Like Sales, Marketing is responsible for managing a predictable, reliable demand-generation pipeline with a plan that ultimately produces higher-value opportunities and maximizes revenue.

The traditional approach to the pipeline (awareness, interest, demand, action) and the more modified version of that pipeline (awareness, interest, consideration, purchase) are outdated. The customer is no longer a passive recipient of information or a sidelined spectator. Today, customers are actively engaged in the buying process.

To create engagement and enhance the customer experience, marketers today use a mix of vehicles, including search engines, customer-generated blogs and reviews, online communities and social networks, broadcast media, and personalization. Therefore, how we approach, define, and use the pipeline must also change.

One of the best ways to change our thinking is to change the language we use to define and describe the customer buying pipeline.

When developing, implementing, and measuring Marketing's contribution to the opportunity pipeline, consider the following six revised key measurable stages, which reflect today's environment:

  1. Contact
  2. Connect
  3. Conversation
  4. Consideration
  5. Consumption
  6. Community

Those stages may seem merely like a new twist on an old idea, but language matters. Those labels aren't about what we do to prospective customers; rather, they're about what we do with them. The revised labels suggest collaboration between buyers and your company.

Another way the revised labels differ from the traditional approach is that they are behavioral, which makes it easier to define which behaviors for each measurable stage you want to be able to affect and measure. Together, those steps create the series of behavioral events that many prospects exhibit on their way to becoming and remaining customers.

Let's briefly examine each stage.

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is president and founder of VisionEdge Marketing. For 20+ years, she has been helping CEOs and marketing executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of marketing. Her most recent book is Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization.

Twitter: @LauraVEM