How digital killed the sales funnel.

If you went to school for business or communications, you’ve probably heard of a concept from the 1800s called the sales funnel. If not, you’ve likely heard of a synonym such as the AIDA-model, sales pipeline, or purchase funnel. Recently, due to the development of digital sales and marketing, critics have come to suggest a modified version of the traditional sales funnel.

What’s wrong with the sales funnel?

1. The funnel assumes a linear buying process but in reality, buyers behave erratically. Customers bounce from one funnel stage to another, come in and out at various stages, and skip stages. This fluidity is contrary to the idea of a funnel which has only two openings at the top and bottom.

In both B2B and B2C businesses, customers are doing their own research both online and with their colleagues and friends. Prospects are walking themselves through the funnel, then walking in the door ready to buy. – Mark Bonchek and Cara France, Harvard Business Review

2. Marketing is separate from the sale. The funnel shows marketing leading a consumer to purchase and assumes that marketers aren’t part of the sale. However, in today’s world where customers are able to self-educate themselves, marketing and sales go hand in hand.

Marketers are providing content and resources to inform buyers before they contact sales. Both marketing and sales need to consider the complete end-to-end buyer journey and work together to close deals. – Mike Renahan, HubSpot

3. The end goal is a purchase. Before the internet and instantaneous communication, options were limited and places to purchase harder to find. Today, options and places are plentiful and comparison shopping is the norm. Due to this increased competition, companies are focusing on engaging customers through centralized marketing rather than a simple sale.

The first step is to begin thinking in terms of people, rather than platforms. Marketers need to be ready with a holistic message that can be seen by consumers wherever they are, at any given time, agnostic to the platform or device they’re currently using. Centralized marketing teams need to be able to look at campaigns across all touch points, identifying how each peg in the pinball machine contributed (or not) to the sale at the end. – Jason John, AdvertisingAge

4. Relationships are more important. In the digital age, people can experience brands through social media, virtual reality, live events and more. Gone are the days where you have to be a customer to be a brand advocate. Because of this, marketing has changed from leading directly to sales to being more about the relationships built along the way.

Consider a real world journey of a family’s trip from the U.S. to Mexico. Visa mapped out the entire experience, from where the family gets ideas on where to go (TripAdvisor), to how they gather input from friends (Facebook), to how they pay for their cab (cash from an ATM) or hotel (credit card), to how they share photos of their trip with friends back home (Instagram). Only a few of these situations are opportunities for transactions, but they are all opportunities for relationships. “When you change from decision to engagement,”Antonio Lucio, Chief Brand Officer at Visa says, “you change the entire model.”Mark Bonchek and Cara France, Harvard Business Review

What does the new sales journey look like?

The most important change in the sales journey is that buyers now research many options and move towards the sale at their own pace.

New sales funnel illustration.

How can marketers navigate the new sales journey?

In the digital world, marketers need a complex understanding of the sales journey and the many resources customers have at their disposal. To pursue relationships and experiences over persuasion and promotion, marketers need to turn to big data and analytics for help.

At Fraser, we study analytics to understand where people are in their sales journey. We recently conducted a program for our client using retargeting, where we tailored unique messages for different consumer segments. We were able to shorten purchase consideration time by half, therefore lowering our client’s CPA (cost per acquisition). – Renee Fraser PhD, CEO at Fraser Communications

Although the reliability and predictability of the customer’s journey has disappeared, marketers today have a valuable opportunity to connect with future customers and build ongoing relationships. Through analytics and tracking, marketers can develop holistic messages that engage customers beyond the traditional sale and foster a meaningful relationship.

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