If you could ask your funnel anything, what would you say?
- Why aren’t leads gliding to opportunity?
- Why can’t sales close deals from my best leads?
- Why doesn’t pipeline grow when I up the numbers?
I know. Asking a funnel questions doesn’t scream emotional stability. But imagine if you could? I know I would.
If these questions sound familiar, you’re in good company. Marketers tend to think of them when they’re working towards something more meaningful than leads. When they’re building demand, and generating pipeline.
And as a marketer, funnels can be the highway helping you reach that pipeline. That’s why asking your funnel a question like “Is this working?” isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
Today, less than 1% of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) move through to closed deals.” — (Forbes).
It’s a good question, when 99% of MQLs seem to be going nowhere.
The answer to a question depends on who you ask, and that’s where our problem starts. Because funnels aren’t honest. In fact, they tell 3 lies that pull the wool over our demand-generating-eyes. Each of these hides an important fact about pipeline generation.
- Buying happens in loops, not steps
- Leads aren’t passed from Marketing to Sales
- More MQL’s does not mean more pipeline
Not getting these right makes demand generation tougher than it needs to be.
Behind every lie, there’s an opportunity for pipeline generation. Most haven’t taken these, so I’m going to show you how to spot the first and use it to your advantage.
But let’s start with the elephant in the room.
How could a funnel lie to me?
I’m not claiming to be a funnel whisperer. But I can assure you it’s nothing personal.
Funnels are practical tools; they help navigate the messy world of demand generation. They draw a map of the buyer’s journey. Like any map, they’re helpful because they show the big picture.
But the big picture doesn’t fit on a single page. So a map must first simplify things before we can use it. Maps are models which change reality into something more practical, but less accurate.
“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” — George Box
In 1569, the Flemish mapmaker Gerardus Mercator drew the world map as we know it today. It was a praised achievement of mapmaking at the time. Today, we understand it to be inaccurate and distorted with proportions all over the place. Mercator pumps up the size of Europe and North America, while shrinking Africa, South America and South Asia.
The downfall of Mercator’s map was the mapmaker’s bias.
He was painting a picture of the whole world, designed from one colonial European’s perspective. His bias became our own, and it took centuries to realize how this map distorted our understanding of the earth.
Just like Mercator, funnels are dripping with the mapmaker’s bias
Marketers build funnels to do better marketing. This means they’re built for a marketer’s needs.
We need leads gliding through our funnels as efficiently as possible, and we need systems that are simple to work with. When we map the buyer’s journey, our bias says a lot about how we wish they worked. Less so about buying reality.
This is no news to B2B analysts, who spotted the marketing disconnect years ago.
“If we were to map a real B2B buying journey, it would look a lot less like a step-by-step linear process and a lot more like a big bowl of spaghetti.” —Gartner CSO Report
Things are more complex than we’d like to admit.
But every map hides a treasure
Demand generation doesn’t mean untangling a bowl of spaghetti. It just means having deeper empathy for your customer’s buying journey.
The great news is, a little understanding goes a long way.
Imagine looking into your funnel and seeing instantly where your buyers are stuck inside them. Imagine answering their questions, solving their problems, and helping them make the right buying decision. Imagine doing all this before your competitors realize their buyers are stuck in the first place.
“Our jobs as marketers are to understand how the customer wants to buy, and help them do so.” — Bryan Eisenberg
Shall we jump in?
1. Buying happens in loops, not steps
Why aren’t leads gliding effortlessly to opportunity?
Leads get stuck for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they’re not interested. Sometimes they’re not the right fit. Sometimes they didn’t belong there in the first place.
But what about those who do belong? For those who really need your solution, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be moving on to a purchasing decision.
For the past 5 years‚ Gartner has worked with marketing leaders to better understand this problem. They’ve looked at purchase paths and customer journeys. And they’ve found that most journeys don’t reduce buyer pain points. They don’t give buyers what they really need.
While Marketers work on moving leads through awareness stages, modern buyers are stuck with a different set of problems. We think we’re helping, but this is only because of how funnels are designed. See if you can spot the pattern.
Sometimes they’re mapped from left to right.
Or top to bottom.
Sometimes (and this is my personal favourite) they’re mapped bottom-up.
Whichever way they point, these funnels share the same dangerous assumption: that buyers move stepwise on the path to purchase.
Why is this not the case? And why does it matter?
Buyers are trying (and failing) to complete 6 buying jobs
When we talk about someone moving through a funnel, what we’re really describing is a decision-making process.
The average B2B purchase comes with hair-raising risks attached. Buyers need to be certain their choice is worth the price tag, delivers value, and does not flop.
To guide this quest, buyers have 6 jobs to complete.
The first 4 are identifying the needs, solutions, requirements, and suppliers for the challenge being solved. This is a process of finding information, then making sense of it.
There are 2 things making this tricky for the buyer.
- Buying jobs are revisited with new information.
- Buying happens in large groups: as large as 12 people, with an average of 6.8 people (Sirius decisions).
Now, it’s a party.
To make good decisions, buyers need to validate new information as it comes in. Then, they need to convince the group of their reasoning.
This an ongoing struggle that closely resembles cat-herding.
Have you ever planned a party for fussy eaters? Somehow, your job is to find the dessert that makes everyone happy. I may be a Malva pudding guy, but Margeret wants a Soufflé. Scott’s making noise about Pomme Palais (whatever that is). Someone inexplicably wants Trifle.
As the dessert decision-maker, you loop between guests and recipes until a compromise is found. Your job is to validate new suggestions, to keep the best options on the table, and create a group consensus on the final decision. And all of this needs to happen on a tight deadline. This is the true challenge of B2B buying.
Remember Gartner’s big bowl of Spaghetti?
The takeaway here is that B2B buying is not easy. And buyers are having a tough time of it. The secret is not to push buyers through funnels. Rather, we need to help them complete jobs.
Understand that it’s hard for buyers, then make it easy for them.
What does easy look like?
Google has been researching buyer behaviour for decades. Lucky for them, they have a headstart in understanding how people search for information. They’re calling this the ‘messy middle’ of decision-making, and their model simplifies buying into the two information tasks we spoke about earlier. Exploration, then evaluation.
As new information is received, buyers loop between these two activities.
Google has found that two-thirds of the learning comes from whatever information the buyer can find. Customers don’t even have a preference between sellers and digital channels, they just want access to the right information to complete their job at hand.
This is a massive opportunity. With better information, you can make it easier for buyers to choose you. When your content helps complete buying jobs, you win the attention bid.
Here’s how to do it.
Don’t push buyers through funnels. Help them complete buying jobs instead.
Buyers are flooded with nice-to-have content from your competitors.
But you can stand out with less. By keeping your information relevant to buying needs, you make it easier for them to sort through what matters and keep your information at the top of the pile.
Rather than an endless generation of thought leadership, white papers, infographics and videos, content should take a focused approach on what matters to the buyer.
“…marketing leaders should rebalance their content efforts to develop and deploy information to help buyers buy.” — Martha M Mathers
To do this, we need to find out what matters.
Understand their buying jobs
Few sellers understand what’s happening in the buying process, but all we have to do is ask.
Each customer and customer group is different, so interviews with existing customers are a great way to gather this information. The goal is to understand the jobs below as they apply to your customers’ context. You can use these as a template for guiding your questions.
You can also give prospects the chance to teach you while you market to them. Building mini-surveys into your opt-ins are a great way to do this. They give you the chance to understand where buyers are at, right from their first engagement.
Address their challenges in your content
Once you understand their need, you can shape your content to address their concerns and make it easier for them to make a group buying decision. A ‘job completion’ checklist will help to ensure relevance, effectiveness and shareability of your content.
I like the questions below.
Is it relevant?
- Does this content relate to the completion of a buying job?
- Is this a job where customers consistently struggle?
Is it effective?
- Is it clear, simple, and informative?
- Is the content easy for the customer to use quickly and effectively?
- Does it inform buyers of your important differentiators?
Is it shareable?
- Is it supplier-agnostic enough to be credible?
- Is it relevant to the majority of our buyers?
- Is it easily shareable among customer stakeholders?
Buyers need help now, so don’t wait.
Buyer enablement is an opportunity for pipeline generation that most haven’t taken.
Don’t wait to take it. Marketers helping buyers with the right information have a 3x higher likelihood of creating a high-value, low-regret deal.
“Information designed to help them advance their purchase has the single biggest impact on driving deal quality.” — Gartner CSO Report
The beautiful thing is that when buying gets easier, selling gets easier too. What’s good for the buyer is good for us.
The next time their journey resembles a bowl of spaghetti, dig in and enjoy. The carbs help you flex those marketing muscles when you step in to help 💪