The Buyer’s Funnel: A More Dynamic Way to Convert, Sell and Win

Business-Planning-Expert-Series

The traditional linear buyer’s funnel has an understandable appeal and makes sense on a lot of levels. But let’s face it: Customers don’t always move neatly from one part of the funnel to the next, and this inflexible view of the sales process may be costing you conversions and sales.

To help you get unstuck and drive better B2B sales performance, Jim Franklin of Impact B2B Sales will join us to discuss the shortcomings of the seller-centric sales model, give you a fresh view from your customer’s perspective, and reveal the critical questions that will drive improvements in your sales tools and processes.

Nate Warren

Nate Warren is the host of the Business Planning Expert series and a marketing/advertising/PR writer and editor with more than 25 years of experience across newspapers, startups and agencies. Nate interfaces with internal and client strategists to crystallize B2B or B2C messaging for any medium.

Nate WarrenExpert Series Host
Jim Franklin

Jim Franklin is CEO and founder of Impact B2B Sales. Franklin has 25 years of sales leadership, enterprise sales, channel development/ management, marketing, and business development experience. He is an expert in business-to-business sales process/strategy, sales enablement, sales operational platforms and systems driving improved alignment between sales and marketing operations.

Jim FranklinCEO and founder of Impact B2B Sales

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Nate: Hello and welcome to the Center for Business Modeling’s Expert Series podcast. Center for Business Modeling’s mission is to help business leaders and entrepreneurs plot a simplified path to success with a full array of streamlined financial, operations, sales and marketing planning tools.

I am your host, Nate Warren. In the interest of making the best use of your time today — and by the way, thank you for listening — we’re going to offer you 15 solid minutes of insights so you can get on with your day and focus on what you do best. So today we’re talking with our esteemed guest, Jim Franklin. Good morning, Jim!

Jim: Good morning, Nate, and thank you so much for that introduction.

Nate: Absolutely, we are happy to have you. So as we understand it, drawing on your deep experience as a sales executor and manager and engineer of sales processes, you’re going to talk to us about some of the shortcomings that are inherent to the traditional linear sales funnel that we all know and love, right?

Jim: That’s correct, Nate. I’m going to talk a little bit about the buyer’s cycle and the sales funnel and how important it is to make sure that you are addressing both and, quite frankly, that they are integrated. But first I would like to set a little groundwork, some foundation for this discussion with some of the challenges that are facing today’s sales organizations. As a sales leader, these numbers should be very eye-opening, but also should represent some tremendous opportunity.

If we look at these sources — there is multiple that sources this information came from — including CSO Insights, including Demand Metrics and Forrester. But a couple of things that we really want to take a look at and more important to address, the buyer’s cycle and how that integrates to the traditional sales funnel, is if you look at that top graphic there, the buyer’s journey, most of that decision up to 70%, is already completed.

And we will talk about how that process is kind of enabled by the buyer throughout the cycle. And then a couple of the other ones I want to talk about are the sales reps: Only 58% make quota and only 33% of the sales reps’ time is actually spent selling. So what we want to do is, how do we address those challenges? How do we start looking at what that means? So in addressing the challenges, I have found there is typically three key questions. Nate, if you would forward the slide please, thank you.

Is your sales process capable of matching the dynamic buyer’s cycle? Is your sales team trained to understand and does the organization have the ability to deliver the right content at the right time to the appropriate buyer persona? Now this is a very important 2 bullet point for several reasons because I’ve introduced a couple of terms here that we will talk about throughout the course of it; the buyer persona and then the business issues and the dynamic buyer’s cycle.

So if we look at the next slide, which is, okay, what does the funnel typically look like today? Well I am sure all of you that have been in sales for a while are quite familiar with this type of a diagram. First you have visitors and then those visitors turn to leads and then these leads growth opportunities and those opportunities, if it is executed correctly, will turn into customers.

Well, some of the challenges that you can see from these bullet points is one size does not fit all. And what that means, from what I’ve seen in my experience, is it really can be an inhibitor for maturity and growth of your sales organization. And from a one size fits all, why that is important is from a messaging and process perspective, that is difficult to align the buying cycle with sales funnel.

So as we look at…okay, what are the elements of the buying cycle? What are the elements of the buying process? And it is typically quite dynamic in nature. So can we go to the next slide, please?

The buyer, as we mentioned earlier, can come in approximately 70% of the research is done prior to even engaging, so that’s the “exploration” phase of this process. So how does that happen? That happens through websites, that happens through peer references, that happens through conferences, so again as we look at this, there is a lot of background information going on in today’s market. It is also driven by social media, so there is multiple channels and multiple touches throughout this entire process that we have to make sure that we address that throughout the process.

Buyers-Funnel

And if you look at this stage, it is pretty straightforward, you evaluate. What does that mean? Engage: However when I kind of went and talked about engage here, well as the buyer engages your sales person, you want to make sure that that salesperson understands what the buyer’s needs are so you don’t start at the product description, for example. Because that buyer may already understand quite a bit about your product from downloading product data sheets, from downloading some case studies. So you want to make sure that as you engage the prospect, that you understand the business requirements.

And then from there, as you become the trusted advisor — and there is numerous ways it can do that and we will talk about that in a little bit — is the customer will become, or the prospect will become a customer. And then I like to expand those customers by either cross-selling or up selling. So, again, what this slide illustrates is a dynamic process; the prospect can come in in any one of those five stages of the sales funnel, so you just need to be prepared to deliver the right information. So if you look at what that is together, which is the next slide for you, Nate.

So, again, as I have mentioned that those prospects, they can come into the sales funnel at any point in time along the cycle. And what that gives you is what I’m going to call an integrated revenue pipeline. So what does that mean? That means that you have to have the ability to deliver the right content. That means you have to be able to track content. That means you need to be able to track what type of content the buyer has already taken a look at and then that will help frame some additional content and additional discussion going forward.

So really as you look at the capabilities that really enable the salespeople, you have to be able to have the ability to be responsive. So if you look at the next slide, we talked about responsive and not rigid. So here, it is incredibly important to be able to do the right content to the right prospect at the right time, irrespective of where they are in the sales cycle.

So an example would be if somebody comes in in the “engage” part of the buyer’s cycle, that you might have to provide some reference information. You might have to provide an ROI study, you might have to provide a case study. Whereas if they come in an engage the salespeople at the “exploration” stage, that’s a different set of content. And really what that means is you truly need to track everything so that you can, in fact, differentiate yourself from the competition with the ability to do that. So it’s almost kind of like guided selling to provide the sales reps with the relevant information at the current stage in the sales process. Again, that is very important, and hopefully you will understand that’s the theme throughout the entire presentation.

So what does that mean from the “key questions” perspective? Well, as you identify the buyer’s cycle, if you recall, the buyer’s cycle in today’s stage again, their journey is nearly 70% complete by the time they engage your sales reps. So if you have not done a good job at identifying the buyer’s cycle, you would probably be in one of those 32% that didn’t make their quota. So we want to make sure that you’ve identified that.

Now, how do you map the buyer’s cycle to the sales processes? The graphic we talked about a little bit earlier, I think that gives you a good starting component, and from my experience, if you take a look at both of those, you can obviously edit those and then change those to make those work for your organization, but it’s incredibly important that you identified both.

And then there is the technology stack. So what does the technology stack include? That typically includes a CRM and so forth, something along those lines. It typically will include marketing automation. It typically will include some sort of a sales enablement component, and in the sales enablement component you should have the capabilities to deliver that content at the right time and also track all the analytics associated with the delivery of that content and also the opportunity management – so the acceleration of the opportunities.

And then as you report it in analytics, talk about key performance indicators. And what this… by identifying the buying cycle with the sales process, you will be able to measure the percent of reps achieving quota. And we’ve seen some significant increase in percentages. So if you look at that, even if those reps that you have, had 15% more reps attain quota, that’s going to drop significant revenue to the bottom line and also from the forecast accuracy from a sales leadership position, that’s also extremely important.

And then that also helps bridge the gap between sales and marketing and the aspects that you can track, the content to utilize for deals that have been won and what is the content associated with that. So Nate, that’s kind of a brief overview, a brief summary of how the buying cycle and the sales funnel work together and the importance of identifying both of those and having the technology stack and the key performance indicators with those.

Nate: That was really great, thank you. I have a couple of questions, if you’ve got a minute or two.

Jim: Yes I do, please.

Nate: So you work with a lot of organizations and among those, how often do you see the problem being a matter of process versus having the right tools?

Jim: Quite frankly, nearly 100% of the time. Here are some of my thoughts around that. People, almost everybody have some sort of a toolset, whether that’s SalesForce or from a CRM or a Marketo or Eloqua or from a marketing automation or RO|Innovation or from a sales enablement, but it’s important to get the adoption up and one of the ways you can get the adoption up is by implementing the process, deploying the process and having the correct technology. And once the reps, if it is applied correctly, you might use the proper processes, if it is deployed correctly, they will, the reps will, in fact, as well the marketing and sales leaders, see positive results every time.

Nate: Interesting, interesting. And you also mentioned — and this kind of piqued my curiosity a little further back in your presentation — you talked about bringing the right content to the right prospect at the right time. Can you sort of give us an example of what that looks like in the context of the dynamic sales funnel or the buyer-centric one?

Jim: Yes, I certainly can. Let’s say for example somebody, buyer comes in on the “engage” cycle, but this is a totally new lead or new buyer. Typically in the past, the tendency is then, “Okay then, this is the first contact we’ve had with them.” From a marketing automation, there may be some information that says, “Okay, this person has pinged the website,” but instead of just doing a product intro or a company intro, that’s because this buyer persona, so the buyer persona may be an IT person, for example.  So what your system can recommend is, “Okay, this buyer persona has come in at the “engaged” stage. They are an IT persona, so what they are looking for may be some more technical information.” So I can provide them with a case study that talks about how the organizations, certain organizations’ technology has successfully been deployed, some ROI studies. So that’s just one example, Nate, does that answer your question?

Nate: Absolutely. And you also remind me of something else you brought up about your first slide about sometimes folks hit your funnel having already done a great deal of the research and they don’t need the, “Well, hello, hi, how are you. Here is the overview or boilerplate-style stuff.” You need to hit with more precise, targeted information.

Jim: Actually if that happens, which it does, as much as we hate to admit it, that tends to make that interaction with the buyer unpleasant for the prospect and they may even take them back out of the interaction with your sales team and back looking to evaluate some other organizations.

So, again, I think that’s one of the chief KPIs that I am not certain that I mentioned, but what it all ties together is it’s all about reducing time to revenue and how do you do that? It really is a combination of the processes and the technology that we’ve talked about today with the kind of integrating the buying cycle and the selling funnel.

Nate: Well Jim, that is awesome stuff and we thank you very much for taking the time for both us and our listeners today.

Jim: Thanks, it has been my pleasure and please encourage the listeners, if they have any questions, I believe we’ve got a way to contact myself and Center For Business Modeling, correct? Yes, there it is.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. That’s Jim right now. If you like to know what Jim is talking about and want to learn more about it, you can reach out to him on LinkedIn or talk to him directly at Jim@impactB2Bsales.com.

That’s it for this installment of the Center for Business Modeling’s Expert Series podcast. As always, we’re here to help you take the brain damage out of business planning. So feel free to head on over to centerforbusinessmodeling.com and avail yourself of the many resources we have on the site right now. Until next time, I’m your host, Nate Warren, thanking you for listening once again. I look forward to seeing you again with more great guests and business planning insights. Good day, success for all, and until next time, keep planning to win.