The conventional sales funnel exceeded its usefulness a long time ago, roughly when the Internet gave us the ability to gather our own information about vendors, products and services. Without the necessity of contacting a salesperson, individuals and businesses could eliminate the middleman in the information exchange, waiting to expose their interests much closer to decision time.
The result was sales cycle compression and more emphasis on getting a good deal. Another result was more focus on price, which most sales institutions regard as anathema, because a sales effort is all about proving higher value and commanding a better-than-commodity price.
Naturally, this turn of events has driven software vendors to discover or invent ways to gather intelligence about markets and customers even before they tip their hands. The popular lingo sometimes used to describe this is trying to gather information “above the funnel.” This means capturing data and turning it into information that marketers can use to drive interest, even if they can’t turn a marketing qualified lead, or MQL, over to sales in the moment.
In the process, we’ve witnessed the growing importance of the marketing funnel, something that’s analogous to, but at the same time different from, the sales funnel.
The Great Leveler
There’s an almost Heisenbergian quality to this. You might recall that the quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that the mere act of measuring something on the atomic level is enough to alter its behavior.
By extension, you could worry that tracking customers’ anonymous early clicks could be enough to put them on different journeys, but that would be misplaced. People are more complex than atoms. Still, the uncertainty principle is still a nice metaphor.
This week Full Circle Insights had the last word when it introduced its Digital Source Tracker. The product associates early clicks with a specific conversion path giving marketers insights into how they’re doing.
It’s a way of getting early feedback on whether a program is or can be successful, and it seems it would be especially useful in helping marketers decide during an A-B test which approach was best. Early information gives them a chance to manage resources, as well as potentially generate more and better leads.
Who cares? Or why is this useful?
Glad you asked. Going back to how the Internet changed marketing and sales, there are very few sustainable differentiators in business today. If your business made its bones on a great supply chain, financing, or other advantage of size, the Internet has acted as a great leveler, giving any business — regardless of size — access to very similar advantages. In fact, smaller and more nimble businesses acting on the best information might have a decided advantage today.
What’s left is a business’ ability to be flexible and adjust to opportunities as they crop up, which often is described as “business agility.” However, agility requires two things: First, there must be information, for without it nothing follows. Second, a business needs a platform that can support reconfiguration of business processes to take advantage of those opportunities.
Whispers of Data
Not every prospect requires a business reconfiguration, and for our purposes the platform in question would come from a larger entity. Also, there are plenty of opportunities where simple timing is all that’s needed. All opportunities run on information, however. Hence the importance of pushing the marketing pipeline as hard as you can.
Over the years that I have followed Full Circle Insights (and it is not a client), I’ve watched as the company and some of its competitors have extended the marketing funnel. They have enabled vendors to capture customer information and regain some of the insights they had when they controlled all information.
Full Circle won’t turn back the clock for vendors, and customers are still firmly in charge of purchase process. However, by gathering what once were considered whispers of data and analyzing it appropriately, vendors can get a better sense of what’s happening in the market and plan accordingly.
That’s a lot better than having to discount at the last minute because of shortened sales cycles.
Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. The original version of this article can be found here.