Why Preaching to the Choir is a Good Thing


“Hey man, spare some change?”

Rain or shine, the professional panhandler works a busy corner every day in my neighborhood. He sets up shop right by the ATM, on the theory that people who have just withdrawn a hundred bucks are more likely to give him a dollar or two.

The location is good, but prospecting is tough. Day in, day out, he sits on a stoop, asking people for a couple of bucks. He sees it as a numbers game – 98% of the people who pass by will say no or just ignore him, but if he asks enough people, a few will pony up.

Is panhandling effective?

Strictly speaking, I guess you could say it works . . . but most of us would agree that asking random people for money isn’t a great career choice. You have to deal with continuous rejection, your income is wildly unpredictable, and you get wet when it rains.

Too Many Marketers are Like Panhandlers

“Hey man, spare some change? Check out this great offer I’ve got . . . it’s just what you need, you’ll love it, really.”

On an intuitive level, most of us understand that it’s better to deliver our message to the right people. We know that we shouldn’t panhandle – but then we go out and do the opposite of what we know is right.

We model ourselves on the salesman who goes door-to-door hawking vacuum cleaners. Sure, he might sell a couple by the end of the day, but do we really want to be that guy?

I call this approach evangelism. The goal is to change someone’s mind and convince them to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Why Evangelism Doesn’t Work

Most of us have deeply-held beliefs about everything from religion to politics to what kind of sandwich we like to eat for lunch. You probably aren’t going to change my mind about almost anything, and I’m probably not going to change yours.

So let’s not try to sell unwanted vacuum cleaners to each other.

The alternative to evangelism is recruitment. Instead of knocking on doors or begging for spare change, recruitment is all about opening your own doors to the people who are already naturally predisposed to your message.

Instead of needing to be sold, these people are dying to hear what you have for them.

At its best, recruitment involves welcoming a select group of people and challenging them to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

When people feel simultaneously welcomed into a group and challenged to go above and beyond their current limits, you’ve got a group that’s eager for your attention.

I call this a small army of remarkable people. Seth calls it a tribe, Gretchen calls them super-fans, Sonia calls them a village.

Regardless of terminology, these are the people you want in your group. You can think of them as your basic church choir. And preaching to the choir is a good thing.

“Come if You’re a Good Fit” Instead of “Come As You Are”

Recruitment also requires the gentle filtering out of people who aren’t a good fit for what you offer.

Wish them well . . . then wish them to go somewhere else. Most people won’t pitch a dollar in the panhandler’s bucket, and most people probably aren’t suited to what you have to offer.

That’s okay. Ignore the atheists outside the church. Rise above the noise, recruit a choir of your own, and start preaching.

Here’s wishing you well in your next sermon.

About the Author: Chris Guillebeau preaches to a choir of remarkable people at the Art of Nonconformity site. His 279 Days to Overnight Success manifesto offers a free case study of how to build a career in new media. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisguillebeau.

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Reader Comments (37)

  1. says

    “Selling is like seduction” we need to tease them, we can’t just ask for it, we need to build the relationship, recruiting them and showing them and then selling them… is all a matter of timing of when you should ask for the sale.

  2. says

    It can be really tough preaching to the choir in the beginning, especially if you’re new to the game and just starting to build your community. You may be a little desperate for adherents of any kind, and you’ll be tempted to compromise your standards for the sake of adding followers.

    Don’t do this.

    You’ll grow more slowly, but you’ll be growing with the right kind of people, and that will make all the difference in the world at the end. You won’t have a group of 100,000 people who don’t even remember who you are – you’ll have a group of 5,000 who will recommend you to everyone they meet. And that’s where the value comes in.

  3. Chris says


    I’ve been thinking about ‘recruitment’ a lot recently.
    This really rings a bell!

    Thanks again!

  4. says

    Personally, I struggle with this one because although I have researched the market in terms of keywords and competition and such and analytics, I struggle to ascertain who is actually reading it and what style they want.

    Recruiting some readers that regularly leave comments would be especially good. I am trying both evangelism and ‘recruitment’ at the moment!

  5. says

    Okay. On one level, this is a contemporary restatement of a classic direct marketing strategy: don’t aim for everyone; speak only to pre-qualified prospects.

    But in an age of inbound marketing, the game is one of attraction rather than interruption. So let’s say you’re right and you should speak to recruits: what are you going to offer to attract those recruits? Why would they be sing in your choir in the first place? What’s in it for them?

  6. says

    To some extent not i complete agreement to the above pitch. Yes the whole idea of small army seems effective but almost all the times you will have competition to face. If your field is juicy there will be pre-established people offering great service in the market. Now you have to pitch for eyeballs and if you say “OK who will come my way raise your hand and then I will choose from you!” this doesn’t seem digestible

    Yes this works but more often when you have authority. This works when you have low competition. You are the disruptor or at least unique.

    The idea is great as it focuses on focusing what is imp. Something like the Pareto principle should be considered. But when your products (say for example blogs) are not consumed the consumer doesnt know the experience hence you have to ask all of them to try it once. You may call this panhandling :)

  7. pppqqq says

    ” “Come if You’re a Good Fit” Instead of “Come As You Are” ”
    Smells like a teen Godin.

    Spread the word.

  8. says

    What I have discovered in the process of recruitment is this 3-step approach. Whether we are trying to market and sell our products or other people, we should have take these points into account:

    1. Emotion:

    This is about attracting people’s attention. It could be an eye-catching headline or a nice teaser. Regardless of tis type, it has to have an effect on the emotional side of every person. Remember that emotion sells.

    2. Overdelivering Information or Teaching:

    Believe it or not, people need information. We can’t just promote a product by saying: it’s amazing or it works great without giving some information. By delivering more than what people need to know, we give value to them which ends up in gaining more credit from our audience.

    3. Trust:

    To be honest with you, if you cannot make your prospects feel comfortable, they would never buy from you. In other words, we should gain their trust in order to give them recommendation and expect them to buy something. In fact, the decision behind any purchase is based on trust.

    Now we realize why preaching could be more effective than panhandling! 😉

    Hope you find it useful.

    To Your Success!

    Hooshmand Moslemi

  9. says

    Nice, thoughtful post Chris.

    I like your style of selling as it reminds me of my own. If what you’ve got is a good fit, you should have to force your customers to buy.

    High pressure sales tactics (and corollary the prospecting approach) are a thing of the past.

    So I agree, unless you’re selling something that is designed to appeal to the masses, focus on attracting the “right” customers.


  10. says

    I love this post, and it is SO true. Rather than that list of thousands that doesn’t care about your message, building that highly-targeted list of raving fans can bring significant results for your business. I’ll be providing a link to this from my blog.


  11. says

    Twitter-CB advertisers – panhandlers? The word fits. But do they make any money just advertising affiliate links?

  12. says

    Twitter’s an especially lousy format for the “panhandling” marketing style. In real life, a panhandler is sitting right there where you sort of have to deal with him. On Twitter, it’s two clicks to make him disappear forever.

  13. says

    Good post. This is why search engine ppc works so well, you only pay for visits from people who are already looking for the solution to the problem that your product solves, so conversion rates are very high.

  14. says

    This is a really god post because it is aimed at a businesses as a whole. Of course finding your target audience sounds simple but it can be tricky. However, knowing where to target these potential customers is all part of the plan and will reach out to those who are in turn looking for your services.

  15. says

    Hi Chris,

    Great post. Things are already tough for marketers amidst this bad economy. Your post inspires us to be different and focus on the right consumer base instead of trying to get our message across to a wide audience who probably are not interested in what we have to offer.

    Mani Raj
    Havoc Marketing

  16. says

    There is a lot of truth in the concept of “preaching to the choir” but guys come on… this is not the primary issue! The primary issue is, do you love what you are doing? Are you writing and producing real value? Are you becoming better as a person BECAUSE of what you do every day? Are your customers or tribesmen or friends BETTER because they came to your site? In short are you making a difference? I am a long way from mastering this media…but…if there is one thing I have learned it is this: If you want to excell and (warning!!! hackneyed phrase coming!) be the best You that You can be, then you have no choice. You must discover what you love and begin working for it today… (crawling off my soapbox… )

    Wayne Key

  17. says

    I totally agree…segmentation is key and finding a good fit is the best use of everyone’s time and resources. However, one are where evangelism is used often – and is appropriate – is the non-profit sector. AYou really have no choice other than to evangelize. Sure, you do want to focus on key individuals who will be more likely to sympathize with your issue, but, at the end of the day, most non-profits are selling a behavior change – a bitter pill to swallow and an even harder sell.

  18. says

    I have sometimes worried that MLM recruiting can become too much like a Ponzi scheme in that the last one recruited doesn’t get the rewards the early comers get. The basis of recruitment in MLM is evangelism of lifestyle, the fruit of success.

    On the other hand, selling need not be a dirty word. Maybe you can even benefit a prospect despite all the kicking and screaming. How strong is your faith in the benefits of your product or service?

    Perhaps sales (evangelism) and marketing (recruiting, filtering) are both necessary to one degree or another in some form and place or other.

  19. Brian Watkins says

    This is great advice and really gives me some focus developing my own projects. I feel like you’ve saved me some potentially wasted time investing my effort and resources in the wrong crowds. Thanks!

  20. says

    Personally, I struggle with this one because although I have researched the market in terms of keywords and competition and such and analytics, I struggle to ascertain who is actually reading it and what style they want.

    Recruiting some readers that regularly leave comments would be especially good. I am trying both evangelism and ‘recruitment’ at the moment!

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