How to Master a Different Kind of Marketing Funnel

They say the happiest two times in a sailor’s life are the day you buy a boat and the day you sell it. Regardless of your sea legs, there’s something captivating about making a purchase. In the beginning, you see a product’s full potential and assume everything will work out perfectly. But after you sign the contract, you’ll inevitably find that the true experience of being a customer rarely matches up to the initial expectations.

This dropoff can happen for multiple reasons. Maybe a company overpromised on what a product could do. Perhaps the customer didn’t spend enough time researching the right solution. In many cases, brands just don’t set aside enough resources to educate a buyer once they sign on the dotted line.

Companies that get caught up chasing new clients at the expense of old ones struggle to hit their goals and keep growing. Revenue flatlines or drops since their new business gets offset by customers that churn.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, studies show that it’s overwhelmingly in a brand’s best interest to keep setting customers up for success. According to the Harvard Business Review, “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.” Additionally, improving customer retention by 5 percent boosts profits by at least 25 percent.

So much marketing advice looks at how to get new customers. But what about strengthening relationships with the customers you already have?

The second marketing funnel

We’ve written a lot about the marketing funnel because it’s a useful framing device for thinking about the customer journey. However, the traditional marketing funnel has one major shortcoming: It usually ends at the purchase.

In reality, the customer journey doesn’t stop there. You could map out a whole second part that shows the different steps for customer retention, including adoption, expansion, and advocacy.

marketing funnel

The good news is that you don’t have to learn a bunch of new tricks to master the second part. The methods outlined in previous playbooks will mostly be the same. You just have to apply them to an audience that already knows what you stand for. When done right, a bump in retention creates momentum that boosts your whole business.

“Two things happen when you focus on retention, whether you’re building software and looking at users or building an audience and looking at readers,” said Jay Acunzo, founder of Marketing Showrunners. “One is the lifetime value of the audience goes up. The other is the cost of customer acquisition goes down because of word of mouth.”

If you run to your boss and say you can simultaneously increase value while lowering costs, they’ll probably check you for a fever and send you home to get some rest. But achieving the holy grail is more than possible. Now, all of your experience studying buyers, telling interesting stories, and nurturing leads comes together.

Here are strategies for rethinking the marketing funnel and improving retention through content.

Open With Onboarding

As soon as a lead becomes a customer, you need to have a system in place to guide them. What’s the first step they should take? Who needs to be involved? How long will it take for them to start using the product? What questions do they still have that need to be answered?

Onboarding dictates the tone for the customer experience. Some people may sense how to use your product right away. However, the more complicated your product is (especially in B2B), the more direction you need to give at the outset. You know that old saying about teaching someone how to fish? Well the way some companies approach onboarding is basically like giving your customers a can of tuna fish and expecting them to cook up a five-course meal.

“What if you approached your onboarding experience by thinking about the content first?” wrote Intercom senior design manager Jonathon Colman. “That way, you’d know your user’s story and their goals before building anything. This lets you design the experience around that story rather than bolting it on afterwards.”

To create instructive onboarding content, marketing and product teams should work together. Don’t just concentrate on the end goal; think about the sequencing of very clear, manageable tasks. Dropbox, for example, designed a prompt that teaches users how to upload one file after they first sign up. The step-by-step modules include a progress bar that establishes how long the whole process will take. This way, the user gets comfortable with the procedure right off the bat instead of being left to figure things out on their own.

The source of the content matters as well. When the customer was just a lead, they may have gotten used to seeing the same few names of the marketers creating your brand’s content. Now is a great time to transition to any new contacts in your org, such as account managers. Have them send onboarding packets, PDFs, and videos—even if they’re publicly available. This’ll kickoff the relationship so the customer knows exactly who to reach for future questions and comments.

Depending on the complexity of your product, we recommend offering some long-term instruction as well. The first thing our customers want to do is learn how to use the Contently platform. However, we also provide them with six- and 12-month plans so they can calibrate expectations, map out goals, and allocate their budgets accordingly.

This is an excerpt from The Content Marketer’s Playbook: How to Improve Customer Retention & Loyalty. Click here to read the full playbook.

Image by Olivier Le Moal

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