Marketing and sales teams have spent years trying to perfect the art of the traditional sales funnel. In this model, prospects enter at the top of the funnel and move seamlessly through distinct phases – from awareness into consideration and evaluation – until they are finally ready to make a purchase.
The marketing team manages the very top of the funnel, creating brand awareness, then passes the lead along to the sales team to nurture the lead and close the sale. The funnel is linear and orderly, resulting in a nice tidy sale and a happy customer at the end.
The problem? It’s not at all the way consumers are making buying decisions today. People don’t follow a straight line from awareness to purchase. In B2C and B2B businesses alike, customers weave in and out among different funnel stages before buying.
A customer looking to buy a new car, for instance, might start by asking her friends for recommendations, then go online to browse manufacturer websites, Social Media accounts, influencer blogs and third-party review sites. Before she ever sets foot in a dealership to talk to a sales rep, she’s already done a substantial amount of research, and she knows what she wants – if she goes to a dealer at all. Digital car buying services can now do all the searching and haggling for her, and online car vendors will let her make a purchase from her living room couch. The future of “car shopping” will most likely be a subscription model, which will further enforce the importance of companies nurturing an ongoing customer relationship with the help of marketing.
According to a report by Forrester, 68% of B2B customers prefer to research independently online. In the past, the sales department was the gatekeeper of information, and buyers had to meet with multiple representatives during the information-gathering phase. Today, buyers do not need – nor do they want –to meet with a sales rep. Instead, buyers will likely conduct their own research online, identify the companies they would like to engage with and ultimately control the entire process. This major shift requires companies to redistribute the responsibilities between the marketing and sales departments.
McKinsey popularized the term “customer decision journey” as an alternative to the traditional funnel. This circular journey has four phases: initial consideration, active evaluation, closure (buying) and postpurchase (experiencing purchases).
The customer decision journey is a helpful model, but it is still based on a transactional relationship with customers. We need to go even further and develop ongoing relationships with our customers beyond a single transaction. We must create a different approach to sales and marketing, one in which we provide value for customers on their terms.
Center On Customers’ Needs
Companies need to make it easy for potential customers to do business with them. What information is relevant and helpful in their search? What are they expecting to find? Take a step back to fully understand the process your buyer, or client’s buyer, goes through while researching options online. A crucial part of providing relevant information is making it personal.
According to research from Boston Consulting Group, brands that are investing in personalized experiences are seeing revenue increase by 6% to 10%; but only about 15% of companies are categorized as personalization leaders, while another 20% are experimenting with one-to-one campaigns.
Let Customers Take The Wheel
Put customers in charge of their own decision journey, and make it easy for them to access the information they want. Customers who visit your digital properties to find answers to their questions will leave if you make them work too hard.
Many company websites have linear site maps that don’t align with the way people move through the buying process. Information is not structured around the customer decision journey; it’s organized around the company’s objectives. Are your product pages dead ends, or do they lead deeper into the site, linking to specifications, reviews and similar products? Look to Amazon as an example; customers can always find more information and continue as far as they wish on their journey. They are in the driver’s seat.
Anticipate Their Needs
Many companies have automated parts of the decision journey without considering if these changes will add value for the customer. Marketers often use data and hypertargeting in an intrusive way, bombarding customers with offers they don’t want or information they have no use for. When you let go of the aggressive sales pitch and focus on what your customers do value, you begin to build mutually beneficial long-term relationships.
A sports clothing and accessories brand, for example, could inundate its customers with unwanted automated emails about new products and special sales. Or it could instead create a more curated and customized experience based on customers’ past purchases and ongoing habits. If a customer buys a pair of running shoes and logs 150 miles in them on the company’s fitness tracker, the brand could invite him to sign up for a shoe subscription service. Every set number of miles he runs, he’ll receive a new pair of shoes (and maybe a few little extras) in the mail without having to think about it. The customer benefits by the brand anticipating his needs, and the company benefits by fostering a relationship with a loyal customer.
As we move away from the funnel and toward a multi-layered approach to sales and marketing, the possibilities will only continue to grow. Innovative brands will discover new opportunities to connect with customers in a meaningful way.
To be successful in this post-digital world, companies must have a clear understanding of the customer decision journey, defining the new roles and responsibilities divided between marketing and sales and understanding clearly what customers need and want. Technology can empower brands to deliver this experience in a personalized and non-intrusive way, but it requires a well defined strategy and marketing should play an essential role in developing a lifelong customer relationship – a Share of Life.