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The upside-down marketing funnel (aka focusing on customers first)

Ilma Nausedaite Ilma Nausedaite
· 12 min read · Email marketing · Jun 30, 2021

When I was studying marketing, I was astonished by these two statistics:

1. It's 7x more expensive to win a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Nevertheless, all my studies focused on sales channels and brand awareness. We didn’t talk much about retention.

2. 77% of consumers are likely to buy a new product when learning about it from friends or family.

Remember the last time you visited a new city? Did you go to a restaurant that was recommended by someone on TripAdvisor or one that was advertised in the airport?

We trust people more than ads and marketers, which is why it makes perfect sense to take care of your current customers first. When they love your product or service, they'll recommend your business to their friends or strangers on the Internet.

This is exactly what we do at MailerLite. We call it the upside-down marketing funnel.

In the marketing world, a traditional sales funnel is where you cast a wide net to build awareness, and then guide people through the steps of becoming a customer. It looks something like this:

Traditional 5 step journey marketing funnel diagram - mailerlite

Here’s a quick summary of each stage in the traditional marketing funnel:

  • Awareness: Your audience discovers your brand

  • Consideration: You develop a relationship with messaging about your business, values and product

  • Conversion: Your audience is ready to take the desired action

  • Loyalty: Your audience comes back to buy from you

  • Advocacy: Your audience loves your product so much that they promote it on your behalf

Each of these stages requires marketers to invest a significant amount of time and resources. But what if it doesn’t have to be like this?

Enter: the upside-down funnel! This flips everything around and focuses on your existing customer base, encouraging them to become brand advocates and promote your business to their own networks.

This model does everything in reverse, and it’s an interesting change of perspective.

Instead of spending all your resources trying to attract new customers, the inverted funnel focuses on investing in current customers.

This approach takes more time, but as we saw before, it’s less expensive and more effective. Here's how it works:

Upside down marketing funnel happy customers on top - mailerlite

When you’re creating your upside-down funnel, the main thing to remember is customer experience. Happy customers = happy business = more sales!

#1. Deliver what customers need

The main reason people continue purchasing your product or service is simple—you do a great job meeting their needs.

Love for customer support - twitter mention to mailerlite

This is why everyone at your company is part of the marketing team, from the people that create the product to the people that interact with the customers. The first priority is to make customers happy.

At MailerLite, half of our team works in customer support. They are ready 24/7 to help customers succeed. If you want people to recommend you, you should love your customers.

Testimonial on mailerlite facebook community great support

Also think about the ways beyond customer support that you can get customer feedback: email surveys, social media, live webinars, events, and more. Listening to customers is the best way to learn how to meet their needs!

For people with a Premium plan, MailerLite has a ‘Feature requests’ page so that customers can post and vote for the newest features.

Feature requests option for premium users in mailerlite dashboard
Feature requests option available on mailerlite dashboard

Here’s a (*slightly* colorful) slide from one of our recent presentations—it turns out that meeting our customers’ needs really is worth it! 😍

Feedback from happy customers colorful wall of love - mailerlite

#2. Build relationships with your customers

Email marketing is the best tool to stay connected with your audience, knowing that 100% of them will receive your message. And it's possible to be very personal, even when talking to thousands of people (check out some of our latest Tweets)!

Tweets from happy customers positive mailerlite mentions on social media

If someone gives you their email address, it’s a sign that they want to start a relationship with you. Capture the moment. Welcome emails typically have an average open rate of 50-60%.

Send a message immediately after a customer gives you permission to do it. At MailerLite we send an entire welcome email series to keep the conversation going.

Here are some other things you can do to nurture relationships with customers:

Share knowledge and insights

We want people to understand how to use the product. This is why we send emails about features along with videos explaining how to use them. We also remind everyone that our customer support team is always here for them. This welcome email introduces people to our blog and allows them to participate in a survey to share what they’re most interested in learning about.

Welcome email happy to have you here - mailerlite

It’s always a good idea to educate people about your product or service to help them achieve great results.

It's even better to expand on topics. For example, if you sell apples, share tantalizing recipes featuring apples. If you sell mattresses, talk about the importance of rest and sleep. If you sell perfume, explain the process of creating signature scents.

Tell your story

People don’t connect to logos, they connect to people.

We want our customers to connect with our team. We share our story, our values, and fun facts about the company. By the way, this is the email that people tend to reply to most telling their own stories. I love that. Getting personal replies to an email delivered to thousands shows a strong level of engagement.

Pro tip: About pages are always popular! Use yours to tell your story, explain why you’re here, and share what you believe in.

MailerLite's About page our story

Connect people

As Seth Godin says:

“People like us do things like this. There is no more powerful tribal marketing connection than this. More than features, more than benefits, we are driven to become a member in good standing of the tribe.”

Give your customers opportunities to meet each other. For example, our Community Group on Facebook is a place for MailerLite users to share best practices, new ideas, awesome results, to seek advice, and get to know other customers.

MailerLite facebook community invitation to join email

There are endless ways to engage with your audience. The main goal is to give value. You can also use segmentation to deliver more targeted, personalized messaging. Don’t know what is of value to your customers? Ask. Just like you would do in real life.

Email survey example was this helpful question yes no
Want to know what people *really* think?

Find out how you can use email surveys in your campaigns!

#3. Give tools to spread the love

If you want people to talk about you, there are two ways to make it happen. First, they should know the story is worth telling their friends.

How do you know if you have a good story? I like The Brunch Test. Imagine your story is being told to someone over a weekend brunch. How does this person respond?

When I say that I work at MailerLite, some people react with: “Is that the remote team that went to Bali together?” (More about Bali and our workations.)

Some people say that they’ve heard about our values. These are the kinds of topics people tend to share with others, along with strange stories, fun facts, etc. Others also love to repost our blog articles and feature updates, just like this one below:

Reposting MailerLite blog articles promo from happy customer

The second way to help your customers recommend you is to give them the tools to do it. This is my favorite example:

Patreon email your receipt is here

Every month I get a receipt from Patreon to see how much money I’ve spent supporting non-profit organizations and initiatives. And each time they give me a chance to tweet about these contributions. Smart, right? I can brag a little and invite more people to join Patreon. Win-win.

Sometimes we ask customers to share our articles and give them a small gift to show our appreciation. For example, we asked people to share our article about company values on social media and then sent them laptop stickers as a thank you:

They talked about MailerLite first by sharing the article and they will probably do so again when people ask them about the sticker on their laptop!

Email with a gift for you and stickers on laptop - mailerlite

Another time, we did a prize draw for our 2020 NPS email survey, and sent out an iPad, 50 MailerLite stickers and 10 t-shirts!

2020 NPS survey email prize draw winners happy customer - MailerLite

Finally, Ambassador or Referral programs can help. Check out the footer of this email from theSkimm:

Skimm email

The main idea is to make your loyal customers feel special. Send a gift, invite them to a private FB group, show them what happens behind the scenes or give early access to your content and products.

Ready to set up your own upside down funnel?

MailerLite’s email marketing tools allow you to send personalized campaigns to your subscribers and keep nurturing that connection!

Sign up free

The word funnel comes from the Latin infundere, meaning "pour into". If you're pouring your best ideas and resources into attracting new customers, there will be fewer opportunities to show your current customers the love they deserve. It’s time to flip the funnel!

The concept of the upside-down funnel is very simple. Have a good product, take care of your customers and give them the tools to recommend you to others. Happy customers are more than happy to spread the love.  

Do you think it's better to focus more on current or new customers? Let us know in the comments!

Ilma Nausedaite
Ilma Nausedaite
I’m Ilma, President of MailerLite. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win (like being named one of the top 5 fastest growing SaaS companies). Email is my passion, although I took a rather unusual path. Before MailerLite, I worked in finance and art, which turned out to be the perfect mix for marketing.