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Why you should put all your focus on existing customers

by | Nov 8, 2013 | Marketing, Relationship Marketing

If you’ve been venturing a bit in the online marketing world like me, I’m sure  you’ve heard the term “marketing funnel” before. To be frank, it was never  something that appealed to me. It always seemed like just a way to optimize how  many people are giving you money, which doesn’t seem very caring.
So when I came across this  post by MailChimp co-founder Ben  Chestnut about why he hates funnels, I was excited to see that the  traditional funnel isn’t the only way successful companies do marketing.
In fact, Ben’s company has taken the funnel and turned it on its head before  applying it, and the results seem to be working out well.

The upside-down funnel, or how to love your customers

In case you’re not familiar with the idea of the traditional marketing  funnel, it works like this: you get lots of visitors to your site — they’re in  the top of the funnel. As they get closer to paying you money (the tiny bottom  of the funnel), more and more of these visitors drop out of your funnel. Your  customers are the few who are left at the bottom.
Ben explains the process of converting these visitors into customers like  this:

Some of them become leads, and then after you do something (the usual  recommendation is to bombard the leads with marketing automation) they relent  and pay you money, thus becoming a “customer.”

At MailChimp,  they’re not content to push customers through the funnel this way. Instead,  they’ve turned the whole idea upside-down:

What I love about this approach is that it’s all about loving the customers  you have, rather than chasing down people you don’t even know yet. And Ben makes  a great point that when you’re at an early stage with your business, this can  work especially well:

When you start a business, you don’t have a budget for marketing. You  probably don’t have the time or talent for it, either. The only thing you’ve got  is your passion… Take that passion and point it at your customers.

That’s about the most exciting way to describe marketing that I’ve heard  lately (or ever, probably). And though Ben admits it’s a pretty weird approach  to marketing compared to the norm, it seems to work:

The more I look around, the more I think this is the most normal, most human,  most sustainable way to run your business.

In fact, research actually shows that 70 percent of buying  experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. In light  of that, loving the customers you have makes total sense.
Before we move on to some great examples of other companies doing this and  ways you can do it too, let’s just distill the idea into some concise  points:

  1. Love your customers — go beyond the norm
  2. Focus on the customers you have now, and on keeping them around
  3. Let your existing customers spread your brand for you

I wouldn’t say this is easy, because delighting your customers is always  going to take effort, but it definitely seems more fun and less icky than the  traditional model

3 Powerful examples of putting the upside-down funnel to work

There are a few companies around who are already working the upside-down  funnel and amazing their existing customers. Here are just three lessons we can  learn from their examples.

1. Make your customers feel part of the club

One of the MailChimp examples that Ben talks about in his post is the  way they use traditional advertising — radio ads and billboards — to target the  customers they already have.
By putting up billboards that show just the MailChimp logo, they’re not  trying to target anyone who doesn’t already know what that logo is related to,  or what MailChimp does. Instead, they’re giving existing users that great  feeling of being in on a joke that other people don’t get. We all love an inside  joke, and in the case of marketing it’s a great way to add some humor and  personality to your brand.
Implementing a special VIP status for your customers can also have this  effect. A study by researchers from Standford and Harvard actually  found that we live up to labels we’re given. When the researchers labeled half  the participants as “politically active” and gave no label to the other half,  those with labels were more likely to vote.
The bottom line: Make your customers feel like they are  part of something. Not just once, but repeatedly — this is what MailChimp does  for its users, every time they hear an ad on the radio or see a billboard that’s  just for them.

2. Make providing more, free value for existing customers your priority

This part of loving your customers certainly hits home for me, since it  relates to what I do every day. Content marketing is a great example of  providing value for your existing customers beyond the product or service they  purchase from you.
In fact, the cool thing about sharing content like we do at Buffer is that we  get to share it with so many more people than just our existing users. Even if  lots of our readers never sign up for Buffer, or never upgrade to a paid plan,  sharing our content helps us to connect with way more people than traditional  marketing ever would. And in fact, through social media and our blog comments,  we actually can connect with you guys — it’s not a one-way channel like  most traditional marketing.
I love Ben’s quote on how we should treat customers who want to enjoy our  content:

Empower them. When I say “empower them” I mean empower them for free, with  “no strings attached.” Because when companies make people sign up and register  to download their content, we all know they’re about to feed us into the  automation meat grinder.

We all know that feeling, right? We grudgingly hand over our email address,  then gingerly check our inbox for the expected 3+ emails within the first five  minutes, just because we really want that content. And usually, we don’t even  know if we like the content yet. If it’s an eBook or a PDF that we’re  about to download, we can’t even check it out first to see if it’s worth giving  up our email address for. It’s not a great experience for the customer, is  it?
But as marketers, we know how valuable those email addresses are. So what can  we do? Wistia has a great policy for asking for email addresses when people  watch their videos that we can learn from:

In the Wistia Learning  Center, we use post-roll  email forms at the end of each video. These forms do generate new  subscribers for us, but just as importantly, they make sense for the person on  the other end. It’s unlikely anyone is searching for a way to subscribe before  viewing the content, but afterwards, the form makes sense contextually.

I love that last sentence. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Nobody wants to  subscribe to something they haven’t tried yet. We want to see and evaluate the  value first. The team at Wistia even admits that this could hurt  their numbers, but it’s worth it to make their customers feel like they’ve been  treated well:

The softer approach may cost us in terms of subscriber numbers, but it’s  proven to be a better way to establish trust over time.

And after all, if people are handing over their email address when they don’t  really want to, those are just vanity metrics anyway, right? What a waste of our  time. Better to spend our time surprising our existing customers with more and  more great value and building trust with them over time.
The bottom line: Give your customers more than what they pay  for, even if they haven’t paid for anything yet. Surprise them by giving them  more all the time. And don’t ask for anything in return. If you’re really  generous towards your customers, they’ll return the favor without you needing to  ask for it.

3. Make your customers feel important

Being part of a club is a great feeling. We all like to belong. But being an  important part of that club is even more exciting.
This is why we see customers wearing branded shirts or bragging about who  they know at X company. If your company is the kind of cool club everyone wants  to be in (see #1), it’ll seem even better to be more than “just a member.”
A great way to do this is to highlight your customers’ achievements or  success stories in using your product. IdeaPaint showcases examples of customers  using the product on their Facebook Page (in case you don’t know, IdeaPaint is  the coolest wall paint ever — it turns your walls into whiteboards!). Here are  some examples:

Another example of this strategy is the task management company, Todoist,  showcases userstories of success with their product on the  company  blog.
We recently shared some stories of legendary customer service on the Buffer blog which  included some great examples of companies making their customers feel important.  One was the story of three-and-a-half-year-old Lily, who pointed out that the  name of Sainsbury’s “tiger bread” didn’t make any sense, since the bread looks  more like the pattern on a giraffe.
After the name was changed thanks to Lily’s suggestion, Sainsbury’s stores  put up notices to credit Lily with the change.
The bottom line: Make your customers feel important by  showcasing their successes and rewarding their efforts. Acknowledge their input  and they’ll be more likely to care about seeing you succeed.
There are so many different ways to love your existing customers. What other  great examples have you seen?
Written by Belle Beth Cooper. This post originally appeared at Buffer.  Copyright  2013.