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Love Actually and Shades of “No”.

Increase Response and Efficiency By Asking Prospects To Say How They Really Feel.

Fortune favors the bold as the Latin proverb goes. You’ve got to be pretty bold to undertake this action recommendation. But when we’ve taken you through the logic you’re going to ask why you didn’t do it before.

Here’s the principle. If you ask prospects to tell you why they don’t want what you’re selling two remarkable things happen:

1. More people will consider your offer and you will get a higher positive response rate.

2. You will hear back from a lot of people with different Shades of “No” that allow you to tailor your future communications to them.

It’s genius really.

This works particularly well by combining mediums like Mail and Online – so don’t let departmental silos get in the way. In fact you're going to have to collaborate.

1. More Prospects Will Respond Positively.

In all probability your company asks prospects to respond if they are interested and want to sign up, join, enroll, subscribe or buy. You’ll be aware that a whole lot of prospects don’t reply. The remarkable thing is if you ask the prospects to tell you why they don’t want to sign up even more people will actually sign up.

We’d probably have to delve deep into human psychology to find out why this happens. We believe it is probably as simple as making people think more about their objections. Rather

than just ignoring the offer they are being asked to think more about it. Those who were ready to accept the offer aren’t really affected. But those who were not quite convinced may convince themselves.

In psychological terms people try to reduce the magnitude of their ‘cognitive dissonance’. In other words, by trying to work out why they don’t fully accept the offer they may persuade themselves that they do like the offer after all.

We named this the “Love Actually” marketing principle.

2. A lot of prospects will tell you why they don’t want the offer.

There are bound to be a lot of reasons people don’t accept your offer. But if you don’t ask them you’ll never know what that is. This is what we call Shades of “No”. Different industries will have different sets of reasons why people aren’t responding, but most marketers know what those objections are and can bucket them fairly straightforwardly.

Let’s look at the credit card industry for example. Why might someone not want the credit card they are being offered?

1. The annual membership fee is too high

2. The card can’t be used at the places I want to spend

3. The online fraud security isn’t good/ puts me at increased risk

4. I lose points on my credit score

5. I already have enough credit cards

6. I only use credit cards from my bank

7. The interest rates on credit are crazy high

8. All credit cards promote irresponsible spending habits

9. All financial institutions are evil

10. I hate your company

If you were trying to persuade someone to sign up for your credit card and they didn’t respond you have no idea what to do with them. You’ll probably just mail them again next month or continue to retarget them online.

If you knew what their objection[s] is there are more options available to you – all of which make for a better dialog.

You could tailor your future communications to precisely address their concern. If they said that the card isn’t for them because of (3), fraud security issues, you could follow up with information about all the security measures the company takes. If they said that that the card couldn’t be used in the places where they want to use it you could follow up with communications about all of the kinds of places where they can use the card locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

You can follow this logic for the other buckets of objections.

If they answered 5 [enough cards already], 9 [financial institutions are evil] or 10 [they hate your company] you may want to rest those prospects. It hardly seems worth repeating the same original offer messaging, or any offer, to those prospects again next month.

What does this mean for your bottom line?

Let’s say you increase your positive enrolment or sales response rate from 2.5% to 3.25% [30% increase]. That would be good right?

Let’s say you were able to convert more of the 10% who said “No” by tailoring your future messages more specifically. That would be good too. Especially if you know that they probably wouldn’t convert if you sent them the same control next month.

Let’s say you decided not to mail the 5% who responded “No” because they elected 5, 9 or 10. That would save you 5% of your mailing costs for each of the next, possibly, 24 mailings. If you’re AT&T or Citibank that would be millions of dollars. Even if you’re a small business it means dollars in the bank you don’t have to spend.

How does this work in practice?

By including a simple extra piece of paper in your mailing or a QR code on your printed solicitations or link on other online media you can invite prospects to go to a website and let you know how likely they are to respond in the future and what their objections are.

If you have a background in Retention you’ll understand this more easily. In retention activity we constantly ask customers –randomly and at key moments of truth – what their likelihood to recommend is. The constant monitoring of NPS scores originated to measure the health of the entire customer base, but smart Retention Marketers have segmented their base and tailored communications to them based on their individual NPS responses – particularly to the subsequent questions.

Best practice when customers cancel or pause their subscriptions to a web-service or any service online or at the call center is to ask customers why they are pausing or cancelling. This information allows the retention team to try and save the customer or win them back at a later date based on their response.

Example from STUDY.COM cancelation page:

Similar Advantages for Upsell Strategies.

We established that this “Shades of No” strategy works for Retention and we’ve suggested how it will work for Acquisition. It makes similar, if not more, sense for upsell strategies. Customers who are continuously being asked to move to a more expensive plan really appreciate being asked why they don’t want to upgrade. Expect to get up to 20% response rate from paying customers who open an email. You’ll be amazed. You better be ready with your follow-up communications strategies to the different buckets of answers.


Why did we say at the start that this is bold? Simple really. Most Acquisition Managers don’t think of their job to ask prospects questions beyond “Yes or No”. They aren’t in that mindset. But even if they can see the benefits of this “Shades of No” strategy honestly it can be a hard sell to their senior management who may be reluctant to hear how many people don’t want the service and why. But surely it’s better than not getting any response at all.

You’ll never know if they didn’t see it or didn’t want it or wanted it, but had some minor objection if you don’t ask. And if the only side effect of asking is that more people respond positively that’s got to be good.

Contact Us

If you want to connect with us at WhiteStripe and discuss how to make this work for you and dovetail with in your communications approach, or any other part of your marketing plan, please go to and connect with us. We’d be pleased to help.

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