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If you’re a football fan, you might have heard the phrase “shoot the gap”–which is when a defender tries to split the space between offensive linemen and wreak havoc on a play.

Basically, it’s one side exploiting the weakness of another.

Gaps are things coaches have to plan for in football.

The same is true in business. 

And worse, it’s stupid-easy to create our own weaknesses that hurt sales, send prospects running, and create openings competitors can use to gobble up deals that would have been yours.

The sneakiest self-inflicted weaknesses I’ve seen are in how the “ask” is presented– and it’s something that repels likely buyers, even among folks who like what you do and would buy what you have.

But before I dig into this problem and how to fix it, let me share a phenomenon I’ve noticed my whole life…

I call it “well-meaning laziness“.

What is this condition?

Picture this…

A boardroom with 25 nervous professionals, all listening to their CEO talk about the company’s dire situation…

The company is being shut down…

Only 25 of the 50-ish employees are in the room…

The others are elsewhere, being laid-off as we speak…

Unless management can find a buyer in the next 90 days, we’re losing our jobs too.

Our CEO, tears in his eyes, asks us to make sure certain things happen…

“Someone needs to call the clients whose contacts aren’t here anymore… ”

“Someone needs to go through the notes and projects so the clients don’t feel the impact of the staff reduction… ”

“Someone needs to… ”

Do you see the problem here? 

(If you don’t, that’s okay–I was one of the employees in the room, and I didn’t pick up on it until a week or two later.)

Distraction, and “the Other Guy”

The employees in the room are stunned…

Each of them is thinking about how this news impacts their lives…

Family…

Bills…

Job searches…

Friends who are in the other room getting worse news…

Most of us were distracted, barely registering what our CEO was saying…

But the other issue was our CEO’s call-to-action… 

“Someone needs to… [insert task]” 

And this is where well-meaning laziness kicks in…

‘Well-Meaning Laziness’ Kills Action

When hearing a generic CTA, most people do nothing.

Let me show you what I mean…

So there we were with the business on the line…

Our CEO makes his impassioned request for us to do certain things…

Help him keep the ship afloat…

Buy him time while he seeks suitors to buy the business…

Help make sure the business survives so our jobs can stay intact…

What ended up happening? 

Most people looked to their left and right, assuming their neighbors would handle the tasks.

Precious time was lost until those of us who took action got our peers to jump in to help as well.

Don’t worry, there was a (mostly) happy ending, but it brings up a good question:

With so much on the line, why the inaction?

Why not kick things into gear and help save the company?

Pluralistic Ignorance… aka, I Thought YOU Were Gonna Do That

The situation I described is a psychological phenomenon that Dr. Robert Cialdini calls pluralistic ignorance, and has been studied by social psychologists since the late sixties.

There are a number of factors at play, so my characterization is fairly simplified, but essentially the effect of group-dynamics and generalized information is this:

In situations where we are confronted with ambiguous information in a situation requiring action, much of the time nobody will act. 

This is true when a crowd witnesses an emergency taking place yet does nothing to help.

It’s true when generic requests are made of a room full of frightened employees, and they look to their colleagues standing next to them to take action.

I’ve also noticed this pluralistic ignorance—aka, “well-meaning laziness”–in smaller, more familiar settings you might relate to…

When I hear a friend bellow to her kids generically, I know the desired response will almost never happen…

“Someone needs to clear the table!”

Nothin’.

“Jennifer, clear the table!”

Action.

(Unless Jennifer’s a teen… then all bets are off.)

What Does All This Mean for Your Business?

Don’t be vague when it comes to your offer.

Tell your prospect you’re talking to them… specifically.

And tell them what they need to do.

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging with some theory and no examples…

Here are some examples of some calls-to-action that illustrate the point…

  • If you’re an attorney who wants a line of clients begging to see you, click below to schedule a free, no-obligation call
  • Stay-at-home parents wanted to address envelopes at home. Must have a printer or good handwriting. Call 000.000.0000.
  • Yes, please send more information about your email copywriting services

These examples are pretty basic, but they should give you a sense of the simplicity you’re aiming for.

There’s no ambiguity, and the reader will understand exactly what they need to do, and then what they’re getting once they do it.

Simple.

Four Steps to Destroy Well-Meaning Laziness

I prefer to make things as easy to understand as possible (sense a theme here?), so I’ve boiled everything down into four high-level steps…

Eliminate the communication gaps:

  1. Identify. Direct your message specifically to your prospect, not some vague group
  2. Instructions. Provide simple, precise action steps for your prospect to follow
  3. Result. Make it clear what they’re getting when they follow your CTA
  4. Action. Directly ask them to take action

Be specific.

Make the action simple.

Your response rate, sales rate, and any other measurables worth measuring will thank you. 

And if you, dear reader, are into all this folksy marketing wisdom, click here to receive similar content on a regular basis, or click the button below…

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