We all love the sales funnel…at least in concept. Visually, it’s the perfect model: Our leads pour into the top of the funnel. As they move through the middle of the funnel, marketing and sales both qualify the leads. And buyers flow out the bottom.
Or do they?
With the increasing complexity of B2B purchases, sales cycles are becoming longer, and more decision makers and influencers are involved in the buying decision.
It’s time to stop playing a numbers game and just pouring leads into your sales funnel. Now’s the time to flip the traditional sales funnel on its head and create a new model. The image of a sales and marketing pyramid helps you understand that you need to be more responsive to buyers’ needs throughout the sales process. You must assist them as they climb the pyramid and reach the pinnacle—a decision to buy from you.
The Changing Buyer’s Journey
Where once sales were relatively linear—prospects came into your sales funnel and decided either to buy or not to buy—today’s buying patterns have changed. The buyer’s journey is more complex, more fluid and increasingly self-directed. Above all, we know that leads don’t naturally convert into sales. Left to make the journey on their own, buyers easily stray off course:
- Easy Click Comparisons
With the click of a mouse and a Google search, buyers can find several companies offering similar products/services.
- Omni-Channel Marketing
With so many more sources of information at buyers’ fingertips (e.g., social media, webinars, digital advertising, blogs, white papers), the buyer’s journey is no longer linear. Buyers can jump in, download some information, fall out, and just as suddenly return and commit to buying. With so many touch points, it’s difficult to know where buyers are in their journey.
Third-party reviews, customers’ referrals and comments, competitors’ promotions and your own content are all helping to disrupt and distract buyers’ already short attention spans. And when vendors see the sales funnel as a pure numbers game, they’re looking to attract leads—whether committed to buying or not.
Turn the Sales Funnel into a Pyramid
A sales pyramid presents a more accurate model of today’s sales process. It’s a reminder that buyers and vendors must climb several significant steps to reach the top of the pyramid. You need to help them because there is no natural gravitational force downward, drawing them to a decision to buy from you. Instead, leads and prospects need assistance up the pyramid.
As a result, you need a well-defined lead management process that reflects an understanding of each step to the pinnacle. That’s how you’ll be able to transform prospects into customers.
The process includes:
The better you understand who your best customers are, the easier it is to target similar prospects. Review your past sales, identify your best customers and use that insight to build a business persona for companies and decision makers with the highest propensity to buy what you have to sell.
When you know your market, you can create a message that speaks directly to buyers’ wants, needs and concerns. Apply this message consistently to content disseminated across all media channels, such as blogs, whitepapers, social media, and webinars.
Once you’ve drawn prospects to your message, you need to give them a reason to ask for more information. Almost half of marketers create highly specialized landing pages for each campaign, offering valuable content, demos, trials and consultations. In addition to building on your targeted message, include a call-to-action that invites leads to sign up for more information. Alternatively, offer an inbound phone number answered by knowledgeable associates who can collect contact information, qualify leads and answer callers’ questions.
Only about 25% of leads are ready to convert when you capture them. Another 25% are likely not qualified. The remainder will convert at some point, but may choose your competition’s offering instead of yours. If you’re not offering them a helping hand up the pyramid with lead nurturing, it’s good reason for them to stray. With outbound telemarketing and email, marketing can nurture prospects. As they continue to engage and qualify leads, they’re also informing, building trust, and suggesting solutions to real problems. The more personalized the messaging, the better the prospects’ experience. And when they’re ready to buy, you have a better chance that they’ll come to you first.
When does a marketing-qualified lead become a sales-qualified lead? It’s an important question because sales and marketing are often at odds. Traditionally, marketing has played a numbers game, thinking the more the better. Sadly, that’s not true. Sales wants a few good leads they believe they can close. Unless marketing and sales agree on their definition of a qualified lead, sales reps will fail to follow up on marketing’s leads.
With well-qualified leads in hand, sales is prepared to act. And when marketing consistently updates the company’s system of records or CRM, it’s easier for sales to pick up the ball and continue to build their case and engage prospects in the critical discussions that will ultimately close the sales.
- Measure and Optimize
Analytics and marketing automation tools have revolutionized our ability to understand the sales and marketing process. Given the increasingly non-linear trajectory of the sales process, tracking prospects’ path to purchase and how they respond to various content and offers becomes more important than ever.
The days of just playing the numbers are past. Today’s marketing and sales teams need to work together to target their best leads with a series of carefully crafted messages and activities that help them climb the sales pyramid. Leads alone are not enough. It’s the ability to convert prospects into customers that raises ROI and increases the bottom line.