What Is Marketing? A Cheat Sheet for Dog Trainers

by | Feb 24, 2021

What is marketing, really?

And how do you use it to actually get people to BUY the things you have to sell?

Whether you’re just starting a new dog training business or you’ve been in the game for a while and are trying to level up, it’s a good idea to understand the part marketing plays in running a thriving business. Most trainers probably have a foggy idea — if pressed, you might say marketing is facebook, and instagram, and advertising on yelp.

But the truth is, it’s both simpler and more complex than that.

So, lets start at the beginning…

What is marketing?

Marketing is the process of taking someone who has never heard of your business before but who has a need for what you offer, introducing them to your business, and convincing them to either get on a sales call or make a purchase. And it’s the process of doing all that in a way that can scale.

In simpler terms, it’s the interactions your business has with someone before they become a client, designed to help turn them into a client. 

Like good dog trainers, let’s break that down a little more.

The 3 Stages of Marketing

Most marketers think about marketing in terms of the customers’ perspective… they call this the customer’s journey. (If we’re talking about the process from a business’ perspecive instead, we’re likely talking about who we want to marketing to — that is, your ideal clients). That journey includes each step someone goes through when considering paying for help to solve a problem, fulfill a need or satisfy a want.

Most often, that journey gets split up into 3 broad stages.

Arrows showing the three stages of marketing — Interest, Desire, Action — and then the final stage, being a client!

Stage 1: Determining a Problem/Want/Need (Interest)

During the first stage, the soon-to-be potential client admits they have a problem/want/need, and begins to think about a solution. For dog trainers, this is the phase when that potential client is starting to think maybe they should do some training with their dog.

Now, they may not have decided they want to hire a professional yet — they may just be Googling the things they want to “fix” and reading articles. But at this point they’ve at least recognized they want something to change.

(Side note: It’s next to impossible to sell to someone who hasn’t had this realization yet. If someone doesn’t actually want anything to change, they are not going to want to put out money or time to make change happen. Therefore, don’t waste your time.)

Stage 2: Get There Faster (Desire)

If people have enough time, most people can find info information on any topic (for free or close to it) to at least partially solve their own problems. The internet is a beautiful thing, that way. However, most would rather have it sooner than later.

So the second stage of our customer’s journey is usually recognizing that there’s a faster way to get what they want, and that is by hiring someone who is a subject matter expert.

That’s you, my dear reader!

The general idea here is that they believe they will either get better results or faster results by paying for help. And at this stage, they’ve recognized that and are likely weighing their options. They may begin actually looking at trainers in their area, or asking at the vet for recommendations. They may ask friends or neighbors.

At this stage, different people will have differing levels of understanding and knowledge about what sets one trainer or service provider apart from another — some will be more informed than others. They’ll have the idea that they want to hire help, and be looking at their options.

Stage 3: Let’s Get Started (Action!)

During the next stage they are actively evaluating their options — they may reach out to a few trainers for quotes, or to ask questions. They may be reading through your website, trying to learn more about how you work and determine if you’re the right fit for them.

Different potential clients will go through the stages at different speeds. Some might go from stage 1 to stage 3 in a single day (or a single hour!). Others may take a week or a month or more.

So, how do these stages tie into what you should do with your marketing?

What does this mean for your marketing as a dog trainer?

Marketers usually think of these three stages as parts of a funnel. Stage 1 is called the “top of the funnel,” stage 2 is called the “middle of the funnel,” and stage 3 is called the “bottom of the funnel.”

A marketing funnel, showing bands of decreasing size as we go through the stages of marketing.

That’s because for every client who hires you, there will likely be many who make it to stage 3, but choose a competitor (or decide not to buy at all). And even more who make it to stage 2… and even MORE who start out at stage 1!

The hard truth is you’ll only see a percentage of people convert at each stage. Unfortunately, not everyone who has a behavior they see as a problem in their dog is going to hire you… Some may decide they can live with it; some may decide they can get “good enough” results themselves, etc. That’s okay.

As a business owner, you’ll want to move as many people in each stage to the next stage as possible, while losing as few as possible… but you’ll likely never reach 100%. Even professional marketers don’t aim for 100%! The lower someone makes it in YOUR marketing funnel, however, the more likely they are to buy!

Which means most of the time I recommend dog trainers start from the bottom when choosing what to prioritize when it comes to marketing, because if you’re turning as many “stage 3” folks into clients as possible, then any work you do on folks in stage 2 or up in stage 1 will have an even bigger impact!

Creating a Marketing Plan

It’s useful to think about the various stages as you plan your marketing and choose what marketing activities to spend your time and money on. I usually recommend trainers choose 2-3 marketing related things to work on each month, and then evaluate what worked and what didn’t at the end of each month before choosing what to proceed on for the next month.

In general, your stage 3 activities will be fairly limited… usually these are work on your website and/or an email newsletter. However, there are LOTS of options for stage 1 and stage 2. And some marketing tactics can fit into both!

For example, I might decide I want to focus on Facebook as one of my marketing activities for March. As part of writing my Facebook posts, sometimes I’ll try to create content that’s super sharable, in hopes of getting my current clients to share those things with their friends, family, and neighbors. Other posts may be started more at people in that second stage — perhaps giving them a change to “get to know me” or providing them a helpful training tip they can use.

Ideally, your marketing plan would include 1-2 things focused on stages 1 & 2 and then 1-2 things focused on stage 3. Then, at the end of the month you’d evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and do more of the first and replace the latter with something new!

Want to learn more about marketing, and how to use it to get more clients? I’m offering a workshop at FDSA starting on March 14th — and it’s currently open for registration! Click here to register (or learn more about) my workshop, “Something to Bark About: Marketing to Book Your Training Business Solid.”


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