Is the Sales Funnel Dead?


Think about it. If only it was as easy as "filling a funnel" and having sales fall through the other end. I can make 200 calls a day, but who are they to and what am I doing? Just pounding phone lines and telling the company story isn't selling. Or better yet, when I get the check (the bottom of the funnel) what about implementation or customer service?

Now don't me wrong, having a good prospecting plan is probably the hardest thing about maintaining your sales career. In today's business climate, with shrinking budgets and more scrutiny over purchases, what you need is a system that relies less on the law of averages and more on helping the customer make the most of every contact you have with them. The key is to have a complete understanding the entire customer experience and "synchronize" to that buyer throughout-they're the boss when it comes to the "sales funnel" not you.

To truly understand the customer's buying cycle and where they are along that cycle will result in a sales process that builds trust and respect, and allows you to become a trusted advisor-that's the magic recipe for success.

As an example, put yourself in your buyer's shoes. Or better yet, think about the last time YOU bought something. Remember the earliest stages of need definition? Remember how you progressed throughout the search and selection process? Did that experience end after you wrote the check? I'm sure it continued on into full integration of the product or service into your daily life. What I have done is break down buying behavior into 9 distinct phases outlined below starting from the beginning to the end and this allows you (as a great salesperson) to synchronize with their processes.

1. Plan - The buying organization outlines a plan for its business, such as its strategic plan, realignment of the organization, the acquisition of new capabilities, or define a new vision.

2. Recognize - The buying organization realizes they have a need (based on what happened in phase 1) and seeks to satisfy that need. They begin to take action towards buying (as opposed to making their own solution or product). They act accordingly by setting forth goals, objectives, targets, and budgets. They may appoint a team of people to evaluate potential vendors in this phase.

3. Search - The buying organization engages in activities to find a vendor, partner, or supplier. They begin reviewing capabilities of selling organization(s) to see which competitor can meet their needs and with whom they would like to have a relationship.

4. Assess - The buying organization requests proposals, conducts more in-depth meetings, requests more detailed information, has more "serious" dialogue, conducts an analysis of risk.

5. Choose - The buying organization has narrowed the choices down to one organization, begins "testing water" to gauge the organization's ability to fulfill. Has decided that benefits outweigh risks, begins talking about implementation.

6. Obligate - The buying organization writes the check or signs the proposal. Key decision-makers have their reputation on the line, the budget is set aside, and the entire affected organization has begun moving in a new direction.

7. Implement - The buying organization is now a "customer or client" and begins implementing the selected solution. They re-align organizational resources as necessary. They put long-term plans together.

8. Track - The customer formally or informally begins documenting the selling organization's ability to fulfill the solution.

For every buying phase, there is a equal and opposite selling phase. Sounds simple and it is! Ask yourself what you (or your company does) to "line up the phases." Undoubtedly it will fall into marketing, sales, and customer service. This helps you to sell the right way at the right time, in support of the buyer's decision making process. When I realized that it wasn't my job to push my sales funnel onto my prospects (and hope they fall out the bottom) I was able to make more sales by applying the close at the appropriate time (phase 6). It even helped me identify when my future customer was months away from a decision (because they were bogged down in phase 3).

Aside from a better understanding of my customers buying methods, the greatest advantage I've noticed since implementing this system is the reduction of the adversarial mindset towards sales people. As soon as my clients recognize that my process is designed to assist them in making the best decision for their business, even if that means helping them decide on a competitor's product, I have created a new relationship that will eventually lead to more business for me. I can even pull this out and ask them what phase they're in, and offer help to move them through each one.

Here are a few things you can do to implement a similar approach.

1. Give up the idea that all you need to do is make more calls. Keep making calls but create a system to support the madness and find out what "phase" your prospects are in. Focus on advancing them through each phase, or letting them sit while you focus on others.

2. Use or develop a system that addresses the buyer's needs. The United Professional Sales Association system is my choice, but others exist as well.

3. Loose the sales pitch. Instead develop a series of questions that will help you what phase your customer is in and where they are in their process.

No system can guarantee success, but given today's business climate, and the challenges of selling today, it's about time you put a cork in the funnel and developed a better approach.

Brian is the Chairman and Founder of the the United Professional Sales Association (UPSA). UPSA is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC that has addressed the concerns and challenges of individual sales professionals. Brian has authored the world's first universal selling standards and open-source selling framework for free distribution. This 'Compendium of Professional Selling' containing the commonly accepted and universally functional knowledge that all sales professionals possess. The open-source selling standards have been downloaded in 16 countries by over 300 people. Over 30 people have made contributions.

Because UPSA is not owned by one person or any company, it is a member organization and guardian of the global standard of entry into the sales profession.


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