Go after your leads BEFORE they become leads: How to convince buyers that they want more than a faster horse

I’ve been writing about sales funnels for a while. And if you’ve ever heard me speak about them, or you’ve read my book The Sales Funnel Bible, you’ll know that one of my favorite sales funnel speaking points is this:

Your sales funnel starts earlier than you think it does.

Unlike how most people view their sales funnel, it doesn’t start with marketing to get leads.

Your sales funnel starts earlier — with your audience.

You should be marketing to them long before they realize they have a problem that you can solve. You should be marketing to your audience to let them know that they have a problem.

A great example here is from Henry Ford. He famously (and apocryphally?) said that if he had asked his customers what they needed, they would have said they needed a faster horse. He needed to find potential car buyers and let them know that they had a problem they didn’t even realize they had!

The same thing is happening in your business. You solve a problem — great! — but there are people who don’t realize that they even have a problem. If you market only to those who already know they have a problem, you miss out on a huge market of people who are only a small decision-point away from discovering they have a problem that you solve.

So build your sales funnel “taller” and “earlier” by educating people who don’t realize they have a problem.

Imagine my delight when I saw that Moz (formerly SEOmoz, whose content I find so damn interesting) wrote about this exact topic on a recent Whiteboard Friday post. That’s validating because Rand Fishkin is smarter and more popular than I am… so maybe I’m kind of on the right track. :)

Check it out here:

Targeting your audience earlier in the buying process

This is such a huge opportunity for business owners. If you’re not paying attention to your audience, start today!

Case study: Ghostwriting a best-selling book

A book is more than just a couple hundred pages that you might sell for twenty bucks on Amazon. Writing a book SHOULD BE on your list of things to do to grow your business. It’s a document that helps to position you as an expert in your field. It has the potential to provide ongoing income for you — just sweat through the hard work of writing it once and then you’ll earn ongoing income from it for as long as you sell it. A book is also a marketing tool; it constantly promotes you even when you’re sleeping. Books open doors — to new business opportunities, new marketing opportunities, speaking engagements, clients, and more.

As a former ghostwriter (I really don’t do ghostwriting at all anymore) I had the privilege of working with a few clients on their books. They’d tell me what they wanted to write about, I’d put together a table of contents and a project plan (to keep the project moving forward because it’s SO easy to let your book falter) and then I’d write the content for them. Unlike some ghostwriters who write almost all the content exclusively, I tried to adopt a more collaborative approach with my clients because I felt that it better captured their brand and “voice”, and it ensured that I didn’t too long on a rabbit-trail digression that wasn’t helping the client.

Some books I wrote for some clients turned out okay. We were both happy with the end result but the books didn’t deliver all that was hoped. But for one client, with whom I wrote nearly half a dozen books, they all became Amazon best-sellers, achieving #1 seller status in different Amazon categories.

So what was the difference between some of my clients whose books were okay and my one client whose books all became best-sellers?

Here are a few things that helped my best-selling-book client do so well:

  • We wrote good-sized print books (250+ pages) of high quality, high value information
  • We created a website to help promote the book
  • We cross-sold the book on my client’s other channels (his site plus in the backs of other books)
  • We wrote sales letters and autoresponders to help generate sales

These all helped; they all played a part… and I would love to point entirely to myself as the most significant reason that these books did so well. However, what really made a huge difference was that my client had a HUGE audience with whom he had nurtured a very deep and trusting relationship.

Whenever we wrote something, he put it on Amazon and his readers would rush out and buy it. (That might sound bad but don’t worry, I made sure we wrote GREAT content!).

Although I played a part, it was really my client’s relationship with his list that made all the difference, turning a great product into an in-demand product.

So what should you do if you’re a business owner who aspires to write a book and use it as a tool for your business? I think your first priority should be to build an audience and nurture a relationship with them.

100 small business strategy questions

Many small businesses are fueled by passion. They start because an entrepreneur has an idea (or is sick of working for a boss), they grow because their ideas solve a problem and somehow that solution is communicated to the marketplace.

Unfortunately, many small businesses fail… even ones that are seemingly successful and make profitable sales. The reason is, they’re simply existing day-by-day, sale-by-sale, without any real strategy or long-term vision to give their existence any direction.

If you’re an entrepreneur, answer these 100 small business strategy questions. The answers will help you to highlight areas of opportunity that you can exploit and areas of concern that you can mitigate. Bookmark this page and come back to it regularly to work through these questions every 3 to 6 months.

With your answers, create a list of to-dos that you can act on until you come back to these questions again. [Note: Since publishing this list, I have written individual posts about some of these strategy questions so I’ve updated this list with the links to those other posts.]

  1. What does your business do?
  2. What does your business sell?
  3. What does your business stand for?
  4. What parts of your brand truly reflect your current business?
  5. What parts of your brand do not (or no longer) reflect your current business?
  6. What are the top 10 benefits your business provides?
  7. Who is your perfect customer?
  8. How are you adding value?
  9. What are your products’ or services’ biggest flaws?
  10. How do you define a lead?
  11. Where are your leads coming from?
  12. What demographic are your leads?
  13. How are you creating leads?
  14. How are your competitors creating leads?
  15. How will lead creation change for your industry in the future?
  16. How do you define a prospect?
  17. What is your lead-to-prospect ratio?
  18. What demographic are your prospects?
  19. How is your prospect demographic different from your leads demographic?
  20. How are you turning leads into prospects?
  21. How are your competitors turning leads into prospects?
  22. What objections do your prospects have?
  23. What objections do you NOT have an answer for?
  24. How do you define a customer?
  25. What is your prospect-to-customer ratio (close rate)?
  26. What demographic are your customers?
  27. How is your customer demographic different from your prospect demographic?
  28. How are you converting prospects into customers?
  29. How are your competitors converting prospects into customers?
  30. What has caused you to lose a sale?
  31. How do you define an evangelist?
  32. What is your customer-to-evangelist ratio?
  33. What is your evangelist demographic?
  34. How is your evangelist demographic different from your customer demographic?
  35. How is your relationship with your customers?
  36. What were your 3 most successful marketing campaigns?
  37. What were your 3 least successful marketing campaigns?
  38. What marketing and sales activities are you using in each stage of your sales funnel?
  39. How do you measure company-wide success?
  40. How do you measure personal and/or employee success?
  41. How are you improving your relationship with your customers?
  42. How can you improve the process for receiving and acting on feedback from customers?
  43. How are you encouraging repeat sales?
  44. How are you encouraging upsells?
  45. Who else can use your products or services that you aren’t currently serving?
  46. What is your business model?
  47. What other peer-businesses use the same business model?
  48. What can you learn from peer-businesses that use the same business model?
  49. What other businesses (in other industries) use a similar business model?
  50. What can you learn from businesses in other industries that use a similar business model?
  51. Who are your top 3 competitors?
  52. Who/what are your indirect competitors?
  53. What does the most successful businesses in your industry do that you don’t do yet?
  54. Why would someone buy from you instead of your competition?
  55. When should someone buy from your competition instead of you?
  56. What are your competitors doing differently?
  57. What are your competitors doing better than you?
  58. What are your competitors doing worse than you?
  59. How are your relationships with your suppliers/vendors?
  60. How can your supplier/vendor relationships be improved?
  61. What does your organizational chart look like and what strengths/weaknesses are the result?
  62. What are the next 3 roles you need to hire for?
  63. What was the last thing you tested in your business?
  64. When was the last time you tested a price change and what were the results?
  65. What political changes do you see affecting your business/industry?
  66. What economic changes do you see affecting your business/industry?
  67. What social changes do you see affecting your business/industry?
  68. What technological changes do you see affecting your business/industry?
  69. What financial best practices have you implemented?
  70. How have buying habits changed in your industry?
  71. What trends are influencing buying habits?
  72. How will buying habits change in the future?
  73. How has your industry innovated in the past decade?
  74. How has your business innovated in the past year?
  75. Where does your business plan to innovate this coming year?
  76. How are you investing in your business’ growth (i.e. innovation, new equipment, etc.)?
  77. What is your plan to scale up your business?
  78. If you had to get rid of 90% of your customers, what 10% would you keep?
  79. If you kept 10% of your most profitable customers, what would that demographic look like?
  80. How can you increase your ideal customer base?
  81. How can you decrease your less-than-ideal customer base?
  82. Where are people talking about your business online?
  83. What are people saying about your business online?
  84. What is your plan if your industry suddenly received a lot of bad press?
  85. What is your plan if your business suddenly received a lot of bad press?
  86. What is your plan if your marketing went viral and you suddenly had 10x the customers?
  87. What contingency plans do you a have in place for natural disasters?
  88. What would happen to your business if you were unable to work?
  89. What has changed about your business since you started?
  90. How has your income trended since you started?
  91. How has your profit margin trended since you started?
  92. What plans do you have to increase income next year?
  93. What plans do you have to increase profits next year?
  94. Where do you see your business in 1 year?
  95. Where do you see your business in 5 years?
  96. Where do you see your business in 10 years?
  97. What strengths/assets can you leverage for growth?
  98. Where are your blindspots?
  99. What are the top 3 problems keeping you from advancing to the next level in business?
  100. What about your business, industry, or customers keeps you awake at night?

What Hollywood can teach you about creating a successful sales funnel

I’m looking forward to two movies this summer — The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides. (Feel free to draw your own conclusions about me based on that confession). Although I PVR everything and tend to fast forward through the commercials, I’ll usually stop fast forwarding and play previews for these movies.

These two movies (and movies like them), my wife and I call them “theater movies” because we’ll happily go and pay to watch them in the theater (as opposed to “renters” that we’ll watch on Netflix).

Hollywood, of course, wants lots of theater-goers and so, as summer approaches, we are all being drawn in to Hollywood’s sales funnels.

Yes, Hollywood has sales funnels. Every business has a sales funnel and the studios that make movies each have their own sales funnels.

This “Hollywood sales funnel” works well (hey, many of them make a ton of money) and it can teach business owners a thing or two about how to create a successful sales funnel.


The Hollywood sales funnel goes something like this:

The Audience stage: You and I are sitting there, on the couch, eating Doritos and watching the latest episode of The Chicago Code or Grey’s Anatomy. We’re drawn into the story. Clearly, we want to be entertained (or, at the very least, we have nothing better to do), which makes us the perfect candidate for… commercials! Including a movie trailer.

A movie trailer is a teaser. A movie trailer tends to follow a classic format and its ultimate purpose is to capture our attention and make us want more! It’s meant to win over audiences that aren’t paying attention or even thinking about the summer right now. It’s meant to force us to ask questions and wonder how the hero/heroine got themselves into this predicament and how they’ll get out of it.

What’s noticeable is that it isn’t meant to tell the whole story. Only just enough to capture our interest. For people who don’t like movies about hangovers or pirates, then trailers for The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides aren’t going to capture their attention. But for people who can relate (because they’ve had hangovers) or for people who aspire (to be pirates or at least to a life of vicarious adventure), these trailers will capture their attention. (Note: Just in case it’s not obvious, this is the case for every trailer. People might relate to an underdog and want to watch a movie where an unlikely hero is drawn into threatening circumstances; or people might aspire to true love and want to watch a movie where a boy meets a girl then loses the girl then woos her and they live happily ever after).

Movie trailers act as a “sorting mechanism”, enticing Audience members who are likely to become customers while being ignored by those who won’t likely become customers.

The Lead stage: We’ve just seen a trailer for a movie that seemed interesting. We pause to think about it. We ask the questions (“how did the hero get in that situation?”). We think ahead to the summer. That’s all that Hollywood wants us to do at this stage in the sales funnel. Just think a little further about the movie. Not much, just a bit. We turn to the person sitting on the couch and we say something like “that might be interesting to watch” or “I’d love to see Ian McShane as Blackbeard”.

From time to time, we see branded messages that triggers the same feelings of relation or aspiration: Maybe it’s a billboard of the movie or a newspaper ad that says “in theaters soon” or we see the trailer again or we visit the website or we hear a review or we spot the movie poster. Whatever.

Although the message is very similar to the message presented in the Audience stage, it allows us to go deeper. We see new trailers or we think about the old trailers a little more. We catch nuances we missed the first time. We ask new questions. We’re presented with the message over and over. That message is: “I want to see this movie because [whatever].”


The Prospect stage:It’s a summer weekend. It’s humid. We’ve worked all week and deserve a break. We’re wondering what to do on a Friday night. One person says “how about dinner and a movie?”

Dinner’s the easy part. Someone suggests a favorite restaurant and no one disagrees. But a movie — you check the listings and, what do you know, YOUR movie is playing! The one you’ve been thinking about. The one that looked really good. It’s settled then.

The Customer stage: You drive to the theater. You buy tickets and popcorn and soda and licorice… and you love the movie.

The Evangelist stage: The movie is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that you want to immediately tell your friends. After all, they love hangovers and pirates just as much as you do, so the thinking is: If you liked it, they will love it. You call, text, blog, tweet, or somehow share your excitement about the movie to your friends and they go to the theater the next week and watch.

And THAT is the Hollywood sales funnel.


This sales funnel works. Studios and actors make billions of dollars a year because of this sales funnel. Here’s what your business can learn from the Hollywood sales funnel.

The Audience stage is about finding the right audience — a target market who is in a receptive state — and tease them. Give them something to think about/talk about/question. It could be a headline or a compelling AdWords ad. It could be a strange graphic or a controversial tweet. Something that captures your Audience’s attention and makes them want more.

The Lead stage is about presenting a consistent branded message again and again that helps your Lead go deeper. It’s still enticing them (like the Audience stage did), but it gives some answers and raises more questions. Ultimately, the Lead should be left wondering “this sounds interesting… I want to know more.”

The Prospect stage is about finding the intersection between the contact’s need (“I want to watch that movie” or “I want to warm my food” or “I need a reliable car”) and the opportunity to buy (“It’s Friday and the movie is in the theater!” or “here’s a microwave and it happens to be on sale!” or “with financing, I can buy a red one!”).

That’s when they become a Customer.

The Customer stage is fulfilling on the promise. Some businesses stop there but smart businesses fulfill on the promise made in such a way that the Customer feels they received value and it compels them to move on to…

The Evangelist stage. This is where the Evangelist is so excited about your product or service that they call, text, blog, tweet, or somehow share their excitement about your product or service with their friends… and then those friends buy the same thing.

Hollywood’s movies are great moments of excitement and entertainment and escape. But their sales funnels are based on years of successful strategy and measurement and they work. As you develop your sales funnel, ask yourself this: “If my business were a movie, would this part of my sales funnel entice the sales funnel contact to want to come to the theater and pay to watch?

Just read: “How to Hook a Prospect? Check its Job Ads” at WSJ.com

Researching a company before accepting them as clients is an important lesson I wish I knew earlier in my business. Only the past 5 years or so have I really started to investigate a potential Customer first to make sure that they’re the right fit.

Researching businesses for this kind of information isn’t always easy — they’re busy promoting themselves to their Prospects, which means you have to dig deeper to find what your potential Customer is all about.

Mike Michalowicz offers a clever way to do some preliminary research for Prospects. The answer is in the title but you should really read the whole article.

How to Hook a Prospect? Check Its Job Ads – WSJ.com.

After you’ve read the article, take a look at your list of Prospects then go hunting for their job ads. Check out sites like Monster.com and don’t forget about freelance sites, too.

Once you’ve found some info, integrate it into your sales presentations. (Michalowicz tells you how to do that). And you can even go beyond your Prospect list and do the same task for all of the stages in your sales funnel.

The same information in job ads can help you move sales funnel contacts at each stage: Your Audience member job ads can help you refine your message to capture their attention more effectively and turn them into Leads. Your Leads’ job ads can help you position yourself as the solution to their problem or need so you can turn them into Prospects. Your Prospects’ job ads can help you overcome objections and drive home key sales-making points to convert them into Customers. Your Customers’ job ads can help you identify new opportunities to provide service so they can become Evangelists.