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How to Create a Profitable Sales Funnel

Your book, The Leaky Funnel, is based on what you call — Funnel Logic. Can you briefly describe it?

 Funnel Logic is a sales and marketing management and planning system used to increase prospect progression through the sales funnel, and improve sales and marketing effectiveness. It is a “belief system” built upon four key principles relating to how sales and marketing are conducted in the best-run businesses. Firstly, the combined sales and marketing function should build its activities around the buyer’s journey; not the sales cycle. Secondly, how many prospects will progress through each of these stages of this journey over time? Thirdly, what tactics will be used to cause this progression? And finally, the actual progression should be measured, so that tactics that work can be bolstered, and those which do not can be shelved.

 What is the ‘buyer’s journey.’ What do you mean by that?

Business buyers go through a process as they buy. They start off untroubled and unaware — even complacent — and then at some point, they become troubled. Once they’ve acknowledged their problem, they decide what they need to solve that problem. They then make their preferences, receive proposals and, ultimately, select a vendor, sign a contract and engage. We call this the buyer’s journey.

What are the stages of the buyer’s journey?

 It is important to remember that businesses don’t just wake up in the morning and decide to purchase something. They take a journey:

  • It starts with being Positioned in Category which means the buyer knows you are one of the businesses who sells a particular product or service.
  • Then Interest Established: The buyer has done something (called, clicked etc.) to show they are interested.
  • Gap Acknowledged: The buyer will acknowledge that a problem exists.
  • Need Agreed: The buyer agrees what they need, even if they are not sure who to choose.
  • Offer Understood: The buyer knows what we are proposing to do to meet that need.
  • Preference Formed: The buyer prefers our solution.
  • Decision Made: The buyer moves to contract.

By structuring your sales and marketing around the buyer’s journey, your focus is on helping them move through each stage.

 So, the problem you solve for buyers is key. How do you choose which problems to focus on?

The challenge is to identify a buyer problem that you are strong at solving, and one that you can solve better than your competitors. This ‘feeling out’ process is all about finding a problem that is worth focusing on and that you solve well. If you are good at solving buyer problems that are not rewarding, you will major in the minors. On the other hand, if you are focusing on the right problem but from a position of weakness, you will not be able to rival your competition.

Once you’ve picked a single problem, should that influence your sales and marketing strategy?

Simply, yes. In identifying your buyer’s problem, you are able to clearly define three key aspects of your sales and marketing function. Firstly, what your business is selling is now a clear solution to a problem. Secondly, who you are selling to, becomes who has the problem. And thirdly, how you will reach your buyers, translates to, what is the channel that uncovers the problem? This basically turns our thinking inside out:

Once you’ve formulated your strategy, how do you develop an action plan?

Once you have turned your strategy inside-out, it is time to translate this strategy into action. In order to do this effectively you must select tactics to help these potential buyers recognize that they have this problem. However, your strategy does not translate into action…yet; because our tactics are often arbitrary. I say this because businesses will often select tactics on the strength of; they worked last year, or it seems to work for our competitors, or we’ve always done it this way. I present an alternative. Remembering the buyer’s journey, you must select tactics that will progress buyers through that journey; through each stage.

 What about volume? How do you work out the number of buyers you actually need to progress?

 Trying to calculate the number of buyers you actually need is a valid pursuit, however it can be a trap. When doing this, you must keep two things in mind: buyers need time to progress (take their journey) and your tactics need to be repeated several times to have an effect (“one-hit-wonders” rarely do the job). Marketing teams are always geared for success, but it is often how they capitalise on failure that makes them rich. If you start with a simple numerical model mapping your prospective buyers progressing along their journey — importantly remembering to allow for leakage at each stage — you quickly realise two scary realities:

A vast majority of initial leads will leak at some stage along the journey, so doesn’t it make sense to have a proper recycling program?; and Shouldn’t we have some idea of the effect of recycling before we plan a demand generation campaign?

Given this, in order to work out exactly how many buyers you will need, you need to recycle all the “leaked” buyers back into your funnel and re-run the model. Decide how much of the total revenue Marketing is to contribute and then adjust your top-of-funnel number until the “customer” (converted buyers) number will contribute the desired revenue outcome.

 And once you know how many buyers you need to progress, how do you actually get them moving?

Ultimately, what you are trying to achieve is to nurture your buyers along their journey. In order to do this, you need tactics that move your buyers through your funnel from stage to stage. In a practical sense, you must initially identify buyers who meet your target profile, position your brand on their list and get their attention, convince these businesses to accept they have the problem you solve best, gain acceptance and backing of your own solution and then move to contract.

 What are some examples of progression tactics that are suitable for small businesses?

 There are many tactics that will work just as well for big business as they will for small operators. As your goal for progression is to keep doing the small rhythmic tasks that keep the prospect aware of how you can solve their problem; something as simple as a monthly email or blog article will have the same effect no matter what size the business. It is likely that your financial position or operational capability will dictate what is actually possible. Investigate options for each stage of your buyer’s journey; here are some common tactics:

  • Get known by making sure all the key bloggers mention you and the problem you solve.
  • Trouble buyers by asking tough questions on your website and in meetings.
  • Agree the need by providing a template showing typical buyer needs.
  • Confirm your buyer’s situation, problem and need by email after meeting.
  • Build this whole journey (situation, problem, need and solution) into your proposal in case there are others involved in the buying process.
  • For all buyers who leak (at any stage) recycle and nurture using regular email and thought leadership.

How do you see social media? What new tactics work for B2B?

The marketing benefits of social media are just now beginning to become apparent. While there has been endless conjecture surrounding the ways in which social media is going to revolutionise the way we market products and services, the initial hype is beginning to turn into some sort of reality. As this is a small business forum, let’s consider some relevant B2B uses for various forms of social media. Blogging, micro-blogging (Twitter) and video blogging (YouTube) are great ways to position and even trouble business buyers on a shoestring.

 What about buyers who fail to progress?

 It is often the small percentage of successful lead conversions that get all our attention — while the other, much higher, percentage that leaked gets forgotten. Adopting tactics that recycle those who have already leaked, in order to assist nurturing tactics that stem the leakage, can turn neglected prospects into future customers. Recycling tactics handle those buyers who fail to progress — the leakage; these tactics ready a buyer for re-entry into the funnel. While these leads are in the funnel, specific nurturing tactics keep the buyer from leaking. Having captured the buyer’s details, relevant and rhythmic eDM, Tele-nurturing and RSS updates will keep your name and your solution at the front of the buyer’s mind.

 What would you say is key to successfully executing tactics?

 To help your buyers move along their journey, down the funnel, you have to execute the correct tactics at the correct time; however, as we have already agreed there is always going to be leakage. When executing tactics, the key to success is rhythm — if you can manage tactics in a way that will take advantage of ’leakage’ whilst nurturing leads still in your funnel, success will come. If you can reach a point where you have a sound grasp of your buyer’s journey, Sales and Marketing are on the same page tactically and your tactics for progression are working — it is now time to focus on obtaining good momentum that  allows for recycled leads to be rhythmically nurtured, even if a little at a time. In B2B marketing, I like to use the term ‘corkscrew’ to refer to a tactic (or series of tactics) that you can execute over and again, knowing that while the buyer will only drop into your funnel occasionally, every time you twist the corkscrew, you are moving them along — a little.

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