Good horsemanship is built on solid basics…so is good business!

Posted by Lisa Derby Oden
Lisa Derby Oden
I've been fortunate to be involved with horses throughout my life... so far that
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on Sunday, 15 June 2014
in Marketing

Sales Funnel Thinking for Marketing Your Horse Business

In these challenging economic times, everyone is looking for ways to stay afloat, attract new clients and grow their horse business. If you’ve been in operation for awhile, you’ve probably rehashed and reviewed all that you offer and do. But let’s shift the thinking a little. By shifting your thinking, you can slice and dice your offerings and operations in different ways that allow possibilities to emerge. Let’s take a look at the sales funnel and how considering your operations through this lens may open new doors. After all, we are all really sales people for our businesses!


Sales Funnel Described

The sales funnel concept was first developed by an advertising and sales pioneer, E. St. Elmo Lewis in1898. He was looking at this through the sales person’s perspective. Why were some sales people much more successful than others? He theorized that the most successful sales people tapped into four cognitive phases that buyers followed when encountering and accepting a new idea, or when buying a new product.


The four cognitive stages are:

1) AWARENESS that the service or product exists

2) INTEREST in the offerings benefits

3) DESIRE for the offering

4) ACTION or the act of purchasing


Subsequently, other sales experts indicate that there are two other stages as well:




As you can see, this describes the relationship development process of your customers. How often do you stop and think about your relationship development process? Usually the thinking revolves around the product of service that’s being offered and how to generate interest in it. Remember, people buy from people. And buying connotes a level of trust. I believe that buyers must have the desire AND trust who they are buying from in order to take the step of becoming your customer.


Awareness: Have you defined your target market? If you haven’t, then you are probably using a scattered marketing approach that could be hit-or-miss. By spending some time identifying who you really want as your customer, you can then begin to understand what they really want, and where and how to reach them. You use your marketing time and money much more effectively. And by really understanding your target market, you take the first step in relationship development. “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.”


Ask yourself “What kind of conversation am I establishing with my prospects?” What channels and communications have you used to make your business visible to your target market? From their perspective, their first awakening to your offering might be, “Are you talking to me?” I actually visualize this.


You’re at a meeting where everyone is strangers. In the buffet line you strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You are asking each other what you do for work. As you talk with them and describe your work and what you do, someone in the opposite buffet line says, “Wow, horses, I’ve always been interested in them.” They have now become aware of you and before this instance didn’t know that you were in their sphere.


Interest: Once you have their attention, you must communicate in a way that gets their interest in knowing more. From their point of view, they are now thinking, “Why are you talking to me?” This is the time to craft your message so that they realize you understand who they are and where they are coming from. You may indicate that you have a similar background or shared experiences so that you really know what it is that they need a solution for or help with. This interaction must be genuine and not just a canned sales pitch.


Back in the buffet line, you have now met up with the person that remarked about horses at the end of the food line. You take this opportunity to ask about their interest. When you hear that they’ve always wanted to learn to ride you can share that you didn’t start riding until you were an adult, or that you cater to adult riders and then share a story of a success.


Desire: As you move into this stage, this is where the balancer in all of us comes out as we contemplate buying. The prospect is now thinking, “This sounds like a good opportunity, but do I really need it?” As the business owner you must take your conversation another level deeper. Share more about the value of what you offer. For riding, for example, it can be fitness, stress relief, new social settings, competition for those competitively oriented, communing with nature for those more recreationally oriented, continued learning and other benefits. Notice that all these are BENEFITS and not FEATURES. Notice that all these connote more conversation, more understanding of who they are as a result of the conversation and hence a step forward in early relationship development.


Back at the buffet line, this means that you have both chosen to sit at the same table now, instead of going to separate tables.


Action: This is the point where interest and desire are moved to action by the prospect confirming that they will give you a try. The final question they are answering within themselves is, “I want this, and from deeper conversation it sounds like also need it, so what do I have to do to get it?” This is a defining moment in the relationship development. Either you will continue to get to know each other better or you won’t, but now it’s up to you to offer something that helps your prospect choose to continue.


Back at the table as you both start your meals, you offer an introductory offer. Come by the barn and I’ll show you around. We’ll groom a horse and we’ll watch a beginner lesson. Or, since you’re a first-time customer we offer 50% off you first 3 lessons.


As you can see from this funnel, to be more successful in your marketing, it’s important to break your interaction and transactions down into very specific instances. Many of us like to do the “create awareness” piece, and then hope the prospect will just leap to take action. The middle steps are a big blur, if they exist at all. Take the time to really think about the process from your customers shoes. Think about how you make a buying decision, what you like to know, what conditions move you to purchasing. No one likes high pressure, and most of us don’t much like to “sell.” So shift your thinking – you are giving the buyer enough information for them to make an informed decision. You are breaking your introduction into steps that make your offerings accessible. The sales funnel initially relied on the seller being in control, and that’s what we all think of when we think of hard selling. It makes more sense to think of this as relationship building, since the buyer does have a mind of their own.


So, what about Customer Satisfaction and Referral? The ultimate goal is to create happy customers. If someone is pleased with their first buying experience with you, they are much more likely to buy from you again. And if they are happy with their relationship with you and what you provide them, they are most likely to refer others to you. Isn’t that what we all want – happy customers that want to share their happiness?


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About the author

Lisa Derby Oden

I've been fortunate to be involved with horses throughout my life... so far that is! Early in my career I owned and operated Derby Farm, a riding stable in Buxton, Maine. I have also worked as a freelance riding instructor and bring all this practical experience to my consulting work. Blue Ribbon Consulting focuses on business and nonprofit development in the equine industry. I provide evaluation, planning, research, marketing and problem-solving services to take you successfully through all your horse business transitions. I've worked with clients around the world, and have received state and national honors for my work in the equine industry. Since I love this industry and believe in it, I've also been a nonprofit founder, board member, and executive officer for local, state and national organizations. I've worked with nonprofits in strategic planning, program development, corporate development, fundraising, grant writing and grant administration. Part of this wonderful journey has also allowed me to serve as adjunct faculty and guest lecturer at several universities, and to deliver business development, marketing, and leadership seminars throughout the United States. I also developed and oversaw the Entrepreneurs Resource Center for a community college. I've published two books, have been a columnist and freelance writer for many trade publications, and am a partner in the CD series “Inventing Your Horse Career.”


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"When I was an adjunct at UNH, Lisa Derby Oden brought a wealth of information and knowledge about current issues facing the equine industry locally and nationally to the equine science students there...Lisa provided a full understanding of how each segment of the industry is dependent upon each other for stability and growth. Her in-class workshops helped students increase their awareness of problems encountered in the equine field. She offered opportunities to learn about small business operations and professionalism.

Time and again, she offered UNH undergraduate students insights into current horse industry trends which have an effect on their chosen equine profession. I sat in on Equine Business Management when Lisa offered it through UNH. It helped me tremendously with my own business on my farm. I highly recommend her industry workshops as a must do walkthrough before venturing into any horse-related business. "

Heather Smith, Sunrise Bay Farm, Durham, NH