The sales funnel is a classic business concept, and until recently, it’s been illustrated in steampunk terms: a hard, rigid container that forces potential sales directly down from top to bottom in a straight line. Occasionally, there are clogs in the plumbing, or the side of the container springs a leak, and you lose prospects and conversions.
While sales funnel management is more relevant than ever, today’s view differs from past iterations. For maximum results, start thinking of your funnel as a linked system of interactive, integrated aspects of CX, rather than as sharply separated segments.
Managing Your Sales Funnel
There’s no set rule about how prospects should enter your funnel, and these days, prospects can enter the funnel at virtually any stage. In other words, modern sales funnels are as dynamic as your prospects. Trying to force everyone through a single-track system will only limit your ability to connect with and close more business. The first step to managing your sales funnel is accepting that there is not always going to be a clear beginning, middle, or end, and your prospects may skip or repeat certain stages.
Instead of thinking of you funnel as something made of steel, think of it as breathable, high-performance microfiber. The best sales funnels are flexible, and what was once strictly bad news may be good news: permeability. The fact that a lead may slip away also means that the same lead may be re-contacted, cultivated, and brought back into your flow toward the bottom of the funnel, resulting in a sale.
The flow of prospects from the top to the bottom of the funnel isn’t entirely linear. Brian Clark, CX expert puts it best:
“Conversion is a constant process, from outer circles to the innermost. Each step inward represents a greater degree of belief that we are the solution to that individual’s relevant problems and desires. The successive experience reinforces greater belief, which leads to trust and another step through our customer lifecycle.”
Anatomy of the Sales Funnel
The map of the funnel has become increasingly sophisticated with the advancement of digital metrics as the primary wayfinder in building business. And there are unlimited nuance of opinion as to what exactly comprises the layers that drive business from broad, generic awareness to the final inking of the deal. But here’s the basic concept:
- Awareness – Prospect becomes aware of solutions to a recognized problem
- Interest – Prospect begins to research solution options
- Evaluation – Prospect examines and compares competing solutions
- Decision – Prospect selects a solution, and begins to negotiate terms
- Purchase – The prospect agrees to terms and commits to sale
Other diagrams of the funnel may include the words “Consideration” and “Intent,” and the order of the layers may be organized differently. But the premise remains constant: to draw in potential leads, refine the selection, and pull them to the conclusion which is a conversion or sale.
Today’s prospect demands far more true marketing in the form of education, arguably brand-neutral communication of additional benefits, and specific points of difference. These tactics need to stay in play until the order is placed.
For instance, if you’re selling a high-end skincare product online, you may begin with the obvious “romance pitch” — the night-cream makes your skin look and feel younger, dewier, and radiant. Further into the funnel, you may share a factual video with the prospect about how your product uses an organic botanical ingredient instead of (much cheaper) mineral oil, since the latter may cause breakouts. Even deeper into the funnel, you may share a link to an unpaid testimonial from an animal rights’ group, praising your brand for cruelty-free manufacturing practices. While all three of these touchpoints sell, the last two of the three have more to do with creating a powerful brand story versus transactional selling.
Developing the customer journey with this level of depth and intimacy is necessary, because our digital world barrages prospects with constant opportunities to slip through the permeable wall of the funnel with just a click or a swipe.
Common Flaws, Simply Fixed
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to lead prospects though your funnel is only pitching the sale once. Consider a mixed-media approach when pitching for the second time. If there was no response to an email — and prospects generally will respond in 24 hours if the answer is a yes — try an alternate approach with direct mail marketing.
The arrival of a handwritten note, in an actual envelope, with a stamp, and delivered by the USPS gives the communication an aura of urgency, surprise, and relevancy, all keys to successful customer experience.
Growth hacker Syed Balkhi warns against another common problem in site development and navigation: too many steps in the purchasing process.
“If someone is already expressing interest in your brand, there’s no need to make that person opt-in using three separate emails or filling out multiple forms. This will only increase your bounce rate and decrease your conversions.”
Perhaps you’re simply waiting too long to respond to leads. While playing hard to get may have its appeal in some settings, delay is the enemy of effective funneling. How fast to respond to a lead? The short answer is, fast; ranging from one hour, to within 5 minutes, to only a matter of seconds.
The good news is that a tsunami of potential business is racing toward your funnel right now. The challenge for your business is to meet the prospect from all sides with CX that translates to the first purchase — and many more to follow.