Inverting The Marketing Funnel for Startups

beer-funnel-south-beachOn occasion, adding in a dash of marketing theory helps explain the “why” behind some of the concepts.  You might recall we kicked off this series with a fundamental theory that your product will be the foundation of your startup marketing.

Today we dig in to the one of the most infamous approaches to marketing: the funnel.  Not the beer-swilling-we’re-a-crazy-hip-startup-funnel.  Instead we speak of the functional-yet-boring marketing funnel.  The idea: take a lot of people or businesses, stick ’em in the top, and over time customers will eventually crap out of the bottom.

In reality this is just a way to visualize the phrase “it’s a numbers game”.  To get 1 sale, you need to have 10 meaningful conversations.  To get 10 meaningful conversations, you need to reach out to at least 100 possible customers.  Side note – if you get 1% conversion rate like in this example, you are kicking ass.  Way to go.

newmarketingsalesfunnel1Whether or not you stand the funnel left-to-right or up-and-down, or if you draw the sales or marketing line in spot or the other, the concept is the same. Put more in the top, get more out of the bottom.  Kind of like feeding children.

We are discussing this topic now because we are about to launch in to the startup marketing “fundamentals” you’ll need in place – website, email newsletter, blog, social media.  Sophisticated marketers will tell you that you need different messaging and collateral for customers at different stages of the funnel.  Examples:

  • We Just Met Online. Who Is This Guy Stage: I just found your website – what are the basics?
  • After The First Date Stage: I’ve spoken with a sales rep – what follow up documents do they need now?
  • Should I Really Sleep With This Company Stage: I’m considering purchasing – how can I evaluate the return, the launch process, or what other customers have experienced.

This is true.  You will need this.  Eventually.

As a startup you should evolve to this level of granularity.  Do not start here.  In fact, you need to start with the non-traditional-for-marketing “wrong” funnel – the “Grow Customer” funnel.  Invert the traditional funnel and flip it over. Say whaaaat?

Click to see this big ass funnel

West Coast entrepreneur extraordinaire Steve Blank opened my eyes to this topic, and it blends nicely with the Circles of Marketing.  If we follow the Circles of Marketing, first we must have a product worth talking about.  Next our product must be easy to use, and we must support it well.  That last point is the key for marketers.  CUSTOMER SUPPORT is one of your most effective marketing tools as a startup.  Zappos would argue customer support is their most effective marketing tool, and they’re a buh-zillion dollar company.  I have a hard time arguing with buh-zillions.

There’s a good chance you probably have early customers prior to the launch of all the typical fancy marketing junk.  Take care of these people like they will leave you at any moment, when things are going well and when they are not.  Here are The Expert Generalist’s three tips for treating customer support as marketing.

  1. When someone takes the time to send a complaint or issue, you should thank them for it.  98% of people will not.   Acknowledge their outreach, and ask for more.  You desperately need as much customer contact as you can get.  Send the customer a thank you note or surprise them with a $5 gift card to Starbucks.  Reward this behavior.  [An incredible resource for learning how to say “Thank You” is Gary Vaynerchuk’s “The Thank You Economy“].
  2. You are managing emotions, not facts.  Being right is not the goal of customer support.  Managing your customer’s emotions is.  Even if the issue is unresolvable and they depart, they should do so with a positive impression.
  3. Put yourself in their shoes. Empathize.  Ever worked with a cable company’s customer support?  Remember how that feels? Channel that anger and treat your customer like you wish your cable company had treated you. No one cares what you think, if the issue was their own fault, or if your product wasn’t actually broken.  Go back to #2 above.

The next time you find yourself responding to a customer support issue, here’s how I would approach it.  This email can easily be repurposed into a phone script.

Hi Tony,

Thank you for taking the time to let us know that “xyz” isn’t working the way it should.  Most people don’t reach out, so we truly appreciate it.

Here’s what we think might be happening:

  1. List an issue or two that could be your fault. Take the blame first.
  2. List an idea or two that they can try to correct potential user error.

Give these a try and let us know what works or doesn’t.  We can get this resolved together. Feel free to give me a ring to walk through any of the above steps. We are here to help.

Take care,

PS – Here’s a $5 gift card to Starbucks for taking the time to bringing this to our attention.  We wouldn’t have caught the issue as quickly if you didn’t!

Notice the lack of the word “I” and the overuse of the word “we”.  “We” makes it a team effort.  “I” makes them wrong and you right.

We’ve covered the first two Circles of Marketing.  Next up we will start piecing together the basic startup marketing collateral pieces.

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