The Funnel is Dead. Long Live the Funnel.

October 30, 2017 Ashwath Kakhandiki

A common metaphor used to describe the relationship between sales and marketing teams at B2B companies is the relay race.

Marketing goes first, building brand awareness and generating demand. Then, there’s a handoff. The baton is passed to sales. Well, instead of a baton, it’s a bucket of leads. Sales works them into closed deals.

When we think about that process in terms of the traditional business funnel, marketing handles the top and sales controls the bottom. The interaction between the teams was typically limited — a single handoff.

 

Well, maybe that process made sense once upon a time. But it certainly doesn’t anymore. The reality is that the coordination between sales and marketing is much different today. They work side-by-side throughout the entire funnel. That means there’s a constant passing back and forth of the “baton” as both teams engage with potential customers during the entire sales cycle.

This is intuitive — when buyers interact with sellers. They don’t think of themselves as talking with sales or marketing. They perceive each interaction as furthering a conversation with the company as a whole.

For instance, when marketing runs a campaign, SDRs are following up on any activity that’s generated. And when the sales team is working an opportunity, marketing continues to send compelling content. That’s just the world we live in, and it’s why there has been so much focus on sales and marketing alignment in recent years.

But while that holistic approach certainly makes sense for a modern buying journey where deals involve more decision-makers and take longer to complete, it also can create problems.

When both teams are engaging prospects, there’s the possibility — even likelihood — of more friction in the funnel. Mistakes happen. The baton gets dropped. Sales and marketing don’t know what the other is doing. That confusion ultimately results in a terrible experience for the customer.

Here are two common examples of what I mean by friction:

  • Someone who sits perfectly in your ICP visits your website and fills out a “contact us” form. But it’s three days later and still no one has reached out to him. Essentially, he’s yelling “I’m interested!” Yet he’s being completely ignored.
  • A CMO attends an executive dinner at a tradeshow and has a positive interaction. Then your SDR team shifts into hyperdrive – calling and emailing her a dozen times in a week. But the Account Executive was already aware she had attended and was following up. The CMO is left annoyed and your SDR team has wasted time reaching out to someone they shouldn’t engage.

The result in both cases is a terrible buying experience. The customer (or non-customer) has a bad feeling toward your brand. And your business is not moving a potential deal forward.

Instead, you need to create a frictionless funnel.

Here’s another way of putting it: The best handoff is the one the customer never sees.

The B2C world has perfected this idea of making the buying experience as seamless as possible. Think about purchasing products like shoes or clothes from an online merchant such as Amazon. They make it as easy as possible to research, compare and then purchase. That’s because they know the slightest bit of friction in the process means lost sales.

Well, the people who buy those shoes and clothes are also the professionals who evaluate the solutions for their businesses. They want — no, expect — the same kind of high-quality service from B2B vendors. They don’t want to be hounded by salespeople. They want to engage with a company only when they’re ready. Oh, and they want to talk with someone knowledgeable who can help them with their challenges.

They want to be enabled, not sold.

Business leaders understand this, of course. In fact, the TOPO research firm found that 93 percent of executives it surveyed believe in the importance of customer experience. The challenge comes in making that happen. And it is a challenge because research has shown that 75 percent of B2B leads are not sales-ready.

From a demand management perspective, that means ensuring your leads are going to the right person, who has the right information, at the right time. You don’t want SDRs trying to sell to existing customers. Or multiple sales reps reaching out to the same prospect. Or have nobody reaching out to red-hot leads. Yet these are all pretty common problems.

In The State of Lead Management survey conducted in early 2017, LeanData discovered that the sad reality is one of every four leads goes to the wrong rep.

But create a process that eliminates those mistakes and you’ll have a frictionless buying experience. The baton won’t get dropped.

And your business is going to win the race.

 

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