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Turning Prospects Into Brand Evangelists

I guess it's just an easy visual but the notion of a "sales funnel" in today's market still leaves me scratching my head. I get that we are still challenged by the need to bring new people into our categories and move them toward that first purchase but why aren't we talking at least as much about what happens then?

Rather than just hunting, start farming

If you sell a quality product at a fair price and stand by that product, you will build consumer trust. You will also be in a great position to cultivate your best prospects for future sales of other products within your portfolio as well as new products.

Take an objective look at your split focus between your best prospects and your current customers. If you're being honest, I bet you spend considerably more time thinking of ways to convert new prospects than you spend cultivating your current customers.

I get it, hunters wanna hunt.

I'm suggesting you think about and ongoing program of value offerings to current customers that works to feed their passions. A program that works much the same way as your marketing efforts toward new sales but is designed to retain and develop every current customer and maximize their lifetime value. You'll be amazed at how comfortably they will exchange information; especially if they receive real value in return. Bottom line: this isn't the time to be cheap and it's only valuable if your audience thinks it's valuable.

So rather than focus on your sales funnel, think about the shape of an hourglass. At the top, people are entering the category and, assuming that we're doing our job, they are moving down toward a purchase decision. If we convert them, we don't just move on to the next prospect, the mission becomes turning these one-time buyers into second and third-time buyers. Then we work our collective asses off to develop them into loyal customers and, ultimately, brand evangelists who constantly sing our praises to their like-minded network of friends.

This must be a well-thought-out proposition because there are a lot of forces working against us. Competitors will be reaching out to our customers for sure. They will send information, and some might even make compelling offers. We also have to deal with the double-edged sword of word-of-mouth because no matter the category, people enjoy sharing personal experiences, especially those related to products. If one of your competitors is actively mining their current customers, your customers' loyalty may be in question so it's time to get in the game.

Speaking of games, let's use golf as an example. It would be the same for cooking, running, rock climbing or office machines but I like to golf, it's Ryder Cup week and it's my story.

Guy thinks he might want to learn to golf. He's never played before but a few guys at the office are always talking about it and he knows his boss golfs with clients and on weekend with friends. He thinks golf may be a good way to develop a common interest with a number of people.

One evening after work he stops at a local golf store to look around. He describes his situation to a salesman who, after sizing the guy up as having the means to buy any set of clubs, walks him over to a modestly-priced set of cavity-backed irons that would help a beginner at least get the ball off the ground. The salesman knows he could have sold the guy a high-priced set of Tour blades but when the guy hit ground balls on his first 50 swings he would have have the clubs on eBay.

The guys walks out with the set of clubs, a dozen golf balls that can't be cut and a few other essentials along with a membership to the store's "Golf Club," an online handicap service so the guy can enter his scores and qualify for a USGA handicap. The service also offers swing tips for golfers at different levels to help them progress and get the most enjoyment out of the game.

Over the next year, the guy watches several of the videos and enters his scores after each round. As he does both, the system triggers personalized emails containing more valuable content including tips on course management and how to shave a few strokes on each round.

As the guy's scores come down, he becomes a candidate for equipment suited for the better golfer. The store understands this and makes special "membership" offers on new specialty clubs like drivers, putters, hybrids and wedge series. These offers include detailed information from each manufacturer explaining why these clubs are the perfect fit for a golfer at this level.

When he stops in to buy the new driver, he will walk out with a dozen higher-performing balls and maybe the new Tour shoes he sees the pros wearing on Sunday afternoons.

When he steps onto the first tee the next weekend, he'll be showing off the driver and able to explain why it's the perfect club for him. He's also likely to suggest that is playing partners should go check it out at his golf store.

So both the store and the manufacturer believed in developing the lifetime value of this customer. Separately and together they provided real value with each contact in a very well coordinated program. It all began when the salesperson sold him the right product - for him - in the first place because he knew that one and done, pales in comparison to a life-long relationship (well, in most things).

The result is a rock solid, relationship built on mutual value. Each side values the other and the guy is compelled to share his discovery with his like-minded friends.

Our job is to understand the wants and needs of the specific audience segments we most value and focus our efforts on delivering the greatest amount of value to them.

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