This traditional, linear model has worked well – so far.
We can no longer afford to treat the journey as an A-to-B experience. The funnel has contorted into a zigzag path. And this poses unseen challenges for marketers.
In And Out Of The Funnel
Thanks to the hyper-connected world we live in, modern buyers conduct research, evaluate competitors, compare prices, and make decisions all on the go. Nowhere is this more evident than in B2B purchases, where as much as 80% of decision-making happens before the funnel is even in sight.
We have all seen leads narrow down their choices and express intent, only to go off the radar for months before returning to buy. And while they seek management buy-in, shrinking budgets could cause further delays and, ultimately, cancellation.
Furthermore, low attention spans and ‘emotional unsubscription’ from ads don’t help the content marketer’s case either.
Content For Lead Nurturing At Each Stage
The result is an erratic buying behaviour in which leads enter the funnel at any stage. ‘Awareness’ is no longer the default kickoff point – by the time you make first contact with a prospect, they could already be ready for nurturing. (In fact, if your content marketing has been working out, this may very well be the case!)
Marketers therefore have to think on their feet when targeting a brand new lead. As soon as the lead’s position in the traditional funnel is established, adjust the content given to them accordingly.
1. From the Top of The Funnel
Leads entering at the top are aware of their problem – they are just uncertain or undecided on the solution.
Here, content has to be strictly agnostic, so your leads don’t ‘switch off’ at the sight of a brand name or a too-specific solution. Educate and guide them towards solutions for their problems to establish trust.
2. From the Middle of The Funnel
Buyers sometimes enter the purchasing journey knowing exactly what kind of solution they are looking for.
In this case, your content should help position your brand as a thought leader. Shed light on the strengths of your solution, and differentiate your brand.
3. At the Bottom of The Funnel
If a lead has already evaluated competitors and narrowed down vendors, marketers have the license to promote their brand. Here you can offer conclusive, tangible evidence to help the lead get buy-in, or sweeten the deal.
But be careful not to back them into a corner with a ‘perfect solution’. Today’s audiences are sensitive to self-flattery.
A Converted Lead Is Not A Closed Deal
The marketer’s job is never done. Sales-qualified leads may become the sales team’s responsibility, but there is still no guarantee that all these leads will make purchases.
For those that don’t, the next step is a lead refresh – re-insert them back into the funnel. This is where marketing and sales will have to tag-team to continue nudging these high-potential leads towards conversion.
Nurture With Content. Don’t Repeat. Automate.
The zigzagging of the sales funnel has also fragmented lead lifecycles. For instance, a lead might get to know your brand at a conference or tradeshow, then discover your website through an online search and later subscribe to your newsletter.
How do you follow their journey across all these touchpoints?
1. Use marketing automation
Automate repetitive tasks to optimise resources, and ensure leads get intelligent content aligned with where they are on their purchase journeys.
2. Follow your leads with agnostic content
When in doubt, stay agnostic. By providing value-based content all the way along the lifecycle, you ensure that your leads are never distracted by product plugs.
Make that content memorable (tips from neuroscience may help) to keep leads interested longer, which may make the difference between conversion and a move out of the funnel.
3. Bring straying leads back on board
Use retargeting, and take advantage of the high levels of custom audience targeting and personalisation offered by social media platforms, like Facebook, to follow your leads when they digress.
Marketers are not blessed with huge budgets anymore. And now that we face a rapidly changing sales funnel, it has never been more critical to seize on every potential lead and nurture them towards conversion.
Do you see the effects of this shift in the sales funnel? How are you dealing with it? Share your observations.
Read more: Lead nurturing solutions from GetIT Comms.