My upcoming book, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, which I'm writing while you watch on this site and in my daily emails!

My upcoming book, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, which I’m writing while you watch on this site and in my daily emails!

Hey there Rainmaker, we’re back at it! I’m writing a book while you watch, and today you get another lesson on the Mental Game of Breakthrough Marketing…

Today, we’re going to talk about Customers vs. Clients (vs. Members, vs. Followers) and how this is a lot more than a semantic difference.

Like many of my lessons, I’m more than happy to give credit where credit is due. It’s a lot easier to reach the highest heights by standing on the shoulders of giants than it is to try to get there alone…

This lesson was at least inspired by, stimulated by, started by one of my biggest heroes, Jay Abraham.

One of the highlights of my involvement with Titans of Direct Response was getting to sit at lunch with him on Friday. It was a very noisy room, so there wasn’t much shouting across the table in conversation. But he graciously, genially, and oh-so-coolly walked around the table at the end of the meal, and made sure he shook every person’s hand and had a short 3-minute chat with each of us. I know I sound like I’m gushing here — and I am — but that was truly a highlight experience of my life in marketing. His teachings have meant so much for me — they form much of the foundation of my strategic thinking. To have even that short conversation with him was something I’ll treasure fondly for life.

Okay, enough gushing. Time to get on with the lesson.

Here’s today’s chapter…

I don’t mean to start each of these chapters with a ra-ra love fest for the various marketing gurus and teachers I’ve had. However I do like to give credit where credit is due. And since all my good ideas are stolen, that means I’m giving a lot of credit.

Jay Abraham is one of the most celebrated marketing geniuses of the last few decades. I’ve studied him for years. I’ve been fortunate to actually meet him in person, at The Titans of Direct Response conference. And his work has made its way into every corner of my thinking. Including this distinction between customers and clients. We’ll start there, and then take Jay’s lesson a step further.

Do you have customers, or clients?

Every time I’ve heard Jay deliver this talk, he’s leaned on dictionary definitions and word origins to make his point. And so I’ll do the same.

The word customer comes from the Medieval Latin, custumarius, which meant “customs official.” This was adapted into the Anglo-French custumer, which eventually came to also mean “buyer” and “a person with whom one has dealings.”

A customer is defined by the transaction. It is a relationship only insomuch as a transaction takes place.

Contrast this with client. The word client comes from the Latin clientem, meaning “follower.” This is thought to be a variant of clinare, “to incline, bend.” This means a client is someone who leans on you for advice.

A client is defined by their trusted relationship with you. A client may have one or many transactions with you, but the relationship is lasting.

If you’re in the transaction business, you have customers. If you’re in the relationship business, you have clients.

After giving this talk, Jay will often STOP using the word customer for the remainder of his talk. He will only call them clients. Because a good business considers even their single-transaction customers as clients. The business owner and the entire team has the individual’s best interests at heart. They make decisions that serve the clients, rather than looking to just make financial transactions.

And truthfully, this would be a smart thing for you to do as well. To stop thinking of your customers as customers — and instead, elevate them to “client” status.

Out of sheer habit and a desire to not sound too redundant, I will continue to use “customer” and “client” interchangeably throughout this book. However I will underscore this: no matter what you call them, you want to be developing a trusted “lean on me” relationship with those you’re doing business with.

Now let’s take it one step further…

From customer and client to member.

I do a lot of work in the subscription business. Primarily with publishers that sell subscription-based services. In this business, it’s quite common to call customers “subscribers.”

However, one of the biggest breakthroughs in the business in recent years was in shifting the terminology and definition. Like customer, subscriber is a very transactional term. They’ve paid for a subscription, they are a subscriber.

Instead, the best subscription-based services have elevated their clients to the status of “member.”

One very public example is the American Association for Retired People (the AARP). When it started, the AARP had a couple primary functions: sell subscriptions to their monthly publications, and sell insurance.

However, the folks behind the AARP were very smart marketers. So instead of selling subscriptions and insurance, they sold membership. Today, you can hardly be over the age of 50 in America without feeling like it’s time to join the AARP — even if retirement is years away! That’s the power of “membership.”

The word member comes from the Latin word membrum, meaning “limb, member of the body, part.” In business, quite literally, the body of the greater organization is made up by its parts, its members. This redefinition creates a much deeper and more profound relationship with those you do business with. You are literally not whole without them.

Designing part or all of your business or your offer around a “member” concept — not just in name, but in practice — can dramatically increase your success.

And yet, it can be taken one step further.

Beyond customers, clients, and members… The follower.

In the “Kill Your Ego” chapter, I talked about making your marketing NOT about you, but about your customers. And calling your customers and clients a “follower” may seem on the surface to go against that. When in reality it’s in perfect alignment.

Members only partially define themselves by the groups they are a part of. A follower’s identity is rooted in the group.

The word follower is the modern form of the Old English folgian, meaning “obey, apply oneself to a practice or calling.”

Think Apple customers. They’re not necessarily part of a membership program. But they are part of the cult of Apple.

Truck drivers are much the same, split between Ford and Chevy (although this dual-dominance has waned in recent years).

There’s no escaping the religious overtones. A follower is not only energized by your relationship, they bring others into the fold. They will argue for your brand over another. Because they have tied their identity to you, your business, and your products.

I consider myself a follower of some of the classic direct marketers — dead and alive. I’m enough of a disciple of their teachings that I’m writing this book. The names of some of those I follow are mentioned throughout.

To create followers, you need to be exceptional and exciting. You need to create experiences, not just products. You need a message or a movement for your customers, clients, and members to rally behind. You need to be a leader. You need to change their lives. You need to make them a hero by nature of their following you.

And it’s not just about the person behind the company — although many brands with great hoards of followers also were built around a great leader. Your product or service can make them the hero.

If you want to create followers for your business, focus on giving your customers a transformational, make-them-a-hero experience like they’ll never get from your competitors.

One of the most popular blog posts on marketing of the last few years was Wired Magazine founder Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 True Fans.” In it, he defined a True Fan as “someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce.” His assertion was that as a creator, you should focus on finding and catering to just 1,000 True Fans, and you’ll be set for life.

A True Fan, by this definition, is a follower. The tools we have at our disposal today make it easy — even for a small, local business — to reach out, connect with, and build a relationship with the 1,000 True Fans that will sustain them. Kelly’s post was written for artists — but it applies to every business.

Find your True Fans. Find your followers. Cater to them. Give them something bigger than themselves to be a part of, and to rally behind. Build your relationship. Make them a hero. And watch how it changes everything.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets