Steve Gordon | The Attention-Getting Ladder

As a business owner, you have any number of ways to market your services. But forget all the fancy online marketing tricks or expensive ad campaigns.
At the heart of your marketing is a technique that costs little, if anything, in dollars… and brings your business to the attention of the highest value prospects – who are essentially pre-qualified.
But before you get there you have to be really clear on a fundamental part of your business and how you serve customers. I show you how to craft your messaging to account for that so prospects always “get it” quickly.
Tune in for all the details on that, as well as…
  • A reason to have a podcast you never probably considered
  • The only marketing channel you need for your service-based business
  • The 3 components of the Attention-Getting Ladder
  • Tips for creating a clear marketing message
  • And more

Listen now…

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Steve Gordon: This episode of The Unstoppable CEO podcast is sponsored by The Unstoppable Agency: Our “Done For You” marketing service. We work with consultants and agencies to help them build a podcast that generates and nurtures leads, stimulates referrals, and establishes your reputation of preeminence in your market. To find out how it works, and find out if you might be a fit, visit Unstoppable.Agency

Welcome to The Unstoppable CEO podcast. I’m your host, Steve Gordon, and I’m excited. Today I’m going to be sharing a concept with you that I’ve been talking about since all the way back in 2015. And, and it really addresses one of the biggest mistakes that I see small businesses make, particularly service businesses, in marketing today. And so, I’m excited to dive into that.

The concept is called the attention-getting ladder. And it really came out of what I saw as a hierarchy for going out and getting attention. I mean, that’s the goal of marketing, right? To get attention, to hold attention, so that you can build a relationship with a potential client and do that at scale. And so today, as we talk about the attention-getting ladder, I’m going to talk about what it is the three components of it, I’m going to talk about why it’s important. And I’m going to talk about where you should start with the process, and how you should kind of climb that ladder. And so, that’s our plan for today. Let’s dive in. 

Alright, let’s put a little music there.

Alright, so let’s talk about this idea of the attention-getting ladder. If you want to picture a ladder, you know, you start at the bottom, and you’ve got rungs, and you climb up to the top. And for most businesses, there is an order that you want to follow as you grow the business. Now, some businesses move up the ladder more quickly than others, but almost all need to move up the ladder in the order that we’re going to talk about.

The First Rung: Referrals

And so, when you begin to think about getting attention, there are really three rungs on the ladder. And these three rungs correspond to the method that you’ll use to attract attention to your business. And so in the beginning, at the bottom of the ladder, the first method that you’ll use, and oftentimes, it’s the only one you’ll ever need. For a lot of our clients, this is all they need. They’re not trying to attract 1000 new clients a year, they’re looking for the 10, or 20, or maybe sometimes even four or five, if they’re really high ticket big contracts. They’re looking for that small number of right ones. And so the place to start, at the bottom of the ladder is with referrals. And, I’ll talk in a minute about why I think that’s the place to start. But that’s the place to start. And for the vast majority of service businesses, contrary to what you hear online, you likely don’t need to move beyond that. If you can orchestrate a handful of referrals, closed business, every month, you’ve got some challenges, and you need to focus on the referral process and master that. And if you’re at a point where you know, a really great year for you would be 10 clients, 20 clients, 30 clients, 50 clients, then you probably don’t need much beyond that to make it happen.

The Second Rung: Paid Media

So the next rung up on the ladder is paid media. So this is everything that you might pay for: TV ads, radio ads, you know, online advertising, whether it’s Facebook, or Google or wherever. It’s paid outreach. So if you’ve got a consultant working with you, and they’re doing, you know, paid direct outreach, that would be paid media. Direct mail would fall into that category, print advertising, which we still do a good bit of for some of our clients. All of those things are paid media. And the reason that I don’t normally recommend that a business start there is because it can be very expensive to experiment and figure out what’s going to work. And, again, we’ll talk about what you need to have in place before you move there in a minute. 

The Third Rung: PR

Now, the third level of this and likely the last one that you’ll go at least the last one that you’ll go to, intentionally, you’ll get some of this along the way. But the last one maybe you’ll go to intentionally is PR: public relations. And while it’s great to get mentioned in the newspaper, and it’s great to get, you know, featured on TV, most of the time, those activities aren’t driving at business unless it’s really targeted, or you’re doing a tremendous amount of it so you’re becoming a household name. So those are the three rungs on the ladder referrals is the first, paid media is the second and PR: public relations is the third. So let’s talk now a little bit about why referrals are the best place to start.

And let’s put a little music in here. 

Why Starting With Referrals Is Your Ticket To Win

Right, the big reason that I recommend businesses start with referrals is really simple. In marketing, the medium is far less important— and the medium meaning how you convey the message to the potential client that you’re trying to reach— is far less important in the whole process. It’s needed, and you’ve got to have a medium that’s going to reach the type of client you’re trying to go after. But, it’s less important than your offer. And, what we have seen over and over again, is businesses that will jump to a higher level on the ladder, before they’ve got their offer really dialled in. And they’ve gotten to the point where it’s really, really compelling and very clear what they offer. And I’m not talking about new businesses here, I’m talking about businesses that had been around for a long, long time. And they’re essentially just offering what everybody else in in the industry is offering. And so, it makes it really difficult, especially now as crowded as, as all of the different mediums are, it makes it very difficult to stand out if you don’t have an offer that creates unique value and is presented in an extremely clear way.

Now, what I like about referrals, as a place to start is that you can be pretty effective with referrals, even if your offer isn’t fully worked out. And so it’s a great little testing ground, a laboratory, for finding that really great offer— that once you’ve got it, you then can move up the ladder to paid ads and know that you’re going to be successful without wasting a ton of money. So it’s not that I’m anti ads, not at all. If you can find a way to attract a customer at a profit, you should do it. I’m not anti ads, but I will tell you if you don’t have your offer dialled in, then you’re going to have a really hard time making advertising work. And it’s a very expensive place to go and experiment. Particularly when you’re selling something complex, and you’re selling something that’s expensive. Because in an advertisement, it’s often difficult to convey the value.

So, you can start with referrals and they’re very, very forgiving. Because, even if your offer is off a little bit, you’ve got that prospect coming to you because of the relationship that they have with someone else. And, because that common relationship that the two of you have, that’s going to overcome a lot of what your offer will have to do later as you move to paid ads and PR. And, it just gives you a wonderful place to begin testing and tweaking different parts of your offer. You know, do I add a guarantee here? Does it make a difference? Do I talk about this offer from the perspective of the big pain that the prospect is facing or from the perspective of the the the opportunity that they want to go capture the thing that they aspire to? And you could do either of those and both can be effective, but which one. And it’s far easier to experiment, as you’re, you know, going through that process, and do that with referrals. Now, it’s not 100% foolproof, but I will tell you, you’ll get a lot further a lot faster that way.

And for a lot of the businesses that we end up working with, they just need a really great way to be consistent and intentional around referrals. And, we’ve got a couple of solutions to that. One is the unstoppable referrals process. And if you’re not familiar with that, and you’re listening to this, just search on Amazon for “Unstoppable Referrals,” I wrote a book in 2014, that that outlines the whole process. And then, we’ve since kind of abbreviated that because even that sometimes it was more to implement than a business owner wanted to do. And, we’ve abbreviated that and taken the kind of the most essential pieces out of that. And that’s what we do in our “done for you” service where we create a podcast for clients. And that’s really a referral strategy. That is now one that they don’t really have to do a lot of work with, they just show up and build the relationships and the referrals sort of come naturally from it. And you can start there and get really intentional with your referral process. And you should be generating a significant number of referrals each and every month. And often, that’s going to be all the leads that you need. And they’re going to be a heck of a lot better quality than what you’re going to generate through advertising. 

With advertising, you’ve got to get them into your world. And then you’ve got to spend a lot of time trying to warm them up and get them to the starting point of where those referrals are. Okay. And so that’s why we believe that referrals are a great place to start, we have seen businesses start with paid advertising and have a really weak or an unclear offer. And those are two distinct problems, and I want to talk a little bit about both of those.

So the first is having an offer that’s not compelling at all. And that often looks like you know, you’re showing up and basically just saying, I do what everybody else in the industry does. And, that for most people isn’t going to move the needle. And a lot of times what we’ll see, particularly with service businesses is they’ll talk about the deliverables as being their offer. And that’s not really what people want to buy, they want to buy the result. And you’ve got to figure out how do I talk about that result? I mean, in my first business, you know, we were a technical business. And, you know, we were really delivering a set of deliverables. We were a very small part of the overall process. When we worked with a land development company, we were a small little part of the overall process. You know, and for us to talk about results. Well, we, we couldn’t really talk about their sales results or things like that— we had some impact, but it was pretty minor and mostly centred around timing— but where we could impact the results was with speed of our delivery. And so we began talking about that. And, that began to move the needle with the type of clients that we wanted to attract.

So you’ve got to begin looking at where do I deliver an outcome that really makes a difference for the client that you want? And that’s the place to begin with the offer. But you’ve got to create something that’s really, really compelling. It cannot be just about your deliverables, or you’re going to have a really hard time because that’s not what they’re looking for. They’re looking for the outcome.

So then on the other side of that, the other big problem that we see with offers is they’re not clear. I mean, it’s like staring through mud, trying to figure out what is this business trying to communicate that they do. And this is especially problematic if you’re an expert. So we see this all the time with consultants, we see this all the time with agencies, we see this all the time with professional service firms. Because you are an expert at what you do, but you have a really hard time communicating it in plain language that anyone else can understand the value of what you do. And, you’ve got to get to that point of clarity, you’ve got to get that message so simple and so clear that a complete layman could understand it. And sometimes, that means getting someone from the outside to take a look at it, and help, you know, listen to you and then find that and translate into English.

And this has become such a challenge with the clients that we work with, we actually recently just launched a new service where we actually will sit and help them come up with that offer. Because it’s really difficult when you’re inside the business to do it yourself, you’re just too close to it, you know, the first thing that comes to mind is all the jargon that you have, you know, in related to your industry. And to be able to make that really, really simple and really clear and really compelling, often takes just that extra set of outside eyes. And there are a lot of ways you can do that you can get somebody that you trust that that isn’t in your industry. And you can collaborate with them, and they can help you.

But I’ve watched with one client in particular who was just brilliant, absolutely brilliant at what he did. But he so overcomplicated the message, that it made it incredibly difficult for him to attract clients and incredibly difficult for him to sell what he did because it was just hard for people to understand. And, you really gotta kind of boil it down to the very basics. Even if you think you have a sophisticated buyer. They don’t want to work that hard, you need to make it simple for them and very clear for them. And so by working through referrals, you get the opportunity to hone that. And with each new referral, you can test and tweak and refine your message and your offer. And then once you’ve got that in place, now you’re really well poised to find a paid medium, if you choose to, that can help you scale and get that message to other prospects that you don’t yet know. And, and when you do that when you’re ready for that to move to that next rung up the ladder, there are a few key thoughts that I think you need to have in mind. 

Let’s put a little music here as well.

As you move to the second rung on the ladder, and you begin to think about paid media, you want to really give some thought to where can I best reach my potential client. And right now, I see a lot of folks running around and they’ve got a mismatch between the type of media they want to use or they are using and the type of client that they’re trying to attract. And that’s a real problem, it will mean that you’re not going to get the results that you want from the effort because you’re sending the message out there, but it’s just not hitting the right people. And if you don’t have the right people, what’s the point?

You know, this is the problem with a lot of the online methods, you really have to think, are my prospects accessible through this method? And often they are, but you want to confirm that. And you also want to ask yourself, Is there another medium, where it would be easier for me to reach them? And so, you know, with the great rush to things like Google advertising and Facebook advertising, a lot of the offline media are getting ignored, which creates some opportunities.

So we’ve got clients who are just crushing it with direct mail, because they’re showing up in people’s inboxes, and they’re showing up in a valuable way. And there’s so much less competition and noise there. So that’s one way you can do, we’ve got clients who are showing up in print media in a powerful way, again, to a very highly targeted audience, and in a medium that that hits that specific audience. And so you’ve got to think about what are my different options? And don’t just default to the stuff that you know, gurus are sort of pushing into your inbox, because there are other mediums out there that you can use, you want to investigate all of this.

Now, the third rung on the ladder is, I think, generally the most difficult for most businesses, and that’s getting PR, and PR is great. It’s wonderful. But there are there really only two instances that I’ve seen where it, it makes a measurable impact. And the first is if you got on The Oprah Show, and you can’t do that anymore, right. And for the certain types of products, she had that kind of influence. And there are situations in industries where you can create that, but by and large, that doesn’t exist outside of the Oprah effect.

And so if we take that off the table, the other place, where PR tends to make a big impact is when you begin to be everywhere in an industry. And so, if you think about how can I do that? Well, you know, if you think about all the trade publications, all of the websites and blogs that are in the industry, that people read, all of the podcasts in the industry that people listen to, then begin to engineer a campaign to show up in if not all of those places, the vast majority of them. And that takes time, it takes a lot of energy, it takes, you know, there’s a financial investment, you know, to have somebody make all those contacts and get you in that position to be there. But when you do it systematically like that, yes, it can make a big impact. But it’s largely unpredictable, and it’s out of your control. And that’s why I think it really should be the last thing that you go to after you’ve put referral process in place and have that running and working. And after you have paid media in place and have that working and running, then and only then does it make any sense to go to the third rung with PR and begin to use that because you have such little control over that process.

So, that’s the attention-getting ladder. And what I want you to walk away with today is the fact that there is a factor of timing and appropriateness for each of these rungs on the ladder in your business. And, think about where you are in terms of your level of marketing sophistication. Be honest with yourself, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being even if you’ve been in business for a long time being at a relatively low level. You know, as I said, for the vast majority of businesses, you’re already getting most of your new business through referral. Imagine if you just perfected and mastered that process, how much better things would be you know? And then, once you’ve done that if you want to go beyond it, then now you’ve not only had you created the cash flow and profit to go invest in paid advertising. But you’ve also nailed your offer, and your messaging, so that when you go to paid advertising, it’s there and it’s ready. 

And then when you decide, okay, we’ve got that mastered. And we want to scale to the next level, and you want to put on a serious effort for PR. Again, you’ve got your offer, and you’ve got your messaging honed even more through paid advertising. And, now you’ve got the underlying foundation of new client flow and cash flow that will support creating this PR campaign that will take time to, you know, to give yourself the appearance of being everywhere in the market. And so that’s why I want you to think about the attention-getting ladder.

If you had unlimited resources, you can execute all of them at once. But I have yet to meet the business that has unlimited resources for marketing. And that’s why I think if you approach it in this way, you’re never going to get yourself into trouble. And you’re going to continually get increasing results as you climb the ladder.

So I hope that helps. I’d love to get your feedback on that. And you can just drop me a line at, love to get emails. And if you found this episode helpful, I would love it if you go to iTunes and just leave a rating and review here at iTunes. In fact, if you go to we’ve got instructions there for how to do that. We love getting those reviews, and it helps other people find the show.

So, thanks so much, and until next time… stay unstoppable.