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Don’t Get Sucked Into The Funnel: The #1 Marketing Trap That Leaves Career Professionals Broke And Disillusioned

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Excuse me while I digress…  I am a Clinical Psychologist by profession and I started out with stars in my eyes, hoping I could help raise the consciousness of the planet.  However, when it came to doing business, I was utterly naïve, uneducated and had not the first clue about how to earn a living doing what I loved.



Over the years I have spent thousands of dollars and months of my time attempting to catch up on essential business education so that I could make a living.  It nearly sent me broke. 


Meanwhile unbeknownst to me, clever marketers got wind of my dilemma and scurried about to produce products and services they proclaimed would absolutely solve my problem.  Delighted that finally someone understood me, I dived like a lemming into the trap.


So what is the trap?  It’s called the sales funnel and it’s predicated on the following premise: “Potential client, I understand your problem and I have the solution.”  At the outset, this promise appears alluring and glamorous.  You are accosted by super-friendly, encouraging folk who get you to consume their highly engaging material.  Whipped into an emotional frenzy, you declare, “wow, that’s me, that’s my problem and now I’m going to fix it!”  Then off you go to attend their first, low-cost, “buy into me” offering, in the form of a seminar, webinar or coaching series and your perilous journey through the sales funnel has begun.


At this first point of contact, you get some great, tantalising content, but not enough to actually implement a useful solution.  No!  In order to get your hands on that good stuff, you have to buy into the higher cost offering which usually ranges anywhere between $1,997 and $6,997.  While it’s a substantial financial commitment, it’s seems worth it to get your problem solved.


Meanwhile, behind the scenes, our clever marketing folk have structured their offerings in a “teach-and-leave-a-void” style that promises a solution but never quite delivers.  In fact, you don’t get to receive the full solution until you travel all the way through to the pointy end of the sales funnel (usually some kind of individual mentoring program) where you get hit hard with the final financial blow.  This time, it’s ‘gonna cost you big.  I mean BIG!  One clever chap requested $25,000 + 25% of future earnings from implementing his solution! 


Although that might be worth the cost if this expensive solution really does fix the problem, the reality is that by the time we’re at this stage, the offering is no longer about “how can I best serve my client” but more about “how can I best serve myself to a massive amount of my client’s cash?” 


For the lemmings like myself who were willing to give it a go, we got spat out the other end, our problem still not fully solved and now frustrated with a bad case of “buyer’s remorse.”


Some businesses that apply this model are indeed cynical and ruthless.  However, I believe that others apply it because it’s what they’ve learned and they don’t know any better.  This is a sad state of affairs for those who genuinely set out to help others but are using this flawed and stingy business model. 


They misguidedly direct most of their efforts, energy, charisma and marketing budget into bringing in new clients.  As such a client, you get MASSIVE value at the front-end where you get free or low-cost stuff.  By the time you’re at the back end, you get what’s most convenient for them to give and they can get away with it because by now you’re well and truly stuck in the funnel. 


Yet having spent all that cash, you’re more desperate than ever to solve the problem, but now you’re a nuisance, hassling the poor guru for answers when it’s really clear they are too busy to sort your stuff out.


So let’s take a step back, take a breath and get some perspective.  The very best clients any business has are current clients; therefore all efforts directed towards client retention will have the best outcomes in terms of profitability and leveraging effort.

Upward spiral

A better model is the sales spiral because it’s kinder, more generous and overall more effective than the sales funnel.  It starts working in much the same way as the funnel, in that the business gives value in the form of educating clients about how to solve their problem.  Then there’s an offer, but instead of withholding essential information, the client is given all the information required to solve the problem. 


Clients are happy because their problem is actually solved with a minimum of fuss and outlay and they are left satisfied, with a perception of value, rather than a desperate hunger for more.


Yet the ethical marketer understands that inherent in the solution arises a different problem, which offers yet another opportunity to serve the pre-existing client.  For example, if I pay to learn how to halve the grocery budget, I then encounter the new problem of how to cook delicious and nutritious meals with low-cost ingredients; which I will happily pay a reasonable amount to learn how.  


In any business, the problem-solution, problem-solution arc often follows a predictable trajectory and if creators of content take the time and make the effort to truly understand their clients in depth, they can position offerings at strategic points along the way.



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Dr Sophie has experienced bullying both personally and professionally.  As a new psychologist starting out in a government organisation that had “a zero tolerance to bullying”, she was the target of a serial bully who was never held to account.  Professionally, Dr Sophie has treated many clients suffering severe and chronic symptoms of depression and traumatic stress as a result of being bullied. She has also conducted numerous interventions in workplaces with organisational cultures vulnerable to bullying.

Dr Sophie graduated from Murdoch University in Perth, WA in 2000.  She initially worked in a variety of settings including maximum-security prisons, private hospitals and with GPs before going onto full-time private practice in 2005. 


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