This post is idiot proof.
The sales funnel has evolved dramatically in the past 15, heck even in the last 5 years. Your potential customers are smarter than ever and that’s why you have to be agile enough to change the game.
CEM is a writing service, not a full service marketing company. I wish I had the resources to create a boatload of white papers to explain all the intricacies of the modern sales funnel. But I don’t. Fortunately, there are plenty of companies out there who have the info you need. Skim this post for the basics, then head on over to Marketo to get some more in depth stuff. If you like to read offline, check out this lovely new book by Marketo’s CEO.
Sales Funnel Basic #1: Recognize the shift in knowledge sharing
50 years ago we had door-to-door salespeople. They came to your house or office with their vacuums or pens. They had their little pamphlets and stored knowledge. When you wanted to ask a question about how a product worked or how well it was received, your only choice was to seek out the salesperson.
Unless someone in your town also used the product, you were unable to share notes about the effectiveness, drawbacks, etc.
In short, you needed to talk to sales in order to get the information you needed for purchase. There was no way around them.
In the past 50 years this has shifted as the access to shared knowledge has transitioned out of the hands of sales and into the hands of the end consumer.
With the rise of the social internet not only can you ask a gazillion people their advice about a product, often you don’t even have to ask because their recommendations or feedback is just a few inches below the buy button.
And if you aren’t sure if you trust a particular website, all you have to do is Google their name to check for negative reviews. In the US, you can often search a specific state’s Secretary of State website to verify the company has registered for state and federal taxes. The good and the bad is out there for all to see.
If you want to create a successful sales funnel you can’t ignore the access of your clients beyond what you are giving them. Unlike the door to door salesman of 50 years ago, your potential clients can (and probably will) spend countless hours interacting with your company’s body of knowledge without you even knowing about it.
Sales Funnel Basic #2: Your clients aren’t cattle
Though it is very smart for you to create a website that is “simple stupid” in order to increase business conversions, you can’t act as if your clients are cattle.
If you want a successful sales funnel you have to provide two things:
1) Easy and obvious navigation
I realize this seems a little counterintuitive so let me break it down.
Easy and obvious navigation
This means having a very clear CTA (call to action) for each page. Nobody will buy your product if you never close the deal. Nobody will know to click on the red button instead of the green button unless you make it obvious.
Your sales funnel should include some very simple and obvious steps from point A to point B. BUT, it also needs options.
What are options?
Options are things for people to do that aren’t quite ready to go to the next step. Ever wonder why car dealerships park their cars out front and the sales building is in the back? It’s so that people are enticed by the cars and have something to do while they are thinking about their decision. Can you imagine if car dealerships left the cars in the back and you had to talk to sales before you could even look at a car?
And this is not a lesson in content marketing, it is a lesson in the modern sales funnel. It’s not about being too pushy or promotional, it’s about not having options.
For example, I can’t tell you how many people have asked me to write content for their 5-page website, only to complain a few months later that they didn’t make any sales. When I chat with them on the phone, I often ask them to walk me through their sales funnel. Too often, I get a response like:
“So they get to the main page, maybe they go to the About Us page, then they click to the services page and then they buy.”
“They find a post on social media, go to our page, go to the buy page and then they buy.”
Really? Is this how you think business is being done now? If the above describes your sales funnel you are making a huge assumption: that your clients are cattle.
It’s true that your Google Analytics “Visitors Flow” might show people making this journey but what GA isn’t showing you is that the same person visited your site 10+ times and has been interacting with you on social for a while, saw your banner ad 15 times before clicking through, etc.
Slapping up a website and providing only a super simple journey from hello to sale, without any options, is akin to the car dealership parking all their cars in the back.
Sales Funnel Basic #3: Know your turn
Don’t feel bad, this “basic” has eluded lots of people, myself included. I think modern marketers are so highly sensitive about sales and self promotion that we often avoid closing the deal.
Don’t worry – this time, it is all about you!
As your potential clients move through your modern sales funnel they will want to hear more about your specific company. Sure, they might have landed on your site via a Facebook post or read your blogs a few times, but by the time they show some genuine interest it’s time to show a little skin.
I have a few of our writers contribute to our company blog. I try to leverage this as a learning experience as often as possible. Obviously I want people to make mistakes on our blog, not our clients’!
One of the things I ask each writer to do when submitting a blog post is to answer the following questions:
Is this post a product guide, an advice article or news?
Does this post answer a Who/What/Where/Why or When?
Is this targeting early/middle/late stage buyers?
These three questions, along with other info I require, make sure that the writer has thought out all angles necessary to provide a decent post. And you want to know a secret? The first few times they do this they all get the last question wrong.
Because the last one is a trick question. At the end of the day, your blogs should all be geared at early stage buyers.
Your blogs (unless they are password protected) should be the net that reels visitors in. It’s the shiny cars out front, the content that anybody and their brother can see. You shouldn’t be making a sale with your blog posts or nurturing a lead. Those are different. That’s what guides, email marketing and newsletters are for.
The reason my writers get this wrong is because they are looking at the buying stages as if they are universal, and they are not.
For example, let’s say you run a flower shop and you have a series of posts about pesticides in your area. In that series you emphasize that people should go out to buy X pesticide in order to help their flowers grow.
Is this an early, middle or late stage content? Unless you sell pesticides, it’s an early stage post. The surface of this post is to educate your audience and the underside is to show them that you are educated. For thought leadership marketing, this is the essence of early stage buyers.
Now, let’s say your flower shop has a guide about how YOUR company does flower arrangements for weddings. That would be a middle stage piece of content.
What makes the difference isn’t the intended action of the person interacting with your content, it is how much skin you are showing about your company.
This post is pretty long and I’ve shared a lot of information about how sales funnels work, and even some insight into how I use our company blog to train our writers. Is this an early, middle or late stage piece of content?
Brownie points to you “early” answers!
Now if you interact with our brand enough that I shoot you an email, or we interact with you in some other way, it moves from early to middle. When visitors turn into interested parties they go from the early stage to the middle stage of the sales funnel. When you are doing consults or emails selling or giving away all the goodies – then the person is in the late stage of the buying process.
Which is the way it should be. You shouldn’t be wasting your time on tire kickers or knocking on doors, you should be closing the deal.
Think of it this way: maybe the car dealership has the cars out front so they don’t have to hassle with everybody that just wants to look around. Content marketing works, but you have to give it room to do its job.
So you tell me, did this post teach you anything?