What About Your Non-Customers?

If you want to increase revenue, should you focus on getting more out of your existing customers? Slicing your offering finer in order to better appeal to a segment of the existing market?

That's one way.

But how about looking closely at non-customers. Why are all those people not buying what you, or any of your competitors, have to offer? Are there any commonalities between the non buyers?

I'm reading a book called Blue Ocean Strategy. The author offers the following example that illustrates why focusing on the commonalities of the non-customers can be a good idea:

Think of Callaway Golf.

It aggregated new demand for its golf club offering by looking at non-customers. Rather than fighting to win a share of the existing golf market, they looked at why people hadn't taken up golf.

By looking at why people had shied away from golf, they found one commonality uniting the mass of non-customers: hitting the golf ball was perceived as being too difficult. The small size of the club head demanded enormous hand-eye co-ordination, took time to master, and took a lot of concentration. As a result, this was no fun for novices, so they avoided taking up the sport in the first place.

So what did Callaway do?

They built a club with a bigger club-head, thus making it much easier to hit the ball. Not only did this open up a whole new market of buyers, it appealed to players in the existing market who were having the same problem

What Do Your Non Customers Have In Common?

Let's take a look at the SEO industry.

In my experience, a commonality of non-buyers of SEO perceive that SEO simply won't work. They fear they will pay money, and not get any results.

Therefore, in order to convert more of the non-SEO customers to buyers, the SEO should focus heavily on mitigating the risk of non-performance. They should also clearly demonstrate value.


The SEO industry tends to shy away from offering guarantees. This is understandable, given that rankings aren't controlled by the SEO, and therefore guaranteeing a ranking is simply being misleading.

But why focus on guaranteeing ranking? How about guaranteeing that you'll add value, instead?

Ask yourself: can you guarantee to deliver more value to the client than they pay you? Can you increase the value of their business by doing so? If you answer no to such questions, then you'll begin to understand why there are so many non-SEO customers.

Figure out what the customer perceives as valuable, and guarantee to deliver it. After all, what is the difference between a contractual obligation and a guarantee? You need to deliver regardless, but a guarantee just sounds better. It certainly helps mitigate the sense of risk.

Let The Customer Decide What Is Valuable

A lot of SEO sites describe the services an SEO thinks s/he can deliver.

Instead, how about asking the customer what services they think are valuable. You'll learn a lot just by asking such a question. And the more people you ask, the more chances you'll have of spotting commonalities.

How about running an Adwords campaign that asks people to answer a few simple questions about why they don't buy SEO services?

This could work for any good or service, of course - not just SEO.

You'll also see what language potential customers use. It is especially important when stating benefits to do so in the customers terms. Your language should be their language.

They'll feel you understand them.

What would an SEO that spoke exclusively in the language of the customer look like? I guarantee it would look nothing like most of the SEO sites out there right now.

How Bad do They Want it?

When Aaron interviewed Perry Marshall about using AdWords to find market opportunities Perry suggested asking consumers how bad they want something and how hard they are struggling to get it.

Ignore the answers where consumers say they aren't struggling very hard. Look at the answers where the consumers find something extremely difficult, and need that thing badly.

That is good or service people will gladly pay for.

People Who Can't Afford What You Offer

There is a huge, huge market for SEO services. Everyone could be doing better in the search engines.

So you've got to ask - why aren't SEOs getting through to these people? Is the SEO offering simply wrong?

The price will always put some people off. But rather than dismiss these people as non-customers, think about what you can sell them for what money they do have.

Perhaps they can't afford a full campaign, but they certainly might be able to afford a one hour phone call. How about providing a pay-per-minute SEO phone line? How about providing a specific e-book, personalized to the customers site and problem? They can do the work themselves, you just outline exactly "how".

This could always lead to more work when they do have more of a budget.

Customers Who Don't Know What SEO Is

The size of this market is the biggest of all.

The reason this market remains untapped is mostly down to language and visibility. SEOs simply aren't talking the same language, and both parties cross like ships in the night, unaware of each others presence. That's if they get anywhere near each other to begin with.

Why are you going to yet another SEO conference? Why aren't you going to dental conferences? Or hotel conferences? Or any other conference where general marketing is being discussed?

You might be the only SEO there!

All industries have common problems e.g. how to acquire new customers. You know how to do that. They don't. That's valuable to them. They need you.

You need to go where they are, and talk their language. Get hold of their trade magazines and visit their websites. What language do they use to describe their problems? I guarantee it isn't the language you read on SEO blogs and bulletin boards each day. It is a million miles from there.

Look the problems that you can solve, and use their language to describe what you do.

Got any tactics and ideas on how to turn non-buyers into buyers? Add them to the comments.

Published: May 5, 2009 by A Reader in marketing


May 5, 2009 - 6:42am

Very thought provoking post.

I started to offer a HealthCheck review of my "non customers" Adwords accounts a year ago and it's been a big success.

These are people who generally can't afford my PPC services or would rather do it alone however they value the input my skilss can add.

It's similar to your example of buying an hour's SEO time that you listed above.

One tip for finding these non customers is to look at the sites that are sending you traffic but not conversions. By looking at the website you might determine what it is that they are looking for when they visit and why they don't buy what you have. That could suggest a new product.

May 5, 2009 - 1:57pm

Some more non-customers:

3. People who know what you are and can afford it, but find your industry distasteful due to some misconceptions.

It's easy to see how that could apply to SEO, which has a bit of an image problem. But it's also something that could apply to a lot of things.

4. People who don't have access, so they can't become customers.

With the golf example, it may be they can't do it because there's no nearby course. Could that be solved by running a bus service and taster sessions? No-one will access SEO without an internet connection and a website. People won't buy your ebook if they can't read. These are things worth considering when you decide where you're going to spend your sponsorship money.

May 5, 2009 - 11:42pm

Good points.

IMHO one of the main reasons SEO maintains such an image problem is that some of the most well known people in the field have no problems doing really sleazy stuff so long as it is self-promotional. Whenever I highlight such activities most people lack the attention and/or mental faculty to understand the complexity of some such situations and messages. People are too quick to turn the other way in the face of truth, or call it a linkbait attempt.

May 5, 2009 - 2:58pm

I've used that "Here's what you need to do" method and it has worked really well...they reduce their costs, and I reduce my workload so everybody wins.
I have also lately been reviewing SEO reports from other vendors - helping my clients evaluate whether or not they are spending wisely. So I am doing some SEO consulting and direction, but again, leave it to the client to do the work on their own. There are a lot of businesses that hire SEO firms and just routinely pay monthly fees without really knowing why - I have helped about a half dozen clients either reduce their spend or redefine their commitment with these firms, once I show them how they can manage and improve things on their own.

The other thing I have been doing lately is tutorial videos. Camtasia makes it really easy to do great little tutorials, so I have been able to show, rather than tell clients what to look at and how to understand and manage their stuff. This has become a great little way to get a few hours of paid work where I'm simply taping what I do and explaining about it as I do it...so one task essentially pays me twice in these cases. Plus, I have been able to reuse some of the tutorials with other clients, so bam - more gravy.

May 5, 2009 - 5:06pm

Enjoyed the post Peter -

I've come to realize that too often SEOs simply try to push packages or sell services that aren't understood/needed/wanted etc. (Instead of listening, educating, helping). I think this key that you and some of the other posters hit on is fundamental for success. If you can change your approach to be more inline with that of a consultant with an emphasis, then you stand a much better chance of selling your services, building vital relationships and hopefully unlocking revenue streams that you didn't even realize were there.

I have been frustrated in the past by trying to help/operate in smaller geographic areas with lots of small businesses that aren't even familiar with the potential of web marketing let alone how it works. I've realized however that this is simply another source of revenue!

Listen with the goal of helping, educate when appropriate, provide what is needed and gain a customer/advocate for your business!

May 5, 2009 - 6:56pm

"Why are you going to yet another SEO conference? Why aren't you going to dental conferences? Or hotel conferences? Or any other conference where general marketing is being discussed?"

One of the best passages I've read in a while.

It's amazing how much good will and rapport can be fostered by simply offering up a short conference call or training session to a particular industry vertical (or a particular company for that matter) outside of the SEO sphere of influence.

By SHOWING the value of SEO (and social media, and paid search, and email, and dev, and creative, and analytics, etc) you open yourself up to a lot of sales opportunities and a lot of good word of mouth.

May 6, 2009 - 7:44am

Nice article.

"Why are you going to yet another SEO conference? Why aren't you going to dental conferences? Or hotel conferences? Or any other conference where general marketing is being discussed?"

Never thought about it this way, really started making me think about possible ways to reach people that don't know what SEO is about! A lot of search marketing companies don't really know how to effectively sell SEO yet, mainly because they can't properly outline the benefits and risk/reward.

May 7, 2009 - 5:19am

A very good post to know how to increase your business by analyzing what your non-customers might think.

May 8, 2009 - 9:56pm

Thank you very much for this post. It is very refreshing how it examines original thought processes outside of what is covered in most marketing/SEO articles. I think the examples of Callaway Golf are excellent. This post is very reminiscent of the book "Radical Marketing" with your samples and ways to apply this line of thinking. I plan to share it with my cohorts at work along with some clients.

Thanks again!

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