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In 2015, Are Your Customers Really Still Following the 'Sales Funnel'?

August 10, 2015
By Tracey E. Schelmetic - Telemarketing Software Contributor

When’s the last time you overhauled your sales process? Not just made a few adjustments, but scrapped it and built it from scratch again? Successful sales processes aren’t about the sales department: they’re about the buyer, and buyers change. Today’s buyer is not the same as he or she was or 20 years ago. IF your organization “has always done it this way,” it may be why you’re not connecting with buyers anymore. A depressing number of companies today are relying on sales training and enablement tools that reflect assumptions about how buyers purchase today.

According to Frank V. Cespedes and Tiffani Bova writing for Harvard Business Review, the standard “Awareness to Interest to Desire to Action model (AIDA) has been a staple of sales and marketing departments for more than a hundred years, and it’s still the foundation for many business-to-business (b-to-b) companies. You might also call it “the sales funnel.”

“The typical funnel starts with a marketing-generated lead for a ‘suspect’ that, after qualification, becomes a ‘prospect,’ and then a customer through steps that are measured and managed,” wrote Cespedes and Bova. “In each step, sales people are expected to perform a series of tasks, usually sequentially, in order to close. It’s an inside-out process and CRM systems are there to provide data about progression (or not) through that company’s funnel steps — the famous ‘pipeline’ metrics that dominate so much talk about sales.”

Of course, you might think. This is the law and the foundation of the sales process. Humans aren’t really any different than they were 100 years ago when it comes to buying influences and how they respond to sales campaigns…are they? The answer is, “Yes, they are.” According to research by Gartner (News - Alert), customers are really poised not to go through a tunnel, but instead work through four parallel streams to make a purchase decision. According to Cespedes and Bova, these streams include:

Explore. Here, buyers identify a need or opportunity and begin looking for ways to address it, usually via interactions with vendors and self-directed information search on the Internet.

Evaluate. Buyers take a closer look at options uncovered while exploring, again leaning heavily on self-directed search and peer interactions as well as vendor sales representatives.

Engage. Buyers initiate further contact with providers (or accept proposals from providers) to get help in moving toward a purchase decision.

Experience. Buyers use a solution, increasingly in pilots or proof of concepts, and develop perceptions about its value based on that usage.

If your b-to-b sales structure is still set up to support customers in a funnel, chances are good that you’re losing them somewhere along the way. It’s critically important to understand which channels are producing the most leads, and focus your efforts on them. But you need to focus those efforts in the places where customers are at any point in the sales cycle. There is evidence that the traditional “sales funnel” is a tool created to meet the sales organization’s needs. Since revenue depends on customers, and not the preferences of the sales team, it makes good sense that a revamped sales foundation would be crafted to work according to customer preferences. 

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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