Most marketers use the same funnel.
It’s a funnel that starts with awareness and ends with conversion and retention. One that is meant for guiding a visitor to become a lead, a lead to become a customer, and a customer to become an evangelist.
And it’s awful.
For the marketers who are serious about growing their business, the traditional funnel just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s outdated.
Once, the funnel was helpful. It explained the psychology behind a purchase. It explained how a customer thought about buying.
First, they are aware of your product. Then, they might become interested and make a decision. Finally, they take action, and you get a sale.
But this is no longer the most effective sales strategy for marketers to follow.
Let me explain.
Why the traditional marketing funnel just doesn’t cut it anymore
The problem with the traditional funnel is that it guides people linearly through the buying process. Let’s take a moment to think about how people actually decide to buy a product in today’s world.
How do you choose a product?
Let’s imagine you want to buy a pair of shoes.
You’re looking for a new kind of shoe that will redefine your style and be different from what you usually purchase.
There are two different ways you could go about this.
On the one hand, you might already know a brand that you’re going to buy from, and you simply go onto their website, browse their options, and pick a style.
Or, on the other hand, you don’t know which brand you want to buy from. So, you search online, find a few sites, do some comparison shopping, and choose a pair of shoes.
Do you see what just happened?
That’s right. The funnel got obliterated.
You didn’t go through the process of becoming aware of a product through advertising efforts, engaging with the company through content, and then purchasing. Instead, you went straight to the customer phase of the buying process.
Well, to put it simply, because social media and the internet have drastically changed the way consumers think about purchasing products.
This is how we used to think.
In the 1890’s — when this funnel was developed — it was far more difficult to buy a product. Your only options were local stores, and advertisements were synonymous with word-of-mouth marketing (and maybe some bandit signs).
In this kind of world, the funnel makes sense. Someone finds out about your business, so they explore working with it a bit. Eventually, they buy from you and keep buying from you because it’s easier than going through the same process with a new business.
Today, the power isn’t in the company’s hands, but the consumers.
The consumer can buy a product when they want, how they want, from whomever they want.
And they can do it within minutes.
This means the buyer journey ends up looking a bit more like a pretzel and a bit less like an organized cone.
Think about all the ways someone can go about buying a product.
- They can search for a specific brand (i.e., “Nike shoes”).
- They can search for a specific product (i.e., “Shoes”).
- They can search for a specific quality of product (i.e., “Best smartphones”).
- They can search with extreme detail (i.e., “55’ Panasonic television”).
And each one of these searches starts from a different place in the sales funnel. Some start from the interest section, and others seem to jump from absolutely nothing straight to a sale.
This illustrates why the traditional sales funnel is trash, but it doesn’t explain how you can create a modern-day funnel that is more accurate.
Here’s what you should do once you’ve thoroughly ditched the traditional marketing funnel.
1. Determine your industry’s funnel
With the rise of all things easy-access, the funnel has changed.
But it hasn’t become totally irrelevant. Having a funnel can still seriously benefit your business.
It’s not a matter of having or not having a funnel. It’s a matter of having the right funnel or the wrong funnel.
And since every customer approaches purchasing differently, every business can have their own funnel.
In other words, the first step to replacing the traditional funnel with a more effective strategy is to determine the funnel that your customers go through.
But how do you do that?
Well, to determine what your own funnel should look like, you need to ask yourself some questions.
- At what point in the buying process do prospects usually discover you? Are they ready to buy? Are they just curious? Are they comparison shopping?
- What entry points currently exist for people to explore your business and purchase from you? Facebook ads? SEO? PPC? Then, where do these channels take them, and is that the right place for their level of interest?
- Finally, how can you make your business easier to access for your ideal clients?
Every industry will have different answers to these questions.
The real estate industry, for example, will need to explore how Zillow impacts their customer generation. And businesses that sell large ticket items will need to understand that people are probably doing comparison shopping and asking for recommendations on social media.
To nail down what your funnel will look like, you need to start with the customer. Who visits your website, and why do they visit?
Once you’ve determined that, you should create a funnel for every type of customer.
A funnel for the customer who is comparison shopping. A funnel for the customer who is ready to purchase immediately. And a funnel for the person who isn’t yet ready to buy.
In an effort to explain the modern-day funnel — which is obviously quite challenging — Brian Clark from Copyblogger created this illustration.
As you can see, the whole thing is cyclical. Buyers move in and out of the “funnel” quickly and easily.
To grasp the drastic changes the funnel has undergone over the last 10 years, consider social media and the news industry.
44% of people get their news from Facebook instead of traditional newsrooms.
Social media has played a huge part in redefining the funnel much in the same way it has redefined the news industry.
Instead of consumers going straight to the source of the product, consumers bounce around from product to product and brand to brand seamlessly, meaning the determining factors of their purchase or their abandonment have changed drastically.
His story is just one of many of marketing funnel pioneers who understand the shortcomings of the traditional funnel and are finding success as they work to redefine their own funnel.
As it turns out, pioneering your own funnel is far more effective than sticking with one that doesn’t work.
2. Prepare for comparison shoppers
Since consumers are capable of dancing between products and brands seamlessly, comparison shopping is on the rise.
Instead of trying to avoid it, embrace it.
By preparing your website to handle the demands of picky consumers.
To do this, you’ll want to build a massive amount of easy-to-see and easy-to-access credibility. And a great place to start is with social proof.
There are tons of different ways to leverage social proof.
72% of consumers say that positive reviews increase their trust in a business.
Pura Vida creates social proof by using pop-up notifications on the bottom of their website that tell visitors when someone else buys a bracelet.
Kissmetrics does this by throwing down the big brands they’ve worked with in the past.
And Econsultancy uses testimonials as compelling evidence of their success.
Discounts are another great way to convince comparison shoppers to purchase from your website.
Pura Vida leverages this with a spin-the-wheel-for-a-discount pop-up.
You can also add free shipping to your product or create a sense of urgency. All of these strategies will help you leverage the comparison shopper rather than deny that they exist.
Comparison shoppers are real, and you need to prepare for them.
3. Create a funnel for existing customers
Here’s the other thing that the traditional marketing funnel doesn’t leverage to its full ability: the existing customer.
Sure, the funnel throws in a quick “retention” at the bottom. But the upper 90% of the funnel is dedicated to acquiring customers, which is a real shame.
Because the existing customer is where the magic of your business happens.
They are far more valuable than acquiring new customers; they spend more and are easier to upsell.
Not just that, though. Existing customers are also the best advertising channel you have. It’s called word-of-mouth, and it’s one of the most effective ways to market your business.
In fact, the “upside down funnel” represents this.
If you treat customers better than other businesses, they tell their friends about you, and you gain more customers.
In other words, the act of marketing to your existing buyers is an acquisition strategy all on its own.
But how can you market to your current customers, leveraging those benefits?
A few different ways.
If you offer a product that customers need to replenish regularly, you can estimate how often they’ll run out and send an email reminder to restock before that happens. Something like this.
You could also create a subscription payment system around your product instead of just selling one-offs each time.
And people seem to love this; the subscription box market’s website traffic has exploded by 3,000% over the last three years.
Those are a few ways you can market to customers, but what about your audience as a whole? It’s important to consider your audience as a valuable asset to your business, even if they’ve never purchased from you.
Take Tesla, for example. They’ve worked their butts off to build an audience even though many of those people have never actually bought a Tesla.
They have a Facebook following of right around 2.3 million people.
But they haven’t even sold close to that many cars. In fact, in 2016, they only sold around 80,000 cars. So why do they care about these non-buyers?
Because they know it’s a future investment. Lots of people might be interested in your content but not ready to buy yet. Embrace that.
4. Test your advertisements
No marketing funnel is complete without tests.
In fact, tests are exactly what help you to determine what your funnel should look like and how you should implement it.
Whatever you find, that information will help you build a funnel that actually drives sales — unlike the traditional funnel.
Here’s a detailed spreadsheet that shows which advertising avenues are the most effective and when they’re the most effective.
If you have this information at your disposal, you can iterate your funnel.
Because here’s the reality: Your funnel should look a little different than everyone else’s funnel. And developing your perfect funnel is, at least partly, a matter of trial and error.
The more things you try and test, the better your funnel will get. Don’t neglect to test your current strategy.
The traditional funnel was supposed to be helpful. And for psychology, it was. But for actually selling your inventory, not so much.
The funnel believes that the buying process is linear – that consumers move smoothly from awareness to conversion. But the reality of today’s buying process is anything but linear.
Rather, today’s buying process often looks more like a pretzel than a funnel.
So how do you prepare for that reality?
By determining your industry’s ideal funnel, preparing for comparison shoppers, creating a funnel for existing customers, and testing your advertising efforts.
With that, you can quickly turn the traditional funnel into something that actually works… and something that looks a lot less like a single linear funnel and more like a series of funnels for different customer avatars.
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