Should we still be talking about the B2B marketing funnel?
I’m thinking we should give up on the funnel. But what would life post-funnel look like?
The funnel seems kind of wobbly these days. Here’s why:
No buyer wants to think he’s in a funnel.
It doesn’t align with how buyers feel like they approach a purchase. Can we say a model is good if the protagonist of the story dislikes it?
You’re not in charge.
In a market characterized by information surplus and driven by search, social and rich content signals, the buyer owns the rhythm. Not the seller.
Buyers don’t proceed. They swirl.
The stages in the funnel (defining a need, drawing up a shortlist, etc.) just don’t sync with purchase journeys anymore. Buyers don’t do linear. They circle.
You don’t have time for mapping.
The funnel model assumes that there are some absolutes, that the ground isn’t shifting underneath the market. In fact, all is in flux.
Buyers’ journeys don’t just end.
The funnel assumes that there’s a pool of people called the market who don’t know you, and that your job is done once they’ve bought your product. “Plop! You’ve gone through the funnel.”
There are smarter people than me who have been saying much the same thing for years, like Steven Noble of Forrester, MarketingProfs and countless others who say the sales funnel is dead. They replace the funnel with flows, maps, nets, circles and webs – everyone wants to own the next model.
Does the death of the funnel apply to the big B2B decisions? Yes. We have piles of information from trillions of sources – this applies just as well to the professional as the personal world. Industrial tumult is just as strong as consumer tumult, if not stronger.
The funnel was a model for storekeepers. The top of the funnel was the street. Then the funnel led into their shop, browsing, comparing, asking questions and then going to the register. The current model needs to be crafted on an Italian piazza. Consumers bounce in and out and all over the place, asking countless questions, listening in to conversations, examining and gossiping.
Funnels don’t do bouncy very well.
So what’s the fallout of a post-funnel world?
If the funnel doesn’t fit well with buyer behaviour, then the tools based on this model won’t work. Prospects who don’t act like they’re in a funnel will get treated in ways that don’t suit their actual intent. Vendors seem to be racing to address this, but it’s a tough move, as many were built up on the foundations of funnel thinking.
Funnel-based content will start to feel funny. That one case study that applies to that one particular part of the theoretical buyer journey goes flat. It feels faked, forced, one-dimensional and lame to buyers who have a three-dimensional view of the market.
Efforts to push prospects through a funnel process meet resistance. Marketers who push themselves on webinar attendees to read the next piece of corporate literature fail. Prospects can see through tired funnel-driven tactics. They’re not buying escalation.
That’s a start anyway.
So what would I do, post-funnel?
I’d start by thinking facilitation. No matter where you think you have a prospect, you don’t. You. Don’t. Have. Them. They’re in charge. You’re just facilitating them. Help them. Don’t push, and don’t play games. To hell with your sales quotas. But do get serious when they get serious.
Build out your non-linear expeditionary forces. Buy a blogger breakfast. No joke. These independent expert-istas are the developing gauge of influence in a noisy market. They are the conversational coin in the new media bazaar. And don’t send them emails studded with your opinions and product news. Buy them breakfast. Lunch? Drinks? Then chat.
Think non-competitive business development. Start partnering with people who are in your space, but who you don’t compete with, to develop content, events, staff trades and such. A pretty clever marketer named Joe Chernov said: “When you are the only one tweeting about your infographic, you probably blew the execution.”
Assume you don’t know where people are coming from. When someone lands on a page of your website, do not think you know why they came there, or that you know what they’re looking for. Be humble. Offer choices. Like this:
Those are my ideas anyway. Do you have any of your own?