If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years in business, it’s that people are always more optimistic than they think they are.

Most (many?) businesses start because the founder saw something they needed and decided to build it after they couldn’t find it. We’re always looking for solutions to problems that we have, and sometimes they exist and sometimes they don’t.

Check out the “request for product” search on Twitter:

With this in mind, I’ve learned that there is one category of people submitting lead forms that I call “optimists”.

Along with this comes submitters that I call “right fits” and those who are “need fit”.

You’ll encounter all three in your business if your business grows based on people contacting you trying to use your solution.

Let’s look at three of these and discuss some solutions for interacting with them.

  1. Optimists
  2. Need Fits
  3. Right Fits


Optimists are some of my favorite people in the world. I like to think of myself as an optimist, where I think that most things are possible and if we work hard enough and work well with others then literally anything is possible. I’m not a futurist – I’m an optimist that the future will be better than the present.

Optimists are the form submitters who are not quite ready for your solution, but want to be.

For Credo, these are the people who submit an initial inquiry saying they have a certain marketing budget or are in a certain location but who actually are not. They’re hoping that even though they’re not really supposed to submit the form, we’ll still be able to help them.

Like the pre-launch SaaS founder who came to Credo looking for a copywriter to help him write copy for his brand-new product that has no paying users and is just a one-page site. He has an idea (and maybe a good one!) that he believes in enough to buy a domain for and then write some initial copy. So he’s done more than many others in that he’s started. But he’s too early stage for the Credo network.

These are your free-trial or “forever free” users who will never upgrade or start paying. These are your shopping cart abandoners who never check out.

They’re not bad – they’re just optimistic that someday you’ll increase what the free account gets or you’ll launch a sale so they’ll check out and buy the things they’ve been wanting.

I love these people. They’re looking ahead. But they’re not a right fit and you shouldn’t spend time chasing them.

So what do you do? I do a few things:

  1. Kindly let them know they are not the right fit. If possible, I like to give them a specific reason.
  2. Don’t spend time beyond that. Time is money, and if someone is repeatedly asking for feedback or trying to bargain with you why they are a good fit, they’re going to take your time. You’ve made a decision, and if you keep spending time with them then you are literally spending money to not make money. That’s fine for a charity, but not for a for-profit business.
  3. Put them into a long-term nurturing sequence. Sometimes Optimists become Right Fits because they invest in their business and it grows. Your information you’re sharing with them may even help them get there.

I will also say that Optimists can be great for identifying other potential areas you can invest in to serve them, depending on their reason for not signing up/paying. If it’s truly that they don’t have any budget, then I’d argue that you shouldn’t really put the time there. But if it’s about a missing feature or too little budget, take note of that and maybe decide to prioritize that feature or launch a downstream package. I assume this is what ConvertKit has done with their

Need fits

Next we have your Need Fits. These are the people coming to you who are a fit for what you offer, but not the way you offer it. These may become Right Fits after some education, but right now they’re not.

These are the people contacting you who know they need what you offer, but they don’t work in the way you do. They require different terms, they ask for different payment structures or account setups or reporting timelines. Or, they’re culturally not a good fit for you because of personalities or requirements/desires (such as direct experience in their vertical).

These are also often your skeptical prospects who may turn out to be a great client, but may also pull the plug early because they’re skeptical and have been burned in the past.

Need Fits are the tough ones to decide what to do. I approach them in this way:

  1. Have a conversation and poke into the areas where I think they may not be a great fit. If they’re open and asking questions, then keep going. If they’re closed off, then politely decline to continue conversations towards pitching the work.
  2. Offer to refer them elsewhere. Just because they are not a good fit for you doesn’t mean they are not for someone else. By the same token, if you think they’d be a terrible client overall then don’t offer to refer them.
  3. Keep in touch in an automated way. Sometimes prospects come into conversations hard thinking it’s a negotiation already, but after you decline to work with them (and they decide they want to work with you) then sometimes they come back and agree to work within how you work. Though also, sometimes they’ll get angry that you don’t want to work them, which should be an indication to you that you made the right decision.

Right fits

Next are your Right Fits. These are the people who contact you who both need what you are offering and want to solve it in the way that you solve it.

They have the budget. They have the team in place. They have executive buy-in. They’ve tried it other ways and it didn’t succeed. They have budget procured and earmarked. They don’t expect overnight results, but know when they need to see results by to justify continuing (and this expectation is reasonable).

These are the prospects to invest the bulk of your time in. In fact, I’d argue that you should consistently be working towards spending more of your time finding and nurturing these by spending less time on the Optimists and Need Fits.

Growing your business becomes much easier when you focus on those who are a Right Fit right now instead of trying to turn Need Fits or Optimists into Right Fits.

So how do you approach a Right Fit?

As a service provider:

  1. Consultatively. Get to know their business and get to know the point of contact to establish that rapport.
  2. Invest time in learning what their needs are and tailor your offering to them, within their budget expectations.

As a product:

  1. Educate them around the main features/benefits of your product that is built to solve their needs in the way they want it solved;
  2. Help them understand how to use the product for their various use cases;
  3. Show clearly the additional value they’ll get for increasing their spend with you.

I think that the highest leverage a service or product business has is learning which of these three buckets a lead fits into, and then doing the right things by them. And almost always, the right thing by them (turning away a bad fit etc) is also what is right for your business.

And once you do that, then you have the time to invest into the Right Fits to grow your business sustainably and profitably.