80-20 Rule of Customers: Stop Thinking 20th Century! Attract Only the Top 20%

10-Point Plan in Action

Who’s Not Your Ideal Customer?

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I was sitting waiting for a friend in a San Francisco Bistro. The art designer at the next table was bemoaning his business clientele. He said,

20% of my customers are a pleasure to work with. 80% are not, but they pay the bills.

It was all I could do to say, STOP THINKING 20TH CENTURY!!

80-20 Rule of Customers: Quit Thinking 20th Century! Attract Only the Top 20%

In the 20th Century, when we were stuck in geographic niches, we were been limited by location and broadcast advertising. We might have had to serve more people who weren’t our ideal clients and customers. Word of mouth referrals could only reach so many more like the ones we loved already.

The Internet and social business through social media together have blown that 20th century notion apart.

Whether we’re a one-person shop or a huge corporation, we can identify our ideal customers — those 20%-ers that make our work faster, easier, and more meaningful. We can get to know them and let them get to know us. We can develop trust and relationship, discuss solutions and suggest creations, so that by the time they find our front door, they’re already in our community of fans.

Here’s how to do attract those 20%-ers …

  • Build an offer that only can deliver. Design it to the detail to suit the customer group you know best. Set your highest standards for the outcomes it guarantees. Know every detail of its execution and performance. When you can believe in your head, heart, hands, and soul that you and every member of your team can consistently deliver on it. You’re ready to talk to the people you want to attract.
  • Have standards for customer relationships. Whether your customers buy pencils or designs for major stadiums, know what behaviors you believe in as eithical and trustworthy. Offer those behaviors to your customers and expect those behaviors in return. If a customer disrepects your product or the people who make or sell it — no matter what that product or service is — send the customer packing. No money is worth your ethics or the self-respect of your business.

    Take a minute to remember your best customers – those 20%-ers. The qualities they have in common probably add up to something like these: They

    • Understood your product or service and its value.
    • Were willing to pay a fair price for great work.
    • Saw your unique contribution.
    • Trusted your expertise.
    • Communicated their problems with concern for their needs and yours.
    • Were happy to talk their friends about you and your work.
    • Working with them made you better at what you do.

    So look when you want to identify new 20%-ers that you want to work with, look for people who

    • See how your product or service can improve what they do.
    • Agree on the value of the work and the relationship.
    • Know their own unique expertise and recognize yours.
    • Communicate well and honestly.
    • Share your values and are open with their friends.
    • Enjoy great working relationships.

    Holding your standards on customer relationships will attract customers who have the same standards as you.

  • Invite, don’t sell. The difference between inviting and selling is the strength of your trust relationship. Pack that invitation with the offer you guarantee to deliver on. Describe it with the values you hold for relationships and how that pays off in having more time to building quality and real return on investment.
  • As @MichaelPort of Michael Port says, “Match your offer to the level of trust you’ve developed.”

    Example these words mean something different from someone we love than from someone we just met …

    Come to my room. I guarantee you an unforgettable night of sex.

    Speak with and show respect for work and the people with whom you work. Handle your products like valuable investments. Describe your services with calm and passionate reverence.

  • And as @SteveFarber Steve Farber says, “Do what you love in service to the people who love what you do.” You’ll know in seconds if the people you’re talking with don’t “get” the value you’re offering. If they don’t “get” your products and services don’t try to convert them, they won’t stay converted and they’ll keep asking more of you.Instead find the people who value you.
  • Deliver on every promise so that folks feel proud to talk about you.

Great businesses don’t qualify our customers based only on interest and cash to buy. Though crucial, as our only gating factors, those two alone will lead us to serving folks who don’t value what we do.

80%-ers don’t build our businesses. They take more time, They question every price and every action because they don’t trust. If they’re loyal, they’re loyal to price or because we’re the ones who tolerate their indecision, misbehavior, lack of communication, without charging for time lost

The 20%-er Attraction Standard

When we hold ourselves to our best standards and performance, people notice.
When we treat people with trust and respect, trustworthy and respectable people come to us.

When we invite the right people to try our best offer, we make it easy to choose our products and services. We also make it easy to share our best offer with friends. 20%=ers think of us when they’re asked “Who do you know that can …? ”

And soon those 20%-ers we invite bring their 20%-er friends who want to enjoy that same standard of products, service, value, and respect.

Because 20%-ers know, as we do, that alignment like that is easier, faster, and more meaningful. And we all know that working with lower standards attracts lesser customers, wastes time, costs more, and leaves us feeling like less. Find the fit that matches your 20%-er values.

Have you set your standards high enough to attract only that best 20%?

That’s irresistible.

–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!

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  1. says

    People who have been conditioned to do what others expect have a hard time grasping this concept. I have been sharing that we must be far more selective in who we work with and recommend for a very long time.

    Fire bad clients immediately (or – as you gain wisdom – recognize them before they ever become clients) to make room for the good ones because you must not allow one demanding client to cause you to miss commitments to others.

    I encourage consultants to build relationships with trusted collaborators who have other specialties and recommend your good clients to each other – there are rare and deserve the very best results – as do you.

    I even have collaborators who offer many of the same services I do and recommend clients work with us both. I know they will not solicit the work I do away from me and if a client prefers they do something I’ve been doing or we collectively feel that would get them better results that is perfectly fine with me.

    Having only 20% clients will greatly improve your life and bring you peace, more time, and success.

    • says

      I read this and only commented in my mind. Ack!!
      I’m getting better at recognizing a bad fit before I even try things on.

      You said it wisely it two words “trusted collaborators.” That’s it, isn’t it? :)

  2. says

    hi Liz, great article with high value.

    It reminded me of this great book I read “The Brand Called You” by Peter Montoya.

    Once you’ve established your Personal High Quality Brand, you’ll start attracting customers and can select the once you want to work for.

  3. says


    Love what you’re saying here but as a young, start up myself, I find this is far easier to say than do.

    While I’m looking for those top 20% the bank wants me to pay for my house, my kids tuition is due and I need to put more of that $3.45 gas in my car so I can drive to the appointment with that top 20% client.

    The reality is that sometimes you do have to “pay the bills” — but I’d agree with you that “paying the bills” is a terrible mindset and leads to an unhappy you and likely an unprofitable you.

    I’ve always believed the work you do today begets the the work you do tomorrow so it’s imperative to work with top 20% clients or at least one top 20% client so you can demonstrate what you’re capable of vs what your current clients will “buy.”

    This post is a great reminder to all of us that you have to constantly be focusing hiring the right clients and attempt to build a top 20% only client base as quickly as you can.

    Thanks for sharing it. As always, you make me think.

    • says

      Hi Tom,
      I hear you. But I look it a different way.
      If you start with the offer that defines you — one that you believe deep in your bones that only you can deliver and that you can deliver spectacularly to that 20% — then you can start with a wider filter on how you define that 20%, because you’re learning about your offer, your ability to deliver, and the kind of clients you can best serve.

      However, I can’t see any reason to work for folks who don’t value and trust your experience. And now we can reach and connect with those people in ways we never could. I still want to talk to you about this. :)

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