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Was I ever really 14? Some may contend “you still are mentally,” but at least I’ve matured, you booger-eater.

A while back, I went on an outing with my son and five Boy Scouts. We were really roughing it, camping out in the shadow of our one-year-old lake house that’s far nicer than my “normal” house. (Don’t ask me the logic; there is none.) I guess if it got cold, we could always rip cedar shakes off the house to burn or even cook a steak we trapped in the refrigerator.

And then a storm blew up, so they all slept inside. Kids these days, unwilling to risk dancing with a lightning bolt.

These boys were from ages 11 to 16, all at various Scouting stages, which are more complicated than the Ukrainian military. Each knew his stage and credits to be received.

Boys get hierarchical ranking. Put a pile of rocks in front of boys and instantly they will see who can throw the farthest, who can hit what target, and someone will end up with suspicious rock-shaped bruises on various rearmost parts of his anatomy. Put a pile of rocks in front of girls and you’ll have a decorating party, with someone getting a prized friendship necklace, even though it weighs 14 pounds.

While I watched the boys play (and they did this quite well), it was evident that the newest boy to the rank — who also was the youngest — was treated differently. The others helped him out, explained things to him, but didn’t horseplay with him as much. Likewise, he was a little reserved at first. However, this receded at a late-night campfire after overdosing on s'mores. I’ll let you guess how.

The ones most familiar razzed one another relentlessly (man’s favorite pastime, right after burping) and would do hilarious things like spit watermelon seeds in each other’s face. This is another event girls wouldn’t do at gunpoint.

By the end of the weekend, all the boys got to know one another better. The new kid was getting the same razzing as the others and he was dishing it back out.

In this group of six boys, with no interaction guidelines at all, an astounding marketing principle was reinforced.


Degrees of relationships

Relationships compound, based on familiarity.

You can’t skip a step. To be rewarding, it must be earned.

It’s called funnel marketing and it takes the old plumbing marketing model of “Let’s put every dime we’ve got into the Yellow Pages and see what happens” (a model I openly despise) and makes a more intelligent, rational, less costly but more results-based marketing plan.

One of the biggest mistakes contractors make is in assuming that all their customers are in a single group. Think about it. You have strangers, acquaintances, friends, family — varying degrees of relationships, varying levels of communication. And your customers aren’t any different. If you,  like many of your competitors,  ever feel “a customer is just a customer,” you’re finished before you ever got started.

Tell your wife she’s just like every other female and see how well that goes.

In a business relationship, your job is to steadily “funnel” or advance customers through your company to achieve the maximum benefit for them and maximum profit to your company. And it goes like this …


Your five-part marketing funnel

For marketing success, you’ve got to narrow your target audience from “everyone” to “those most likely to buy.” Funnel marketing is a proven way to make that happen. Just like a kitchen funnel, the Marketing Funnel is broad at the top and narrow at the bottom.

The simplest way to explain it is that this form of marketing automatically and systematically “graduates” your customers from cold prospects to active customers. It’s the process that enables you to move your message through a funnel, which narrows to a tighter audience — and with more controlled media.

Think each of these five funnels through as your message and means of delivering it narrow:

1. Who is your intended target market?This is your most valuable funnel, by far. The Who Funnel goes from cold prospects at the top of the funnel, to contacted leads, to inactive or old customers, then to referrals, down to the active, spending customers (fewer of them but the highest-prized of the group).

The current and tragically flawed marketing model for plumbers goes from “everybody” spending to “customer” spending in one huge step. And most plumbing companies don’t even separate that. It’s just marketing and one size fits all.

In other words, all the people who didn’t buy after the first contact, go right back into the “everybody” pile … where you get to pay for them again, as if they were never a prospect.

This also divides the world into only two groups: the entire general public (online and off) and your customers. It’s the same as saying all people are either total strangers or close friends. If you follow this rule in your marketing model, it’s costing you a fortune in sales and a fortune in wasted advertising.

2. What are you saying?This is your ad message according to your familiarity with the group. In the What Funnel, what you say is your biggest challenge. We critique hundreds of ads every year for contractors and I can tell you these almost never say the right things, in the right order or in the right way. Many of them are offensive, hokey or just plain amateurish.

Take all your leads inwardly through your messaging. Advance your prospects from a big market, broad message to a narrower follow-up message, to a reactivation message, to a retention and upsell message (newsletters, maintenance agreements) at the bottom of the funnel.

3. How do you send your message?This means media, from the broadest to the most personal. Understanding this can slash thousands of wasted dollars out of your ad budget.

Start loading your How Funnel at the top with broad market media such as all-purpose ads and broad market newspaper ads. Your next level could include community newspapers, direct mail, email and social media. Then start integrating your offline ads with online content. Include QR codes that direct a reader from your direct mail piece to an offer on your website that resembled the print ad. Once there, they can learn more about you, read reviews and give you a call.

Any nonintegrated plan today is begging for brand and lead dilution and each level works toward a more personal form of communication. Just as the Who Funnel, each level gets more specific.

4. When do you run these ads?Yellow Pages ads run year-long. Some newspapers may run 26 times a year. Radio is seasonal. Direct mail can be four to eight times a year per promotion. The frequency decreases right along with the number of people you contact as your messages become more specific.

Your contact rate would drop gradually throughout the funnel until it reaches its lowest point at the customer level of four contacts per year. If you’re not contacting customers at least four times a year, then you’re begging them to leave.

5. How much do you spend as a percentage of sales dollars?Contractors fear spending money on something yet to be realized and this kills planning in its tracks. Aggressive marketers spend 6% to 8%, moderates 4% to 6% and conservatives 2.5% to 4%.

Yet, with the Marketing Funnel, the only totally “cold” marketing dollars are spent acquiring leads in the upper levels of the funnel, largely through direct response. As you work through the funnel, these dollars are spent following up or working in tighter, less expensive media with fewer and fewer marketing dollars.

The results of following the funnel are an instant increase in closing ratio at fewer marketing dollars. Unfortunately, most contractors let warm prospects linger on the vine, letting them get perfectly “ripe” for buying … from their competition! This brings me to a startling revelation that ought to make you a little mad. Without a proper funneling sequence …

You’re marketing for your competition!

 So don’t make that mistake. Focus your marketing down the funnel, so more customers and sales will funnel your way. Who knows? You may end up with a Marketing Merit Badge for your trouble. You’ll be brave, reverent and truly amazed at the results.