himself, his business, his clients and his offerings. And he’s not in the least concerned about how he looks when he confesses his ignorance of the latest twitterstorm between Trump and Macron, or the plight of the Rohingya.

From no to yes

Now while I’m not advocating taking the same radical approach when it comes to marketing (“We don’t care about sales!” “None of our clients matter!”) there is actually a leaf to be taken out of K’s book, albeit slightly edited. 

Because sometimes, it’s best to proceed by a process of elimination. 

I’ve taken to doing this at restaurants. I now narrow down the choices by deciding what I don’t want and seeing what that leaves me with. And dismissing entire sections (e.g. red meat) means that I can whittle down the options faster. 

That counterintuitive approach – deciding what you don’t want to do – can very quickly help you identify what you do want to do. The problem is that businesses, just like humans, suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). We want to appeal to all of the people, all the time. 

But if we try to do that, we have to put out a general message that covers 90%+ of prospects. Targeted at everybody means targeted at nobody, and that only ends one way. 

So when you’re looking at sales or marketing campaigns, potential customers or a even a piece of copy, it’s always instructive start with who/what you don’t want. Maybe it’s: 

  • People who use a competitor. They already know the market/solution and don’t need any education. But they do need to have their eyes opened about why you’re better. 
  • People who don’t use a competitor. They’re easier to convince, and don’t have any preconceptions. You’re starting with a blank canvas. 
  • Customers in a specific group, based on age, gender, socioeconomic profile or location.
  • Deal size, whether large (longer cycle, harder to close, but a bigger return) or small (shorter cycle, easier to close, smaller return). 
  • Tone of voice. Maybe it’s inappropriate for your brand to try to go down the touchy-feely route, because a certain gravitas is expected from an organisation in your space. Or perhaps you do want to move down the informal end of the scale to appeal to a younger audience. Either way, you’ll alienate some potential clients – but then they’re not your ideal clients.

Feel the fear (and do it anyway)

Why is this scary? Because you’re walking away from a potentially huge slice of the market. The downside is that you’re not appealing to them because you’re specifically not targeting them. 

The upside is that you’re not now vying for business with most of the competitors. You’re in a niche, and you’re targeting your message to that niche. You become the go-to organisation for people who self-identify as your target audience. 

When they visit your website or read any of your marketing materials, they immediately see that you get them. You’re talking their language, pressing the right buttons and showing them that you understand their world.

For them, making sure that their first choice is the right choice is important, because they realise there’s a hidden cost to making a wrong choice even if it’s cheaper. And for you, it’s important to know that you’re talking to people who are qualified, receptive and interested in hearing what you have to say.

Cutting out the clutter and discarding non-clients lets you focus on what matters to you. Quickly identifying what you don’t want (red meat) means you narrow down the field and get what you do want (pizza – napoletana, with extra toppings).

As I’m sure Harry and Meghan would agree. Assuming you know who they are.