Effective Prospecting – The Red Velvet Rope Policy

Going forward, TrustMatters will begin sharing blog postings by all Trusted Advisor Associates. This should increase the variety and perspective of original material that we provide you. Today’s post is by Mark Slatin.

The paparazzi encircle the limo-toted movie stars as they prepare to grace the red carpet for the premier screening of their latest blockbuster. Ah, but this isn’t an open-invitation event. Only the select few with the proper credentials may enter past the red velvet rope that swaggers between vigilant chrome uprights.

In today’s competitive business landscape, many sellers offer "general admission" tickets to their theater. Scarce few define credentials for entry. Admittedly it’s counter-intuitive. After all, why would you want to limit your audience?

"The red velvet rope policy", as described in Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port, suggests narrowing your focus. It requires you to shed the "all things to all people" shotgun approach.

Although written primarily for entrepreneurs and independents, its principles scale to any size organization. It’s rooted in a deeper-than-surface-level introspection of YOU. What do love doing, what inspires you and what are you most passionate about? Then, it asks you to look outside and consider what types of customers you should gain entry past your red velvet rope.

Admittedly, this advice will cut across the grain for many sellers. You might say, Mark, how can you ask me to turn away potential customers in a fiercely competitive market? Let go of a prospect…are you kidding?

The red velvet rope policy dares to view prospecting differently. Like a movie premiere, it restricts admittance to those with the proper credentials. Consider two categories by which to define credentials:


• Expertise – What’s your track record/experience?
• Interest – What areas pique your curiosity?
• Passion – What do I genuinely get excited about?
• Talents – What are our/my natural talents?


• Financial – What are their revenues, profits, ability to pay, etc.?
• Size – How many employees, lawyers, patients, students, etc.?
• Culture – Do their core values, beliefs and value proposition fit with ours?
• Market – What’s their geographic, vertical, team, product/services, etc.?

Instead of casting your net widely at all fish, first look introspectively and ask, "What kind of fish do I want to catch"?

Ask yourself – which of your customers do you enjoy spending time with and why? Do you have customers that drain you, deplete your energy, and drag down the troops?

Look at your prospect list – are the fish too small or too large for you to do an outstanding job for?

Do you love working in a particular market, such as healthcare, legal, religion, government, education, seniors, children, minorities, etc.?

What do people say you’re really good at?

Here’s the formula in a nutshell:

• Determine what inspires you >
• You’ll love what you do >
• You’ll do a better job at it >
• You’ll create more customer value and satisfaction >
• You’ll build a foundation of more loyal and profitable customers

The red velvet rope policy also demands tough decisions about customers already inside the rope without proper credentials. When I worked at Boise Cascade, we had one customer who demeaned and ridiculed our employees. Our disdain grew and the account depleted our team’s energy. We came to dread interacting with them.

For months we struggled and put up with what felt like abuse. We felt an unwritten obligation to persevere; perhaps it came under the "customer is always right" mantra. (More likely, we felt the pressure of replacing the business. ) On the day we said enough is enough, we felt liberated. It left a big hole, but the cloud was gone. Eventually, we replaced the business.

Done rightly, this can be empowering–giving the seller an equal right in defining the relationship. No longer do they feel compelled to satisfy everyone.

Caution: avoid the trap of dropping a prospect just because they aren’t rolling out their red carpet for you. If they possess your required credentials, adopt a long-term focus – making the relationship your goal, not the short-term sale.

The movie premiere is yours, the red velvet rope credentials can be set by you. Are you ready to decide who’s on the invite list?

(Visit this link for a free "Red Velvet Rope Policy" worksheet, a guide to help you develop your Red Velvet Rope Policy).

by Mark Slatin