Our future clients are people. Maybe it’s time to stop using dehumanizing marketing language

Let’s see…”tracking my time” – 30 seconds

I use a tracking system to keep detailed records of my marketing results.

I have worksheets for each month that list my revenue, along with the name of the person who paid me and how they learned about me.

These “names” are my clients. Human beings that I like and enjoy working with.

Every January, when I set my goals for the year and start with a clean slate – I realize something that’s actually kind of amazing:

By the end of the coming year, most of the names on my revenue sheets will be of people I haven’t met yet.

For example, one of the first entries on my December sheet for this year will be from a delightful person I met for the first time on Thursday.

Why am I telling you this?


Marketing terminology is dehumanizing

Hmm looks like I’m about to be marketed to

We’re actually talking about people, but we’re calling them leads, prospects, avatars, numbers, traffic, clicks and eyeballs.

We refer to them as members of a “target market.” (Don’t get me started on the violent metaphors associated with selling. I recently read a book that talked about sales in terms of war, weapons and angles of attack.)

This “dehumanization” became really obvious the other day when I was speaking with a colleague.

He was telling me about his new sales approach – how he was going to convert suspects to leads to prospects to sales. And I recoiled at bit.

His business has a similar structure to mine: we work closely with people, often over a long term.

He, too, can name his clients. They’re not a bunch of faceless numbers in a “7 figure launch” – they are human beings that he has a relationship with.

Are your future clients really lurking in dark corners?

Looking for suspects? I’ll help you find them!

My response: “Suspects? Seriously? That’s how you think about your future clients?”

“Suspects are those sketchy people on police shows that are found hanging around a crime scene with blood on their hands.”

He shrugged and said “I suspect they might be potential clients. What else should I call them?”

That was the moment. Crap. My terminology isn’t much better.

In my workshops and webinars, I’ve been referring to the people who will eventually hire us as “strangers who need our services.” (A practice I am ending immediately.)


Yes…because we don’t know them yet.

But also?

Stranger danger. People to be leery of.

Could the terminology we’re using create resistance to marketing?

Oh boy. Another day of interrupting strangers to see if they’re suspects.

How do you feel about sales and marketing when you use these terms?

Do you really want to cold call suspects?

Or go to a networking event to talk to scary strangers?

Or create a lead magnet and “tripwire” for a target market? (Then put them into a funnel to convert them and monetize them.)


I don’t want to do any of those things!

What if we saw our future clients as people – and referred to them as such?

Here’s a thought experiment for you: picture yourself a year from now, looking at the list of clients you will be working with. They’re familiar and friendly, they’re people you like.

But today…you don’t know them yet!

Now…what if you approached marketing as simply a search for those people?

Or an opportunity to show up and “put yourself out there” so that they could find you?

How would those calls feel if you were dialing a future friend? (Dial? And what’s with that wire in the picture? Patty…you’re dating yourself again!)

And instead of thinking about strangers and suspects and leads and avatars – while attempting to separate the serious buyers from the “tire-kickers” – what if we saw people as members of these groups:

  • Your Future Clients: the people you’ll know by name and personality and enjoy working with between now and this time next year.
  • Your Future Collaborators: the peers you’ll connect with and maybe work together on a project or support each other in a different way (maybe they will connect you with a Future Client or two)
  • Someone Else’s Clients: other human beings with names and personalities who are not meant to work with you, but with someone else (maybe one of your current or Future Colleagues?)

What if you approached your marketing activities with the same warmth and appreciation and attitude you would use for a current client?

One of the advantages of running a relationship-based YOU-Shaped business is that we can be personal.

We can treat the people we encounter and work with as individual human beings.

And if you’re concerned about competing with the 7-figure behemoths in your industry – this is one place that you can have an unfair advantage over them..