Once upon a time, anyone involved in sales or marketing was well-versed in the importance of the “sales funnel”. It was touted as the gospel for successfully making sales and undoubtedly stood the test of time for many, many years. Slowly but surely the dominant reign of the sales funnel has all but come to an end. With the progression of technology and changing consumer behaviour, the tried and tested the application of the sales funnel simply doesn’t “fit” anymore.
For the uninitiated, what is the Sales Funnel?
The foundations of the sales funnel had their earliest beginnings back in 1898 and were referred to as marketing stages. Whilst the details and execution of those marketing stages underwent some manipulation and change over time, the premise remained essentially the same. Create awareness, further interest, foster desire, prompt action.
It makes sense to guide people along a predetermined path that was specifically orchestrated to have the best chance of achieving the ultimate outcome, which is to have them make a purchase. And this is where the marketing stages became a funnel.
When a potential customer first enters the funnel, the information and messages they receive are expected to be more indirect in nature. This is not the time or place for hard-sell tactics but rather building brand awareness and nurturing a positive relationship with your audience.
Once the potential customer has indicated a level of interest in your product or service, perhaps by taking some small and simple actions presented to them at the top of the funnel, such as downloading a free resource or watching a video, they then move further into the funnel and a step closer to becoming a customer.
The next stages of the funnel similarly guide the prospect through more targeted engagement and eventually on to a sale.
This is all well and good provided that the audience and prospects that you are engaging are “taking the bait” and moving through the carefully constructed funnel in the right direction. Sure, you can make adjustments along the way if you test and notice that certain strategies have more success than others. But what happens if, despite the testing and adjusting, it still doesn’t seem to be working?
Changing consumer behaviour means we need to change the way we market to them
A likely explanation for the lack of success with a traditional sales funnel approach is that it doesn’t accurately address modern consumers and the way that they interact with businesses and choose to make purchases.
In an article earlier this year, Lisa Gevelber, Vice President for Marketing in the Americas at Google observed that “People can’t remember what it was like to not be able to learn, do, or buy things when the need struck by reaching for the device in their pocket.” In the same article, she went on to identify 3 new buyer behaviours that describe modern consumers.
- the “well-advised” consumer – consumers increasingly want to make informed decisions, on any matter whether big or small, and it’s so quick and easy to use their smartphones and other devices to find exactly what they are after.
- the “right-here” consumer – consumers expect their mobile searches and experiences to be tailored to their physical location. Where once searchers would need to include a town, suburb name or postcode in their search, it is now assumed that their smartphone will automatically deliver this tailored information.
- the “right-now” consumer – consumers are more inclined to exercise their purchasing power immediately and whenever it suits them, no matter the time or place.
Customers are becoming a lot more “independent” and seemingly dictating their own sales processes as opposed to conforming to the confines of the sales funnel model. For this reason, it is important to adjust marketing strategies and approaches to have the best chance of engaging with your audience and having them choose you over a competitor when it comes time to buy.
Goodbye to the hard-sell
When looking at marketing strategies for the new age, one major factor to consider is that the days of the good old “hard sell” are well and truly gone. Consumers do not respond well to the assertive and some might say pushy sales tactics of days gone by. Instead, they are more likely to engage with businesses and brands that take a softer approach to their marketing. Focusing on building a sense of empathy and engagement by really listening to your audience, and then actually being seen to deliver on what it is they are telling you they want or need, is proving to be much more successful.
The birth of lifecycle marketing
The sales funnel worked well for the hard-sell “cookie cutter” approach. There is a prescribed formula or set of steps and both the seller and the buyer move through those sequential steps towards the end goal. But in a world where consumers and buyers are dictating a new way of doing business, how do businesses and marketers remain a relevant and engaging part of the process?
This is where the idea of lifecycle marketing comes in. Admittedly, it has some similar aspects to the sales funnel as they are actually important parts of the sales process, but it approaches and applies them a little differently.
As we have seen, today’s consumers don’t fit into one particular mold, they don’t all follow the same pattern of behaviours, they make their own independent decision and they definitely don’t want to be jammed down a funnel. So an approach that is fluid and flexible in the same way seems much more appropriate.
Lifecycle marketing has 4 clear stages:
- Reach and Traffic – building awareness and trust
- Interest and Intent – engaging via conversations, leads/enquiries, and subscribers
- Decision – conversions, getting customers
- Loyalty – fostering ongoing relationships via reviews and new content
It works off the premise that consumers won’t, and don’t need to, always move in a forward and sequential direction. They may move between the stages at any times and the structure supports this movement. Provided that the content and material that is used during each stage is appropriately constructed and executed, the consumer will not only be aware of the brand, but also feel supported and engaged, which is much more likely to result in not just a one-off purchase, but rather a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
At Clarity Marketing and Communication we can help you to plan and execute marketing strategies that are relevant in today’s consumer-centric marketplace. Contact us today to start a conversation.