Rethinking the Sales Funnel – Part 2

A new way to represent the sales funnelThe sales funnel is no longer an accurate way to map the sales process. A bold statement but we laid out the reasons why we feel this way in Rethinking the Sales Funnel – Part 1.

One area in which the model does hold true is that it is widely accepted that your output (orders) is a small percentage of your input (leads). (In a real funnel, of course, everything that enters also exits.)

In addition to that, the sales funnel model is wasteful as most people don’t consider what happens to the leads that leave the funnel early. “They’re not important as they are out of the funnel.”

Twenty-first century selling is just too complex to allow you to discard unconciously any prospects in the belief that there are plenty more fish in the sea. That doesn’t mean that you should chase every prospect in the belief that it will turn into an order. That is also very wasteful.

Instead, it’s better if you understand exactly why a prospect leaves the funnel.

A Better Map for the Sales Process

In any process, there is a natural inertia to be overcome to move things from one level to the next. Some form of energy needs to be put into the system in order to make the process flow. In our classical funnel, gravity provides the energy but temperature and pressure are the usual suspects in industrial processes.

However, it’s not necessarily true that ‘more energy = faster flow and better yield’. There are many other factors at play, such as dwell time at each stage. Additionally, it’s possible to reduce the amount of energy required by using catalysts.

Conditions at every step of the process need to be optimised to ensure timely movement of maximum yield to the next stage. This is important because each step requires further investment in time and energy: in simple terms, the costs increase from step to step and you want to minimise those costs in order to maximise the return on your investment.

How is this relevant to the sales process?

Despite what a lot of people think, sales don’t just happen. There are a number of stages that must be passed through in any sales process. What is often forgotten is that to every sales process there is a complementary buying process, with its own set of stages to be passed through.

Parallel Selling and Buying Funnels

Regardless of which side you are on, like an industrial process effort, is required at every stage to move you forward.

On the selling side this effort will come from the salespersons time spent making phone calls, attending meetings, giving presentations, sending proposals, negotiations and so on.

On the buying side this effort will come from the buyers time spent on internal meetings and discussions, external meetings and phone calls, evaluating proposals and so on.

At each stage, both the buyer and the seller will collect and consider many things before being comfortable enough to move to the next stage. We can consider this to be the dwell time at each stage.

It should be obvious that the sum of the dwell times for each individual stage is equivalent to the length of your sales cycle. By tracking dwell time (or velocity) at every stage, you can quickly identify prospects that are not conforming to the norm and need some additional attention.

Sales Catalysts

Traditionally, the catalysts that help you move things along were called marketing collateral. The current term is ‘content’ but it’s exactly the same thing – sales aids intended to make the sales effort easier and more effective.

In their post How a B2B Technology Company Creates Lead Gen Offers That Fill the Funnel, SP Home Run outline the most appropriate content types for the different parts of the sales process.

They split the sales process into three sections which they call Top of Funnel, where potential customers are researching the problem, Middle of Funnel, where buying criteria are being established and Bottom of Funnel, where vendors are being evaluated.

In her book, Watertight Marketing, Bryony Thomas talks about the Logic Sandwich applying to the buyers journey. In the early stages of the buying process, the ‘top of the funnel, researching the problem stage’, emotion plays the major role in grabbing someone’s attention whilst logic is just hanging around in the background.

At this stage, the buyer isn’t looking for hard facts and figures, they are looking for a more general answers to their question “we have this problem, how do we solve it?”

Effective catalysts at this stage are things like

  • Downloadable checklists
  • Downloadable guides
  • eBooks
  • Informational resource kits
  • Special reports
  • Videos
  • White papers

As the prospect moves through the process into the ‘middle of the funnel, establishing the buying criteria’ stages, logic takes the driving seat and looks for proof that the decisions being made are sensible. Emotion is outside, kicking the tyres and having a crafty smoke.

Now is the time for your facts and figures, in the form of

  • Buyer guides
  • Catalogues
  • Comparison matrices
  • Free samples
  • ROI calculators
  • Spec sheets
  • Webinars

Once they get to the ‘bottom of the funnel, evaluating and deciding’ stage, emotion comes back into play (mostly relief!) and logic is again standing against the wall of the dance-hall.

At this point, the customer is looking for confirmation that they have made the right decision. This comes in the form of

  • Customer Testimonials
  • Talking/e-mailing to existing customers
  • Reference visits
  • Relevant Case studies
  • Hands-on Trial
  • Third-Party Reviews

Each piece of content has its own purpose and its own place in the overall scheme. Provide facts and figures (logic) to someone who is asking themselves how to solve a particular problem (emotion) and they will likely ignore you.

Them: “How can you ensure the security of my manufacturing process?”

You:“Our widget X performs 20 gigaflops per cycle, which is more than anybody else’s.”

Just doesn’t work, does it?

In Rethinking the Sales Funnel – Part 3 we’ll tie together the ‘broken funnel’ and ‘industrial process’ ideas to suggest a better way to approach sales in the 21st Century. If you would like to know when it’s published, just e-mail us and we’ll let you know.

(This post is based on an article first published by Neil Fletcher on LinkedIn. You can find the original article here.)

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  1. Joshua Feinberg

    Hi Neil
    Thanks so much for referencing my blog post in your article here. And I totally agree. Traditional sales collateral has morphed into content. There’s so much competition for people’s attention that virtually no one wants to read a spec-sheet until they’re at the very tail-end of the buyer’s journey.
    So many companies still make the mistake of trying to prematurely force their products and services onto prospects when they haven’t yet earned trusted advisor status.

    Best regards,
    Joshua Feinberg

    • Neil Fletcher

      You’re welcome, Joshua! As you might guess, I think there are so many problems with the way some companies still try to do business as if it was still the 20th Century! Understanding what to (and what NOT to do) and when are the keys to moving sales forward.

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