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What Happened to the Sales Funnel?

The way customers buy has knocked the funnel sideways.

The traditional concept of the sales funnel is gone. If you're still thinking only about volume as a factor in the sales equation, you're missing the conversion to buyers being in control of their buying process.

The old way went something like this: Pour X# leads into the top of the funnel if you want X# sales at the end of the quarter. Rinse and repeat. To me, this was always a curious process as it had nothing to do with the leads as human beings dealing with problems, but played percentages.

If the number of qualified leads you’re producing is decreasing, go back and look at how you’ve focused your campaigns. Are you only focused on getting clicks (what you want) or are your communications targeted at generating dialogue through helpful exchanges of information (what they need)?

Your house list is a valuable asset, but growing demand means you need to spread your content around. If your communications plan only involves distributing content to that list, you’re missing a lot of opportunity to engage new audiences. Since increasing qualified demand is one of the top two marketing concerns in 2009, it’s imperative to embrace a new strategy.

The new way is focused on being found when a buyer goes looking. Marketers must consistently distribute content considered valuable enough to motivate a dialog. Once you’ve got your prospects’ attention, work on building initial interactions into engagement through consistent, relevant exchanges of information that help them make better decisions.

Marketing in this new era requires some shifts in thinking:

Instead of choosing your leads, they choose you.

If you try to control the information flow, they'll go find what they need somewhere else.

Instead of products, buyers want ideas and strategic insights.

The sales cycle is now the buying process.

Pull is more important than push.

Outside-in trumps Inside-out

Peers are more integral to decisions than companies.

So what does marketing do now?

Marketing must flip their focus from their companies and products to their customers. A lot of companies say they are, but according to customers, they're missing the boat.

When you think about your lead database, for example, do you think about "Jerry" or do you think about SMBs with $50M - $100M in revenue and 100+ employees in the financial services industry?

Do you think about what your customers need to confidently deal with that new industry regulation, or do you think: "Product X is what they need!"

You have to start thinking about how buyers deal with problems. Product X may very well be a viable solution. But, until prospects learn how to think about solving the problem, factors to consider, available options and alternatives, they won’t know how to choose wisely. Before they even get to thinking about your product, they need to develop a level of competence about the issue that gives them the confidence to move forward to the next step.

That's an entirely different informational need than the feeds and speeds about your product.

If you continue to think of the sales funnel as a volume and percentage play, making the shift to marketing in a buyers' world is going to be harder than it has to be. In this kind of an economic market, can you afford to hold on to old thinking?

I submit that the funnel is now a cylinder. It invites your prospects in at one end and then creates a consistent delivery and exchange of strategic ideas, information and insights to help them progress from priority shift through purchase decision. Leaks are plugged and the goal is to get each of them what they need at the right time to move them to the next step.

With content designed to help them move through their buying process at a rate they’re comfortable with, more of those purchase decisions will favor your company as the best choice.

More Stories By Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist of her firm Marketing Interactions, helps companies with complex sales increase and quantify marketing effectiveness by developing and executing interactive eMarketing strategies driven by compelling content.

Her book, eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, was published by McGraw-Hill.

Her articles and blog posts have been used for university ezines, published in CRM Today, Selling Power, Rain Today and Enterprise CRM News. Marketing Profs has incorporated her blog posts into a number of their "Get to The Point" newsletters.

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