Ever heard the common wisdom that business owners scare away prospective customers when they are too open about their stances in politics, religion or any other subject that might spark controversy?
Anyone who still thinks that is true should look at Fox News, with its edgy conservative stances. It consistently crushes CNN’s more neutral news coverage in the ratings.
It’s more powerful to be polarizing than it is to be neutral.
I am an evangelizer of the idea that the 80/20 ratio -- 80 percent of sales often come from 20 percent of customers -- applies to many things. What if 80 percent of your sales came from a 20 percent of buyers who either really love you or hate you?
Sure, not everybody should do it. I don’t particularly do this with my consulting business. I don’t have a fight to pick for my business -- but many other business owners do.
I certainly have raised my profile on the side with the hornet’s nest I accidentally kicked when it came to my website CosmicFingerprints.com. It takes the position that the existence of code proves design in living things, and the atheist position is not scientific because every single code we do know the origin of is designed.
This argument landed me in one of the world’s largest atheist discussion boards, the Internet Infidels Discussion Board. (You can see a summary of this debate and the responses at http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/dna-atheists.)
Soon my talk “If You Can Read This, I Can Prove God Exists” was getting discussed on more than 2,000 websites. The episode made me far more famous among people who advocate the design argument than anything I could have without the participation of the atheists.
It doesn’t take politics or religion to stoke such controversy, either.
Health systems, genetically modified anything, gluten, vaccinating children -- these are all things that spark fierce arguments. What in your industry could allow you to do the same?
Here are tips for inciting arguments that juice sales:
Find your Goliath. The real power of this is you can get the attention of people who hate you much easier than from people who like you. If you want people to notice you, go into the enemy camp and sink a rock into Goliath’s head. Then chop his head off and hold it up by the hair for all to see. Everybody will notice who you are. You go from shepherd boy to king overnight, as those who agree with you rally to you in the fight you started with the enemy.
Make your enemy your customer. They may end up becoming your best customers. If you sell a controversial book, probably 10 percent of your customers will be people who hate you. They will become a market for your book, and they will write half the Amazon reviews. Hate can be a powerful motivator. Can your business channel it?
Attack legitimate weaknesses. This is about exposing a truly embarrassing weakness in your opponent, not just annoying them. Most people who are on the line are afraid to walk across the line and poke someone in the chest to say that person was wrong. Doing so will surprise your opponent and win attention among supporters. It sure did when I showed that every single code whose origin is known to man is designed. I demonstrated that the other side had no scientific support for its position.
Be doggedly courageous. If you’re going to do this, you have to be persistent for the long term. You have to be constantly a thorn of your opposition. This is war. So decide whether you have time as an entrepreneur to be fighting a war.
Pick a field of battle. In every market, there is a small percentage of super-rabid enthusiasts that pay attention to everything -- whether model airplanes or stereo equipment. They always know the score. Let’s say you come up with a breakthrough, something that truly disruptive: A model airplane that flies 10 times as far, a superior speaker. Your strategy should be to find a way to clearly demonstrate your product in some kind of competition or venue where people say, “Wow! This guy really backs up what he says!”
Employ these strategies, and you may be turning controversy into sales in no time.
Perry Marshall is the president of Perry S. Marshall & Associates, a Chicago-based company that consults both online and brick-and-mortar companies on generating sales leads, web traffic and maximizing advertising results. He has written five books including his most recent, 80/20 Sales and Marketing (Entrepreneur Press, 2013). He blogs at perrymarshall.com.