The growth of Internet users has gone from 16 million in 1995 to more than 2.7 billion users in March of 2013. It is amazing that it's taken just 18 short years to connect 38.8% of the world's population to the Internet and potentially to each other.
The implication of this shift for marketing and sales organizations is far-reaching. Potential customers can and are researching and learning about products and services online and within their ever-growing trusted social network. Customers often are more knowledgeable about the products and services they want and need than the vendors' own sales force. They also may prefer to educate themselves about competitive alternatives and price way before they actually contact or interact with a vendor sales rep. Clearly the old ways of selling by having the sales team engage early in the sales process is not only expensive, but more and more often, it just doesn't work. The "best" prospects know how to stay under the radar and decide for themselves when they want to start engaging directly with a salesperson, if at all.
Companies need to educate potential customers and provide ongoing learning beyond the first sale to compete in this new selling landscape. Marketing's role is becoming more complex. Traditionally marketing departments developed strategies, researched market segments, crafted messages and delivered programs to get prospects into the sales funnel as early as possible and hand-off to sales to walk the prospects through the education, evaluation and close stages. Marketers have long been buyers of Marketing Services to deliver programs, not sellers of products and services.
This new online world demands that Marketers be publishers of content that informs and educates potential buyers without blatantly promoting one company over another. This is a new role and a new skill for many marketers. It's also an opportunity for Trainers to help Marketer's make this transition. Marketers need help to begin to see potential customers as learners that are searching for truth instead of viewing them as fish to hook with the best available bait so that sales can reel them in.
The Traditional Sales Funnel is no Longer Enough
The sales funnel depicted below is still in wide use despite the fact that it no longer fits the current selling environment. Social media is paving the way for scaling one-to-one interactions. The Internet has also made it possible for prospects to gain access and insight to more and more information and even try out competitive products in the try-and-buy era of cloud-based services. There is a need for a new model that can accommodate the new online world that is emerging in front of our eyes.
The New Improved Sales Funnel
In a connected world the sales funnel is shaped more like an hourglass on its side than a funnel. It looks more like the "New Approach" graphic below. Prospects consume content that is more educational than promotional. They conduct free trials and compare and contrast their alternatives among their trusted social media networks before engaging with a particular selling company. In this model, the dollar sign represents the point in the process that they become a paying customer. Sales reps engage slightly before and after the transaction or contract is final but not beyond that. Once a prospect has become a customer, they join the company's "University" where they embark on their journey to learn more and more about the products and services they have just bought. Some customers will turn into evangelists for the products they feel strongly about and recommend them to their trusted network.
The new reality: every employee is a trainer; every customer is a learner and potential evangelist.