As the traditional sales funnel dies, how do consultancies lead the purchase process?
“Today, people are no longer following a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. They are narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments. People turn to their devices to get immediate answers. And every time they do, they are expressing intent and reshaping the traditional marketing funnel along the way.” – Think with Google
The advent of the internet has made reaching audiences much easier. However, it has also made making meaningful connections and success in marketing more difficult. Research from Google has mirrored our own client experiences – customers have changed the way they buy.
The customer journey is as unique as each individual. Throughout which, their research bounces back and forth from broad to narrow, shallow to deep. The internet has given customers the capability to act uniquely, and to follow a path to the buying decision that is set by them and not by the seller. The challenge is identifying where and how to interact with customers, how to engage them best, and how to help them choose you to satisfy their needs and wants.
The customer journey – evolving from the linear
The sales funnel used to be the model for leading customers from first point of contact to eventual purchase. This was a linear approach, guiding the customer from awareness to consideration to purchase. The broader your reach and the more frequent your contact, the more success your marketing would achieve.
This approach works well where the customer journey is repeated by individuals. However, this is no longer the case. Google’s data shows that each customer’s journey is unique. So unique in fact, that it’s no longer a funnel. A customer might begin their journey at any point in your funnel, and veer in and out of the traditional route which you’ve laid for them. The customer has vested control from the seller, as they seek new perspectives, change their needs and wants at a moment’s notice, and discover new information that pulls or pushes them in different directions.
Throughout this journey of discovery, the customer switches in and out of broad, narrow, shallow and deep – as they gain new information that leads them towards their next step.
Since no two people process information the same, each customer’s journey becomes unique.
How customer journeys differ
There are innumerable ways in which customers may choose to engage with you and your business. The process of decision making can include hundreds of touchpoints, as the customer defines, refines and subsequently redefines their requirements.
For example, a customer may first consider their need for improving the skills of a sales manager, and start their search by using keywords to learn about the key skills required to lead a sales team in the modern workplace. This is likely to lead to viewing content such as blogs, eBooks and YouTube videos.
During this initial search, the customer is likely to discover other elements that may impact the ability of sales managers to lead their teams, such as capabilities to employ emotional intelligence to evolve actions and reactions. This leads to new searches to discover more about a narrower focus – to gain a deeper meaning that informs their next steps on the customer journey.
Throughout this process, the customer will be collecting and collating data – often internally – and developing affinity for the best brands or consultancies. Those who provide relevant and meaningful information along their unique journey will be those who make it to the final selection criteria – a search for corroboration of choice, by watching and reading reviews, case studies and testimonials. And, of course, location – according to HubSpot’s ultimate list of marketing statistics for 2018, almost a third of those who search for something locally end up making a purchase. The consultant who remains on the customer’s internal radar throughout this journey will be the one who wins the customer’s business.
However, the customer journey doesn’t always stop with the initial purchase.
Secondary purchases on the customer journey
In the same way that people who visit a restaurant choose their meal and then select a wine to accompany it, we’re finding that customers are similarly searching for accompanying products or services to augment their initial purchase.
Consider the way that you now search for your vacation experience. Flights come first, and then you may search for complimentary choices – transport, accommodation, attractions and experiences. You may also search for information about airports, visa and passport requirements, currencies, in-flight meal and drink options, etc. The number of searches you make could be in the hundreds.
The same is true of your customers. Their journey is likely to continue after that first purchase, with the journey of discovery leading to increased opportunity for businesses to present themselves as authoritative, trusted partners. This creates opportunities to upsell your services and products – just as an experienced server will upsell a particular wine to accompany your meal at the restaurant. Why do you go ahead with the server’s recommendation? Because through every connection with them, they have shown their experience, knowledge and willingness to serve you and your individual needs and wants. They have connected and built trust. This is your challenge when marketing online.
What does this mean for your consultancy business?
Consultancies can no longer rely on the traditional sales funnel approach generating the same results that it used to since customers no longer take a linear journey from awareness to purchase. They are likely to meander along the way. Their stop-off points and detours provide them with further information which influences their choice of who to interact with, when and how.
Customers are demanding assistance. The consultants that provide it, and remain relevant and personal, are those that will win new clients.
Consider the way in which you make purchasing decisions today. Your search is likely to meander between wide and narrow, shallow and deep. Throughout, you are searching for brands that offer the information you need, answer the questions you ask, and feel the most relevant to your unique business model. You expect this level of service. The company that satisfies these demands wins your business.
For you, this meandering journey creates a confounding conundrum. The opportunities to connect and influence outcomes are colossal. If you become the consultant that people can rely on, you win their business. The question is, how do you satisfy the wider, narrower, shallower and deeper questioning of people along their individual journeys?
Learning to anticipate customer intent
The secret to satisfying customers along their individual journeys is to anticipate their intent. Someone who searches for information about leadership and management is most likely to take a leadership course. By understanding that they will be searching locally, it is possible to tailor content accordingly.
Redirecting customers to the right landing page at the right time that provides relevant information and an enticing offer, gives you a chance to connect more personally and begin the relationship building exercise that will ultimately result in new clients.
People signal their intent with every move they make online. The real challenge for your business is to know your customers so deeply that you can anticipate their intent and their next move. Experience will tell you how people are likely to act when they visit your site, according to what they visit, what content they consume, and their prior and subsequent movement. Using this information and intuition, you can then develop relevant journey paths, content and messaging to engage them more deeply as they move toward the purchase decision.
Key to this process is machine learning and automation. It is impossible to locate the customers with the highest potential, segment them effectively, and communicate engagingly otherwise. Automation allows you to communicate in real time. Machine learning enables your communication to remain relevant.
In short, the traditional sales funnel approach is becoming increasingly obsolete. Understanding buyers’ intent is now the key ingredient to successful marketing in a world where customers are more fully informed, seek information more often, and refine their objectives constantly. Businesses who can anticipate intent and be present with meaningful information at every twist and turn of the customer journey will be those who remain on the customer’s radar for when they are ready to buy.
Three key takeaways
There are three key takeaways to include in your content marketing strategy for 2019.
1. Align your content marketing with your desired business outcomes
People expect to be assisted online, in all their wants and needs. It is essential that you understand what your customers desire and how your content can deliver – and when and where. This means you must build the capability to monitor and measure visits, clicks and conversions at the individual level. This will enable you to understand your customers’ intentions, how they wish to interact, and which interactions drive their relationship through to your desired conclusion: higher conversions, stronger relationships, and improving revenues.
2. Market to uniqueness by providing meaningful content
People will respond and seek you out if you deliver what they want and need. Thus, you must produce relevant content at every stage of the individual’s customer journey. The content you provide and how you provide it are the key determinants of your market position and reputation. It is vital that you know your customer to create compelling content that engages them more deeply with your brand. When considering your audience, answer questions such as:
- Who is our ideal customer?
- Where are they located?
- When will we reach them?
- How will we reach them?
- What language do they use (e.g. technical or layman’s)?
- What are their main concerns?
- What are their main motivations?
- What problems are they seeking to solve?
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and you’ll find that many such questions must be asked at each stage and with every piece of your content.
You’ll also need to understand how to reach out to customers. This will include the type of content with which customers best interact (e.g. blogs/email/ social media/ podcasts/videos/ etc.), the times at which they are most receptive, and the methods by which you will attract their attention (e.g. pay per click, owned contacts, earned contacts, eBooks, whitepapers, etc.).
3. Automate and employ machine learning
Markets are fast, and people expect immediate results and answers. To keep pace with this, you, too, must be fast. Fast to learn and fast to deliver. Machine learning will enable you to develop predictive capacity and forecast customer intentions from their actions and reactions. Delivering to these intentions at speed is only possible in an automated environment, in which learning, content creation and distribution work together seamlessly.
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Originally published on LinkedIn by Shawn Souto.