The Sales Funnel and the AIDA model of selling
Over the years, we’ve looked at lots of ways to manage sales and marketing in order to improve results and the Sales Funnel combined with the AIDA sales model shown worked for many years.
Conceived in 1898 by E. St. Elmo Lewis, the sales funnel was created as a way to help visualise the customer journey, from the moment people first become aware of a product to the time they become a customer. It’s also known as the AIDA model, an acronym that describes each stage of the buyer journey.
Because it’s easy to understand, the traditional sales funnel offered a simple illustration of how people make purchases. They come into the top of the funnel as prospects and come out the bottom as new customers, passing through three buying stages (slightly revised from the original AIDA model): awareness, consideration and decision-making. For over 100 years, the funnel has been unchallenged and unchanged.
But we continue to rely on it in the digital age, even though it predates the internet and social media, and doesn’t account for either. Yet the funnel persists – large at the top and narrow at the bottom, pulling prospects through via gravity?
We need a new a new model.
When salespeople controlled the entire buyer journey, the funnel made sense. It served as a fairly accurate representation of how people made purchases. But things have changed dramatically, in recent years
Like so much of modern life, technology has drastically altered the buyer journey. The wealth of information available, and our ability to access it at any time, has provided buyers with unprecedented power. At the same time, the sheer volume of content we’re exposed to has spawned incredible confusion and indecision.
We are overwhelmed with information, and not all of it is consistent and happens as a linear process with a beginning, middle and end. Buyers read blogs, websites, social media, emails and ads and now partake in engage in a purchasing process that has them often spinning in circles, unable to make a quick and confident decision.
With that in mind a traditional sales funnel that focuses only on AIDA is no longer reflective of the “buying journey” of prospects nor does it provide a roadmap to help guide them through this new chaotic buyer journey
In theory, all of this readily available information should help educate prospects and streamline the buying experience, but it has had the opposite effect. Information overload has extended the customer journey and infected it with uncertainty, anxiety and confusion.
The modern buyer journey is a violent and unpredictable storm. Prospects are pushed and pulled in every direction by disparate (and often conflicting) information. No longer linear, the buyer journey is now cyclical , as the “cyclonic Buyers Journey” from Square Two Marketing in the US describes.
Prospects don’t all enter at the awareness phase. They can enter at any stage, and can encounter information from any stage at any time. They can bounce back and forth among stages or even become stuck in a stage. It’s a dizzying storm, and your prospects are lost in it.
Using a series of interconnected cycles, the Cyclonic Buyer Journey™ model from Square 2 Marketing more accurately depicts the chaotic experience and torrent of information prospects face.
To mirror that complex journey and account for the myriad sources of information that affect the decision-making process, the Cyclonic Buyer Journey features eight distinct stages.
The 8 Cyclonic Buyer Journey Stages
Some prospects don’t know you exist. They have the specific pain, issue or challenge that you help with, but for whatever reason, they don’t realise solutions are available. Since they’re not aware, it’s called pre-awareness.
However, a pain trigger can move them from pre-awareness to awareness. That trigger can be internal or external, so you can provide it. When you deliver a disruptive, emotional and compelling message to a prospect in pre-awareness, you can wake them up, get them scared or move them to act because of the emotion your message stirs up.
Awareness is the stage when people start looking around for solutions. It’s when they take the first proactive step in their buyer journey.3.
Typically this starts with asking friends, family, colleagues, peers or associates if they know anything about the issue you’re looking into. This might be quickly followed by (or done in conjunction with) an online search.
The next phase is education, or research around the possibility of doing something different from what they’ve been buying.
Traditionally, the idea has been that people are actively educating themselves on the options during a bundled awareness and consideration stage, but the model suggests education is actually a separate stage and therefore may require different tactics. Once people are aware that a solution exists, or that they have a situation that needs their attention, they go about getting educated on their options. This is a separate stage today because the content available for educating prospects is so massive: the entire internet.
Eventually, prospects have to start narrowing down their options. They learn what they like and don’t like, and what they need and don’t need.
When they have narrowed down the potential solutions to just a few, they enter into the next stage where they start to look more closely at their selected handful of options.
This is where guidance becomes critical. Remember, it’s not a funnel anymore. It’s a series of chaotic informational cycles. If you want to help your prospect navigate through the storms, you have to be able to show them clearly what makes your option different – better, faster, cheaper, more strategic and more valuable – than the other handful of options
Now that the prospects are serious, the hard work of evaluation begins. One or two people may have done the research and background work, but now that they’re looking at pricing, presentations, capabilities, team members, features and benefits, the power people are involved.
Your job? Stand out. Make sure that when their process is over, no choice needs to be made. You stand out as the only company, product or service for them.
This stage is where prospects ask the tough questions: When do you expect me to see positive ROI on the investment? What are your payment terms and are they flexible? Who, specifically, will we be working with on this project? When do you expect delivery to be completed?
Your prospect has already emotionally decided on an option, but now needs to develop a rationalisation for it. Resolving these questions is usually a hurdle, so your sales process needs to be buttoned up and remarkable.
Even after officially making the decision, the buyer still has to talk about contract details, agreement terms and other legal aspects of their new working relationship. It’s not final until the paperwork is signed.
You want to focus on what makes your company special. The more unique you are, the more leverage you have to say “no” to disadvantageous terms. The more generic your offering is, the more likely you’re going to run into issues here. Consider procurement, for example. If the prospect can’t get what you offer from anyone else, how aggressive are they going to be in working to get your price down? But if all three of your competitors offer the same (or similar) products or services, you have less leverage.
8. Ongoing Delivery
The end game is not getting a new customer but rather getting a new customer to realise the benefits they signed up for when they met you.
The end game is making this customer so happy that they tell everyone about you. The end game is getting this customer to buy more from you, to continue working with you into year two and to be an active advocate for your company.
That final decision cycles you into a series of additional cycles as your new customer considers more services, increasing their spend with you and becoming a vocal advocate for your company. Ongoing delivery is a never-ending cycle (or at least that’s how you should look at it)
At a time when customer experience is paramount, the funnel doesn’t accurately explain how people experience buying, or instruct businesses on how to improve upon that experience.
That’s what makes the Cyclonic Buyer Journey (TM – Square Two Marketing) unique and effective. It not only forces you to see the buying experience through the eyes of your customers, it gives you the tools to map the appropriate content to each cycle, then track and measure their experience to make improvements where necessary.
You need different tactics at different stages
Just as the sales and marketing funnel no longer works, the old marketing and sales tactics probably wont work as well as they used to, either. You can’t cold call and sell your way into sustainable, predictable and repeatable revenue generation.
In the Cyclonic Buyer Journey model, you have to earn attention and get found by creating disruptive and compelling content, including your own company story. The challenge becomes this:
How do you deploy the set of tactics and tools at your disposal, with the new Cyclonic Buyer Journey as the strategy behind your tactics?
Here’s how Square 2 suggested and how we recommend you to support the Cyclonic Buyer Journey with tactics mapped to each stage:
- Are you hitting your revenue targets?
- Do you have enough leads?
- Can you get high-quality sales opportunities for your sales team?
- Does your team turn those opportunities into new customers?