Marketing Bootcamp

How to Repel the Wrong Customers -- and Attract the Right Ones

How to Repel the Wrong Customers -- and Attract the Right Ones
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This story appears in the January 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Most businesses focus on converting prospects into customers. But it’s just as important to determine who is not a good fit for your business -- to repel as well as attract.

This may seem counterintuitive. You might be thinking: Hold up. We have a fantastic product, and we want everyone to like us! We want everyone to buy right now!

But here’s the thing: You don’t want to attract all the people; you want to attract the right ones. It’s a waste of time and resources to nurture relationships with people who are a bad fit for your business. It’s also emotionally exhausting. Trust me.

That’s where a solid marketing strategy comes in. Here are three ways to repel the wrong customers so you can attract the right ones.

Have a strong tone of voice. For differentiating your brand, nothing is as important as tone of voice: your point of view as expressed through your marketing, the writing on your site and any content you produce, such as social profile pages. Your tone should reflect who you are, but, more important, it should indicate what you are like.

I like the way marketing agency Velocity Partners signals to would-be clients that it is a bit edgy, a bit nerdy and takes risks. Here’s how it describes itself on its “Who we are,” aka About Us page (a great place to define your tone of voice): “We’re an odd bunch of international misfits, huddling together for warmth in a cold, indifferent world that thinks it’s weird to actually love things like content marketing and technology markets and B2B companies and storytelling and stuff like that. If that sounds geeky to you, do NOT invite a Velocitoid to a dinner party. You have been warned.”

Fun, right? You get a sense that this isn’t your typical agency following marketing plans originally carved in stone tablets.

Tell the full truth. I feel a little sheepish saying this, because of course you and your business are honest and forthright. But some companies lean in to the honesty part by being unusually transparent with their marketing content. Telling the full truth -- even shining a light on a weaknesses -- equals credibility.

One company that tells the unvarnished truth is Fort Worth, Texas-based Saddleback Leather, which sells luggage, wallets and other leather goods online. On its website, Saddleback details the craftsmanship that goes into its products; it tells how it sources leather, how each bag is made and the history of the people involved. But Saddleback is also confident enough to list the websites of more than a dozen competitors. Founder Dave Munson has this to say on his website: “I don’t suspect our competitors would put a link on their websites to ours, but I don’t mind doing it. I want you to shop around. I'm so confident that you'll find our classic look and over-engineered durability, at our price, so hard to resist that you’ll be back.”

Pass the mic to the elephant in the room. You might go so far as to indicate in your FAQ or elsewhere on your site who will not be a successful client. Giving voice to reasons why folks might not want to work with you isn’t unlike what Saddleback does in naming its competitors.

There is no such thing as one size fits all well, says Marcus Sheridan, who runs marketing consultancy The Sales Lion. To that end, he details on his site six qualities that would make someone not right for his company, things like “You are looking to outsource your marketing,” or “You are looking to outsource your social media accounts.” He collects all of them in a single web page titled “Who We’re NOT a Good Fit For at TSL.”

So, your turn. Think about how you might repel those who aren’t right for your business. You might just find yourself spending less time spinning your wheels and more time focusing on the customers who matter most.