Do you know when the idea of a sales funnel came out?
That was 1924 (a concept proposed by William W. Townsend) according to most experts. Here’s a tidbit of what Townsend wrote in his book, which is today associated with the AIDA sales funnel model:
“The salesman should visualize his whole problem of developing the sales steps as the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel which produces the specific and favorable consideration of one fact. The process is continually from the general to the specific, and the visualizing of the funnel has helped many salesmen to lead a customer from Attention to Interest, and beyond.”
I don’t know if you’ve made the connection yet, but in 1924, the Internet did not exist! And the type of customer that Townsend was referring to back in the day was very different in behavior, needs, desires, and aspirations.
So how can we possibly expect that in the present day, the same tactics and methods that served us will continue to produce wonderful results?
The same mistakes we’ve always made in the past seem to follow us. We argue for our limitations and seek out shortcuts as much as possible. We are regurgitating what already exists instead of thinking up new ways to advance. Is it simply laziness? Ignorance? Or a cocktail mix?
The truth of the matter is, the sales and customer experience process has changed dramatically. Whether you’re starting out or looking to grow your business into something sustainable, you will have to make some significant mindset and strategic shifts because the reality is your customers want and expect to be marketed to differently. The old funnel structure will not work, and here’s why.
Why the old funnel structure has become obsolete
Harvard Business Review took the time to interview some of the leading marketers in the world from companies such as Google, Intuit, Sephora, and Twitter, and they found that in today’s diverse marketplace, there’s a myriad of ways that people learn of and interact with a product. “According to these marketers, the primary problem with the funnel is that the buying process is no longer linear. Prospects don’t just enter at the top of the funnel; instead, they come in at any stage.”
So the standard approach to building our funnels is the “take everyone then spit out the ones that don’t work out” tactic. This is probably what you’ve been attempting to do with your product or service. It’s a focus on short-term gain, which can never lead to lasting success.
Whenever a new client has an initial conversation with me, I am always keen to hear their expectations and strategy around lead generation and paid advertising. When I encounter someone who cares about reaching everyone on Facebook and driving as much traffic as possible to their landing page – I know we have a problem. The traditional funnel promoted this type of thinking, and most marketing gurus today still advocate that, but I realize that mindset is part of the problem. Focusing on numbers instead of people is the old way. It was about the transaction, not the service, and definitely not relationships – which is why a linear approach worked. But if you want to stay ahead in your niche, you’ll recognize that longevity in your business success requires more than just casting a wide net to catch a few good ones and discard the rest.
So here are my two core reasons why you need to rethink your current funnel
1. Decision making is becoming more and more influenced by convenience, technology, and social media. It is also becoming more of a journey and experience meaning, as Harvard reported; a linear approach will no longer effectively serve your business. This means that for your customer to say yes in today’s digitally connected world, that decision is influenced by various things, including and not limited to:
• How you make them feel.
• The journey they are on.
• Social media, search engines, influencers, and other Internet-related factors.
• The perceived value of what you offer.
2. Business is shape shifting from purely transactional to relationship-based. In every sector and niche, you will find it increasingly normal to see brands both small and large bridging that impersonal, transactional perception that has been reigning in business. In the same Harvard Business Review, Antonio Lucio, former Chief Brand Officer at Visa, says what we need to do is shift our priorities. We must make customer relationship our priority, not the transaction. While still working with Visa, Lucio and his team created the “Customer Engagement Journey,” a model that restructures the transactional process. In a customer engagement journey, the transactions are designed to occur in the context of the relationship rather than relationships occurring in the context of the transaction. He shared an example to simplify this. Consider a real-world journey of a family’s trip from the U.S. to Mexico. Visa has mapped out the entire experience.
• The family gets ideas on where to go from Trip Advisor.
• They also gather suggestions from friends on Facebook.
• The family decides to get cash from an ATM to pay for their cab.
• They pay for the hotel using their credit card.
• The family takes pictures and shares photos of the trip with friends back home via Instagram.
First glance at these various touch points and one might think Visa plays a small role in the list of things the family is experiencing. But I encourage you to pause and do “big picture thinking” for a moment. Sure, as a transaction, it’s just one of the touch points, but in terms of nurturing relationships and building loyalty and brand equity, the whole experience is relevant to Visa. So the transaction itself is just a small piece of the puzzle – not the end goal. As Lucio emphasized, “when you change from decision to engagement, you change the entire model.”
The biggest mistake you could be making in your marketing funnel is making the end goal a transaction. Restructure your funnel to be a journey, an ongoing experience not a step-by-step hard buying funnel. The purpose of your business and all your marketing efforts should be to connect with and serve your fellow humans and bring them value to the best of your abilities – anything that jeopardizes that must be discarded.
Expect that as human behavior shifts and technologies advance, what once worked will no longer be valid. It’s important you learn from the mistakes of the big companies that are spending millions and sometimes billions in advertising each year. Transactional marketing won’t work for your business. Linear thinking won’t get you the revenue you desire. Learn from the past, take the best practices, and customize them to suit the journey your ideal customers are currently on.
As technology continues to become more sophisticated and things like machine learning and AI take effect, you need to be ready for anything because the business world is going to feel like a wild rollercoaster! But if you start making the mental and strategic shift discussed above, you’ll be able to navigate whatever comes your way.
So what do you think about the traditional funnel?