Great content marketing is a filter not just a magnet

how to filter out bad prospects

As marketers, we’ve all been raised to think about marketing as one big magnet: we use it to attract prospects so our sales teams can grab them by the lapels and shake the lunch money from their pockets.

We’ve also been raised to pay lip service to quality of lead. So we’ll tell people, “We only want to attract the right people with our big magnet.” But in truth, deep inside, we’re happy if the magnet works at all — no matter what it drags in . Essentially, we’ve all been targeting bipeds. Bob Apollo write an excellent post called “The real reason sales people struggle to close opportunities.” that gets to the heart of this (hint: they weren’t really opportunities after all). Maybe we need to re-think our magnets…

Be prepared to repel

At Velocity, if content marketing has taught us one thing over the past 2-3 years, it’s that great marketing can’t just be a magnet. It also has to be a filter:

The best content marketing actively filters out the people who you really don’t want to talk to.

Why wouldn’t you want to talk with everybody who wants to talk with you? Aren’t they self-selecting to be good prospects?

No. They’re not.

Take a look at your business. You’ll notice there are three kinds of customer:

Great customers – the ones who make you love your job

  • They came to you for exactly those things you do best and enjoy most
  • They value your strengths highly and aren’t bothered by your weaknesses
  • They’re happy to pay for the value you bring: they want you to be profitable
  • They’re easy to work with: you’re on the same wavelength
  • These are solid gold.

Good customers – the fat part of the bell curve

  • They came to you for some of the things you’re proudest of and can leave the others
  • They value some of your strengths but wish you could overcome your weaknesses
  • They’ll pay your bills but tend to negotiate on price
  • They’re good to work with but not without friction
  • These are important and the core of many businesses.

Terrible customers – the nightmares

  • They came to you in random ways – from a Google search to a friend of a friend
  • They really don’t value what you do and can’t understand why you’ve let your weaknesses persist
  • They begrudge every penny they pay you
  • They’re a pain in the arse to work with. They just don’t have the same ideas about what ‘good’ looks like (much less great)
  • These kill your business.

This mix is true for every business. It’s especially pronounced in service businesses (like ours) but it’s true of more product-driven businesses too.

Every business has all three kinds of client.

But here’s the thing:

Great businesses invariably have a far higher proportion of great customers and a tiny proportion of terrible ones.

Because of this, these businesses grow faster, attract better people, do better work and attract even more great clients. It’s a virtuous circle and it leads to faster growth, higher revenue and better profit margins.

All these good things are caused by great customers.

Similarly, businesses that have an unhealthy proportion of terrible customers slowly become terrible in every other way. They attract dull employees. The work is mediocre. The growth is slow and the margins suck.

Your mission: change your customer mix

With this in mind, your job as a marketer is really, really important. Maybe the most important job in the company.

You have the power to attract lots of people who will become great customers — as long as you set out to do exactly that.

You also have the power to alienate the people who will become terrible customers. To chase them away to your competitors. Again, as long as you set out do do exactly that.

In other words, don’t just be a magnet. Be a filter.

Does this really work?

It really works.

We’ve been doing it ourselves at Velocity and it’s been nothing short of a revelation.

A few years back, we took a good hard look at our business and noticed the kinds of customers we love working with – smart, nice, confident, ambitious marketers – and the kinds we just dread – timid, weak, anti-marketers who do whatever their equally clueless bosses tell them to do.

So we produced content for Velocity that would actively attract the ambitious and just as actively alienate the dullards, weaklings and bullies.

We produced things like The B2B Marketing Manifesto and The Big, Fat Content Marketing Strategy Checklist and, most recently, a Slideshare called ‘Crap’.

And magical things started to happen.

The people who got in touch and said, “I LOVE that Manifesto thing. Can we talk about doing some marketing for us with that kind of attitude?” turned out to be FAR more likely to be great clients and FAR less likely to be terrible ones.

Not five times more likely: a hundred times more likely.

And the people who read these pieces and thought, “Well it’s fine for them but we could never do anything like this.” — well, we never met them. They went where we desperately wanted them to go: Elsewhere.

Soon, we had filled our dance card with fantastic, smart, fun marketers who we really love working for. This has allowed us to slowly prune away the ones we just don’t feel we’re compatible with (usually through attrition, sometimes with the help of gently applied pruning shears).

Filtering has transformed our business:

We’re attracting fantastic people –– the very best in the business. Partly because we can look them in the eye and say, “This is a great place to work’ and really mean it.

These terrific people do amazing work – that’s what great people do.

This amazing work attracts more great clients – who love what we love.

The cycle repeats itself – like some kind of crack-fueled square-dance.

And all this is happening for one reason: because we put a filter in front of our magnet.

I urge you to try it.


Another great article. I think what marketers should be targeting, and what sales people should be tuning in to, is “resonance”. Resonance has very little to do with classic, demographic-based segmentation.

Resonance happens when you identify a prospect with a problem you are really, really good at solving. It happens when they share your attitudes and your beliefs. It happens when you know you can make them successful.

How do you identify and filter for “resonance”? Look at your best current customers. The ones you enjoy working with. The ones that recommend you to others. The ones that are a joy to work with. And, yes, let’s not forget, the ones that you can make a fair profit from.

I’ll bet that the common characteristics are far less to do with demographics than they are with the way they are structured, the way they behave, what’s going on in their environment, and what’s currently happening to them.

Great content seeks to resonate with these values. But it doesn’t stop there. Smart sales people qualify for these values as well, and they clamour for sales tools that help them articulate and reinforce these values.

If we all marketed to, and qualified for, “resonance” we’d all do a lot better. And both we and our customers would be a lot happier.

p.s. thanks for the mention!

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