This is the second in a series of three blogs on the sales funnel. You can read the first blog here.
Let’s start out on the same page; we’re talking about linking tactics to attract and convert prospects into actual purchasing customers. The sales funnel ‘hand-holds’ your customer through each successive phase of the decision-making process from product/ brand awareness through post-purchase thinking about the performance of the product and the customer’s level of satisfaction.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of understanding how your customers make ‘buy’ decisions. In my marketing classes, I teach my students the ‘consumer journey’ model. It’s composed of five different phases. The journey begins with need awareness; there is an itch the customer needs to scratch. The next stage includes research into potential product or service solutions to the need. In this phase, the customer collects information about a number of potential solutions. Next, each option is evaluated against a set of decision criteria that has been established during the research phase. At the end of this phase, a decision to purchase a specific solution has been made. The penultimate stage is the actual purchase behavior and last the customer reviews his decision versus the performance of the product that was purchased and is either content or dis-satisfied. Assuming contentment, the customer may become an advocate for the product/ service.
Persuasion is built on a foundation of understanding what your customers need to hear at each stage of your relationship with them. (It’s a little like courting….). As your prospects go deeper into the decision process, their information needs change. By keeping pace with the changes in information needs, a skillful marketer can remain in control of the consumer journey and successfully lead the prospect to a purchase of ‘the brand’.
The most persuasive sales funnels combine particular messages at each phase of the consumer journey with certain forms of content. Take a look at the image next to this text for an illustration of this point. Content can come in the form social media posts, email campaigns, videos, vlogs, podcasts, blogs, public relations campaigns, product sampling, white papers, events, sales promotions and more.
Very importantly, a sales funnel can be hugely important in differentiating your brand, product or service from your competitors. Since social media is ‘permission-based’ marketing rather than ‘disruptive’ marketing, your prospects are discovering your content at the height of their need for information. This is so different from traditional advertising! It means that your prospects are more interested in what you have to say. They are in a ‘more-closable’ frame of mind! This also means the investment (time and money) achieves a higher ROI.
Obviously, this approach relies on you knowing your prospects (target market) well. The better you understand them, the higher the probability you can persuade them to purchase your product at least once. Imagine a sketch of your ‘ideal customer’. It’s composed of your personal experiences with many customers over time (primary research) and additional information you can pick up through internet search, magazine articles, inferences from your competitors advertising and more (secondary research). Marketers refer to this sketch as a “buyer persona”. It’s used as the reference for all of your content, and even the products and services you develop over time. You’ll want to include everything you can think of about your prospects;
- the kinds of media they use for their product research activities
- the reasons they have for buying products like yours
- how they like to use your product
- the products or services they currently buy and that you’ll have to replace
- the kinds of media they use throughout the day for entertainment, communication, in their work,
- demographic information such as their level of education, their occupations, their income, their age,
- information about the way they think and see the world (psychographics) – including attitudes, beliefs, values, opinions in areas related to your product, their life-style and more!
The more you understand about your prospects, the better you are able to persuade them to buy your brand. Persuasion can’t happen without empathy because empathy shows you the information and the way that information should be delivered to be most impactful.
It’s also important to know who your prospects refer to when making certain decisions. Again, Robert Cialdini discusses this in his seminal work on influence and persuasion. He refers to ‘social proof’. According to Cialdini, when confronted with a new decision to make, oftentimes prospects look around to see what other people are doing and, when in doubt, they copy the prevailing behaviors. These ‘others’ could be family or friends, or they could be ‘influence peddlers’ such as famous athletes, successful business people, celebrities, or even the members of social groups your prospects wish they belonged to. The implications for your own social media and content marketing campaigns are obvious; demonstrate the popularity of your brand among the people in these sets and a lot of the heavy lifting is already complete!