Beware The Mush

I just had an annoying experience that reminded me of a nasty little lesson in human behavior… and how it can eat away at your bottom line.

This guy emailed in with questions about the options listed at my “main” site ( Only one of the questions wasn’t already answered at the site, which meant that the guy didn’t read the copy.

Fine. It happens. I answered the one question, and referred him back to the site.

He emails back, with more questions. Still hasn’t read the copy.

So I punt him over to my long-suffering assistant, Diane, who politely tries to answer most of his questions… and then she points him back to the original letter. One more time.

Guy emails back again. Long email, too, sharing way too much about his life as a “top businessman” who “doesn’t like surprises” and that’s why he’s asking all these questions. So he won’t have any surprises, you see.


Diane writes him back, still polite, explaining in her own words how all his questions are already answered in the letter posted at the site. She even amplifies some of the main points.

I let her go on with this time-wasting penpal exchange for another couple of emails, and then I tell her to stop. What this guy wants is his own customized explanation of what I offer. Even if it’s a complete re-telling of everything in the original piece, he needs it rectied to him, personally.

Special treatment, in other words. Because, you know, he’s a top businessman.

This is a form of “Psychic Vampire” behavior. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, then you know I’m not in the habit of leaving out important bits of info when I create copy. I over-explain, if anything, because I learned long ago that clarity is the backbone of good marketing.

This guy, however, had another agenda entirely. Which was proven out when — after, I kid you not, eight emails sent in to us — he finally told us he wasn’t quite ready to buy anything yet, and was gonna think about it.

Needed to kick some more tires, I suppose.

Fine. My material isn’t for everyone, and you should always shop around before making a decision on which teacher you want to learn from.

Nevertheless, this guy — even if he had bought something from me — would almost certainly have nestled into the “mushy” part of my list. What’s mushy about it? That’s where the non-hard-core people settle. The looky-loo’s, the pretenders, and the “one foot already out the door” crowd.

Managing your list is a very important part of your business, no matter what market you’re in. And no matter how large or how small your “house” list is, you can divvy it up into 3 basic categories.

First are my favorites — the clear-eyed people who make informed buying decisions, who appreciate good information and material, and who consider their participation as an “advanced education” opportunity that can help them reach their goals faster.

This first group is a pleasure to deal with — mostly self-starters, motivated to learn and be proactive in their work, no chips on the shoulder or smoldering resentments about how badly life has treated them.

The larger this part of your list is, the happier you will always be.

The second segment of your list will be — usually — larger, and less hard-core about what you offer. They will appreciate your product or service, and get a lot out of it. But they are less motivated to move quickly, and will come and go as they feel the need.

This group, too, is generally great to deal with. They’re just slightly less intense about following through.

The third segment is all mush. If you’re lucky, it’s the tiniest part of your list. If you’re unlucky — or if you’ve been negligent in putting your list together, filling it with unqualified prospects — your entire database could be one big pile of slop.

This last segment is full of people “unclear on the concept” — unmotivated, slow to move on opportunity… and often requiring more time to nurture than the rest of your list combined. They will account for most of your returns, and almost all of your problems. They’ll take forever to make a decision, need constant stroking, copy your stuff and hawk it on eBay, and ask for refund.

And, if you stop them from selling on eBay (which I always do), they get mad.

They will suck up your time and energy if they hang on, too. They’re the ones who write long letters to the editor of the local paper whenever the post office raises the price of a stamp. They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Think: High maintenance. Very high maintenance.

Most marketers operate on the idea that their entire list is some kind of monolithic example of humanity, and treat everyone the same. Bad move. Every so often, you should make some kind of offer that no one really interested in what you have would refuse… and cull the ones who don’t respond promptly.

Of course, while it’s still dirt-cheap to do blast emails, there is little motivation among online marketers to pare their list down. For some businessmen, the very idea is outrageous — they cling to each name as if it were gold.

And, hey, if you’re going to err, err on the side of being too generous with your list. It would be a financial shame to cut out someone who was an actual prospect.

But think of your list in terms of human behavior. The very best are your “hot” customers, and they deserve solid gold treatment… and even special treatment, when you can arrange it.

The big “middle” of your list may indeed hold many who are “on the fence” about buying, and just need a little more time to make the big decision. You may not hear from them much, but they’re there. And they’ll buy, every once in a while.

But the mush… if you can identify them, let them go. I know several marketers who are in love with “crush ’em with contact” tactics, and who swear that some prospects just take fifteen or twenty emails or letters to make the buying decision.

In my experience, you’re just loading up the mush pile doing this. Track returns, track problems, and track any name that comes up over and over again in unpleasant ways. You — like many other marketers who finally got hip — may discover that each sale you make from the mush pile eventually becomes a big net loss, chewing up time, energy and money.

It’s like brow-beating someone into marrying you. You may succeed, after years of exhausting courtship… only to discover the real game doesn’t start until after the deal is done.

Let the nightmare begin.

Better, in my experience, to focus on people who come into your world freely, and make their decisions without a lot of grief and hand-wringing. Your best prospects, customers and clients will always be those rare individuals who assess situations rationally, gather their info, and make a decision. And follow through.

The squishy bottom of your list is where the monsters dwell.

Just my two cents on the matter.

Don’t forget to check out the special message posted at

Stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • Mark Schwede says:

    Anyone who’s been in business for any length of time knows this is Right On the Money. If you’re starting out on you own for the first time, take this very serious…it will save you tons of grief in the years ahead. Thanks John

  • Terry says:

    I did a test a few years ago. I stopped answering emails from prospects altogether.

    Guess what.

    My sales went up.

    Even better my agravation went down.

    I have something called the IA list. That stands for Idiots and A**holes. These are people who are banned from my newsletters.

    Either they were rude in an email, aggressive, or otherwise demonstrated their behavoir, and I removed them as A**holes, or they were idiots and banned themselves by clicking on the unsubscribe link in my newsletters.

    That list started when people – mostly AOL subscribers – reported me as a spammer rather than unsubscribing. Over the years it has grown.

    The list also includes serial refunders. These people buy everything I offer as it is introduced and then send me long whiney emails pointing out all my faults and asking for a refund. As soon as the name becomes familiar they are gone.


  • Ambrose Avery III says:

    My name is Ambrose Avery, and I’m relatively new to the Internet marketing game, but I don’t think you have to be a “veteran” marketer to know good advice when you see it.

    I’m a student of marketing, and copywriting and I’m getting ready to roll out my second site at the end of this month. Be on the lookout because you will definitely see my name again!

    I’m a huge follower, and fan of your work, and I just wanted to thank you for the advice, because even though I’m not a seasoned pro….I can definitely see your point.

    I think our biggest and most valuable commodity is “time” and if you spend big chunks of it spinning your wheels with a deadbeat, just to try and keep a certain number of people on your list, then you’re wasting it.

    I know enough to know that the power is not only in your list, but more importantly, the “relationship” that you have with said list.

    I remember reading somewhere that it’s actually possible to have upwards of a 100% response rate, when doing your campaigns! Impossible you say? How?

    Just imagine if your list was simply a list of your best, and closest friends?

    Things that make you go Hmmm………


    Ambrose Avery III

  • Ryan Healy says:

    I’ve not been building lists that long, but have already noticed that there are some hot buyers and fast responders on a small list of just 200 people I own.

    I’ve been watching open rates and click-thru rates, and there are really only about 50 people who are actively listening to me.

    Of course, there may be some real prospects on the rest of the list. But it seems to me I could take the 50, give the remaining 150 away, and still be ahead of the game.

  • Chad says:

    A thought on the bloke who became your pen-pal: The first time he wrote in you should just copy and past your salesletter into an email and send it to him. He didn’t read it so he wouldn’t know. You could answer every one of his wuestions in 5 seconds. He might even be charmed that you slathered so much attention on him.

  • mark grove says:

    Yeah, I definitely spend way too much time on people,that’s musicians,who never buy and just want to be right about their own petty BS.

    I better focus on the “Great” part of my list which actually buy my products both info and physical.

    Life’s too short to waste on people who “might” buy, or buy maybe once.

    I got my head up my ass on this one.

    Thanks John

    Mark in Canada

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