Forget Sales Funnels, Build A Sales Net To Catch A Whole Niche

Often people think about business as a funnel. You get someone in at the beginning, and then take them on a journey where at each step you try and upsell them. There is usually one entrance point, and all the upsells are value adds or a better version of that original product.

That definitely works. But is almost the exact opposite of what I am trying to do. Instead of a sales funnel, I am building a sales net.

Introducing The Sales Net

Whatever you want to do/buy/read/watch in one particular niche, I want to be there. And I want to be selling the very best option. Then once you have done/bought/read/watched whatever I was offering, I want to introduce you to a few other supporting business that you might also be interested in.

Let me explain it with the table tennis niche. My business partner Ben and I have multiple brands aimed at people who are interested in table tennis. And between us we cover a lot of the market:

multi media brand

Each business generates money on its own and is self-sufficient. But they also refer and support all the other businesses.

Here could be a typical customer journey:

  • A customer might first enter the net from watching a YouTube video when searching for table tennis related videos. Some ad revenue is earned.
  • The video mentions a table tennis related book. They go and buy it, and some royalties are earned.
  • They like the sound of the bat we talk about in the book and go and buy it. Revenue is made by our sporting goods brand.
  • In our follow up customer service we offer them some free training at table tennis university. They like the training and purchase another course.

Which is great, but not too different to the sales funnel concept. Where the net really comes into its own is how each referral builds the brand and the search visibility of the receiving businesses.

I get about 2 or 3 emails a day asking me how to get initial sales for a new product you’re selling on Amazon. We don’t have much of a problem with that. When we launch a new product, we just create referrals from the other businesses.

Initially the product only gets sales from those referrals. But pretty soon Amazon (or Google, or iTunes, or YouTube, or whatever) realise that people like the item and start making it rank in their searches. Then that product becomes an extension of our net and starts bringing in its own customers and feeding the other businesses.

It’s circular self-feeding growth. Where each person who enters the net builds the reputation and SEO of all the brands. Which then brings in more people. So even though I don’t have a financial interest in all of Ben’s businesses, the mutual support benefits both of us.

It’s a concept I’ve been thinking about and working towards slowly for a few years. It still needs some more thought and our net still has a lot of holes!

Our current connections between brands could be a lot stronger. And there are a lot more products and supporting businesses we want to launch. Training camps, tournaments, an academy, coach recruitment, video streaming, news site, Facebook community, health and supplements.

And table tennis isn’t the only niche I am starting to build a net in. On a more abstract level this blog is a central point to the net around the brand Sam Priestley. Its initial traffic came from The Huffington Post and BBC talking about my table tennis stuff. And I get some sales and SEO benefit to each of my businesses (in particular the consultancy business) from talking about them here.

The point I am trying to get at it is there is an almost endless list of things we could do. Which brings me onto the downside of creating a net.

The Problems With The Sales Net

When I plan out a new business I try to design it to be very low maintenance and easily scalable. But even so, each company still takes time and effort to manage and grow. And some are much more profitable than others.

The endless choice and excitement from all the different ventures lead to a real risk of spreading yourself too thin and neglecting the one or two businesses that could be really excellent.

My current most profitable business is the table tennis equipment. Which still is far from reaching its potential. We are just breaking through in non-English-speaking Europe and are planning launches in Japan and India. I can’t do that well while also trying to start a band new venture.

But it’s not as simple as saying “just focus on the table tennis equipment” because a lot of the success of the table tennis equipment is due to it being supported by other less profitable businesses.

So where does that leave me?

What should I spend my time on?

When you’re juggling so many unknowns and untested ideas there is no right answer. And I’m not going to pretend that my choices are the best possible decisions.

The sales net is currently working well for me and my personality. I get easily bored, have a short attention span and need to be emotionally invested to work hard. Luckily starting new projects is great fun, and as each business supports every other one, it is also a good use of my time.

Maybe it will work for you too.

  • Brendan Hufford

    This is a fantastic article. It’s really what I tried to do when I was building my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brand (and also a reason that i think I was able to sell it when it was time for me to move on). The only part that I didn’t get to in this structure was to offer digital products.

    I’m also glad Sam touched on the downsides of spreading yourself too thin. If I was going to do it again, I’d use FBA or something like Shiphero to do my equipment/apparel fulfillment because that was a brutal time sink.

  • Great stuff. What does this look like from a pre-launch competitor analysis point of view? Did you check to see if there was low (it) competition in each of these verticals?

    Also, once you launched the initial ‘product’ say in this case the book. Did you look for some minimum level of engagement before begining to build out the rest of the net?

    • My process when starting each vertical is pretty complicated and changes a lot depending on what exactly it is. I tried to outline my general process in this post: https://www.arbing.co.uk/idea-into-a-business/ .

      But how much pre-analysis I do really depends on how difficult the business is to start. I will put in a lot more research and do a lot more competitor analysis when launching say a brand of table tennis equipment, where there a large upfront cost and has little flexibility to pivot, than I would starting a blog, where there isn’t really a startup cost and it’s very easy to change angle and adapt as you go.

      Yes I do for a minimum level of engagement in the initial product. I’ve tried my hand at a few things where I got hardly any engagement on the initial product and so abandoned the whole net. About 7 or 8 years ago we tried our hand monetizing the music niche grime. Ben built a blog and I built an online clothing store. But neither got high enough engagement so we abandoned the project. About 5 years ago I spent quite a lot of time and money building an online gambling mediation service (basically if a bookie rips you off we sort them out) with the idea of building a net over online gambling. Again not enough engagement to continue.

      Generally we look for positive enforcement we’re still on the right track at every step. If we don’t get it we reassess.

      • Thanks, Sam. I think treating it on an axis against the difficulty/cost to launch and pivot is really good, practical advice.

  • Great piece.. I too intuitively work a net approach for many/most of my ventures.. at the same time, working with a funnel is not outside of this strategy, and I believe can also compliment it in a number creative ways..

    To your continued success,

    Chad

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