To survive, ignore your customers


Am I kidding? Am I truly suggesting that you should ignore the people whose money puts food on your table?

Well, yes. Not for ever. But for a while.

Here’s the theory behind this seemingly suicidal strategy.

Say you live in a town of 20,000 people. You have about 200 regular customers. They buy from you once every couple of months. They recommend you to friends. That still leaves 19,800 locals who don’t buy your product or service.

Let’s focus on these folk for a while.

We’re going to ask a basic question? Why aren’t they customers?

Maybe you’ve asked yourself this question in the past. Maybe the answer was, “I don’t know.” Not knowing why people aren’t customers isn’t helpful. If you don’t know, you can’t fix.

Rather than simply resign yourself to not knowing why people don’t buy from you, take the time to dig a bit deeper to see what barriers might exist that stop them from becoming customers.

What are the usual barriers?

1  Awareness

People simply don’t know you exist, nor what you produce or sell, nor how it might benefit them.

2  Need

Not everyone needs what you produce or sell. It solves a problem they don’t have.

3  Cost

Maybe people can’t afford your product or service. Or they think they can’t afford it. Or they think it’s expensive compared with the alternatives.

4  Access

People can’t easily get to your business and can’t buy what you sell online.

5  Love

People don’t have a positive feeling for your business, your products or your service.

So what can you do about each of these barriers? How can you break them down? How can you turn more people into customers?

Let’s address each barrier and see what solutions we can come up with.


If you’re a retail business and people don’t know where your store is, it can be because you’re in an inconvenient location or your business is poorly signed.

In the old days, you might build awareness with posters on the road into town, or commercials on the local radio station. There might still be a role for these, but in the 21st century customers can come from further afield and people do research at their computers.

If your website is poorly optimised, it won’t show up in search results. If it doesn’t show up here, people don’t know you exist.

These are easy fixes – but critical ones.


There are a couple of ways to address this. Unscrupulous glass repairers have been known to drive around in the middle of the night smashing windows.

There are cleverer, legal ways to increase the need for your services. People don’t need an undertaker until there’s a death. Rather than simply waiting for people to die, an undertaker could create a new service for pets.

Another example? Say you own a sports clothing store. How do you get people to buy more running shoes? You could encourage them to run more often by sponsoring a marathon in your town.


Often a cost barrier can be overcome with value. How do you demonstrate value? Case studies and testimonials show how someone has benefitted from your service.

Some people want facts. If you are a website designer, don’t try to compete with $500 Pakistani websites, but use figures to show how well the websites you have created for clients rank in your market, how they show up on the first page of Google searches and how they convert to sales. Most business owners are smart enough to know that a $3000 website that gets customers is better value than a $500 one that doesn’t.

Add bonuses to orders. They don’t have to be expensive. Add a pen to each order shipped. Give unexpected bonuses to customers – they will talk about them to their friends.


This is linked to Awareness. It’s also a function of website design.

If a big chunk of your potential audience can’t easily get to your physical store, take your store to them. Mobile libraries are based on this principle. So too farmers markets.

If you sell online, make sure a visitor to your website can find your products and make the purchase process easy. I have seen websites where the products for sale are buried several pages deep. There are no prices and in order to purchase, you have to call the owner. Guess how many sales come from these sites.


We humans are open to people we like and closed to those we don’t. It’s the same with brands. People can get a negative impression of your business from the surly attitude of shop staff, the difficult ordering process, the poor language of your website or the aggression of your delivery van driver.

Ask a trusted friend for honest feedback of each part of your business process as a customer. Hire for attitude, not skill.

Use social media to build engagement. Give loyal customers an opportunity to become brand ambassadors. If you have a guest book, digitize it.

Take time to think about ways you can improve your business in these five areas.

Use a creative thinking tool to come up with some original ideas to build awareness, create a need, add value, improve accessibility and build engagement.

You will find you build your customer base, your reputation and your bottom line.

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