Rethinking the Sales Funnel – Part 3

A new way to represent the sales funnelLet’s marry together the ideas of the broken sales funnel and the industrial process.

We’ve already turned the traditional sales funnel upside down so that leads come in at the bottom and are driven upwards by ‘energy input’ from both the buyer and the seller.

We’ve also established what sorts of sales catalysts can be used, and when, to minimise the dwell time at each stage.

Before tying the two concepts together, it’s worth looking at that ‘stage between the stages’ that I’ve called ‘Qualification’.

Qualification should never be seen as a single activity. It should be a continuous process being applied at every touch point to establish whether your prospects should stay in or leave your sales-marketing funnel.

I’m happy to send you more information, Mr Prospect. Tell me what problem you are trying to address so that I send you information that is relevant and helpful.

To help me send the most appropriate information, what will you do with the proposal once you have received it?

…and so on. 

Prospect Advances To Next Stage in Sales Process

Prospect Advances To Next Stage

In an ideal world (we wish!) the prospect will qualify to move straight to the next level of the process. Of course, there are other outcomes which, whilst not ideal, are still desirable.

The prospect is still interested in what you are offering but the qualifying criteria to move to the next stage have not been fully met. However, things are still active within acceptable time limits – you and the prospect just need to do some more work!

Prospect Stays Within Current Stage of a Sales Process

Prospect Stays in Stage

Prospect Moves to a Nurturing Stage of a Sales Process

Prospect Moves To Nurturing Stage

The prospect is still interested but not within the time limits you have identified as realistic. This is where your content really comes into its own. Put them into a nurturing campaign and keep up the regular contact with a supply of valuable and useful information. DON’T use ‘just checking in’ calls or e-mails. They don’t add value and are just an irritation.

During qualification, you discover that the prospect should fall back down to a lower stage of the process. This may be because you have misunderstood the situation or the prospect has held back information. Examine everything you have done to get to this stage and fill in any gaps.

Also, this may not be an issue with anything you have or haven’t done. Priorities change all the time within any company and it may just be that something urgent has come up. Remember that the prospect is will within your sales funnel. All is not lost!



Prospect Moves Back to a Previous Stage in a Sales Process

Prospect Falls Back to Previous Stage



Prospect is Qualified Out of a Sales Process

Prospect Is Qualified Out

During your qualification, it becomes apparent that some things we never meant to be – the prospect drops out of your funnel altogether. Don’t despair, you will never sell to everyone. Console yourself that you haven’t spent a lot of time without reward and move on to the next prospect.

Plotting all of these outcomes on a single drawing clearly shows that the sales process is not a linear progression from lead to order. Rather, it is a semi-closed loop in which a prospect can move forwards, backwards or sideways within the process or can be qualified out of the process at any stage.

Semi-Closed Loop Sales Process

Semi-Closed Loop Sales Process

Note that the placing of an order doesn’t necessarily remove the customer from your sales process.

It’s widely accepted that it costs far less to retain customers than to find new ones. So the obvious thing to do is move customers into a nurturing process. Continue to provide them with information which is of value to them until they are ready to move back into a buying/selling process.

If you’re very lucky, customers may immediately pass back into your sales process at any level. It’s a process, you need to do the work to understand where!

What are the benefits?

  • If nothing else, remapping your sales funnel will encourage you to think about the real criteria needed to move from stage to stage.

Remember, ‘real’ criteria are not only the things that you need to happen. More importantly, they are the things that your prospective customer needs to happen. If you ignore this, you risk travelling down a different path from your prospect and moving further away from winning their business.

  • Once you know the real criteria, you can map your existing content to your sales process.

This brings a degree of rigour to where and how you should use appropriate sales support materials but it also identifies any ‘holes’ in your content. As you understand the triggers that move your prospect forward, it should be obvious what new content needs to be created to fill the holes.

  • The discipline of creating and using process-led thinking will change the way you approach sales.

Turning the funnel upside down reinforces the need to put work into moving prospects through the funnel, including what are the best catalysts at each stage. It also brings clarity to why any given prospect is at any given stage within your sales funnel.

  • Replacing an open, linear process with a semi-closed loop captures and retains those prospects who are not yet ready to buy.

Crucially, they are also kept within an information loop (your nurturing ‘tank’) whilst you have a very clear idea of why you have removed anyone who is not now, nor ever likely to be, a customer.

I make no apologies for the fact that it’s taken nigh on 3,000 words to get to this point. “Nothing happens until somebody sells something” and if we want to continue selling, and grow the sales of, our products and services, we need to update our approach and bring some formality to the process of selling.

After all, Harvard Business Review discovered thatsales forces were most effective at managing their sales pipelines if they had invested time in defining a credible, formalized sales process (and that) there was an 18% difference in revenue growth between companies that defined a formal sales process and companies that didn’t.

Would you like to grow faster than your competitors? Contact us if you would like to create a formal sales process or revise your current one.

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