Our assumptions about how to manage sales and marketing, along with our sales funnel, have to change to fit new buyer behaviors that have been shaped by technology.
Sales funnels were initially developed to identify where on the “buyer’s journey” sales prospects were located at any given time. The goal of marketing and sales was to move a prospect progressively deeper into the sales funnel – turning them into a lead, then into a customer, and then into a champion for the brand.
This system worked for a number of years. But, since life has fast tracked into today’s digital era – complete with social media, multimedia, and networked consumers who have access to more information than a human could ever process in a lifetime – any reliance upon traditional sales funnel tactics can be a frustrating experience.
The New Normal for a Sales Funnel
Today’s prospects keep violating our assumptions. They are breaking out of the nice, neat boxes into which our traditional processes used to be organized. Buyers are still on a journey of awareness, understanding, and decision, but how that process now occurs has dramatically changed. In order to keep up, here’s what you need to know:
- Consumers now drive exploration and decision making.
With extensive access to information via the Internet, today’s consumers are now able to self-educate regarding new and innovative methods and solutions to address their pain-points. Since sales funnels were initially built to serve the company, rather than the consumer, any cookie-cutter message that offers nothing beyond prompting an uninformed purchase will be of little value.Understanding a prospects position along the buyer’s journey is important, but you must also provide them with valuable content that will support them in their process of discovery. They will appreciate your expertise and willingness to help them explore and learn, rather than pushing back against your efforts to pressure or pigeonhole them.
- It’s not a linear journey.
Any assumption that people still move along a theoretical straight line from awareness to decision is flawed. Again, due to their access to mountains of information online, prospects are likely to break out of your sales funnel if they decide to look for (and compare!) other options… or they may just break into your sales funnel at any level of their choosing! If you simply must use the visual idea of a funnel, picture it with lots of holes in the sides… more like an antique food mill. People will continually spin in and out of your sales process, based upon their needs, interests, researched discoveries, and the level of trust that you have built with them. Respect each customer’s unique process and support their personal experience.
- Embrace the social buyer.
You can try to fight it, but the reality is that buyers of all types are now socializing – learning, sharing, and comparing – their decision making processes with others. They trust the opinions of their friends, colleagues, and even your employees more than they trust you. Whether they are an institutional buyer or a soccer mom, a teenager or a retiree, social influences now play a major role in every decision. This is a trend that you can actually employ to your advantage! Ensure that your sales process incorporates the power of social sharing. Empower employees, customers, and repeat buyers with easy-to-use social sharing tools and then pay close attention to the results so you can adjust accordingly.
- The buyer is a crowd.
In B2B sales, the social element takes on an institutional reality: The sales journey is not something that occurs for just one person, but rather with multiple people. The average B2B sale calls for input from as many as eight decision makers, and requires four to five formal signatures. Utilize a well-developed content strategy reaching into all corporate levels and across all phases of the buying process. To ensure adequate amounts of buy-in, you now have to intentionally build relationships throughout a business’ structure in order to make the sale.
More than a CRM
Businesses have used the sales funnel to plan for, lead, and follow prospects’ successful progress towards becoming a customer. However, “success” in the era of networked consumers requires more than simply an isolated CRM (customer relationship management system).
You now need a comprehensive approach that integrates key elements like:
- Web and social content publishing
- Social monitoring
- Action response management
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
Since buyers now drive their own education and buying process, your ability to track that activity and support their journey is critical. This approach is known as an “inbound strategy” (helping customers find what they are looking for).
In order to discover how to best apply and effectively use each of these tools in your modern-day CRM tool belt, you must deepen your understanding of your audience. Utilize the template below to detail a persona that describes each prospective buyer. Take the time to especially explore the specific kinds of media, news and social networks that each persona uses. Understanding these channels will give you important insights into the kinds content that you should be using to attract and engage your prospects throughout the sales process.