Author Archives: Jack

Death of the Sales Funnel

Before discussing whether the well-known funnel-shaped sales model is of use to us any more, you might want to read my previous article on the sales funnel.

Hopefully I can guide you through a topic on which continuous debate has arisen…

Death is, well, a harsh word really, isn’t it? To say something is dead is to say something no longer exists in the way it used to; ‘it’ no longer has, seems to have, or expects to have life. Perhaps because it no longer seems to have force or relevance, or perhaps, in sales, because the funnel model is no longer yielding the theorised return originally expected of it, it can no longer be justified as a relevant or utilised model for today. Whilst it still exists enough for debate to be continually hinged upon it, what is it about the architecture of the sales funnel that makes it ‘dead’? Here’s a few factors which will hopefully shed some light on the topic:

 

It’s deceiving us

Yes it is, you see, it just makes everything seem far too easy; far too achievable. You only seem to need a flicker of interest from your identified market – a proportion of which seems to effortlessly tumble down into the funnel to make the inevitable purchase. We all know that it doesn’t work like that though; leads can appear, disappear and reappear at any given stage in the funnel and for a multitude of reasons; most of which we may never know, or ever be able to decipher. This could go on for months; one may enter the sales funnel at various points for different reasons but might not even buy a single thing. Why does this happen though? It could be due to…

 

To many distractions

Interruption, diversion, interference, confusion; whatever you call the break in attention that was necessary to aid a potential customer further down the funnel towards a sale – distractions happen all the time. You could be mid-way through a purchase but you change your mind because a friend says something else is better, or you’re in a retail park and about to buy the latest Android tablet but you spot the Apple Store across the way and think twice (despite the price!). It could even be as simple as the fire alarm going off because you left your cheese on toast under the grill for too long, you go off to flap at the alarm and sort everything out and by the time you come back your session has timed out or you can’t be bothered and you ‘leave it for another day’ – which turns into days, maybe weeks, maybe never! People are subject to constant distractions; of which it is impossible to list even the smallest percentage.

 

Tracking and reporting in a grey area

Buying patterns have altered dramatically over the last decade and are continually changing with the introduction of new technology and mobile commerce. What actually happens in between the point you gain that initial interest to the point of sale? This is about the lead’s behaviour – why do they disappear or reappear? How do marketers perceive the ‘way’ people make decisions about purchasing nowadays? The truth is we don’t know all the reasons people disappear or how they even decide to purchase because we can’t analyse information we don’t even know how to track. There are a multitude of ways to monitor various aspects of a campaign both online and offline, but can we tie everything together effectively enough? We may see that there’s a niche in the market for a service, or that a certain group of people might want something, you can follow the sales funnel model precisely but you don’t get constant feedback for everything you do and even if you did how would you analyse and manage that feedback before being able to take steps on improving what you’re doing?

 

A lack of engagement

The funnel is like a giant food processor full of holes – chuck everything in, blitz it up and you might be left with a few remnants of what originally went in.

To find out what happens in the customer decision journey, you would have to try and engage the customer as much as possible – from the initial stage to the point they either bought something or left the funnel – find a way to block those holes in the food processor. The results could leave you in a dilemma – you might find that a huge proportion of potential customers failed to make a sale because they realised they were hungry at the last second, or because they simply got a call from their partner. You can take steps to deal with the hunger and position your shops optimally, for example next to a food outlet, but how do you ‘help’ someone focus on buying your product, or even gather data which helps you to determine ‘when’ to help people focus. Is it even appropriate to try and find this kind of information out? How far do we go?

The online world has plenty of tools out there to help you see what’s going on, Google Analytics, for example, tells you how many people are visiting your site – which can look amazing if you’re getting thousands of hits a day, but if hardly anyone is buying – why are potential buyers dropping out? How can we track the entire customer journey? How do we truly begin to understand and accommodate the buyer’s habits, perception of available products or even ability to buy? If we could understand and accommodate these things, would our customers still buy from us?

In conclusion

Perhaps, though widely understood, the sales funnel theory was never detailed enough in the first place. I often imagine a new model to resemble a huge flowchart of yes/no questions, full of hundreds, maybe thousands of redirections – all attempting to ‘handle’ anyone in the originally identified market to buy a product – a kind of mental mind map of behaviour. The topic leaves me with many questions of my own:

  • Will we ever truly understand and be able to accommodate for all the variables?
  • Has the sales funnel become a scapegoat for an understanding of the customer journey that we may never be able to achieve?
  • Are we on some kind of quest for pure and ultimate knowledge about customers?
  • What can we ever realistically know about the customer journey?
  • Do I even really understand my own reasons for buying or avoiding certain products?
  • When do you actually, really join the sales funnel?
  • If the sales funnel really is dead, why do we still refer to it and even use it?

If you have the answers or would like to add to the conversation please leave your comment below!

 

What You Need to Know about Mobile Commerce

What is it? Simply, mobile commerce, mCommerce or m-commerce is all about handheld devices such as mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, phablets and even laptops being used for carrying out online transactions; whether that be at home, up a tree in Sherwood Forest or whilst travelling in Vietnam. Included amongst those transactions are services like mobile banking, the ability to transfer money and pay bills, mobile ticketing, content purchases like music and buying goods like food, clothes and so on.

Baby with clothes and credit cardMobile commerce is increasingly being used due to a wider range of goods and services becoming available to buy through mobile phones and tablet PC’s like the iPad. The capabilities for mobile commerce have been on the increase for quite some time due to demand from a growing customer base which is ‘always on the move’ and it looks set to increase for many more years with mobile devices being used more widely. Part of that increase, you could easily say is down to trust. The mobile world itself is subject to many security issues, but as issues with data and financial security are resolved and new measures are adopted into the latest technology it becomes easier for people to trust. The cycle begins to loop in on itself – the more people trust it, the more they use it, the more money it brings in the more mobile commerce gets developed and so on.

I remember when people didn’t trust online banking (quite justifiably at the time), but as the technology develops in the mobile arena, I see the same people now trusting those traditional e-commerce methods to carry out their business. I’m not saying e-commerce is now bulletproof, nothing is; it’s just a lot better than it used to be.

Having introduced this ‘mobile topic’ to you all, I’d like to point out a few essentials regarding the world of mobile commerce, starting with:

1Mobile commerce is ready to go!

The main thing I’m trying to say here is that it’s very much here; it hasn’t ‘just’ arrived. We’ve been using apps for quite some time now; eBay, PayPal, Apple, Google are all embracing innovations in mobile commerce and making their products and services widely available through your handheld devices. It’s literally a ‘watch this space’ scenario as multinationals, banks and other business all vie for your attention and custom. I remember the day when you had to go to an ATM to see a balance on your bank account; even then it may have been three days old. Then they brought in ‘available balances’ and now we can check balances and pay other people instantly, making sure it’s happened through our devices with a few simple touches. Gone are the days of having to go into a branch to pay for things.

More people use it than you may think!

However, if people aren’t buying through their devices, they’re at least using them to browse the web, send emails and much more – meaning the potential is at least there for everyone to start using their devices to buy the things they need. How many people do you know use Twitter and Facebook for iPhone? How much easier is it to just check your emails through your phone than head upstairs to the now ancient PC? If people are doing basics with social networking then it’s only a matter of time before they stumble across the Sainsbury’s app, or the iTunes store. I’m a sucker for a deal myself; do you ever find yourself, on the rare occasion that you’re actually in a shop, checking online for better prices?

Imagine that exact situation for a moment – you’re in the supermarket looking at an apparently great deal on a TV but you think ‘I’ll just see what the reviews online are’ and notice the same TV on Amazon…“Good reviews…hang on what’s that; £40 cheaper and free delivery so I don’t have to carry it home?” [Leaves store having ordered the product online]. It’s a no-brainer, having said that, I personally find that the only thing that makes me buy in-store nowadays – using cash or a card – is when I need something that day.

On that note…

The competition for your mobile-business is always increasing

Now I’ve discovered it, I want to buy everything with my mobile!…I hear you say? We’ll that’s the thing; you can’t just yet but business are quickly catching up. A rather welcome addition to the mobile commerce market for me was the supermarkets. Being able to buy my shopping online and have it delivered when I want. Sign me up!

Wait a minute, is it safe?

We’ve all seen the big websites in the headlines with privacy issues being slammed in their faces and the issue over security and privacy will continue to be at the forefront of people’s concerns about mobile commerce for a while yet – it’s all related to the ‘issues being resolved, new measures being implemented into technology and everyone learning to trust’ that I was talking about earlier. I haven’t had anything drastic happen yet [touches wooden case on iPhone (bought on eBay – only £1.99)].

Contact-less payments are something to watch and they represent a potential new direction in mobile commerce altogether, with many issues surrounding security and privacy – “hang on Big Brother, just need to swipe my phone at the till”. As phones perform more and more functions they now know more about you than ever.

…I don’t think being able to swipe my phone at the till will get me back into a real-life supermarket though, personally. Where do increased functionality, privacy and security issues bring us though…?

Advertising – it’s now in your face; literally

Something I think the majority of people can confess, rather embarrassingly, is that they’re glued to their phones – whether it’s because they’re calling people all day (using it traditionally!), or because they’re texting, Snapchatting, Liking, Tweeting, Pinning or buying goods. It’s on this observation – and as a result of increased functionality – that advertising has launched itself on to the mobile platform; dramatically increasing the potential for mobile commerce to occur. Little advertisements pop up in your apps, mobile sites have adverts, analytical programmes are ‘locating’ your every move, determining what pages you visit, what you’ve bought and what to offer you next (if you let it – touching on privacy again). The thing that’s different, but also quite obvious about mobile advertising, compared to online advertising generally, is that it was ready to go straight away – it didn’t take much for advertisers to exploit – not like it did with the internet as it evolved; but that was probably down to technology, bandwidth and how many people could afford or even get the internet (geographically). Some apps even have ‘in-app purchases’ enabling the customer to get rid of the adverts for as little as £0.69. Multiply that by 10,000 customers – raw as it is, it’s still mobile commerce (wish I could do that with TV adverts).

The mobile world is like sliced bread, but better

The user experience is just so much better on mobiles than the cluttered internet (if you’re reading this on a mobile device you’ll notice that First Directory’s blog page itself is optimised for such devices). Having said that, a traditional screen is still better for some things, like writing articles in Word, graphic design and viewing pictures of items on eBay. The user experience, overall, is ‘really getting there’ on mobile. Websites are optimised in a mobile format; making them easy to navigate, apps have a clean interface aimed at making everything easier to do (especially when it comes to buying) and it doesn’t stop there – because this is all still in development and undergoing continual improvement. I can’t wait for a proper Word app on my iPad (Edit: Office for iPad was released within a week of this post going live), at which point I’ll truly be mobile and can cast all material objects out of my life, barring my phone, clothes and toiletries! Further to this, whilst purchasable content like movies may not be the best to watch on your iPhone, you can now stream them to your TV using products like AppleTV, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV. The TV in the sitting room is the next front in the battle between traditional content producers like the music, film and TV industries and the the new internet based content providers. All fighting for our attention and advertisers money.

My apps even update themselves automatically now, in fact as I read this I’ve received an email from HSBC saying the latest version of my app has an ATM finding feature now built in (not sure when I’ll next need an ATM, but it’s good to know I can still go out and touch real money – people may even meet up occasionally just to use real money for the nostalgia).

The future

It’s on that note that I wonder where all of this will go. Where will the new developments be? Perhaps we’ll have chips implanted into our fingertips which can be scanned to confirm a transaction; a mobile commerce of a different kind perhaps? I’ve heard rumours that apps aren’t part of the future as websites become better designed for mobile devices. Are apps are in fact ‘dying?’ – I can only speculate that apps may not have a place in the future but that they’ll be replaced by something even better; technology will take an even smaller form, communication will be more intuitive and mobile buying will allow for crazy levels of comparison across the globe. I personally love where mobile commerce is at the moment, but the horizon promises developments of a very intriguing nature, developments I’m personally looking forward to embracing in the interest of convenience…

…and because it’s cool.

The Sales Funnel

What ‘is’ the sales funnel? Taken literally, our first thoughts might conjure up images of people bottlenecking through shop doors, or strange funnel-shaped ‘doorways’ everyone has to traverse when they need to buy something down at the local supermarket.

The Sales FunnelAside from these initial ponderings, which thankfully aren’t the case, the sales funnel is a metaphorical concept about the achievement of sales in your business – a funnel-shaped model which attempts to visually depict and connect the discrete stages in between and including an initial opportunity to sell something, with actually selling it. The funnel metaphor is used to illustrate how target customers drop away at each stage of the process.

Every business’ sales funnel is unique; depending on what’s being sold and how the whole process of selling any given product or idea is managed. There’s an expandable variety of stages in the sales funnel, however the core themes and ideas which it’s fundamentally based on, are:

1Identifying your market

This is represented by the top of the funnel; the widest part. You have your product or idea, but you need to establish who you’re going to sell it to – who would want your product and why? What we’re talking about here are target customers. Depending on what you’re going to sell, your market can be anyone and everyone, or very few people at all. From here you’re going to need to concentrate on your…

Research and Analysis

Just because you’ve developed a product or idea, doesn’t mean your target customers are going to take it; even if it’s perfect for them. At this stage you will need to know much more specific information about your potential customers because they’re not necessarily going to want to buy neon blue shorts, a one-size only sapphire ring or something with only a 6 month guarantee. The specifics don’t allow you to accommodate your originally identified market as a whole; you’re now trying to accommodate the ‘majority’ of the people within it. This means your funnel has narrowed, but you have a better chance of accommodating the majority of your target audience than knowing little about any of them. Without finding out the market habits and desires of your target customers how will you know when, how or why to pitch to them? The key word here is ‘research’ and once you have a sufficient understanding of your prospective customers, whether it be through studying current trends, taking surveys and so on, you can then go on to…

Marketing and Advertising

You‘re going to market and advertise your product based on what you’ve learnt about your target customers. Introduction is of paramount importance and if you’re not approaching potential customers in the right way it’s going to result in a lack of response or a lot of fallout at this stage; resulting in a sharp and early narrowing of your sales funnel. Naturally, your funnel will narrow more here anyway because some people won’t like your advertising or your message; the competition may have done it better! What can be said is that without marketing your product or idea correctly you simply won’t get enough attention, if any – especially if you have competition.

However you choose to ‘let people know’ is up to you; there are a wealth of digital and print advertising and marketing channels out there including:

  • TV
  • Radio
  • Newspaper and magazine adverts
  • Directories (on-line and printed)
  • Websites
  • Social networks
  • Leaflets
  • Word of mouth

…and many more – ‘how’ you intend to market yourself will depend entirely on your product and your target audience.

Qualifying your leads

One of the most important aspects of the sales funnel and to avoid wasting the valuable time of your sales team is to qualify the leads you’ve generated from your marketing and advertising efforts before you pitch them.  There’s no point chasing and pitching prospects who were never going to buy in the first place.

There are five elements of a qualified lead:

  • Decision maker and decision process – Who actually makes the final decision or is there more than one person involved?
  • Time frame – When they need your product or service, is there any urgency, and when will they be making the final decision.
  • Other quotes – You need to know what other quotes, products, solutions, or options your prospect is considering.
  • Buying motives – What is truly motivating your prospect to buy?
  • Reasons why they won’t buy

We shall cover how to qualify your leads in a lot more detail in a later post.

Once you’ve established the higher quality leads you’re going to need think about ‘how’ you’re going to make your sale because people aren’t going to (necessarily) buy ‘X’ when they come and see it; what you’re going to need is a…

Pitch

You’ll never get ‘everyone’ to engage with you and it’s at this stage that the funnel begins to take even more of its shape – something hasn’t gone quite right, potential customers have seen the product but not all are interested (for reasons you may need to establish) so they drop out.

Now you need to streamline the initial stages of the funnel (where possible) to grab the attention of new customers, hopefully regain some lost ones, whilst attempting to channel the remaining ones through to that all-important sale. It’s not all bad though, you may be doing well and have many potential customers knocking at your door (don’t forget though; you still haven’t made a sale), your advertising campaign is working out, people like what you’re saying, your product or idea is getting interest but then people have lots of questions about:

  • Reliability and quality
  • Variety of models (of product)
  • Comparable items made by other companies
  • Warranties or guarantees
  • Support
  • Compatibility
  • Upgradeability

…and so on. Can you answer all of these questions? Hopefully yes, but some of them no; this is where you can streamline further if necessary and learn things about your potential customers you never knew to try and understand before. The point is, whilst you may be able to convince people that you’ve thought about the ‘majority’ of the things that are important to them, you can’t cater for everyone; more people drop out, some are left hanging in the balance and it’s up to you to answer any queries objectively and professionally; never deceive a customer about what you or your product can deliver. ‘Knowing’ your product or idea inside out can result in the desired outcome for both parties, which, in turn, can ‘set the scene’ for returning customers. Some though, have all their check boxes ticked and require very little from you to confirm their choices; what this means for you is that you can…

Make the sale

Congratulations! You’ve negotiated all of the barriers to success, streamlined ‘on the go’ and answered every question about your product or idea you reasonably can. All you need to do now is hand over the goods and let them speak for themselves! In addition to this rather notable point, there is also a final stage which is often omitted, but can be regarded as equally important as any other (providing your aim is to continue with your business); what you now need to do is…

The follow up

Any company invested in the satisfaction of their customers will continually revisit all of the above points to ensure they climb the market and aim to stay on top of it. Time, competition and many other factors influence what people want and the need to adapt will always be required.

I hope I’ve shed some light on ‘the sales funnel’ and how an original target customer number can be pictorially represented by a narrowing ‘funnel’ during the course of any ‘sales process’. Whilst it’s regarded as an obsolete concept by some (and the topic of another article to come), the funnel metaphor is still fundamentally valid when it comes to showing how target customers can drop away at each stage of the sales process.

If you’d like to know more or have any questions please feel free to leave a comment.

Why advertise?

By simple virtue of the fact that you’ve started to read this article means you were browsing the First Directory blog page, it came up in a search engine, or you discovered it via some other means. In addition, the fact that I’m beginning to engage you as the reader (even loosely) means you’re already one step closer to understanding some of the many answers to the question ‘why advertise?’

Let’s examine what ‘advertise’, by definition, actually means. An ‘all singing and dancing’ online dictionary defines the word ‘advertise’ as follows:

“Describe or draw attention to (a product, service, or event) in a public medium in order to promote sales or attendance”

It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that. However, as a result of their direct “buy me” approach, many people are fooled into thinking that adverts are designed to promote sales or attendance immediately – make people do something straight away e.g. buy the latest iPhone, drink the most popular tea, or even advertise. Whilst I won’t deny that every advertiser would love that to happen; that’s not always their aim. That’s the brilliant thing about the advertising engine; it creates memories, whether we like it or not. Our memories are not necessarily to be acted upon straight away but to be unearthed at a later time when it’s appropriate; everyone remembers “Va-va-voom” and “Because you’re worth it”, right? While that could be deemed a rather cynical outlook from an advertising perspective – that we’re being exposed to said advertisement, the advertisement is ‘branding’ our thoughts and we’re like cattle being herded through a field of decision making; people do actually rely on advertising to help them make decisions; they want to make the right one. Having said this – being part of a herd is another article and not everyone wants L’Oreal make-up, to buy Robbie Williams’ latest album or drink Woodpecker (you all know the phrase!).

Or don’t they?

After all, we don’t necessarily respond to advertising to quench our own desires, but perhaps for others; everyone needs or wants something. There are a multitude of answers to the question ‘why advertise?’ Here’s a handful to get us started…

1To reach new customers and generate sales. Your product, idea, service or event needs exposure to succeed; even if it’s not something people necessarily want or need right that minute. People have many research tools at their disposal; Google for example. They may mention their discovery to a friend and by then your advert has reached two people for the price of one. If you get your message across correctly and people like it then they’ll start to advertise it themselves; and what better method to get your product known by than that of recommendation through familiarity? “Simples!

Because a lot of it is free! Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress and a whole host of other social networks act as the perfect medium by which to advertise; without it costing you a penny! Free advertising doesn’t end at social networks though; companies like First Directory offer the option to add an entry for free too. This gives you the opportunity to try real advertising for next to zero commitment; just the time it takes to write a directory listing! In my opinion, it’s a mistake not to take advantage of these services.

The more you advertise on-line, the more likely a search engine will find you or your product. If Google or any other search engine ‘sees’ a certain product or service which is focussed in a particular way it will start to ‘return’ it more in search results; why? Because it’s starting to trust it more; it makes sense, it works – people start to see search results related to you or your product appearing higher up the rankings, which in turn generates more hits and the cycle continues. It creates the perfect channel for potential customers to find you through.

Because your competitors are advertising too. However much you’d like people to come knocking on your door without having to do any hard work; unfortunately they won’t You have to tell them you’re there first and the chances are, You’re amongst many others in the world who you’ve never met and will never know; who are selling very similar products to you.

To build and maintain a respectable brand image in the eyes of all customers, current and potential. People want to know that what you’re advertising is what you’re saying it’s going to be; 100%. They want to hear it from other people, be able to trust it and substantiate the decision to buy whatever it is you’re selling them. Advertising needs to convey what you’re selling in the perfect scenario so people can literally imagine themselves in that environment. It’s no accident that car adverts often show a person driving a sporty, yet reliable, car effortlessly through winding roads whilst turning everyone’s heads, or that whilst a man is enjoying only the most sparkling, golden glass of cider with his mates in a pub, that he’s also the centre of attention. People want to be advertised to; they want to see it ‘working’ and imagine themselves getting the same results.

I purport that in answer to the question I set out at the beginning of this article, that there are many answers to ‘why advertise?’ and that it’s a combination of these answers which contributes to overall advertising success. What do you think? Please leave your answers below.