Are You Getting Dangerous Feedback from Your Readers and Prospects?

image of Siegfried and Roy

Feedback is the cornerstone of community-oriented, kumbaya-style blogging. Like a beautifully polished mirror, we take our best ideas from the wants, needs, and desires of our readers.

So as we all know, the smartest thing content creators can do is to solicit feedback. If our readers unsubscribe, cancel, or stomp off in a huff, we want to know why so we can make our content better.

Right?

Actually, I don’t think so.

I recently found out that the famously cranky marketing writer Dan Kennedy doesn’t give out those “tell me how I can improve” cards when he gives a talk. He’s interested in one thing and one thing only: how much did he sell. (Kennedy long made his living by selling information products on the speaking circuit.)

I find myself agreeing with Kennedy with disturbing frequency these days. Although this bit of behavior goes against what 98% of people will advise you to do, I’m finding that his approach is actually followed by most of the successful business owners I know, especially online.

You tend to move toward what you focus on

I don’t believe in the “Law of Attraction,” but I do believe in a basic tenet of good driving. If you put your focus on a certain point in the road, you tend to steer the car there, consciously or not.

Focus on the wall and you will tend to hit the wall.

Focus on the center of the lane just ahead of that tight little curve and you’re much more likely to nail it gracefully.

When you focus on complaints from people who don’t like you, your natural tendency is to steer your blog (and your business) in a direction that will make it more appealing to them.

Why would you want to do that?

The red velvet rope

Before I started a blog or knew any bloggers, I was a fan of a business writer named Michael Port and his book Book Yourself Solid. Port teaches solopreneurs how to market their businesses without wanting to shoot themselves. I found his ideas very helpful when I was getting started.

In chapter one, Port asks readers to put together a “red velvet rope policy.” In other words, a well-defined understanding of who you want to work with, and just as important, who you don’t want to work with.

Would I rather spend my days working with incredibly amazing, exciting, supercool, awesome people who are both clients and friends, or spend one more agonizing, excruciating minute working with barely tolerable clients who suck the life out of me?

Seems kind of simple when he puts it that way, doesn’t it?

He doesn’t say, “Don’t work with evil people.” It’s not about dividing the world into the Good and the Bad.

It’s more like dividing the world into “good fit for me” and “bad fit for me.” Your repulsive toad may be someone else’s Prince Charming.

So a client I may find “high maintenance” and on the No list could be, in your eyes, “results-oriented with great attention to detail” and be a resounding Yes.

The right kind of feedback

It’s not that I don’t believe that feedback can be helpful. But most people who criticize you aren’t ever going to be a good fit for what you have to offer.

They may not be in the market, at all, for what you’re selling. They may be looking for a very different personality or style. They may love text, when your best medium is audio. They may love audio, when your best medium is text.

If your product is the Blue Man Group of your industry, and you’re talking with a Siegfried and Roy customer, you’re not likely to ever make them happy.

So you might want to ignore their parting feedback about how your site would be a lot better with more glitter, white sequins, and dangerous carnivorous animals.

The very best kind of feedback is along the lines of “I wish you offered this so I could buy it from you.” Also good is “I am so frustrated trying to find a resource meeting this description, do you know where I could find one?” and you realize you’d be the perfect person to build it.

And of course, negative comments from people who are otherwise a great fit are also often very useful. It’s called “constructive criticism.” Just be sure it’s not actually passive aggression in disguise.

“Is this person my customer?”

This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself when you get a negative remark.

If someone’s angry with you for having the audacity to offer a product for sale, it’s productive (and sanity-preserving) to ask yourself, “Is this person my customer?”

If someone quits your email newsletter with a 47-point diatribe on how lame you are, it’s productive to ask yourself, “Is this person my customer?”

If someone leaves a comment about all the reasons they wanted your blog post to be on a different topic entirely, it’s productive to ask yourself, “Is this person my customer?”

There’s a good chance everyone would be happier if they just went back to Siegfried and Roy.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Comments

  1. Thank you! I get it! Your take on feedback is thought provoking! How you differentiated between the different types and how to utilize them is helpful. And I’m glad that you dare to say that you don’t believe in the Law of Attraction – love mavericks!

  2. I have always been from the camp of charting your own course in business. That is where innovation comes from. If you want to let the crowd direct every decision you make, then you’ll end up with a product with no vision or originality. Sure, listen to what customers have to say, but to let them dictate where you should take your business is a mistake. Innovation does not come from crowdsourcing. It all depends on your business model…you can either try to market to what the masses think they want or you can create innovation and find and/or create the market yourself.

  3. Innovation does not come from crowdsourcing.

    Well said, Cheryl. Everything I do is influenced by what I see and hear people doing and saying. But it’s what I decide to do with that information that makes up the crucial “last mile.” People often don’t know what they want in final form, they just know they have a problem or a desire. That’s where I focus my attention, not on express directions from individuals.

  4. I totally agree with this – I’ve been reading the 4 Hour Work Week over Xmas. Focusing on the customers that deliver your profits and not on those that simply consume your time is common sense but can be difficult to do when you’re wrapped up in delivery.

  5. Thanks for this great post. I’m just launching my own business (first time), online and with a blog (actually, 2 sites with blogs, product is on both); I hear both positive and negative (mostly about my price point), and I keep wavering about who is right. But I need to focus on who my target customer is, because if I do that, I should be able to be successful at my price point. Right?

    I’m finally getting some local press, which is awesome, but haven’t made many sales (again, brand-spanking new business, so I need to remember to be patient too!). A copy of the newspaper article is linked on the site and the local news station is coming to my house next week for an interview. How cool is that?

    If anyone is interested in providing constructive criticism, my websites are http://www.mydoodlebop.com and http://www.myhandsareclean.com.

    Thanks again – I really enjoy your blog! I have about 100 on my Google Reader so it’s hard to keep up with all of them, but I think you always have great ideas and valuable information in your posts.

  6. In my email I wasn’t going to read this today. I thought — here we go again — same ole stuff. Can’t this guy give me something that I need? Seems like my email subscriptions are pretty repetitive mostly. Then of course I realize if it works don’t fix it. Most “probloggers” sites are like a 12 step program for bloggers. Follow these and you’ll find your way so to speak. In other words repetitive. I asked myself once, (ok more than once) why do they say the same ole thing over and over and over? It always goes back to because that’s what works. Maybe not for everyone but for those seeking similar outcomes and interest. And in order to continue to grow I need to hear it again. Am I wanting to be a pro blogger? No not necessarily, but I do want my own personal brand that others will benefit from, maybe like and pass along so I know I have to find it through doing what works.
    If nothing else you reminded me of a post I was wanting to do about Dolly Parton and how she has branded herself doing what she likes. She is an amazing woman and seems to have never made an enemy by just being herself and doing what she loves. I enjoy blogging very much so and that’s why I do it. I enjoy helping people just as much and hope together I can build a brand that accomplishes both.
    Thanks Sonia

  7. Personally i think it can have a good and a bad affect but when looking at feedback you start to get abit suspicious when you see nothing but good feedback so the old negative feedback evens this out.

  8. I love this post!
    I think people (including myself) find it easier to categorize things into black and white. You know, like:
    “You MUST do things this way,” “The customer is always right,” etc.

    You have “filled the painting in” with some gray area.
    “Decide what you want to do first, THEN take feedback in the context of if they are your customer or not.”

    Thanks again,
    Derek

  9. I find that is very important to focus your business into the righ direction and the right direction is the one you dictate.

    It’s good to listen to other people, but it’s great to take from them only what will make the business more successful.

  10. Couldn’t agree more. This year I took some advice from several people who said I needed less expensive products for people who didn’t (couldn’t, they said…) want to meet my price point.

    Spent dozens of hours over two months building a low-cost membership site and…made a whopping $250. Not exactly a solid return on investment.

    And the people who said it would be great didn’t even sign up.

    I agree with Dan and you – stop listening. Start watching the results. If there’s dissonance between what you hear and the results you get, shut the talkers out as fast as you possibly can.

    Great post!!

  11. Focusing on your goals and objectives rather than the noise around them is definitely a great point.

    In fact, they teach that in driving school…to avoid a tree, focus on the clearing next to it. That metaphor can be used in so many aspects of not only blogging, but also life itself.

  12. I love this! One of the most helpful things I’ve ever heard on this issue came from Glen (of PluginID) who said, “Your readers will filter themselves.”

    We need to focus on what we love, cultivate our strengths, and take our business in the direction we want it to go. The right customers will “stick” to that model, and the ones who fall away weren’t really our customers to begin with.

    Awesome post!

  13. I like the advice. At times it could be easier said than done, but I strive to stick to my guns.

  14. The single most important piece of advice for entrepreneurs … and for any leader. Thanks, Sonia, for articulating this lesson so clearly. (Like you, I find myself agreeing with Dan disturbingly often. Except when he drifts into politics. ;0)

  15. Choose your consumers. Kindly but strictly ignore the rest.

    A very 80-20 principle.

    Rather than focusing on the 20% of people that would take 80% of our time to manage, we should focus on the 80% that embrace what we have and we only have to spend 20% of our time on?

    Why focus on creating for those that don’t even want your stuff?

    Here’s to selectively taking feedback,
    Oleg

  16. I appreciate the point of view here. As a relative newbie, trying to establish himself, I constantly look for great advice, even constructive criticism, as opposed to (thinly or thickly) disguised rants. This points me in the right direction.

    I’m also a fan of Dan Kennedy, and I also seem to “get” him more and more as time goes by.

  17. Great reminder. Everyone has an opinion but many of them end up being completely irrelevant for what you’re trying to do. One of the best ways I get feedback that is really helpful is to have one of your ideal clients or customers hop onto your website and see if they know what to do. Is it clear to them who you are and who you help? Are they sure about what they are supposed to do? Do you guide them along with links and directions? Do they see value directed at them? Does everything flow together seamlessly and make sense? We get too close to our work sometimes and because we eat, breathe and sleep our businesses we think everyone else does too. Let people know the point of the assessment/ dry run and see if they miss something that seems obvious to you. And remember when you get attacks from people that offer no relevant ideas that actually impact your business (not liking the color green is not likely going to impact your biz) then let it roll off.

  18. This is right on target Sonia. I too have read Michael Port’s book and believe in the red velvet rope.

    There is a pot for every lid and with the zillions of people online, whether clients or service providers, there is a match made in heaven for every one of them.

    Why twist yourself into a pretzel when there is a perfectly capable person out there who has a product or service that is perfect for our unhappy client.

    It’s not about liking or disliking, it’s about giving the customer what they want.

    Luv the post. (Kudos to Michael Port too for introducing his “red velvet rope policy”.

    Kathleen

  19. thank you this was refreshing to read. I’m a people pleaser and am happy to be reminded to please me.

  20. Ah, the wise words of Dan Kennedy….I actually read his stuff before finding the “cool kids” and he gets the basics right and makes no apologies for it. I heard him once say, “If I haven’t pissed someone off by 11 AM I’m not doing my job.”
    Now, I don’t want to alienate folks, but by not appealing to everyone, I end up working with those who “get” me and I get them. Makes work so much more fun and profitable.

  21. I’ve learnt so much from this and yesterday’s post – thank you.

    @oleg – a note of caution. It’s not about “ignoring” the rest. As a blogger only a small percentage of your readers will ever buy from you. You still need to keep servicing and giving value to those people though, because it’s from that pool that the buyers will come.

  22. So true. I’ve found that the customers that call and haggle price and try to get everything for free also tend to be the people who call and complain once they receive their product. I’d rather focus my time on the customer who wants what I offer and is willing to pay me for it. Let my competitors waste their time with the stingy complainer.

    But, if a good customer gives me feedback, then I listen.

  23. Sonia, I’m a student of Dan Kennedy myself, so when I read your post (great post BTW,) it reminded me of one of the most important lessons the grand pubba of marketing teaches. That is, the importance of identifying the WHO of your market. Who “really” is your target customer? On the surface the question seems simplistic, but it’s has profound significance to the success of our business if we really study it carefully. In his book “No B.S. Direct Marketing” DK explains this in chapter 4.

    PS– Did I mention this was a great post? :-)

  24. Loved the post. Loved every bit of it, especially the Red Velvet Rope..

    @brianclark I equally love your comment: “People often don’t know what they want in final form, they just know they have a problem or a desire.”

    I guess we shouldn’t forget who’s leading who. Listen to them, but don’t stop leading them. Great stuff!

  25. Brilliant post! It’s info will help me grow.
    I try to keep it simple and see it as the purpose of a blog being to express who we are as well as earn income. Considering what other people say when their intent is in the right place is great. But in the end the greatest of ourselves (and thus our blog) can come through only when we are true to ourselves.
    Blessings,
    Irene

  26. Great post–although agreeing with Dan Kennedy is a little scary. The internet greatly expands the number of people who want free information and don’t want to pay for anything. Well, fine, but not on my time, thanks.

  27. Essentially, changing to adapt your business to the outspoken ignores the opinion of the unspoken, which usually is in the majority. What you end up doing is trying to pander to everyone, and then you don’t get anywhere.

    I’m trying to do this better in both my writing and my marketing. Thanks for the inspiration yesterday and today.

  28. Great post! It’s OK to be cut from a different cloth. I’m just getting started with online marketing, have many interests but need to focus. The concept of moving toward what you focus on is key. Whether it is finding your passion or determining what feedback is of value, you have to be cautious of distractions from your purpose and your real audience. I love this post! Thank you

  29. Sonia,

    The filtering system you’ve described – asking yourself if the client is a good fit, or is truly your customer – is one reason my design business still gives me such pleasure after 18+ years. I’ve always filtered out the clients I don’t enjoy working with. I just “released” one this week!

    It’s a little scary every time I do it, but without fail it opens up time, space and energy for a new and better client (or new business, which is the case for me now) to take its place.

    I step into the void with all the faith in the world that something great will be there when I get there, and it always is. It never fails!

  30. Sonia: Thank you for a marvelous post. Just yesterday, I received a slew of negative comments at my personal blog, the first negatives I have ever received, and I was hurt. I took it personally. The fact was that I had made a mistake; I caught it quickly on my own, wrote a letter of apology to the party I had wronged, and corrected the information in the blog, yet here were total strangers (not my customers) who felt it necessary to post obscene and vicious comments aimed at me personally. To be honest, I was ready to just quit blogging all together. Reading your article this morning has really helped me to put the incident (and the petty words of a few small-minded and insignificant souls) into their proper perspective. Thank you!

  31. @Pam, you and I are on just the same Dan Kennedy page. :)

  32. Great article, Sonia.

    I just wanted to add that not only does asking for negative feedback focus YOU on the negative, but it also focuses your clients/customers/readers on the negative – even if they were 95% positive to begin with. Why in the world would you want to intentionally focus them on the negative and reinforce those negative images by verbalizing them.

    I take what I would call “the Cialdini approach” and ask for what they most enjoyed and what they found to be the most useful, insightful, and profit-enhancing. Now you have the power of “Consistency” working FOR you rather than against you. Once people verbalize how much they enjoyed and benefited from your stuff, they’re more likely to act in ways that are consistent with that stated position. And you get usable feedback to boot.

    – Jeff

  33. Is there some beef between Blue Man Group and Siegfried and Roy that I am unaware of?

  34. Ooh great article Sonia – come at just the right time for me. My blog is nearly 3 months old so I’m watching audience responses like the proverbial hawk.

    It’s hard to know, when you are just getting going, if you are doing things right or wrong, so very easy to be swayed by comments.

    “Is this person my customer” is a very valuable tool to use, so thank you for that.

    Just realised this the first time I’ve commented on Copyblogger ;o)

  35. I totally agree with your theory – it’s just sometimes hard to put in practice; at least with existing clients.

    I have some clients who are helping me pay the bills right now; but I don’t want to have them as clients forever. They are high-maintenance whiners. Hopefully I can get to the point where I no longer ‘need’ their income and I can develop a kind exit strategy from the relationship.

    I love the concept of the red velvet rope policy. Thanks.

  36. It’s more like dividing the world into “good fit for me” and “bad fit for me.” Your repulsive toad may be someone else’s Prince Charming.

    This is, of course, great advice for deciding who to work with in business. It is equally as powerful in deciding who to associate with in life.

    I have been active in many writers groups over the years, the vast majority were terrific experiences. But this one group…it is enough to say that the group leader was my repulsive toad, even though all of the other members were blinded by her self-imposed glory.

    Life is too precious and short to spend any more time than necessary associated with people who do not in some way boost you or who you can in turn boost.

    Thanks for an excellent post, Sonia.

  37. Good article all around. I especially am in agreement with Pam and Sonia. You can’t focus on those that are not a good fit, those that are not in your target (price/budget) range or else you fall into the low ball pricing game. This may work for some businesses but if it’s not your model, it’s detrimental to go after it. We can dream of soaring with eagles but if we hang out with pigeons, we end up wallowing in crap. This applies to any focus and lack of focus in pretty much any industry and discipline.

  38. Sonia

    Social media has opened so many doors of communication to allow us to reach out to many people in a very efficient way. We see that as a good thing for which it is but … The dark side of this is that many times you are reaching people who are not even close to being your target. It is unavoidable in the same way that trad adv is. While there is much more control of where you put yourself and how you get in front of your perceived audience in social media, it is not foolproof and you will be faced with people who stumble upon you and feel they have the right to let you know what they think from a negative standpoint. Hey, you interfered with their internet space when they did a search.

    On one side it is sort of a compliment as the more popular a blogger becomes, the more criticism they get. It goes with the territory and accepting and reacting is one thing or you can take a minute or two to think about what they are saying and move on. I am not saying that you should not respond to them – I am saying that you need to not make drastic changes because 1 or 2 people are blasting you for ultimately becoming popular.

    It is not the easiest decision to walk away from a client. It is money, right? Not everyone is the right fit and identifying who the right fit is with, is really where the money is. The negativity of this client affects other parts of the business and relationships with other clients. It is not like the client that is the wrong fit for you will ever refer you business.

    As social media grows and new people come on board, it is important to remember to stay focused on your target and not the numbers. People forget that it takes longer than 3 blog posts to become a well respected blogger. As so many want the popularity which brings in the fortune, it is a slow process.

    Thanks so much for reminding everyone that it is ok to walk away and ok to stop and look at the criticism but not to allow it to consume you.

  39. @CaZ, I have some of those, people who a lot of other people seem to find amazing, and all I can say is, “Ew.” Or “Huh?” Or some other monosyllable indicating that I am not at all their customer.

    @Julie, it really is super hard to put into practice sometimes. Pick up a copy of Port’s book, it’s specifically for service providers like copywriters, and he talks a lot about how not-easy it is (and some ways you can do it with less fear).

  40. Ok, here’s my feedback, which might indicate I’m not a customer of this blog, thus illustrating Sonia’s point.

    Is it the job of a writer to try offer something we haven’t heard before, something we can’t get a million other places? If this can be done in an artful entertaining way that demonstrates the wonder of language, so much the better, right?

    Commenters, is that how you see it too?

    Sonia’s a good writer, a confident person, and our attendance here adequately demonstrates the respect someone of her talent is due. We probably don’t need to applaud.

    Instead…

    We’re all here to study writing. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get some practice in here in the comment section. An exercise, a test, to see if we can add something of our own.

    As writers, we should be politely challenging the group consensus, trying to explore new ground, looking earnestly for new horizons, not just applauding what others have already said.

    Please, don’t applaud this post. Challenge it. Or we run the risk of putting readers to sleep, the kiss of death on a Web populated by compulsive clickers.

    Writing is show biz. C’mon gang, be brave, show us your show.

  41. First, congrats everyone on having 100k readers on Feedburner. Second, I think it’s a brilliant point to go back the Dan Kennedy stance, where the customers are only voting with their wallets, which should be the only true vote with marketing anyway.

    I worry that social media and the endless variety of places that you can add an opinion to a business’ dealings will only make that random public opinion even less worthwile in the future. If they buy it the like it. If they don’t, find the people that do like it.

  42. Phil, while you certainly make a point that should be considered seriously by all who comment, I have a question for you. What part of what Sonia posted do you challenge?

    Personally, I did not find that I disagreed with anything that Sonia said. If I had, I would consider how much I disagreed before I wrote a comment. There was nothing from my perspective in her post that I want to challenge.

    I’m not sure that I agree with you that all comment should be challenge. Sometimes it is enough to post a thoughtful agreement or a personal story that illustrates a part of the post that resonated.

    Comment indicates (IMO) that something in what the writer said rang true in some way, even if that truth lies in a challenge to the content or a simple agreement or in kudos for having spoken up.

  43. @sonia – I downloaded the ebook from Netlibrary (gotta love that library card.) I will probably get the hard copy book as well because I learn different things from reading and listening to the same stuff. Thanks for the reference.

  44. As @Stefan already highlighted – @brianclark: “People often don’t know what they want in final form, they just know they have a problem or a desire.”- great thought, this is the point

  45. @oleg – a note of caution. It’s not about “ignoring” the rest. As a blogger only a small percentage of your readers will ever buy from you. You still need to keep servicing and giving value to those people though, because it’s from that pool that the buyers will come.

    Mike, I think what Oleg means is a bit different. For example, the free content we provide on Copyblogger is well-suited for a certain type of audience, and we welcome them while naturally excluding (ignoring) everyone else for whom Copyblogger is not well-suited.

    Of that audience, some smaller portion become customers. Our relationship intensifies with those people relative to the broader audience, but we’re always still serving the broader audience both in the hopes of making more of them customers, and because that’s what we do.

    So, the people you “ignore” are the people who are not right for your baseline offer, which in this case is a lot of free advice related to copywriting and content marketing.

    If you only focus on “buyers” to the exclusion of “potential buyers,” you’ll never attract any buyers in the first place.

  46. Sonia, many of the above comments focus on evaluating negative comments. As a preacher, I’ve learned to evaluate positive comments in the same way. For example, this past week I spoke to the teenagers. I could care less what their parents and grandparents thought of it. Likewise, if one of the trolls says, “FINALLY, a GOOD sermon” , it was probably a bad one.

  47. Mary E. Ulrich :

    Sonia, love your post. Thanks for sharing the image of the red velvet rope.

    Also had to reread your “Kumbaya Bloggers” post.

    Both classics.

  48. @Chris, that’s a good point! Positive feedback from the wrong people can be a bad sign. :)

  49. Agreed, and I like the idea of filtering out the wrong customer. Sometimes there are too many of them, and we may end up filtering ourselves out of the job. I have done some work, where I enjoyed the actual work, but by default the clients I would have had to work for were not my kind of people, and I changed occupation.

  50. Hi Caz, thanks for challenging my post. :-)

    To answer your question, it wasn’t my goal to challenge Sonia’s post, but rather a pattern of “me too” comments across the blog. Just one vote, a bit of feedback, that’s all, a tad too much group hug consensus for this one reader.

    I agree with you that not all comments have to be challenges. Good point. Personally, I’d be content with a bit more balance in the conversation.

    Finally, to address your other point, I’m not sure it’s too important what our personal opinion is. The blog is about writing ideas, not us personally.

    As writers, we should be able to expand the discussion, dig deeper in to a topic, maybe challenge a point (but not a person) whatever our personal opinion may be. Who knows, we may find that this exercise changes our personal view.

  51. Interstingly, a lot of this post was informed by some challenges & different ways of seeing things from the comments on Nathan’s post Tuesday.

  52. This is a great angle on an old topic of whether we should pay attention to nay-sayers. I’ve recently read two remarkable books. “Screw It – Let’s Do It” by Richard Branson and “Ignore Everyone” by Hugh MacLeod. Both of these guys say that you should do what you love and have fun first and the money will come. Neither of them say we should listen to negative criticism.
    And as you say, not only are these people not our customers, but listening to their negative opinions sucks our life away.
    I love working online. I’ve been doing it for years and because I’ve ignored the few negative critics I’ve had, it’s been fun and very profitable.
    And I’m still working online, enjoying it and making money and where are my negative citics? Who knows?
    But one thing I have noticed is that those who are really verbally aggressive and negative to others, it’s always because of jealousy. The ones who are really negative are the ones who achieve nothing in their lives and cannot stand it when others do.

  53. Sonia,
    I’ve been a silent admirer of yours for quite a while. I don’t comment often, as hanging around a forum distracts me from my work. Time is money! I just want to say this: You are getting better every day. At this rate, by the time you’re 30 (?)..you’ll be off the charts. I hope you are a partner at CB, as I would hate to see you go down the road to some grossly high paying corporate gig.

    Jon

  54. We know this post—good as it is—is really just an excuse to post that picture. :)

  55. When do I get my teletubbies post? :)

  56. Awesome post. Especially when you talk about “is this my customer?”

    When I first started out I wanted to appeal to everybody. Make sure everybody I interacted with would be happy.

    Now I’ve learned my lesson… You can’t please everyone. Nor your products/services. (ie Gary halbert’s hat saying “Clients Suck!”)

    But I believe if anybody has REAL constructive criticism to share, Then I’ll listen to it and see how it can truly be beneficial for me.

    There is much you can learn if you treat criticism as your best friend :)

  57. Thanks for sharing a great article . I thinks it always goes back to because that’s what works. Maybe not for everyone but for those seeking similar outcomes and interest.

  58. @Phil – I believe the “group hugging” comes from the fact that what Sonia is saying is TRUE…

    …and we’re the ones challenged. I won’t challenge the truth for the sake of it. I’d rather challenge myself to put it into action. And I like hearing other people doing the same.

  59. Thanks for the challenge Stefan!

    I see some truth in Sonia’s article too, really, I do. But there’s always another way to look at things. So, as an intellectual exercise, let’s challenge “the truth” a bit.

    Here’s an old quote that seems to fit.

    “If the things we want to hear…
    Would get us where we want to go….
    We’d already be there.”

    All of us are looking for the idea, insight, perspective or attitude that will take us to the next level. That’s why we’re here on this blog, right?

    In this quest, the chances are that we’re already done a pretty good job of exploring the pile of things we want to hear. It’s human nature to look there first. If our next breakthough idea was to be found in the pile of things we want to hear, there’s a good chance we would have found it already.

    Thus, it’s the pile of things we don’t want to hear that offers the most promise. There’s a good chance that’s where the breakthrough idea for our business is hiding.

    And who is it that specializes in exploring this pile of things we don’t want to hear?

    Yep, you guessed it, the critics, cranks, blowhards, whiners and complainers.

    Dan Kennedy doesn’t give out those “tell me how I can improve” cards because he’s interested in one thing and one thing only: how much did he sell.

    Could Dan be blowing off those who could benefit him the most, the people who are motivated to tell him what he doesn’t want to hear?

    The truth?

  60. Hi Phil,

    You’re making some assumptions with this statement:

    “All of us are looking for the idea, insight, perspective or attitude that will take us to the next level. That’s why we’re here on this blog, right?”

    Not all readers of this blog are writers, and not everyone wants to “go to the next level” personally. Many of us are here to go to the next level of our businesses.

    If Dan Kennedy’s goal was personal development, I would recommend he pay close attention to his critics so he could learn and grow as a person.

    But his goal, and the goal for many of us, is to grow our businesses. Sonia’s post seems like business advice, not personal development advice.

  61. Thanks for your comments Pam, you do raise some interesting questions.

    I’m agreeable to limit the discussion to business development, and that’s what I had in mind above.

    That said, is it true that business development and personal development are two different subjects?

    Sonia refers to the “famously cranky marketing writer Dan Kennedy”. I can be pretty darn cranky too, but I’m hoping I’m not too famous for it, because I know from personal experience, having cranky as part of one’s personal brand does indeed involve a business cost.

    Anyway, back to pure business.

    A friend suggested me to this site because we’re both programming addicts who want to hear that the solution to everything is coding, coding, coding. I’m reading Sonia in order to stick my nose in to what I don’t want to hear, which is that the solution I need is LESS code, and MORE marketing.

    As you can see, I’ve yet to face the reality that marketing will involve more group hugs. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day! :-)

  62. Thank you. Love it. Very validating. I get so tired of all that marketing advice that basically tells us to be a contortionist for everyone that comes down the pike. I take the, “I am who I am,” approach and it works very well. You either like what I offer or you don’t and that’s okay. I pay attention to the people who want what I have to offer and share my passion. I don’t try to change myself for the others.

  63. @Phil
    -the blog wasn’t saying we should only listen to positive comments and disregard everything negative. The blog was talking about WHO the comments are coming from. That’s the key here: recognizing who your real customers are. Since you started quoting, here’s a quote I really love:

    Proverbs 27:6
    Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

    If a super loyal buying customer (“friend”) says something negative, I will listen. He is after all- the epitome of what I want all readers/customers to be. But if someone who doesn’t really care about me or my product/service starts to mouth off like he knows everything (“enemy?”)… I may simply shrug off his comments. But if the enemy starts saying nice stuff- I’ll wonder what’s up! (like @Chris’s example)

    Marketing is about knowing who you’re supposed to serve. Why worry about serving someone who’s not in your niche/tribe/community/target market?

    Here’s a thought- maybe as a programmer you’re used to being handed any problem and finding a solution for it. Marketers look for a group of people with a problem, and match them with the perfect solutions.. for us, it’s all about the match. For you, the match doesn’t matter because there’s a coding solution for anything…

  64. Stefan, thanks for the dialog, appreciate it.

    Yes, you’re right to keep us focused on “knowing who our customers are”. Good point. That’s a lesson I’m trying to learn here too. I tend to create a solution first, and then wonder if anybody has the problem. Duh…

    Kid’s, don’t try that at home! :-)

    It’s tricky. Our value in a very competitive marketplace arises from what we know, so if somebody challenges what we know, it’s understandable if our first reaction is to push back, ignore, delete, scorn etc.

    I’m not sure it matters so much who the challenger is. They might not have a clue, and might be making the challenge for less than glamorous reasons. Maybe they just can’t see the value of what we have to offer. Well, that’s their situation.

    But if their challenge makes us uncomfortable, makes us feel a little Dan Kennedy cranky, then that’s our situation, and it could be worth looking in to. Maybe, just maybe, the challenger has, even by accident, put their finger on that thing we should be looking at, but have so far successfully avoided.

    I suspect that most of us, in our hearts, already know what we need to be doing next. We’ve already done the easy stuff, and now we’re dancing around, trying to either face or avoid what is challenging, for us.

    Marketplace ecology? Maybe every creature has a roll to play, even that ugly toad we wish we hadn’t picked up because…..

    Oh geez! Now I AM cranky!! :-)

  65. Thank you for reminding me to keep the focus on what is truly important.
    It can be disheartening when someone unsubscribes from my mailing list, and I’ve had to go through a similar process where I ask myself :
    Am I being authentic?
    Am I clearly communicating with the people I want to connect with?
    Am I honouring myself and others?

    If I can answer yes to these questions, then I ask one final question:
    IS there anything I need to be aware of Now that can help me move powerfully forward in my business?

    This helps me reframe the situation to fuel my business growth!

  66. The other person that you don’t take advice from is failing competitors. In the RE space, loads of people wanna be the social media coach, or provide blogs.

    The failed competitors act like our methods (PPC opt in pages, providing a free service & then asking for business) are beneath them.

    They talk about engagement, being nice, and they cast aspersions on the methods we use to get customers. We have customers and the customers refer us more customers. They have PR5 blogs. We have an office, they have 5,000 twitter followers.

    The goal isn’t the approbation of the mediocre, it’s the paypal notifications from custmoers.

  67. Excellent post, as always, Sonia. But I’d add that ‘know you reader/prospect’ is, in fact, the hardest part of the job. (Once you know who they are/aren’t, all good things derive thusly …)

    So who ‘gets us?”

    Sometimes when we start, we only have an inkling. So we write, tinker and fine-tune the message, and pay attention over time. As bloggers/marketers/biz owners, we need to be patient with this process. Our best customer/prospects may not ultimately be the first one to show up with their cash in hand. They may, indeed, be a little slower to respond, but when they do it’s major. Smiles all around.

    Patience. Persistence. Perception. Process.

  68. Love thinking of myself in the Blue Man camp! Seriously, I find women especially can listen too much to — and solicit — critiques about what they offer. There’s overemphasis on the question, “Do they like me?”

    The question “Am I serving them effectively?” is much more constructive. And the answer – as you pointed out – can be found by looking at my income.

  69. you’re right, arguing that the phrase we are able to give precise reasons for them, then debate can be overcome by one goal. But, by arguing that it is our opinion is always right does not show our openness to accept other people’s opinions. Relented and admitted is one of the best ways to create trust in the reader that we have a correct understanding.

  70. That is some sound advice and helps provide a rationale for what I wanted to do. I used your previous advice, too write in the third person, to describe a recent clients experience during the real estate short sale process. The story works so well it sounds like they really wrote it, I did not mean to so thoroughly mislead readers. Do I need to use a disclaimer? I really do not want too, the facts are true- maybe I should just ask their permission.
    Thank you for your helpfull advice.

  71. I believe it is pretty much the same as the basic rules of life.
    Listen to what they have to say, take what you can from it, be it bad or good. Use it to make you better, and move on. Not everything is black and white. Shades of grey can be beautiful too. JMHO

  72. I love the Siegfried and Roy analogy…on a lot of levels. I think when it comes to clients or customers, the question really is whether complaints are constructive criticism based on tweaking what they already like about your product or service or frustration because you don’t provide the product or service they really want. In the second case, the relationship is probably doomed to failure.

  73. Hmmmm…interesting, I was just reading the same point in Brian’s class Lateral Action. It’s a key business strategy — narrow the definition of who you care about (business-care about). It’s especially hard online, because all kinds of people who would never find you any other way are exposed to your offerings. In the old “outbound” marketing days, you would never have reached them; but now they find you through “inbound” routes such as SEO, links, social media, etc. This means that we each have to actively narrow our focus. We can’t control who visits our sites, but we can control how we allocate our attention.

  74. Awesome point. I do believe there needs to be a balance though on how feedback must be treated. For patrons, loyal customers and faithful subscribers, their feedback must be treated like gold, valued and applied. Those ideas coming from passers-by, cold leads and negative inquirers must be trashed.

  75. Mary E. Ulrich :

    Okay, I admit I have never heard of Dan Kennedy. I just did a Google search and there are tons of references. Can you advise me on which ONE to follow?

    Thanks. M.

  76. Phil, I think you are right when you say “Marketplace ecology? Maybe every creature has a roll to play, even that ugly toad we wish we hadn’t picked up because….. “.
    Every creature has its roll, but they keep to their own kind.

    I think Shawn put it really well, when he distinguishes the different types of criticism, and implicitly the sources of them.

    Mary, this is the Dan Kennedy, of Glazer-Kennedy
    http://dankennedy.com/ . It is the guy who rides an oxen.

  77. Getting feedback from your audience is
    probably one of the most important things
    that you can do in regards to maintaining
    a successful business online

  78. Excellent perspective. I’ve always agreed with the philosophy of focusing on the positive but you made crystal clear that I’m going to hit the wall if I focus on it.

  79. @Phil – I think you you are a great example of what this whole post is all about.

    You have been extremely “engaged” on this comment section with your call to challenge, I could not help myself so I had a look at your website.

    You have PR 5 from 12,800 backlinks – genuine kudos to you PR5 is certainly not easy to get and that is a LOT of backlinks however you also have NO readership Alexa 2,300,000 + ( yes we all know Alexa is not perfect but thats NO readership for an Alexa number like that )

    Second the first link I click on – the lead story on your site is broken
    http://nature-talk.com/locations/florida/video/120-full-%20screen-florida-nature-videos.html

    In my opinion the reason that you have NO readership is because you have done nothing with content or on page SEO if you did the first thing you would do is not have the Title Tage of your Home Page as “Home Page”

    This site is about content and copywriting – heck you have plenty of off page juice going for you – if you spent more time applying what you are learning about Internet Marketing and less time calling for challenges on successful marketers ( your comments on blogs is where the main volume of backlinks is coming from ) you could be a huge success.

    Ironically here in this whole story about ignoring the negative feedback the comments section on this post is dominated by exactly that, of course I have only served to add to that so I am as guilty as anyone here.

  80. Hi RedRope, thanks for the free site review, I appreciate it!

    Hmm. My Google Analytics stats don’t seem to agree with your “no readership” analysis, but your main point is of course correct, there are plenty of ways the site can, should and will be improved. (My link here will change later this month, which will reveal my plans.) Nature publishing is indeed challenging, true that.

    Dang, fixing broken links is a good place to start! Thanks for that. My embarrassment is well deserved.

    Please observe. If I went cranky upon receiving your feedback, or ignored you or blew you off because you’ve provided no evidence you are a nature expert, then I’d get no more free site reviews from readers here, would I? Bummer for me.

    Respectfully, I think we may have different understandings of what “negative feedback” is. The most sincere and deadly form of negative feedback is when readers get bored and wander off, never to return.

    Your own behavior of responding to my challenges with your own challenge, illustrates that a real intellectual inquiry can be engaging for those who are sincerely interested in the topic.

    When a scientist has a theory, they routinely and willingly submit it to their peers for review. If the theory survives many thoughtful challenges, only then is the theory declared useful. This process is not personal, nor can it be fairly labeled “negative feedback”. It is instead leveraging the larger group mind in a search for the truth.

    If/when we respectfully challenge an author’s writings here, we are showing them respect. We are saying that, out of the billion web pages we could be reading, this author’s ideas merit our time and attention.

    You have extended me that respect by replying to my posts above, and I bow to you in thanks for that.

  81. I agree – I think the feedback is only as valid as the person who is giving it. I recall the film director who looked upon any positive feedback from colleagues as an attempt by them at professional sabotage.

  82. This really resonated with me, because I have an online business selling educational materials that I make, and I rarely ask for customer feedback. I consider myself an expert in the particular education niche I inhabit (and I am) and one of the benefits of working so incredibly hard on my business is that I get to make things the way *I* want them to be.

    I’ve sometimes wondered if this was the wrong approach, but you can’t argue with success: this past fall, my husband quit his job to work with me and we are now supporting our family with my business.

    There are a few times I will take feedback into account (especially if someone finds a typo or mistake) and I’ve received some good suggestions for new things to make but otherwise I just keep plugging along, doing what I know is right/will work and not worrying too much about other people.

    What I find far more effective than feedback (because, often, people can’t verbalize why they like something or why they don’t) is looking at web traffic and sales to see what terms/items are popular and then sell more stuff that fits those same parameters.

  83. We all need to learn how to “quit people.” Until one is in a position to do this they will continue to suffer.

  84. @Lola, I think that’s often the most successful way to go about things. Observing what people do will often give much more valuable information than listening to what they say. (Sometimes I do get great ideas from suggestions, and it sounds like you do, too. But I can recognize them because they resonate with what I’ve already built and with my intentions, instead of taking me in a different direction.)

    @Mary, I’m not sure you actually have to follow Kennedy, or that you would enjoy the experience. :) He’s very smart, a very good observer, but he has his misses as well as his hits. I find him useful to study, but I take everything he says with a grain of salt.

  85. Hashim Warren :

    I had two terrible customers in a row when I first tried to launch my service. They were not ready for my help. One needed more education on the product they wanted to build, the other needed more money and education.

    It was my fault. I charged too little and wasn’t clear enough on what I would and wouldn’t offer.

    Instead of turning them away, I’m hoping to find a way to sell them lower priced and lower maintenance products that will help each of us test the relationship before we frustrate each other with a full blown exchange of money and services.

    And it that doesn’t work, then I’ll turn them away :)

  86. Very helpful way of framing things. I partnered with a web design company that worked with absolutely anyone that was throwing them money. A few of the clients were massive drains on resources, phoning all the time saying this and that weren’t right because of this, this and this and generally bringing down morale in the office.

    When I went out on my own I decided that I was not going to work with every person that walked through the door. Works for me!

  87. Yes, that’s it exactly, Sonia. I’ve developed an internal barometer of what works and what doesn’t and any feedback I get is measured against that barometer and only the feedback that “resonates” (great word) is useful to me.

    One reason I like that approach is because you can’t ever please everyone. If you’re too concerned about others’ opinions, what do you do when one person tells you they love something about your business and another says they hate it?

    I think some of my customers might find it a little, shall we say, cocky that I don’t often make changes based on their feedback…but they haven’t been in the position of receiving lots of opinions and having to sift through what’s really important.

    One of the things people like about my business is that it’s consistent, non-trendy, and trustworthy. That’s because I use my internal barometer as a guide more than external factors.

  88. “Focus on the wall and you will tend to hit the wall.”
    And that, my lady, is called the law of attraction

  89. One major symptom of trying to please everyone: terrible copy. Jargony, non-specific writing comes from writers who are dodging criticism.

    Blogged the other day about “fighting the good fight,” citing a post stating: “Thought leaders should violate expectations.” Also linked to Copyblogger’s article on dragon slaying in the same post. It’s all about communicating one idea effectively, not avoiding or reacting to the critiques of the not-my-customers.

    http://www.contentfactor.com/blog/2010/01/good-fight-new-years-toast.html

    Thanks for another timely and inspirational post.

  90. “Thought leaders should violate expectations.”

    That’s a great way to put it, thanks! Agreed, agreed.
    This important writing principle seems to merit our attention.

    Let’s get out a blank sheet of paper, and draw a square in the middle. Within that square is the group consensus of whatever group we’re speaking too.

    If we write within the square, if we confirm the group consensus, we’re lovable, and boring.

    Our readers have already memorized everything within the square. They’ve heard it all before, and said it before too. We might be making friends, earning hugs, confirming everyone’s cherished assumptions, but we’re not adding anything new, not making a contribution, not putting on the kind of show that’s worth worth watching.

    Not doing our job as writers.

    But, if we venture too far beyond the square, and try to write way off the paper somewhere, to indulge a desire to be bold and revolutionary, we’ll likely lose the audience. They’ll either have no idea what we’re talking about, or not care what we’re talking about, or both.

    The sweet spot seems to be around the boundaries of the group consensus, around the edges of the square.

    Find the boundaries of whatever community we’re in, walk over to the fence of the corral, look out over the fence, and ask… “Hey, what’s over there??”

    Perhaps a thought leader leads best from one step in front, not from safely within the group consensus herd, nor boldly from a half mile out in left field.

  91. Brilliant! Just brilliant! Bookmarked, printed out, taped to my forehead.

  92. @Lola, your experience sounds a lot like mine. There can be an awful lot of feedback coming in, and somehow you’ve got to sort it all out — quickly. Your own heart and gut are, IMO, your best tools.

    @King Sidarth, I agree that that’s the law of attraction, however my view of how it works is not that of The Secret at all. I don’t believe you create the wall or pull it toward you by focusing on it; I believe you unconsciously move toward the wall.

    @Phil, while I agree that that’s a particularly fruitful spot, I’d probably also say that each businessperson and/or writer should figure out where they want to be with respect to that square. There’s success to be found at a lot of different points there.

  93. @Sonia, yes, good point, agreed. I was remiss in attempting to find “the way”.

    To expand on your point, perhaps it’s less a matter of figuring out where we want to be, than a process of understanding who we are. Some of us were born to be revolutionaries, while others fit naturally within the pack. Authentic writing and selling, connecting with an audience, building trust, seems to involve being honest with our ourselves first.

    My flawed post above perhaps serves the purpose of illustrating the dangers of strategy.

  94. Absolutely true – traditional bricks ‘n mortar business never experiences the level of feedback a website gets, as a website is viewable by all. User feedback is important, as is being selective!

  95. I don’t give anyone special rank…it’s against my profit-inducing religion.

    Tia D., Ghostblogger & Ghosttweeter
    Hypnotic copywriting and niche marketing that sells more

  96. Interesting. I’m not completely sure whether or not I agree with you here. I guess it depends on the situation:

    If you’re just beginning and/or don’t have a large following, I think that it can be beneficial to accept criticism; even from people who will never be your customer.

    Just because they have criticism for you and won’t buy from you doesn’t mean your product won’t fit their needs. There may be a genuine reason that they didn’t buy your product. A 47-point critique of your newsletter may actually be a wonderful thing; if their complaints you think will make life better from your demographic.

    I would accept all criticism and then decide if it would help. Of course not if they’re just complaining and not being thoughtful, but I think you’re being too general, and it really depends on the individual complaint, not whether or not the person will ever be your customer.

  97. I love this post. I know so many people (women) that get 99 I love its and then there’s one person who has negative feedback and they are ready to change their whole focus. Sheesh–focus on what’s working, cherish those clients that are a perfect fit and get on with having some fun in life.

  98. I’m affright I also tend to make this mistake. When you’re just starting, it’s hard to get any feedback at all and when you get it you tend to react on it. I also need to be more focused on who is giving the feedback. Thanks for the great post.

  99. I’ve been very fortunate to have been working directly with Dan Kennedy and Bill Glazer for many years now as their “web/internet marketing guy” and also was, in fact, one of the founding business partners in the Glazer-Kennedy Webstore (the Webstore as it was known then) when we started it back in 2004 (it’s now called “the Resource Center” at DanKennedy.com) so I got to witness Dan’s marketing prowess first hand and have learned more than I could have ever imagined and am truely grateful for the education.

    I think you hit the nail on the head here with your article regarding Dan Kennedy and his marketing beliefs …

    I remember one particular email campaign we did at the webstore at DanKennedy.com (I think it was around 2006-2007 timeframe) where we were ramping up interest, via emails to our list. in an upcoming “Empty the shelves” sale (we were selling scratch and dent items that we had accumulated from moving offices, returns, etc) and the office phones were literally ringing off the hook from people wanting to get in early to buy before we offered the items to the gerneral pubic and sold out of everything (the sale was set to start on a particular date/time) … Shortly afterwards, we sent out an email to the entire list with the heading “PLEASE STOP CALLING” or something pretty darned close to that … Well, apparently that didn’t sit well with a lot of our subscribers who took that subject line personally and we started getting a deluge of people opting out of our email system and some, what I call “nasty grams” – emails speaking to their discontent … I mean, you would have thought we kicked somebody’s dog or something! Anyway, we had a Webstore meeting about it and the final word was along the lines of “If they’re not gonna buy from us then they are just taking up space on our list from somebody who will!”

    I think that ended up being one of our most successful sales campaigns up to that point … and I think we ended up getting just as many new subscribers as had “opted out” partly, I’m pretty sure, because of the uproar we had caused with that email…

    Anyway, I just wanted to share that quick story with you and let you know that I too am a firm believer in “Planet Dan Kennedy” and recommend your readers check out his books and courses as well … (BTW, I am no longer a business partner at Glazer-Kennedy having sold my stake in the business a couple years back, so I have no financial interest or gain if you do check his stuff out now!)

    Do I hear an “Amen, brother Dan”?

    Chris D’Esposito

  100. This is awesome. I’ve just started a new business, and I’m trying to remember the thing about finding my own personal “right” clients, like every day. In my previous life as a nutritionist, assuming I “had” to help everyone who approached me…and I got irritated as hell by high maintenance, needy clients because I didn’t realize it was better for everyone if I just let them go. Now I know this, and I’m only working with amazing, inspiring clients I would also consider friends. And everyone is so stoked, inspired, and excited.