Next-generation technologies such as social, mobile, the cloud and big data are profoundly changing the way we interact with each other and the way we do business, and the trend is only accelerating. According to International Data Corporation, worldwide spending on these technologies will grow 3.8 percent this year to more than $3.8 trillion.

This new era of technology is upending the traditional sales funnel. Instead of following a set sales process, consumers now learn about products and services on their own terms. To keep up, marketers must use data and digital tools to learn about and engage their prospects and customers.

Technology Flips the Funnel

Vendors controlled the traditional sales funnel, which was sequential and focused on products. Customers learned about solutions on vendors’ terms. They gained awareness through online, event or email marketing. If they expressed interest in a solution, a sales team reached out to provide personalized information, answer questions, show proof of concept and scope a contract.

But next-generation technologies have transformed this model. Customers can now access information online in an instant, so there is no need for sales calls. Both businesses and consumers can fully analyze a solution online before ever contacting a seller. Instead of relying on vendors, customers validate solutions by referencing trusted independent sources, such as users, market experts and industry analysts.

Customers don’t answer sales calls anymore. Instead, they initiate contact only after researching solutions and coming to a purchase decision. In the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry, many customers purchase vendor solutions online without ever interacting with a salesperson.

The New Model Presents Challenges

This new model is great for customers because it gives them control over their own sales journey. But it presents challenges for marketers because they now must use a consultative approach to meet demand for more personalized experiences that are tailored to address customers’ specific needs.

Relying on a one-size-fits-all marketing funnel turns off customers and has proven to be inefficient. And without a standard sales funnel or direct customer engagement, marketers have to find new ways to learn what their customers like, what social networks and mobile devices they use, and what content they share.

Adopt New Strategies for Success

Marketers can no longer gather information about customers through the traditional sales model, but they’re not flying blind, either. Try these tactics to increase your chances of success:

  • Gather data: Customers use technology — such as online forums, social media, webinars and blogs — to gather information about solutions, and CMOs can access a wealth of information about customers by analyzing these channels. Marketers not only can determine what content customers view and share most, but they can also identify the best influencers, the best followers and the best content creators.
  • Segment audiences: Armed with the right data and technology, CMOs can segment audiences by interest and create content to engage prospects in the buyer’s journey. By strategically distributing this content and monitoring its consumption, marketers can see how their efforts are affecting their prospects’ journeys.
  • Leverage tools: There are many tools that can help CMOs with data analysis; Curata, ChiefMartec and Gartner offer great guides for navigating this maze. This is where SaaS collaboration comes into play; the ability to create, share and edit content on any social network or application and to know which content is the most viewed or shared is vital content intelligence. SaaS providers should provide APIs that access, aggregate and analyze this information.

As customers increasingly learn about and choose services on their own terms, discovering how these customers navigate the sales journey is crucial to serving them well. With the right data collection and predictive analytics, you can identify behavioral patterns, anticipate needs, engage customers and ultimately provide services that delight.