An ‘outside the funnel’ approach to new prospects

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59_doug_01We’re approaching that time of year when we start thinking and planning our budgets for 2011. With many companies, this process usually involves reviewing last year’s marketing budget and media mix, and tinkering with how much to allocate among tactics such as print advertising, boat shows, public relations, websites, social media, etc. These days, much of the dialogue I’m hearing within the marine industry has centered around the Web and shifting more dollars from traditional media to online.

When we speak with clients about the role of marketing, it’s pretty common that most organizations believe its role is to create awareness, generate leads, drive consideration and turn prospects into customers. The view is often that marketing activities are geared toward attracting new prospects – who don’t know much about your company or products – and then driving those prospects through a process where you hope to convert them into customers (see illustration).

But a new opportunity is emerging that leads me to believe we should look differently at how we allocate our marketing dollars. Instead of maintaining the traditional view of spending money in hopes of luring new prospects into the pipeline, we should first consider the role of our existing customers and recognize that perhaps they are your company’s most underutilized asset.

From Madison Avenue to the marine industry, this is a big topic in the marketing community these days.

Think about it. How much of your marketing plan is actually allocated against engaging your existing customers in relation to what you are spending trying to develop new ones?

Conventional wisdom says that your company is more likely to increase business by optimizing existing customers than it is to spend time and money looking for new ones. Any good salesman or broker will tell you that their best opportunities for new sales typically start with contacting existing or previous customers. They will also share the traditional view that the role of marketing is to help develop more customers. After all, isn’t selling more things to more customers the purpose of your business?

Perhaps it’s time that we stop planning our marketing budgets around “targeting the masses” in hopes of attracting “the few” into your marketing funnel when we should really be looking more closely at the end of the line, where your customers already are.

We often hear phrases like “think outside the box.” Well, I say it’s time to “think outside the funnel.” Perhaps it’s even time to toss out the funnel and start a new marketing process – one that begins at the bottom of the old funnel after the prospect has already become your customer. What if our new marketing plan focused on engaging with customers to the point where we could turn them into loyalists, turn those loyalists into advocates and then those advocates into your volunteer sales force?

The marketing world is no longer defined solely by things like “share of voice” and “impressions.” We now live in a world of “dialogue” and “interactions,” where the power is shifting to the customer, and the customer’s voice needs to be an integral part of the marketing process.

Today’s companies should be developing strategies to emotionally connect their customers to the company and help transition them from unknown prospects to well-known team members that can help you win business.

For years we’ve been trained to focus on one-way, outbound communications in an attempt to find new prospects. We were also only equipped to listen to the customer’s voice when it came to customer service.

Yet instinctively we know our customers like to talk. In fact, they love to talk. Boating companies have a distinct advantage over so many other industries because your product is truly your customer’s passion. If given the chance, they could talk about it all day.

This is why it’s so important to start thinking about creating environments where customers can communicate. Not just with the company, but with each other. Get them talking about the little things that are important to them. Encourage them to engage in dialogue and provide multiple ways for them to communicate, both online and off.

The potential of this opportunity is huge and, for the most part, it is being missed at most companies today. When customer relationships deepen, they will tell you more about themselves and give you the critical insight you need to boost sales. You’ll learn how they heard about you. What convinced them to buy your product. Which channels are most effective for certain types of information. Why a customer was willing to pay what they did.

Give them the ability to engage and they will talk. Once engaged, their bond with your company and brand will become stronger over time. Their loyalty can turn into advocacy and with advocacy comes buzz and authentic word-of-mouth. This is the path to bringing new prospects into the funnel.

It’s actually a pretty simple concept. Your customers are one of your best assets and also your most authentic brand representatives. Provide them with more opportunities to interact with you and they will become better equipped.

The bottom line is that your company has more customers than it has salespeople. Next year, wouldn’t it be productive to allocate a proportionate amount of your budget against them rather than pointing the megaphone out at random strangers?

Doug Metchick is the founder and president of Penfield Marketing Group, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in the marine and recreational products industries. To contact with comments or questions on this article, or for information, e-mail doug@penfieldmarketing.com.

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue.

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