sales funnel death

The Sales Funnel: Is It Dead? What’s Replaced It? (Video)

The sales funnel is dead!

I know, I know, shocking — right?

But maybe not, if you’ve had any worthwhile interaction with a typical online customer.

If you’re in marketing, at all, you need to watch this video.

I’ve got some thought-provoking insights about the sales funnel and how content marketing can play a big part in earning real customer sales, hot off the video production reel.

Ready?

sales funnel dying and content marketing

The Sales Funnel: Is It Dead? What’s Replaced It? (Video)

Is the sales funnel dead? 🤔🌪 🛑 Watch as @JuliaEMcCoy explains a century-plus old model, and how to cater to today's audience with four lifecycle stages. #contentmarketing #marketinglifecycle Click To Tweet

So why, first of all, am I making the statement that “the sales funnel is dead?”

In my Write Blog article from last December, called Goodbye, Sales Funnel & Hello, Marketing Lifecycle: 5 Hot Content Marketing Trends You Need to Know for 2019, I break apart piece-by-piece why the sales funnel is dead.

First, the sales funnel really doesn’t describe the way marketing should work anymore.

When the concept of the sales funnel first came out (1924), the internet didn’t exist!

Think about that for a second. And we’re still using it to represent our customer journeys? The AIDA concept was first proposed in Bond Salesmanship by William W. Townsend in 1924.

aida model

Here’s what Townsend actually wrote in his book in 1924, which gave us our first usage of this “sales funnel” as associated today with the AIDA model:

“The salesman should visualize his whole problem of developing the sales steps as the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel which produces the specific and favorable consideration of one fact. The process is continually from the general to the specific, and the visualizing of the funnel has helped many salesmen to lead a customer from Attention to Interest, and beyond.”

Bond Salesmanship by William W. Townsend in 1924

Does that sound like something our customers actually want from us today?

John Hall, co-founder of Influence & Co., a content marketing agency that has made the Inc 500 list, has said on Forbes:

“Right now, the marketing funnel as we know it accepts just about anyone and everyone, filters them through qualification processes, then spits them out at the end without much of a parting word. Too many companies see customers as gatekeepers to wallets; meanwhile, customers feel ignored at best – and insulted at worst – when the journey ends.”

'Too many companies see customers as gatekeepers to wallets; meanwhile, customers feel ignored at best – and insulted at worst – when the journey ends.' - @johnhall #salesfunnel Click To Tweet

In my article from last December, I drew a new marketing flowchart I’ve called The Marketing Lifecycle, which represents a more modern visualization of today’s buyer journey. This concept has started to go far and wide, re-published on MarketingProfs, MarTech Advisor, Content Marketing Institute, to name a few places.

marketing lifecycle with contentmarketing lifecycle ebook

The term “marketing lifecycle” itself isn’t new. Ardath Albee, an industry leader in content marketing, talked about a lifecycle on the Marketo blog. In the post, titled “B2B Tech Marketers Make the Shift From Funnels to Lifecycles,” she says:

“…Marketers [must] shift their focus from buying journey funnels to full-on customer lifecycle management.”

What’s important to remember is that today’s typical customer journey is far more unpredictable than the customer from just a decade ago.

Take a look at what our buyers are doing today…

  • 40,000 people are searching Google per second
  • 84% of buyers trust online reviews (BrightLocal)
  • 47% of B2B buyers read 3-5 blog posts or content pieces prior to talking with a salesperson (DemandGen).
  • 77% of Twitter users (Twitter) feel more positive about a brand when their tweet has been replied to.

That means that a typical buyer’s journey could look a lot more like this, and there could be a lot longer of a time period between the first and the last stage — or even shorter, depending on trust! — than a funnel even represents.

Our buyer journeys are transforming today. 40,000 people are searching Google per second; and a whopping 84% of buyers trust online reviews. @JuliaEMcCoy on the #deathofthesalesfunnel Click To Tweet

sales funnel marketing lifecycle pathway

The sales funnel really gives companies, and executive teams, the wrong idea of who is buying from them. A human is buying from us, in the end. I think sometimes many of us forget that simple fact. And as marketers, it shouldn’t be our focus to “grab” the attention of people who aren’t in our audience, for numbers’ sake. We should never only focus on “dumping people” at the end of a funnel.

It’s time to quit looking at our customers as if they are numbers, a metric in our system, a “wallet.”

It’s time to quit looking at our customers as if they are numbers, a metric in our system, a 'wallet.' @JuliaEMcCoy on the death of the #salesfunnel #marketing Click To Tweet

Our customers are so much more than their wallets. They are our friends, the people we want to help the most if we’re truly in business to make a difference. Let’s take a more nurturing stance that encourages people to stay in our circle: to join our community of readers, buyers, and evangelists.

4 Stages in a Modern-Day Marketing Lifecycle

Stage 1. Awareness

Lead is: In awareness

Brands need to focus on: Authority building in the industry with high-quality content on a key site “house,” in a variety of formats. Consistency, quality, and quantity all play in.

This is the traffic and awareness stage when someone first hears about you and has a potential need for what you might offer.

Your content and work here should be value-focused, first and foremost. Don’t be promotional or you risk turning leads off. Comprehensive, high-quality blogs are huge winners to build on your site for attracting more leads in the awareness stage.

Trust-building content is the Queen, and the Queen rules the house. Instead of just publishing any content to fill a schedule for pushing your brand forward in the industry with momentum, marketers will need to push themselves further to create content that earns that love and trust – stuff with deep originality, fresh angles on old topics, imaginative ideas, and a big dose of fun.

This trend is already reflected in the data. The majority of marketers (56%) are reporting that content creation is the one area where they have overwhelmingly increased spending, according to CMI’s Benchmark report for 2019.

What brands should create or do to encourage customer activity at this stage:

  • High-quality, comprehensive, SEO optimized blogs for inbound site traffic
  • Focus on building a community feel with your brand — create intimacy with your niche, again, through content
  • Original research studies
  • Web pages & site guides
  • Social media content, videos & copy
  • Published books by executive team leaders/CEOs (see mine for an example)
  • Lead magnets and ebooks & building list size and leads to nurture with opt-ins
  • Ad campaigns (cold audience)
  • Fourth-stage tie in: Maintain relationships at the fourth stage for more word-of-mouth referrals

Stage 2. Interest & Intent

Lead is: Interested and has potential intent to buy

Brands need to focus on: Conversational marketing. Holding live calls with strongest team members, offering client-specific or seasonal coupons.

In the sales funnel, this is usually broken up into two stages: Interest and Desire. However, the pattern with smart buyers today, especially those buying online (digital and physical services), is that a lead can go from interest to desire very quickly. Never write off your leads too early. We’ve seen clients come back out of the blue months or even years later time and time again.

And guess what the #1 factor is in moving someone from interest to a decision? A real, live human conversation.

After 8 years and $4+ million in sales, all conducted not in person and over the “internet” virtually with clients using our website, we consistently see conversations as the #1 factor in moving someone from interest and intent to decision. Yet, this is a metric left out of ALL KPIs and ALL sales funnels!

After 8 years and $4M in sales, all conducted not in person and over the 'internet,' we consistently see conversations as the #1 factor in moving someone from interest to decision. Yet, this is a metric left out of most sales funnels.… Click To Tweet

How many worthwhile conversations are you having?

Since our leads at Express Writers are 100% inbound and already warm, getting them on a call is easy – and once they have a conversation with one of our capable staff members, 60-80% of the time, they buy.

Allowing the lead to choose phone, chat or email, and then being quick to take initiative, pick up the phone and call is the #1 component of all of our sales. (We’ve never used a single webinar to sell our services at Express Writers.)

Also, our top salesperson is not a salesperson. We stopped doing commissioned sales back in 2015! Instead, our top salesperson is someone who has a ton of experience in client support and serious hand-holding chops, because that’s what it takes. You have to have someone that enjoys this process and loves working with clients.

I can’t recommend this enough: Have more conversations with your leads. Talk about the conversations you’ve had in your boardroom with executives and team members.

Another powerful factor in moving a client through this stage is by using coupons and offering them more.

Remember your email marketing efforts here too. Emailing your content marketing pieces generates a 38x return for every 1$ spent (CampaignMonitor).

What brands should do at this stage:

  • Conversational marketing (live chat, phone appointments with leads & best company representatives)
  • Messenger bots & live chat apps
  • Have your best (human!) representatives at the end of the app & booking live calls with leads
  • An easy-to-navigate site with clear contact forms
  • Lead magnets around your core message
  • Ebooks to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise
  • Whitepapers and case studies showing off client success stories
  • Email marketing and list building efforts (write and send great emails consistently)
  • Ad campaigns (retargeting)

Stage 3. Decision

Lead is: Ready to buy

Brands need to focus on: Having samples, previous happy client reviews, and quotes ready to go. Booking sales calls.

This is the action stage. The main action here is sales. If the other stages are done correctly, and your content has built a great presence, you offer a solid service and products, and you or your team has answered every question; the prospect should buy.

What brands should create or do to encourage customer activity at this stage:

  • Conversational marketing (live chat, calls, prompt follow-ups with clients to answer every question)
  • Have a team that acts fast on sales quotes. The recommended time to get back to someone who contacts you online now is 0 minutes – 4 hours, max.
  • Have work samples ready to show at request for new clients making a decision
  • Testimonials and reviews from prior happy clients help new clients buy with confidence
  • Optional, based on specific company time: Demos (a complex SaaS, for example, could benefit from offering demos)

Stage 4. Loyalty

Lead is: Delighted and willing to send referrals

Brands need to focus on: Great service, delivering a great product, following up and checking on client happiness levels, fixing or repairing any reason for dissatisfaction

This is where you connect with and delight your customers on a regular basis. They become advocates for your brand at this point.

This is one of the most important parts to building a long-term presence and profitability as a business, yet it is so often left off of the sales funnel! Your customers’ loyalty reflects the strength of your brand. You should be reaching out and making sure your customers are happy, checking in with them, and sending them occasional gifts or thank-yous to maintain that relationship and loyalty. It’s up to you as the brand to make sure the customer is delighted. If at any point they’ve been dissatisfied, it’s also imperative to find out why and repair whatever could be broken.

What brands should create or do to encourage customer activity at this stage:

  • Followups and seasonal check-ins: build relationships with customers without being pushy
  • Send gifts and thank-yous — I send a handwritten note with the books I publish
  • Email marketing: Nurture buyers’ loyalty by sending them your new guides, blogs and customer stories/team stories
  • New products, books, etc. can also build loyalty and reoccurring interest
  • Good service and strong products are #1: Revise and maintain your offerings and team to ensure strength in the market

For more on these four stages: Goodbye, Sales Funnel & Hello, Marketing Lifecycle: 5 Hot Content Marketing Trends You Need to Know for 2019

marketing lifecycle ebook

3 Sales “Patterns” from Studying Our Customer Journeys at Seven Figures Annually

To conclude, I’ve been studying the pathways of the inbound customers we’ve had at Express Writers, as we ended our first $1.5 million gross annual sales.

There are a few things I’ve noticed that consistently happen around the sales journey that really does not match up to today’s sales funnel at all (see AIDA model, above).

1. Predicting where a lead is at is almost impossible.

In short: we can’t read a human buyer’s mind. Software can’t heat-map a lead’s “brain,” even though it’ll promise you that it can try. Your lead could be ready to buy, or they could be months away from buying. It’s their decision, not yours, on how and where they should spend their money. In the end, we let our customers know the decision is theirs, and we simply work to stay top of mind.

2. Loyalty is a stage that’s often forgotten, and best built through great internal service.

This stage is when our biggest sales happen! Not at the first close. And the loyalty stage happens AFTER the interest, decision, and action stages. If we’ve served our customers well enough, and maintain that relationship in a way that encourages them to tell others about how much they love us, this pays off.

3. Conventional KPIs can actually pull focus away from a real path to sales.

For example, one of the biggest “metrics” for actual sales from content is the conversations we have with our leads. If our team isn’t having calls, live chats, email conversations every DAY with our leads, then we revise and improve our inbound strategy. We work on our chat popups. We add or remove questions to our forms. Conversations are by far our biggest metric that leads to a sale. Yet I never see “conversations” factored as a KPI in the sales funnel! Instead, it’s open rates, follower counts, bounce rates.

None of that matters half as much as the conversations you’re actually having with your people.

Conclusion

I hope this inspired you and shed some light on the very difficult topic of our customer sales journey.

If you have questions or thoughts, you know what to do — leave a comment!

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