Above the funnel no more
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 sales person, individuals and businesses could eliminate the middle man 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. It also caused 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.
There’s an almost Heisenbergian quality to this. You might recall that the quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle said 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, but 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 is 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 more nimble businesses acting on the best information might have a decided advantage today.
What’s left in that case is a business’ ability to flexibly adjust to opportunities as they crop up, which is often described as business agility. But agility takes 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.
Now, 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. But all opportunities run on information, hence the importance of pushing the marketing pipeline as hard as you can.
Over the years that I have followed Full Circle Insights (and they are not a client) I’ve watched as they and some of their competition have extended the marketing funnel so that vendors could capture customer information and regain a bit 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. But by gathering what were once 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.