When you get a group of inbound marketers together, you’ll quickly hear spirited conversation about how to create effective ToFU, MoFU and BoFU content. Then, when you bring executives from growing companies to listen to the conversation, eyes quickly begin to roll and concentration is quickly lost.
Of course, the ideas behind creating effective Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel and Bottom of Funnel strategies are very important. However, the real purpose behind those strategies is often lost as the focus on process and “best practices” overshadows the importance of desired results and real world situations.
So, while funnel management deserves the attention it’s getting, let’s agree on what the core purpose of this attention should be. Delivering the right message (and/or taking the right action) to the right person at the right time is the purpose. When the focus is on the funnel instead of the purpose, bad things can happen.
The Problem With Traditional Approach to The Marketing Funnel
While one could argue if the traditional funnel was ever accurate, the fundamental problem with the funnel metaphor today is that the buyer’s journey is not a linear process. As this article in Harvard Business Review highlights, “prospects don’t just enter at the top of the funnel; instead they come in at any stage. Furthermore, they often jump stages, stay in a stage indefinitely or move back and forth between them.”
If you’ve built your lead generation and management process upon the idea that once someone goes through the top of your funnel, they are by definition in the middle or bottom, it will lead to suboptimal results.
Making matters even more complex, in the B2B sales process you will often find that one role player is at one level of the funnel, while another role player is somewhere else. For example, maybe a line manager was tasked with identifying options to solve an operations problem. As they conduct their research, you’ll want to build your content to be shared within the organization. So the line manager may be at the bottom of the funnel, but the executive who will ultimately determine if budget will be allocated could still be towards the top. If you set up your lead management process in a linear fashion, you’ll miss valuable opportunities to create value and shorten the sales cycle.
When designing your lead management strategy you must be sure to build it to support a dynamic, non-linear buyer’s journey. While this will take more thought and work, the payoff will be worth it.
How Do I Make Sure I’m Getting The Right Message to Right Person At The Right Time?
If you can’t use the traditional approach to determine the right message, what can you do? The good news is that you don’t have to throw away your funnel. The change required is how you manage the funnel and how you determine where your prospect(s) is on their journey.
In its simplest form, there are four phases of the journey. Applying the right strategy requires that you are clear on what is happening (and what your prospect(s) is thinking) at each phase. Here’s an overview of each phase:
- The epiphany phase is the first opportunity to move the prospect through the sales funnel by establishing yourself as a valuable resource. This is the point where Marketing needs to seed these epiphanies with information, industry research and thought leadership that helps reveal business issues that prospects didn’t even know they had. Long before they begin thinking about buying anything, prospects are trying to determine the next issue or problem that their business will face. They are conducting research that will help guide their next move.
- At the awareness phase, the prospect is beginning to experience the symptoms of a problem or opportunity that is connected to our offerings. They are still not in a buying mindset, instead they are educating themselves, seeking to understand their problem (to give it a name if you will) and to establish the importance of the problem. Our goal here is to help educate the reader and reframe the symptoms they’re experiencing into a defined, resonating problem.
- The prospect has defined and given a name to their problem or opportunity. They’re less interested in researching their perceived issue and are now determining if and what they should do to address it. In the consideration phase, the prospect may still be considering solving the problem themselves and may not have made a decision to buy from the outside. They’re seeking to understand alternative methods and approaches to solving their problem/opportunity.
- The prospect has decided on the actions they are going to take. By the decision phase they have committed (at least with intent) to utilize an outside vendor to support the solution. They’re now compiling lists of available vendors and approaches they can use to solve their problem/opportunity. It is not unusual that decision criteria have not been clearly determined and the prospect will be focused on this as well.
How To Determine What Phase Your Prospect Is In
Figuring out where a prospect is on their journey is actually quite simple (not necessarily easy, but still simple). Simply watch what they’re doing. Your digital marketing approach provides opportunities for tremendous insights into what they're thinking. Every interaction leaves a mark, and in total it creates what we call their digital body language.
The goal of all of this is to get as accurate a read as you can on the questions they are asking themselves. If you can tell me the questions one of your buyer personas is asking themselves about their business, I can tell you with a great degree of accuracy where they are in their journey (or if the journey hasn’t even begun).
Every page a prospect visits, every item they click and every piece of content they download is an indication of what they’re thinking. For example, if I write a paper titled The 7 Ways to Get People to Stop Spitting In Your Hallways, I know a couple of things:
- You’ve got a problem with people spitting in your hallways.
- You’re trying to figure out what options may exist to solve the problem.
- It’s a problem big enough that you’re inclined to take some level of action to solve it.
So if I’m selling a solution to that problem, I know that you’re at either the awareness or consideration phase. A couple of other actions and I can pinpoint where you are, and I can set up the systems to ensure that the right message is delivered at the right time.
The Role of Lead Scoring
Regular readers of this blog already know that I am not a fan of lead scoring (to put it mildly). However, the underlying process of lead scoring can be very helpful here. While lead scoring is often not an effective means for managing lead volume and sales progression, it can do a very good job of measurement and providing a clear signal to you about engagement.
If you set your scoring mechanism up correctly, it can do a reasonably good job of reading digital body language to indicate where they may be in their journey. Additionally, if the rubric is set up correctly, it provides a dynamic component to indicate when someone may be jumping around the various phases.
Taking the approach I outline here will allow your marketing, sales development and sales teams to get in synch with your prospects much faster. It will also allow you to enhance your overall demand generation process and shorten the sales cycle.