As a marketer, this may be blasphemous to say, but the sales funnel… as we know it… no longer works. RIP Sales Funnel - you had a good run while it lasted.
I’ll give you a moment to settle. The traditional idea of the sales funnel is to pipeline qualified and quantified leads into the top of our sales process then as that relationship moves along the process, converts to a sale the lead drops out of the bottom of the funnel. The relationship ends upon close of sale. In order to keep sales dripping out of the bottom of the funnel leads need to keep pouring into the top… but what happens when your leads run dry? That’s the shift we’re in now.
The sales process needs to evolve right along with the evolution of the consumer. We are in a referral driven sales cycle where being known, liked and trusted are all major drivers in the sales process. The biggest consideration a lead is using to make their purchasing decision comes from personal referrals and recommendations. What are people in your community saying about you?
Let’s break down why the sales funnel is no longer working.
I hear you. “Not my sales funnel! We’re solid.” The only way to keep the traditional funnel flowing is to keep pumping leads into the top. This is becoming more and more difficult because of three key influencers. Access. Attention. Trust.
Access: There is so much information available at our consumer’s fingertips, literally! With the push of a smartphone endless options are available to your consumer and with the help of technology, we aren't limited to selection by demographics- which means our business isn’t the only player in the game anymore. It’s almost information overload. Consumers not only have access to the information to potentially solve their own problem, but access to your competitors and family and friends who are trusted referral sources. As marketers and business owners, it's our job to meet our ideal audience where they are in their buyers journey instead of our competition’s. But what makes us stand out amongst our competition before our ideal audience speaks to us? This is the question we must ask ourselves- are we providing the very best access to our brand?
Attention: How is your marketing message creating the attention needed to move those consumers to take action? To build trust in you and your brand? Attention used to be able to be purchased, right along with your marketing spend. These days are quickly coming to an end. You must EARN attention through permission based methods. Not only do consumers distrust marketing messages, but they are tuning them out - even those paid messages. They’re Netflix instead of cable, cell phone rather than the landline, swiping, blocking, ignoring and downright avoiding everything and anything to do with push marketing.
Trust: Let’s flashback/pretend for a moment. Let’s take a trip back to the late 90s and we find ourselves in the market for a new car. Car shopping the 90s was a much different experience than it is today. Chances are we visited our hometown dealer, had a chat with Bob the neighbor who lives three blocks down the road about what your needs are for your vehicle purchase. Bob gives you a few suggestions and you’re out the door with your new car because you take Bob at his face-value. There may have been a few marketing messages that you had seen to help get you into Bob’s door, but not like today. Now let’s follow the car-buying process today. It’s so not the same! You may see a car drive down the road or pop-up on one of the many screens in your life that attracts your attention. So you Google it. You start reading about the details and safety ratings of the car, checking out various dealerships to shop for the best deal, check out their incentives, chat with your friends and look for online reviews. You have your mind made up prior to even setting foot in that dealership because there may not be a “Bob” waiting for you that you will immediately trust with your purchase.
86% of consumers are more likely to trust personal recommendations than any marketing message or sales pitch. THIS is what’s changing that funnel process into what we use - a Flywheel. Those happy customers who are now out your door are providing others with recommendations. They should now be part of your sales process. Retaining and maintaining positive customer experiences will drive referrals. In fact, by 2020 experience will be the number one reason someone will choose your business over the competition as detailed out in a study by Walker Customers 2020. Those referrals and recommendations from online reviews (prior customers) family and friends should be part of your sales process as they are now becoming advocates of your brand. THEY are your marketing message. Back to the car purchase. Once I purchase a car then I become part of your marketing message as my experience will be what I share with others when they ask me about our interactions and relationships. What will I say? Will that be positive or negative? How are you delighting your customers along the way to nurture and build that referral source?
The marketing funnel sometimes will leave out that individual who may not fit the immediate needs. Whereas the flywheel concept works to nurture and build relationships so that when that contact is ready for services, they are looking to you as the trusted source. It’s a long end-game, but successful (and most importantly sustainable) when worked.
A relationship marketing methodology is key.
Word-of-mouth marketing is THEE best generator of business. People trust their communities. That’s where they are seeking their information - online reviews, recommendations from friends, shared experiences, peers and from their family - and if that’s the best generator of sales, that means you are either creating culture credit or culture debt.
What does that mean? Adding culture credit means you are providing value to others so they are advocating for you and this needs to happen at all points of interaction. Even if a consumer’s experience doesn’t end with a sale. Let’s say that car you purchased earlier was giving you some headaches. How your experience was handled by the dealership may not cause you to purchase your next car there, but if you have a customer service team who was trying their best to solve your problem and was going above and beyond to ease your pain point you may pass along a referral as they were willing to make your experience better.
Culture debt is any interaction that you - the brand - has made with the consumer that resulted in a poor experience. This could stem from team members who no longer work with your company who left on “not-so-great” terms. This could also be an interaction between a customer or potential prospect who felt they weren’t given a great experience. Basically anyone who is not willing to “vouch” for you because you’ve left them with a less than desirable feeling about the brand as a whole. This is why it’s super important to know who you want to take on as a client/customer and who you want representing the brand. Along with brand messaging, your brand experience must be consistent!
Advocates are truly heroes for our brands.
Shifting your mindset of how we traditionally think about marketing should focus on client happiness. Drill down your focus on current clients and what you can do to make their experience exceptional. One way to do this is by turning toward your aligned community. An aligned community may be like-minded businesses and individuals who believe in the same things, work within the same industries and maybe have found ways to collaborate. I can become my client’s hero by turning to my community to help them solve a pain point I might not be capable of managing. The relationship marketing process and flywheel is focused on building overall momentum. It’s focused on the long-end game, to keep growing that momentum and energy to push outward and expand.
When putting the extra effort into creating exceptional experiences we are turning followers into fans, community into collaborators and then taking clients and turning them into advocates. Don’t forget about your team members, lean on them as evangelists. Just because a sale converted once, doesn’t mean it will happen again - what can you do to kick it up a notch?
Are your efforts working?
How can you determine if your efforts are working, what should you be measuring? We measure engagement because if the audience is engaged then that means our content is resonating. And we also focus on reducing churn - client retention and if our word-of-mouth referrals are growing. We measure earned versus paid attention and focus on creating a balance of paid online advertisement with creating organic engagement.
One way to move your organic reach beyond your paid attention is to shift your focus beyond the sale. I see you clutching your pearls. It’ll be okay, I promise. We shifted focus for a client of ours to really try to provide content of value - aligning along product pitches - to move the needle for their online engagement and to start conversations with their followers. We identified her ideal audience by drilling down their buyer personas and focused on fictional “Sarah.” We created a campaign where we identified other real-life “Sarahs” to celebrate how they are influencing their community, being a rockstar in their space and created a custom gift to present to the real-life “Sarah.” We posted an image and a microblog on their platforms explaining why this person is amazing. Organic reach and engagement on these pieces of content literally jumped through the roof. (Beating out the paid ads!) It’s creating conversations, it’s turning followers into fans, and indirectly creating new consumers and brand advocates. This company has double and tripled their engagement by taking the focus beyond the sale.
The success of this campaign was due in part to creating smaller communities within the brand to speak directly to those consumers. Creating content to resonate with each individual persona and have been able to grow engagement and build conversations of value. I mentioned earlier that the amount of information we can access can be overwhelming… this is why many consumers are turning toward niche communities and dark social is continuing to grow at an accelerated rate. Dark social isn’t what you think. This refers to the conversations that are happening outside of your knowledge. It’s becoming more and more important to rely on our aligned communities and shift the marketing mindset from push to client happiness.
It’s time to take C.A.R.E. of our consumers.
Capture attention: who is your ideal persona and remember everything you put out should be in hopes of capturing this persona’s attention, to draw them in like a magnet.
Articulate your message: making it crystal clear what you do and what you do really well as well as what you don’t do will make it easy for others to communicate when making a referral. Helping you to stay top of mind.
Relationships: before they are a client or customer what is that overall process of on-boarding a new client/customer and how are you delighting and nurturing along the way to build a better relationship with audience/person.
Exceptional experience: how are you making someone's experience memorable and personalized? These could be sending one-off videos, personalized emails, handwritten notes to private communities you’re facilitating.
Moving from a funnel to a flywheel isn’t easy. But it will create sustainable results. As you hold this process strong, you will build a foundation to support your flywheel, your team and your advocates to keep the momentum to keep pushing outward.
Are you ready to shift from funnel to flywheel... how can we help?