Many entrepreneurs and SME owners tend to look at the sales process as a funnel, representing a decreasing number of people moving from one step to the next. This isn't surprising, as there are over 33.5 million depictions like this on Google.
A sales funnel is usually labelled with: audience, respondents, leads, qualified leads, proposals, sales, and renewals. Whilst this might serve a useful internal purpose, it doesn’t actually help you to plan your marketing. You need to focus on the thoughts and actions of your buyers and map their thinking as opposed to working off your internal reporting systems.
You should substitute (or accompany) these internally-driven labels with ones that indicate the stage of the purchasing decision in terms of customer thinking. This will enable you to understand your buyers better.
Your sales funnel is actually a colander
Once you’ve understood your customers’ thinking, it’s almost certain that if you had to choose a kitchen utensil as a metaphor for your customer journey, it would be a colander rather than a funnel.
Marketing delivers when you stop thinking about how to pour more into the top, and look instead from the bottom up. This way, when you do come to spend time, money and energy telling the world about what you do, you’ll get more back. By addressing the 'leaks' from the bottom up you won’t need to pour as much in the top to get the same, or better, results.
In the Watertight Marketing Methodology, we identify Thirteen Touchpoint Leaks™, which stop people buying into your services/product. These relate to the points at which you interact with people at each step of their decision to buy. But, even when people judiciously address each one of these, marketing can fail to deliver. This means you need to address your marketing foundations.
The Four Marketing Foundations
1. The right kind of work
The most damaging effect I’ve seen is where businesses end up accepting work that’s not the right fit with their offer. If you’re not clear about what you do, or if you are not in high demand, you can end up taking on work that actually slows you down.
There’s a double dip in this one. Taking work that’s not quite the right fit means that you’re less able to tell people about the work you really want to be doing. Which in turn, means you end up in a downwards spiral of becoming known for the stuff you don’t really want to do. Most often this is about clarity of purpose and the willpower of the business owner.
2. Marketing balance
Many businesses have unbalanced marketing, with strength in some areas and not in others. Marketing needs to support every step of a sale, this means a mix of techniques matched to the task at each stage. We often see a business spending money on things like Google Ads, but none on refining the landing page or next step from those ads. This is all muscle and no strength… it just won’t last the distance or bring you long-term success.
Not having dedicated marketing resource, or a retained team that keeps the rhythm going is like only going to the gym in January. Marketing skills, like any others, are at their sharpest when regularly exercised. If your business is only picking them up sporadically, like when the pipeline looks dry, you’re necessarily lacking some muscle tone.
Even if you’re working with third party experts, there’s the time to find them and brief them that just makes the on/off approach less effective. Moreover, with digital marketing techniques in particular, the pace of change is rapid – dipping in and out will often mean constantly playing catch up.
3. Marketing rhythm
If you’ve gone quiet for a while, it’s likely that people will be less familiar with you. Let’s imagine that you met someone at a networking event, but only get around to calling them a week later – you’ll forgive them for not immediately recalling you or your company.
What’s typical for a company in this rhythm is to rely on cold sales techniques to re-fill the pipeline. The paying work goes quiet, so energy is diverted to calling through the database to drum up some business. And, because you’ve gone quiet for a while, much of the call is taken up explaining who you are and what you do. Maintaining market awareness is what you’re after here, as it will make the world of difference to the overall momentum of your business.
4. An effective team that will follow through
These things often come together to put marketing on a yo-yo cycle, which can be exhausting - up one minute and down the next is a rough ride on your emotions, and that of your team's. And if you’ve also taken on a few of those not-so-perfect projects, then it’s likely that your staff aren’t best pleased.
If you employ someone on the basis that they’ll be doing X, which they love, but they end up doing Y, which they don’t, you have a recipe for high employee turnover. And, we all know how disruptive and expensive finding new employees can be. The fourth ingredient to solid marketing is therefore ensuring you've got a reliable and talented team at your fingertips. They'll be able to follow through and deliver excellence to keep the momentum going.
Is your business set on firm marketing foundations? If you’re in business and paying the bills, you’re clearly doing something right. But I’m willing to bet that turning a little attention to firming up your foundations would allow you to build something truly scalable.
About the Author
Bryony Thomas, one of the UK's foremost marketing thinkers, is the author and founder of Watertight Marketing. Bryony works with ambitious growing businesses delivering marketing transformation programmes. Her Watertight Marketing book has been in best-sellers lists consistently for over five years.