I hate to break it to you, but it's over. Our long love affair with the traditional sales funnel, which was a straight line from awareness to sale, is coming to a close. Instead, we're getting to know the sales cyclone.
We’re all familiar with the sales funnel - that graphic we saw in our undergraduate program, and probably still makes an appearance at many of today's internal meetings. It lays out the steps of closing a new customer that salespeople are meant to complete, in the order they're most likely to go. The model has served us well for years, but with the introduction of big data and artificial intelligence engines, the sale cycle is becoming obsolete.In its place is a new sales situation, but it’s closer to a cyclone. According to a new McKinsey report, being cognizant of the consumer decision journey (CDJ) should be the top priority for marketing teams brainstorming how to retain and grow their brand following. The CDJ of which they speak is replacing the traditional sales funnel. You can already see from where the image of the cyclone comes. It shows a more realistic model for how easily you can lose a customer before you ever know they're interested.
Here’s what you need to know about the new sales protocol, and how to adapt your marketing and sales teams so that they can make the most of this new change, instead of getting blown away:
Focus on Awareness
While aggressively going after customers still has its value, the net that's bringing in the haul is awareness campaigns. While the exact number is in dispute, researchers agree that on average, over half of all B2B buyers conduct their research online before ever contacting the vendor they're investigating. They may not even go to your website more than once or twice. Instead, they'll choose to look for reviews and other documentation about others' experience with your product and brand.
For your marketing team, this means making sure your brand is on top of those reviews—both those written by previous clients and those written by reporters—and are in good order. However, that's not enough.
Engagement Is Key
We all know that the sales funnel—as well as this new, as-yet-unnamed model—is just as much about established customers as it is about attracting new ones. They may not have to go through all of the tiers, but their customer journey is there. So, it's important to realize that this new, evolving sales cyclone has many more holes in it than the sales funnel, so it's so easy for you to lose even long-time customers.
Don’t believe us? Gallup found, in a recent survey, that only 29% of B2B customers are engaged with their vendors. That means that less than a third of their buyers are emotionally and psychologically attached to (statistically speaking) your brand. That other 71% is at risk of being taken by a competitor, or leaving the market entirely! All those hours your salespeople poured over winning their accounts could be so easily thrown away if you fail to engage these existing clients.
The best way to ensure that your marketing and sales team work together to engage your customer base is to start using data and artificial intelligence in your favor:
● Invest in personalization methods that make your customers feel like they were heard and cared for. You can create this feeling by collecting data from your CRM system, which can be used to design the perfect re-engagement campaign.
● Focus on creating customer impact, or a notable positive change in their organization, business model, or bottom line. This may be anything from offering re-training to ensure your product is being used effectively to providing a customization you previously refused to provide.
● Also, invest in a customer success department or vendor that will proactively seek out and help any company that's struggling with your product. This investment can mean the difference between a cancellation and a doubling of services next quarter. Frequently, professionals are simply too overwhelmed to want to learn anything new.
Last Word — Provide a Human Connection
What's the core message here? Being able to shuffle buyers through a lockstep method to purchase was easy, but now that they can research your industry and "shop around" anywhere anytime, the sales funnel no longer cuts it. If you want your brand to succeed in gaining new clients and retaining the ones it already has, make sure each client feels they have a human connection with your brand by providing it. Proactively reach out to them, ask if they need help, and occasionally give them little gifts "just because." Just like in a real relationship.