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The Sales Funnel is Dead (So Let’s Talk About How Your Customers Are Really Buying)

Once upon a time, ad agencies ruled the roost.

You already know this. It’s why we have shows like Mad Men, where what it took to sell things was just some really smart, gorgeous advertising. It was all about creative campaigns. It was about talking to your customers. It was, essentially, a one-step sales funnel. Advertising got them in the door, and then it was up to the sales team.

No longer, friends.

You probably already know this, too. But the days of the simple sales funnel (customer sees ad, customer comes to store, salesperson sales product) are over. Kaput. Done for.

(And don’t think I’m just talking B2C; B2B customers are even less likely to see an ad and buy on the spot.)

Now, it’s the strategic online marketer who is winning the majority of business. It’s trust, built on engagement, that is driving business decisions. And that shift that’s already happening? It’s going to keep happening—and in an even bigger way in the coming years.

So, today I’d like to talk about that shift.

First, let’s talk about the old buyer journey.

It started with said buyer stumbling upon product information via an ad, a trade journal, or something similar. Then, if said buyer needed that solution, he or she would reach out to the vendor to get more info. There was no way to research your products without you knowing about it. No way to compare you to the competition without giving you a head’s up.

And then came the internet.

Now your customers are researching you online. They’re checking out your website; they’re reading reviews; they’re browsing blogs. The customer funnel has stopped looking like a funnel and started looking like a maze (wondering what it looks like? Forrester has one example.)

You can lose customer interest and never even know it. Or you can gain trust without ever picking up the phone.

An opportunity for change…

B2B marketers are a few steps behind the curve. We could be creating customer engagement, encouraging exposure, building trust. But right now we’re still focusing a whole lot of our efforts on dated ideas of how the sales funnel works.

This is where we need to shake things up, change our perspectives, pay attention to the shift that’s already happening around us.

We need to get realistic about our sales funnels, understanding that they aren’t a single pathway, but a series of possible touch points with our customers.

We need to map out where our customers spend time online and what they need to hear from us.

We need to get strategic about engagement and step out ahead of the competition to grow our businesses.

(And when I say “grow our businesses” I’m not just talking about more engagement with our customers…I’m talking about more business. More real dollars. More real sign-ups. More real, measurable growth.)

A little homework assignment

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to talk some more about the major shift in the buyer’s journey, the new role of the marketer, and how content fits into this big picture.

Oh, and we wrote a free eBook on the topic. You should go get a copy.

But for today, we’ll leave you with a little homework assignment. Clear an hour on your calendar. Pull in colleagues who work in sales, marketing, and customer service. Grab a white board or an easel. And start mapping out the many pathways that your customers are taking to get to the final sale.

Understanding how your customers are buying today will help you identify what is working already, what isn’t working at the moment, and where customers need you to make new paths for them.

Thoughts? Comments?

As always, we’d love to hear your take on the new way customers are buying. Just leave a comment below or drop us a line.

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