Have you ever tried Mailchimp? It’s pretty awesome, right? It feels good to use: the clean interface, the sensible reports, the cheeky copy (“Prepare for launch! You’re about to send a campaign… This is your moment of glory.”)
Mailchimp is one of the most widely used email service provider around, and they’ve always had a quirky, delightful approach to both their product and their service. A few years back I logged in to see a message that they wanted to send me a T-shirt, randomly, for no reason. That’s the kind of thing they do, but not on autopilot -- I've never gotten another T-shirt offer from them, for example. I also don’t get marketing emails from them, which is kind of surprising. If email campaigns are so often the start of the sales funnel, why isn’t the email marketing company sending me emails?
Mailchimp founder Ben Chestnut offered the answer recently in a post called ”Why I Hate Funnels.” As far as Ben’s concerned, the funnel approach takes your website visitors, figures out which ones are leads, and auto-spams them until they can’t help but become customers. He suggests -- and I concur -- that this process is more of a meat grinder than a funnel. All the folks who fell off the process during the spamming are pretty much gone permanently, and your new customers are likely not very loyal to you either.
Ben prefers to flip the funnel over, wide side at the bottom. Start at the skinny end, he urges, by loving your customers. If you love them well enough, they will lead their friends to you, and those friends will want some loving, too, and some of them will try you out, and your funnel will grow because it is a customer funnel, not a sales funnel.
But the truth is, I don’t think it’s the funnel per se that Ben has an issue with. It’s a certain type of attitude toward the funnel: the automate-the-process, worry-more-about-conversions-than-about-customers kind of attitude. This attitude is not only shortsighted, it is pervasive. It is driven by the need to hit the monthly or weekly or daily numbers, to show that your cost to acquire a new customer is always coming down, never mind whether the customer sticks around.
I suggest a slight expansion to Ben’s approach. Yes, love your customers. But redefine the term “customer”: Think bigger about whom is encompassed. To adapt an old saying, “A stranger’s a customer you haven’t met yet.”
If visitors to your site have the potential to become customers, love them right from the beginning. Make it easy for them to learn what they want to learn and do what they want to do. Make your terms clear and obvious. Make your communications about things that are relevant to the people receiving them, instead of pestering them to do something they clearly don’t want to do. Think more about their experience than about the way they’ll boost your stats.
Nowhere on the Mailchimp home page does it ask you to enter your email address. On their blog, there’s an RSS button at the top, but you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to sign up by email. The whole message is pretty clear: If you want to subscribe to our emails, we’ll let you, and we’re not gonna make it difficult, but it has to come from you, not us.
Forget the funnel. The funnel is about you, the marketer. Make the process about them, their wants and needs and interests -- and then watch how the funnel stats improve.