We Did It! We Killed the Sales Funnel!

Ding dong, the sales funnel is dead – and not just the traditional sales funnel – but every sales funnel. Of course it’s still in use, but it doesn’t actually work anymore. It’s a Marketing Zombie (see All Marketing is Dead). It’s a dead method, but it’s still out walking around.

The traditional Mad Men era purchase funnel (which has been used for services and products alike) is also called AIDA marketing. The acronym stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. It describes a linear process that results in conversion (of a lead into a client). There are other ways of breaking it down, into 5, 6, or 7 stages, but the process and mentality are essentially the same. The theory behind the sales funnel, cum marketing funnel, cum purchase funnel is that if you get someone’s attention so you can explain the benefits of what you do, and trigger emotional desire on some Pavlovian scale, you get sales.

Here’s why that no longer works:

The Socially Connected Consumer Isn’t Listening to You – He’s Listening to His Connections

Social media has empowered people with a social decision-making apparatus. They’re using it. The most important conversation about your services is NO LONGER the one you’re having with your audience, it’s the one your audience is having among itself. In other words, they’re not trying to reach you, find you, or be ‘driven to your web site as traffic’; they’re not searching for you and I at all. They’re turning to their peers first, not search first. You get to contribute to, but not control, the dialogue. The choir doesn’t need the sermon anymore; so much for “awareness”!

The Savvy, Aware Consumer is Half Way Through the Decision By the Time They Reach You

With products, consumers try them at stores to buy them online, read the latest product comparison blog posts, haunt deal forums, and scan social pages to pre-narrow preferences right down to features, brand, and price. With services, they’re using referral networks liked LinkedIn, looking at informative content and comparing the voice and ideas of potential providers, and again monitoring social pages to pick possibilities. They don’t need their interest ignited by you and I; they come to us well after their interest has been ignited by need, social discussion, and content. This is called the Zero Moment of Truth. They’re fairly confident they can find solutions – they don’t have to wonder if they exist before they go narrowing down who has them. They come ready to play. So much for us and our sales pitch as the generator of “interest”!

We Choose Companies That Nurture & Engage us at ALL Points in the Sales Cycle

In the stagecoach era, where we were lucky to get a shipment of anything, in most towns, our focus was on availability. We’re at the opposite end of the spectrum, now. We don’t have a shortage of services or products; we can get what we need in most cases instantly. Amazon and eBay are even doing same-day delivery in our biggest population areas. It’s not just for products, so let’s not fool ourselves with a haughty “I run a service, not sell goods. I still think people look for…” No, they don’t. If whatever we were going to say was one thing, or two, or three, no they don’t. We’re just more entitled than all that, now. We’re pampered. We can get pretty much whatever we want, including all the airy fairy caring and group hugs and pats on the back and reliability and quality and more caring. We sleep through that kind of pitch, now. So what do we actually look for? Everything. Nurture and engagement at every part of the sales cycle, with every part and kind of interaction. Info, analysis, insight, recommendations, reviews, research, and more. We want it when we’re just thinking about it, actively hunting, coming back for more, referring others. If you let up, you lose to the next guy who doesn’t. Modern marketing focuses on content, social, and PR so heavily because that’s how companies nurture and engage long before we become clients, while we’re becoming clients, afterward, and onward as we become social informers for others. We’re no longer compelled by a dinner bell of availability, and we no longer have to search. We’re commercially oversexed, and we like it; so much for “desire”.

Transactional Relationships are Dying – Loyalty Lives Again

In a disconnected era, with less access to information, or even just at the mercy of a search box, we lamented the death of client loyalty. Well, it’s back. It didn’t die; it just took a nap. We’re socially conscious, and so brands must be, even and perhaps especially small brands. People care what you stand for, what you think, what you’re about that isn’t just selling them what you’re selling. Strangely, you see business owners complaining about this, because it means you have to think, be a thought leader, and engage in an authentic relationship with your client base. Bar owners did that for centuries in the old neighborhoods! So did doctors and dentists, once, and that’s on the way back too! In a complacent market, with people using you like a drag and drop shopping cart for what they want, they go anywhere else for a dollar savings, a little variety, or just because you always get treated better as a new client. The return of loyalty is a real opportunity, for a richer relationship that you can nurture and retain. Just moving units is short sighted, even if you’re a Realtor. It’s not about units sold, because you have to keep sustaining that like a kid paying rent on a college job. It’s a grind. Developing relationships is critical to ANY modern enterprise, yours and mine included. That’s gold, because people aren’t just being more loyal – they’re looking for someone to be loyal to. So much for fickle, momentary “action”!

Consumer Behavior is Not Linear – It Multi-tasks

In a different era, someone might do some research, call to ask questions, submit to a sales presentation, meditate or pray or ask a friend, and finally decide. Today, some people start by reading a life improvement article and filing it away. Some start by chit chatting in social venues about what everyone’s doing that day, and how, and with whom, and with what. Some start by looking at reviews. But the moment they get started, however they do so, they might take any number of different directions. The process is non-linear and non-immediate; it branches in all directions. Some people lurk. Some research for others. Some hunt deals. Some just keep hanging out socially. Some research some more. Some write about their thought processes in social venues and get feedback. Some watch videos on YouTube. And some do any or all of these things in any order, rinse, repeat, recycle, regurgitate, relapse, and return. Our behaviors are overwhelmingly non-linear – so much for the “funnel”!

The sales funnel is fundamentally no longer human. It’s might have corresponded to what we once were; there’s some debate in that. But it no longer matches who we are as socially connected, savvy and aware, entitled to be nurtured and engaged, loyalty-bestowing, non-linear people. Human marketing puts aside systems that become obsolete, but also recognizes that all systems must become obsolete, because were are fundamentally evolving. Humans transcend every attempt at pigeon-holing us through mechanisms of marketing, so marketers (and we all as business owners and professionals) need to focus on the humanity of the audience more than refining new systems.

Stay tuned for an upcoming piece on what replaced the sales funnel! Meanwhile, to learn more about dead marketing and what you can do about it in your own company, get a copy of All Marketing is Dead. To get help with your marketing strategy, contact me at MadPipe.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership in marketing, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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