We're All Just Panhandling

Happy Sunday, folks. For you today: some lead generation learnings, and a bit of panhandling.

Lead Generation Learnings

I used to hold to a very comfortingly-simple view of lead generation[1]:

  • Lead gen based on communicating with an opted-in audience: GOOD

  • Lead gen based on communicating with an opt-out audience: VEWWY VEWWY BAD

Like so many beliefs in the world of marketing, my prior about lead generation was based on a combination of aesthetic preferences, second-hand observation, and the availability heuristic.

As I've started to use carefully-constructed opt-out audiences and email as a content distribution method, I'm reminded of this story Cormac McCarthy told in an interview once:

Source | More on McCarthy

I now think the question isn't opt-in vs. opt-out. The fundamental question is relevance and value vs. irrelevance/lack of value.

Every one of us has at least one vivid memory of being included in an audience we didn't opt in to and being "marketed at" in an irrelevant or value-less way that irritated us. We can easily call to mind those stories and use them to condemn opt-out marketing writ large. But when we're included in an audience and then on the receiving end of marketing that we find useful, enjoyable, or delightful, we overlook the opt-out nature of that marketing.

I’m not arguing in favor of opt-out marketing here, but we should see our biases for what they are.

I Can't Stop Thinking About


So I'm on this call last week with a past client/friend. He's German, and I'm using his local knowledge of the culture to check an assumption I have about cold email and German culture which is: it's jarringly discordant to just walk up to someone you don't know (physically or digitally) and ask them for something, right? That's my assumption, based on various comments from previous German or Germany-adjacent clients over the years.

My friend is confirming that my assumption is correct, and then to further emphasize his point he says: "It's panhandling." My friend is German and also very fluent in English and American culture. This wasn't a translation glitch on his part, or an insult. It was just the best word to describe how one culture sees the practices of another. I'm generalizing bigly here about entire cultures and so forth, I know, but this was a wonderful moment for me.

As most of you know, Americans by and large only use the word panhandling to refer to someone asking for money from passersby on the street. So to hear someone use that word to describe scrappy, proactive ways of doing marketing for business services was delightfully profane. I'm not kidding. It was shocking, and completely delightful.

And yet, if we take the idea of panhandling to the semantic chop shop, the chassis we’re left with is: using the means available to you to put an offer in front of people you don’t know. Yes, with actual panhandling, the offer is asking for money with nothing tangible in return, and the kayfabe is “I’m broke and desperate”.

But using the means available to us to put an offer in front of people we don’t know? Maybe we're all just panhandling, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.


(Some More of) Philip's Panhandling

A bit more panhandling of my own 😃 I am conducting some very focused small-scale research to learn about what kinds of rates/fees e-commerce agencies charge. An e-commerce agency is one primarily or entirely focused on e-commerce, and if you know the rates that one charges because you've worked with one in the recent past or because you work at/run one, I would greatly appreciate your participation in this anonymous research: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5HBG3M5 (about 2 minutes to complete this survey)

For-Fun Poll

Beehiiv (my new email platform) does polls too, just like Substack! So I'm going to continue ending my emails to you with a "for-fun poll" where I ask whatever question is on my mind and then share the results in the next email.

I hope you have either a great week or, if life is about to hand you a tough week, I hope it also gives you something to laugh about along the way,


1: I'll occasionally point out that "lead generation" is a misnomer. Most of us don't create the desire in someone to buy services like ours out of thin air. Instead, we intercept someone's existing desire that's turned into the action of them searching for a solution. We don't generate leads, we intercept opportunity. To map this to an analogy: if we are deer hunters, we don't cause a deer to materialize in front of us so we can kill it. If we are farmers, we don't cause a field of full-grown corn to materialize in front of us so we can harvest it. I'm being pedantic, but the term lead generation implies that you can just cause opportunity to materialize. If you follow this vector of thought too far, it gets you thinking that you can cause your market to want stuff it does not in fact want. Ideas and word meanings do matter! I know better, however, than to tilt at this windmill outside of a footnote. 😃