The sales funnel. The customer-decision journey. The purchasing funnel.
Whatever you call it, the general idea of the sales funnel has remained unchanged for decades – it describes the process of taking the customer through an initial awareness of a product or service, all the way to when they decide to purchase your product. From Point A to Point B. It’s a foundation of marketing theory.
But this foundation—and analogy—is imperfect at best. No funnel that I know is so leaky as to lose the majority of its contents before reaching the bottom. And in today’s new world of work, potential customers simply aren’t entering the funnel at the top and progressing downward. Customers are entering the buying process at different levels and always absorbing information about products and services, even when they are not in the process of making a purchasing decision.
Instead of considering this process as a funnel, your business should consider customer engagement as part of an ongoing sales cycle, and adjust your processes accordingly.
The Always-On World
Consider your everyday life. No matter where you are, you face a constant barrage of advertisements and messages designed to influence your behavior. And some of those messages stick better than others. Subconsciously at least, when it comes time to make a purchase, these have an effect. This is what has been called “passive-stage bias,” and it has an impact – according to a recent study, more than half of consumers have a strong idea of which brand they’d be buying before they began the buying process. They spend much less time considering their decision, and even care less about price as a result.
Customers aren’t coming into a purchasing decision with a blank slate. They’re active and engaged, and often entering the process near the end of the so-called funnel.
The Importance of Customer-Facing Workers
In a past paper, I talked about the importance of maximizing the quality of customer engagement touchpoints, or basically, making sure that each interaction with a potential customer is achieving maximum value for your business. That means finding efficient means of distributing information throughout your workforce, and making sure your customer-facing employees have the tools they need to provide a quality customer service experience. Consider this graphic1 of one customer’s decision-making process:
From awareness to service, this is a pretty standard idea of the traditional purchasing process. But what happens when your customers are starting this process near the end of the consideration phase? Does your business have the right people and processes in place to engage a potential customer for the first time so close to their purchasing decision? After all, in today’s business world, you often only get one (very brief) chance to make a connection.
You simply cannot rely on a single communications strategy, or emphasize one aspect of the business over the other. From marketing to PR to call centers to the social media team, everybody needs to be on the same page, equipped with all of the tools they need to not only have anytime, anywhere access to key information, but also to be able to respond to potential and existing customers with speed and self-assurance. Improving your company’s customer-facing processes not only boost revenue and sales – it ensures that no matter where you engage a customer in the sales cycle, they’ll receive the same quality experience.
Building an Advocate
There’s only one problem with the graphic above – it’s linear. Loyalty isn’t where the customer’s journey ends. It should instead loop back to the consideration and purchasing phase, with branches reaching out to their contacts – your future customers.
In an ideal world, your customer becomes a brand advocate, passing along the good word about your business via word-of-mouth, while foregoing the consideration of competing products or services.
That’s the sales cycle. And it all starts with making sure that you have the right internal processes for your workforce to access, use and share information, in order to deliver the type of quality customer service experience that they’ve come to expect.
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Gartner, Inc. today highlighted the top 10 technology trends that will be strategic for most organizations in 2015. Gartner defines a strategic technology trend as one with the potential for significant impact on the organization in the next three years. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to the business, end users or IT, the need for a major investment, or the risk of being late to adopt. These technologies impact the organization's long-term plans, programs and initiatives. "We have identified the top 10 technology trends that organizations cannot afford to ignore in their strategic planning processes," said David Cearley, vice president & Gartner Fellow. "This does not necessarily mean adoption and investment in all of the trends at the same rate, but companies should look to make deliberate decisions about them during the next two years." Mr. Cearley said the top trends for 2015 cover three themes: the merging of the real and virtual worlds, the advent of intelligence everywhere, and the technology impact of the digital business shift. The top 10 strategic technology trends for 2015 are: Computing Everywhere As mobile devices continue to proliferate, Gartner predicts an increased emphasis on serving the needs of the mobile user in diverse contexts and environments, as opposed to focusing on devices alone. "Phones and wearable devices are now part of an expanded computing environment that includes such things as consumer electronics and connected screens in the workplace and public space," said Mr. Cearley. "Increasingly, it's the overall environment that will need to adapt to the requirements of the mobile user. This will continue to raise significant management challenges for IT organizations as they lose control of user endpoint devices. It will also require increased attention to user experience design." The Internet of Things The combination of data streams and services created by digitizing everything creates four basic usage models — Manage, Monetize, Operate and Extend. These four basic models can be applied to any of the four "Internets." Enterprises should not limit themselves to thinking that only the Internet of Things (IoT) (assets and machines) has the potential to leverage these four models. For example, the pay-per-use model can be applied to assets (such as industrial equipment), services (such as pay-as-you-drive insurance), people (such as movers), places (such as parking spots) and systems (such as cloud services). Enterprises from all industries can leverage these four models. 3D Printing Worldwide shipments of 3D printers are expected to grow 98 percent in 2015, followed by a doubling of unit shipments in 2016. 3D printing will reach a tipping point over the next three years as the market for relatively low-cost 3D printing devices continues to grow rapidly and industrial use expands significantly. New industrial, biomedical and consumer applications will continue to demonstrate that 3D printing is a real, viable and cost-effective means to reduce costs through improved designs, streamlined prototyping and short-run manufacturing. Advanced, Pervasive and Invisible Analytics Analytics will take center stage as the volume of data generated by embedded systems increases and vast pools of structured and unstructured data inside and outside the enterprise are analyzed. "Every app now needs to be an analytic app," said Mr. Cearley. "Organizations need to manage how best to filter the huge amounts of data coming from the IoT, social media and wearable devices, and then deliver exactly the right information to the right person, at the right time. Analytics will become deeply, but invisibly embedded everywhere." Big data remains an important enabler for this trend but the focus needs to shift to thinking about big questions and big answers first and big data second — the value is in the answers, not the data. Context-Rich Systems Ubiquitous embedded intelligence combined with pervasive analytics will drive the development of systems that are alert to their surroundings and able to respond appropriately. Context-aware security is an early application of this new capability, but others will emerge. By understanding the context of a user request, applications can not only adjust their security response but also adjust how information is delivered to the user, greatly simplifying an increasingly complex computing world. Smart Machines Deep analytics applied to an understanding of context provide the preconditions for a world of smart machines. This foundation combines with advanced algorithms that allow systems to understand their environment, learn for themselves, and act autonomously. Prototype autonomous vehicles, advanced robots, virtual personal assistants and smart advisors already exist and will evolve rapidly, ushering in a new age of machine helpers. The smart machine era will be the most disruptive in the history of IT. Cloud/Client Computing The convergence of cloud and mobile computing will continue to promote the growth of centrally coordinated applications that can be delivered to any device. "Cloud is the new style of elastically scalable, self-service computing, and both internal applications and external applications will be built on this new style," said Mr. Cearley. "While network and bandwidth costs may continue to favor apps that use the intelligence and storage of the client device effectively, coordination and management will be based in the cloud." In the near term, the focus for cloud/client will be on synchronizing content and application state across multiple devices and addressing application portability across devices. Over time, applications will evolve to support simultaneous use of multiple devices. The second-screen phenomenon today focuses on coordinating television viewing with use of a mobile device. In the future, games and enterprise applications alike will use multiple screens and exploit wearables and other devices to deliver an enhanced experience. Software-Defined Applications and Infrastructure Agile programming of everything from applications to basic infrastructure is essential to enable organizations to deliver the flexibility required to make the digital business work. Software-defined networking, storage, data centers and security are maturing. Cloud services are software-configurable through API calls, and applications, too, increasingly have rich APIs to access their function and content programmatically. To deal with the rapidly changing demands of digital business and scale systems up — or down — rapidly, computing has to move away from static to dynamic models. Rules, models and code that can dynamically assemble and configure all of the elements needed from the network through the application are needed. Web-Scale IT Web-scale IT is a pattern of global-class computing that delivers the capabilities of large cloud service providers within an enterprise IT setting. More organizations will begin thinking, acting and building applications and infrastructure like Web giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook. Web-scale IT does not happen immediately, but will evolve over time as commercial hardware platforms embrace the new models and cloud-optimized and software-defined approaches reach mainstream. The first step toward the Web-scale IT future for many organizations should be DevOps — bringing development and operations together in a coordinated way to drive rapid, continuous incremental development of applications and services. Risk-Based Security and Self-Protection All roads to the digital future lead through security. However, in a digital business world, security cannot be a roadblock that stops all progress. Organizations will increasingly recognize that it is not possible to provide a 100 percent secured environment. Once organizations acknowledge that, they can begin to apply more-sophisticated risk assessment and mitigation tools. On the technical side, recognition that perimeter defense is inadequate and applications need to take a more active role in security gives rise to a new multifaceted approach. Security-aware application design, dynamic and static application security testing, and runtime application self-protection combined with active context-aware and adaptive access controls are all needed in today's dangerous digital world. This will lead to new models of building security directly into applications. Perimeters and firewalls are no longer enough; every app needs to be self-aware and self-protecting.