The Funnel Beyond the Funnel: Deepening B2B Customer Relationships
I’ve long observed that B2B marketers focus too much on lead generation, and not enough on current customer expansion and retention, which is, after all, where the bulk of profits lie. When asked, the typical B2B marketer will say that 80 to 85 percent of their effort goes to customer acquisition. This is a mistake. But I am happy to say that my longtime pal and colleague Steve Gershik is working on a solution for this unwise imbalance. I asked Steve to explain his thinking.
Q: You’ve been developing a fresh idea for B2B marketers that you call “the funnel beyond the funnel.” What’s that?
For years, B-to-B marketers have focused on demand generation, or top-of-the-funnel activities that are meant to drive net new leads and nurture them to close. And whether that strategy includes inbound, ABM, content marketing or a mixture of the three, the emphasis has always been on acquiring “new logos.”
But I argue that we can create a durable competitive advantage by focusing on the customer in the funnel beyond the funnel. That is, the set of systems, processes and technologies to drive value after the customer has signed the deal and continues along their journey with you.
Q: What problem is this approach intended to solve?
In the subscription economy, there is nothing nearly as expensive as a customer that has left you before the first year. You’ve spent oodles of time, money and brainpower on acquiring that firm, only to see that investment lost if you can’t make a customer successful, happy and an advocate. Plus, as product development cycles get shorter and shorter, companies are learning that the only way to create differentiation between themselves and their competition is to concentrate on the holistic customer experience.
Focusing on the funnel beyond the funnel translates to lower customer acquisition costs, lower churn rates, higher lifetime value and a powerful brand.
Q: What are the top tactics that you’re recommending for B-to-B marketers to take advantage of this opportunity?
The first and most obvious tactic is to harness the power of successful customers in a systematic way. You want to ensure that you mobilize your customers to help drive awareness of your company and serve as a third-party advocate of you. But you can’t have happy customers unless you have a comprehensive strategy for customer experience after the sale. So, start pulling together all the tactics you do today — onboarding campaigns, customer webinars, NPS programs, user groups—into one umbrella strategy for post-acquisition customer marketing.
Q: Does the funnel beyond the funnel call for particular metrics to evaluate its success as a marketing program?
That’s really the best question, since we just completed a study of B2B marketers, and the results were clear. While they believe that there should be a focus on the funnel beyond the funnel, the weakest part of their programs overall was the measurement of success and the promotion of those results within the firm.
Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, and teaches marketing at companies and business schools around the world. She is past chair of the DMA Business-to-Business Council, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain's BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She is the author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, and Trade Show and Event Marketing. Ruth serves as a director of Edmund Optics, Inc. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff-Davis, and IBM and holds an MBA from Columbia University.