Funnel Fun

I don’t believe in sales funnels.

It isn’t that they don’t exist or that customers no longer suffer requisite discovery steps before making a purchase. I don’t believe in sales funnels because one of marketing’s missions is to eliminate friction, to grease the path to purchase. Eliminating levels in the prototypical sales funnel speeds revenues and early retirement. It turns sales teams into order takers. It makes companies famous.

But it ain’t easy.

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For green marketers reading this memo, typical B2B sales funnels have a number of stages where, according to ancient lore, potential buyers fall out. The funnel concept was born in the old days when mass communications were the most common promotional tool. Theory said that you had to cast your lead generation net wide, gathering anything that smelled like a prospect, then toss aside those that failed tests at each narrower neck in the sales funnel. This ate-up most of the time of large and expensive sales teams who managed to misclassify prospects after their three martini lunches.

Life is ever so rosier when you bring pre-qualified leads in at the evaluation phase or lower. I know this because years ago the head of the sales phoned to ask if I would quit promoting the product for a couple of months — his team was overloaded with incoming calls.

Keep in mind marketing can never eliminate all the steps of product discovery that customers endure. Buyers must still discover your product, understand your value proposition, evaluate the product and more before signing a sales contract. Yet marketing can cause two things to happen that seemingly make the first levels of the sales funnel vanish. They can lead prospects through the chain of discovery and bias their purchasing decision. Done well, this delivers pre-qualified leads into the evaluation, trial or purchase phases and greatly shortens or even eliminates sales cycles.

But it ain’t easy.

There are a number of tactics for compressing this conduit. Three of the more reliable ones are:

Partnerships: Establishing strategic partnerships with other products creates a number of biases in the buyer’s mind. The product appears to be endorsed by the partner company, has an aura of assured viability, and makes competing products look more risky.

Branding: Creating significant brand awareness that carries a readily understandable value proposition takes prospects quickly to the evaluation phase, and has the wonderful side effect of being ignored by poorly qualified prospects. Keep in mind though that branding is a long game which takes time, money and patience.

Social: Peer reference creates product awareness and the appearance of viability. Social media is a way to generate deep understanding and interest in the product before any sales person is involved. However, like branding, you have to invest over the long term, spending time instead of advertising dollars to make it work.

Biasing buying behavior breaks sales funnels, and you want to break them.


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