Is the Sales Funnel Dead? Get in the Loop…
Funnels are the classic visual representation of the sales process and they’ve become part of our vernacular. We’ve learned that prospective buyers enter the top of the funnel going through a series of marketing steps meant to educate them on the product. By the time they reach the bottom, a purchase is made. It’s not the most elegant analogy, but it’s become an industry norm.
In an age of mobile devices, online search and social media, however, is the funnel still relevant?
Recently, a number of industry articles have suggested this funnel is really more of a loop; an infinite path. In the loop analogy the relationships between retailers, brands and consumers aren’t over when the sale is closed – in fact, they’ve really just begun. It’s the opposite of what the funnel has signified to marketers for so many years.
In Digiday’s recent article, “The Funnel is Dead, Long Live the Loop?”, author Aaron Barr writes:
“… Omnichannel marketing is making the path to purchase so complicated the linear funnel model is obsolete. Today’s consumer journey is more like an infinite loop, where shoppers are always discovering, considering and buying via multiple channels. So keeping them engaged is an ongoing process.”
Earlier this year, Social Media Explorer’s Nichole Kelly wrote:
The sales funnel relies on the theory that someone comes into the top of the funnel and sales fall out the bottom. But is that true in today’s world? Do we start at the top and make our way through to the end? Or do we start at the top, leave, jump levels, come back, leave again, come back at the beginning and at some point come back and buy? Are we following a linear purchase pattern or an erratic path of engagement that sometimes results in a purchase?
We think the truth lies somewhere in between—which presents tremendous opportunities for digital marketers. The funnel may still be relevant for some big-ticket items–but former funnel items, like, say, a bedroom set? No.
For brands and retailers alike, it’s time to stop thinking of the sales process as a linear, A-to-B activity. Consumers are more likely to start their research online or even on mobile devices in store than ever before, including visits to multiple competitor sites. These visits include comparison shopping on price, features, convenience and more. The reality is, it’s no longer an “I need this, convince me to buy this, I’ve bought this and now we can part ways” relationship.
In the previous example of a bedroom set, the purchase is just the beginning for brands—particularly if they align themselves closely with their retail partners. It’s an opportunity for brands to take advantage of the data that only retailers have—unique, first-party information that can’t be found anywhere else—to go back to these customers with compelling offers on linens, duvet covers, mattresses, etc.
There are a number of opportunities for brands and retailers to join the sales loop together:
- Brands and retailers together, provide compelling, relevant online content directly on the retail site: For the consumer searching for the best dog food, provide a branded section on site that displays options from key brands. Add in content and resources full of information, and they’ll come back again and again. Engage consumers on their path to purchase, and the loop begins.
- Retailers, make information easy to find online: Highlight features, benefits and alternatives keeping them front-and-center, even if they are not necessarily ones carried by the retailer. Consumers appreciate being educated as opposed to “sold to” – and the appropriate compelling content will keep them coming back. (The loop!)
- Brands, work closely with retailers to keep the relationship going when the sale is complete. In fact, the relationship has just begun. The beauty of joining forces directly with retailers is aligning your brand with its most likely buyers using the insight of first-party data. It’s your chance to build engagement with your core customers—whether it’s hints on helpful accessories for that new snow blower or recipes for the new crockpot, now is the chance to build some serious goodwill. The goal? Keep them coming back for more. If both retailers and brands embrace this approach, they’ll be the first place consumers go when they’re ready to research and buy.
Are you still using the sales funnel, the loop or something else entirely? Share your comments below.