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The Sales Funnel is Dead – Long Live the Sales Cycle

Posted on by Joyce Ouellette (view posts by author)

The sales funnel. The customer-decision journey. The purchasing funnel.

The sales funnel. The customer-decision journey. The purchasing funnel.

Whatever you call it, the general idea of the sales funnel has remained unchanged for decades – it describes the process of taking the customer through an initial awareness of a product or service, all the way to when they decide to purchase your product. From Point A to Point B. It’s a foundation of marketing theory.

But this foundation—and analogy—is imperfect at best. No funnel that I know is so leaky as to lose the majority of its contents before reaching the bottom. And in today’s new world of work, potential customers simply aren’t entering the funnel at the top and progressing downward. Customers are entering the buying process at different levels and always absorbing information about products and services, even when they are not in the process of making a purchasing decision.

Instead of considering this process as a funnel, your business should consider customer engagement as part of an ongoing sales cycle, and adjust your processes accordingly.

The Always-On World

Consider your everyday life. No matter where you are, you face a constant barrage of advertisements and messages designed to influence your behavior. And some of those messages stick better than others. Subconsciously at least, when it comes time to make a purchase, these have an effect. This is what has been called “passive-stage bias,” and it has an impact – according to a recent study, more than half of consumers have a strong idea of which brand they’d be buying before they began the buying process. They spend much less time considering their decision, and even care less about price as a result.

Customers aren’t coming into a purchasing decision with a blank slate. They’re active and engaged, and often entering the process near the end of the so-called funnel.

The Importance of Customer-Facing Workers

In a past paper, I talked about the importance of maximizing the quality of customer engagement touchpoints, or basically, making sure that each interaction with a potential customer is achieving maximum value for your business. That means finding efficient means of distributing information throughout your workforce, and making sure your customer-facing employees have the tools they need to provide a quality customer service experience. Consider this graphic1 of one customer’s decision-making process:

 customer engagement touchpoints

From awareness to service, this is a pretty standard idea of the traditional purchasing process. But what happens when your customers are starting this process near the end of the consideration phase? Does your business have the right people and processes in place to engage a potential customer for the first time so close to their purchasing decision? After all, in today’s business world, you often only get one (very brief) chance to make a connection.

You simply cannot rely on a single communications strategy, or emphasize one aspect of the business over the other. From marketing to PR to call centers to the social media team, everybody needs to be on the same page, equipped with all of the tools they need to not only have anytime, anywhere access to key information, but also to be able to respond to potential and existing customers with speed and self-assurance. Improving your company’s customer-facing processes not only boost revenue and sales – it ensures that no matter where you engage a customer in the sales cycle, they’ll receive the same quality experience.

Building an Advocate

There’s only one problem with the graphic above – it’s linear. Loyalty isn’t where the customer’s journey ends. It should instead loop back to the consideration and purchasing phase, with branches reaching out to their contacts – your future customers.

In an ideal world, your customer becomes a brand advocate, passing along the good word about your business via word-of-mouth, while foregoing the consideration of competing products or services.

That’s the sales cycle. And it all starts with making sure that you have the right internal processes for your workforce to access, use and share information, in order to deliver the type of quality customer service experience that they’ve come to expect.

1 “Today’s B2B Customer Decision Journey represents anything but the traditional, linear sales funnel”, McKinsey & Company

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