Shutter the Sales Funnel

Shutter the Sales FunnelAs form publishers find they are able to ask for less and less personal information (and get away with it), some panic, thinking they're losing the best, cheapest lead stream they know. And, without a doubt, they are. This article continues that discussion started in Free Me From Your Website Forms, but from the perspective of the marketer who now needs an alternate solution.

Professional marketers reading this will likely take one of two positions: They’ll panic at the idea of shuttering the tops of their sales funnels or they’ll see the writing on the wall and think, yep, this is exactly the way things are going.

Those of us who have accepted that an increasing fear of forms is inevitable have done so because global privacy concerns are becoming too amplified to ignore. What’s more, diverse global regulations are becoming too difficult to honor.

Still, list building is an instinctive practice for marketing pros. If we can’t collect leads from the website, then what do we do to fill our sales funnels? Even more of a concern, how do we justify our function to those who already question the value of marketing?

Here’s one idea: Let’s do away with the antiquated notion of stuffing a sales funnel. Our prospects are not captive toys floating through some conceptual obstacle course. Our prospects are people who might or might not decide we’re worthy of their confidence and cash. Sometimes they decide this within moments, thanks to some flashy landing page, but for most B2B businesses, this is a process that takes time.

One problem with the sales funnel is that it assumes prospects come to us in an “awareness” stage, each having the same intention and basic level of knowledge. Increasingly though, prospects are educating (or disqualifying) themselves long before they ever submit that first form. In fact, we lose prospects we didn’t even know existed -- it happens all the time.

Social media and the web make it easy to learn about companies and products. Companies that pollinate the web with rich information people appreciate, make it easier for those people to nurture themselves toward a purchase. Conversely, organizations whose websites are slight of useful content will become less trusted in the eyes of prospects and also Google SERP. How often have new customers told you that they originally contacted you because your website said nothing useful and your e-Books were pointless?

By the time prospects contact us, it’s anyone’s guess how well they know us. Rather than a sales funnel, it’s more like we’re at the center of a sales sphere, with prospects coming at us from all angles and all backgrounds. In the outer layers of the sphere, prospects are invisible to us. We know they’re there because we can hear them. But we can’t see them and we can’t reach them. More notably, we can’t easily manipulate them, and this scares the hell out of many marketing professionals.

Marketing no longer acquires prospects -- they acquire us. The hunted have become the hunters.

Do Better, Get Better, Be Better

Some people keep their homes nice and tidy because you never know when company might drop by. Granted, visitors typically text first these days, but the premise of this notion is something marketing professionals should consider.

We don’t know when people will arrive but we’d better be ready to entertain when they do. This means we have to do more than we’re doing now. We have to be ready for anything. We must always have something valuable to offer. And we must ask for nothing in return. We must be gracious brand hosts.

“I’m so happy you dropped by! I’d offer you a piece of pie but I just baked it, so I’m saving it for my family because they’re willing to submit forms. Would you like some day-old bread?”

This is no way to build relationships.

Marketing technology companies aren’t likely to admit it but marketing as a practice is heading into some strong headwinds. We’re facing resistance from all sides, from the aforementioned email regulations, to smarter (and overzealous) spam filters, “do not track” check boxes and increased user skepticism about the value we provide in exchange for personal information.

Counter these headwinds with openness. Get into the habit of giving it all away. If it’s good, people will come back for more and they’ll tell their friends. If it’s bad, your competitors will thank you and you’ll get what you deserve.

If you have expertise in your field, don’t be afraid to share it liberally. If there’s one thing of which I’m certain, it’s that marketing is increasingly becoming a profession for knowledgeable, creative people who can converts ideas into products that people want.

The social media bandwagon we marketers jumped aboard like hookers on drunken sailors on payday has landed us in the clinic of comeuppance. We got the attention we were after. Now we have a big group of people sitting in our living rooms, hungry for a piece of that fresh-baked perfection we advertised on our landing page. And most of us don’t even know how to work the oven.

Thank you social media for thinning the herd.

Sell it Like it was The Cure

When marketing newbies ask me for advice, I tell them to imagine being asked to market a cure for cancer that’s free, causes no side-effects or other adverse health consequences, and is readily available everywhere on earth.

Puzzled by what would appear to be the easiest marketing job in the world, they ask how this pertains to real-world selling. I explain that this puts into perspective that marketing should not be about deceiving people. Marketing should be about getting the word out about something that is truly wonderful.

If this doesn’t describe your product, then fight your company until you effect some change. If that fails, quit your job. Don’t contribute to the noise.

If you’re concerned that by losing form submissions, you’ll lose revenue, then you have bigger problems to worry about than the loss of forms.

Title image by JLRphotography /