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Forget the Funnel, Use the Sales Radar to Find the Invisible Sale

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In my earlier days, as a vice-president of business development, I once had to call on a prospect 52 times before our agency was invited to pitch for anything. But the last client I picked up at my current firm took exactly one call and a meeting over beers.

Exact same result. Far less effort and expense.

So what am I doing differently today to create that streamlined, one-meeting-and-a-beer pitch? Simple, I stopped being limited by my sales and marketing database. Instead, I embraced a content-marketing powered, data-based approach more appropriate for today's digitally centric buyers.

And now, instead of spending all of my time "working my funnel," I invest that time creating and distributing helpful content that can be found by B2B buyers looking to educate themselves on marketing problems my firm can help them solve.

Let's be clear. I'm not advocating that you destroy your sales and marketing database or cease all traditional outbound sales prospecting efforts. Yes, they're inefficient, but they do work; and you'll need to keep driving biz-dev while you're creating your own painless prospecting platform.

But you'll need to switch sooner rather than later if you hope to compete in today's "invisible sale" world.

Today's prospects are hiding behind the anonymity of a Google Search, with 77% (according to a DemandGen 2012 Report) indicating they do their online research before contacting any vendors. That same report noted that over half of those buyers claimed they proceeded to short-list development before contacting any vendors. Meanwhile, a Corporate Executive Board Study found that buyers are 57% of the way through the buying cycle before they reach out to companies they are considering.

So ask yourself how many of your company's prospects are online right now trying to find information to help them make a buying decision.

To find and acquire these self-educating buyers, your company needs to set aside your traditional funnel-based sales mentality. Instead of seeing your selling process as a funnel to be filled at the top with unqualified prospects that you'll push through the funnel, picture it instead as a sales radar constantly pinging the world around you to identify and qualify sales prospects.

Selling something to a prospect is a lot easier when you know what they want to buy. And that is the power of a sales radar approach. Unlike the sales funnel approach, in which you are actively qualifying a prospect with outbound phone and email efforts, the sales radar tracks and records the prospect's online behavior, which is often a far more accurate picture of true wants and needs.

The biggest change you have to wrap your head around is that the sales radar is organized on a horizontal rather than vertical axis. The second-biggest difference is how prospects are organized within the radar. The radar view plots prospects on three axes instead of one (which level in the sales funnel they currently occupy). Sales radar companies plot prospects on the radar based on three key data points:

  • First, a prospect's position is plotted based on the type of information they are consuming during their most recent website visit or visits. The sales radar is divided into quadrants (think slices of a pizza) where each quadrant represents content buckets or product and service offerings your company provides.
  • Second, the prospect's proximity to "closing the sale" is displayed as the distance from the center point of the radar. Prospects that have consumed a piece of information but haven't provided any identifiable information are considered Unidentified and placed in the outermost ring of the radar. Once prospects download something or subscribe to your blog or newsletter, they move into the second ring—Identified Prospect. Now that you have identified a prospect, you can begin tracking that contact's movements on your site, which is key to the final data point.
  • Third, once you're tracking a prospect, you calculate the total amount and types of content they consume since first identifying themselves. This information is expressed in the size of the contact's "blip" on the radar and helps you visually sort your prospects into hot/warm/cold leads quickly.

All of this information is captured and saved in your business development CRM tool and used to create detailed dossiers on each prospect. As you review these dossiers, you are able to sense when a prospect becomes a true biz-dev lead, at which time you can then begin strategically targeted outreach, assuming they haven't already contacted you to learn more about your products and services.

Ten years ago, this approach wasn't possible. The technology simply didn't exist at a price point that most companies could afford.

But today, with a host of marketing automation tools and Google's own free analytics offerings, the ability to track and target self-educating buyers is not merely possible but is a necessity for every company.

Hopefully, this article has set you on the right track. But if you'd like to learn more about creating your own sales radar, feel free to go download a free chapter, from my new book, The Invisible Sale, where I dive much deeper into this important strategic inflection point and discuss actionable strategies to help your company adapt.

Tom is presenting at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum this week. He's speaking on "Leveraging Data-Based Marketing to Find and Win the Invisible Sale." Join him online.

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Tom Martin is the founder of Converse Digital and author of The Invisible Sale. He teaches companies how to increase sales, enhance brand perception, and take the pain out of prospecting.

Twitter: @TomMartin

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  • by steve patti Thu Oct 10, 2013 via web

    This is a nice visualization, but its just another way to look at existing concepts. First, each "slice of pizza" is just a sales funnel -- as evidenced by the increasing stages of buyer interest as you move closer to the center.

    The size of the "blip" is akin to lead scoring (bigger blip = more content consumed; higher lead score = more content consumed or interactions with brand).

    Tracking the buyers movement on your website via analytics or Google campaign tags is also an existing practice that has been made even more effective with Google's Assisted Attribution capability late in 2011.

    Nice article, nice visuals and interesting way to think about existing practices today.

  • by Craig Lindberg Sun Oct 13, 2013 via web

    Tom, a thought provoking way to look at it. I tend to agree with Steve's comment though that this appears to be a way to view multiple funnels which is fine. Not sure that any prospect can be forced thru a funnel or any other process; they must self qualify which is a good thing since it does no good to nurture a lead with content that inaccurately portrays your solution (product) The whole idea is to get MQLs moving toward becoming SQLs, right?
    Thanks for sharing the post!
    Craig Lindberg

  • by Hugh Macfarlane Mon Oct 14, 2013 via web

    I'm with Steve and Craig on this, Tom. Both in saying that this is a good article with clear visuals, but also that the headline implies something more fundamental than the article itself argues. When I wrote The Leaky Funnel in 2003 I clearly had no idea how self-directed buyers would become, but the pattern had already set in. What I was referring to as 'leakage' in the book is simply to use the well-known funnel metaphor to make a point that I think is made by your article. That is, that you will cycle in and out of your buyers' radars before a sale is made, that therefore they leak from your funnel for now too, but that they return and buy over a beer as you said.

    For us (us as a business, not as a process consultancy presuming to advise clients) 67% of our revenue is from warm inbound leads. Sounds good, but the pattern is as you are arguing: they have been consuming our content for an average of 18 months before they are ready to talk. It's not that they are slow, only that they are not (yet) ready.

    Is that a funnel? Well, if we have 10,000 people consuming our content each month, and 300 receiving and 12 accepting invitations to join a CEO forum (classic round table discussion), 8 actually turn up, 4 agree they have a problem, 2 get a proposal and 1 buys, then that sounds like, um, a funnel doesn't it?

  • by Tom Martin Tue Oct 15, 2013 via web

    Steve & Craig,

    Actually each piece isn't a funnel -- it's just a content type consumed. So other than shape I'd disagree that the radar is actually funnels. It's a single view of what prospects are consuming and where they are in the invisible - visible spectrum.

    Hugh, obviously, we'll always have more leads/prospects than closes. But the point of using a radar vs funnel approach is to reduce that leakage as you call it.

    What you demonstrate could be called a funnel or could be called a really poor closing rate... 10,000 starts to get 1 close. The point of a radar approach is to do a better job of determining those 300 invites... in fact, under a true radar approach, those 300 might actually end up being 10 sets of 30 because you'd invite them to problem specific forums vs a "CEO Forum" and all would acknowledge they have a problem because their content consumption patterns -- which you've tracked would have revealed that to you already.

    Thus, those 300 invites would ideally convert to much more than 1 customer.

    So yes, we'll always have a funnel -- and it will leak -- but with a radar approach the goal is to make the funnel look more like a tube.


  • by Hugh Macfarlane Tue Oct 15, 2013 via web

    Thanks Tom

    Re your comment to Steve and Craig, what you are calling a radar most marketers call 'multi channel marketing'. I get that sometimes the consumption is visible and sometimes not, but it's still pretty well-accepted marketing approach already is it not?

    Your maths is out on the 10,000 - probably my fault for not being clear. The 300 to 1 has almost nothing to do with the 10,000. Firstly, the 300 is outbound, not inbound (you will recall I said 67% of our revenue comes from inbound). Let's stick with the outbound 300 for now. We run that same event every month, and outbound to the same 300. A typical client project lasts 3 years. Each year if we pick up 12 clients, that's 4% a year from cold outbound. 12% after 3 years. So, we pick a target market, and after 3 years from a standing start we have 12% of that market from our outbound efforts alone. With very few exceptions, that particular target market doesn't consume our content any way other than the events.

    Now, back to the 10,000. That's email subscriptions to our monthly 'editor's grab' style email only. We also have a twice-weekly blog, and a YouTube channel which are other forms of subscription. Then we have about 20,000 search visitors a year, about 5000 who hear me deliver a keynote (all paid these days thank goodness but I used to do it for free), Then we have the usual array of social media channels in play. LinkedIn and Twitter are the heroes for us, but we don't ignore FB or G+. Every one of these groups of tactics (call them channels if you like, or even sectors of your radar) has a different funnel effectiveness.

    Across the board, we close 60% of all opportunities from first conversation to signed deal. But every tactic set (social, event, keynote, email, etc.) has their own ratios between each stage in the buyer's journey, and progression takes a different time for each also. One stat I already mentioned: 18 months for email from what we call 'positioned in category' (they know who we are), they might dance in and out of the next stage ('interest established' where they raise their hand a little via download etc) before they get to the stage we care about which is 'gap acknowledged' (they accept that the problem we're rabbiting on about actually exists for them and needs to get fixed somehow) and the sales part of the show begins. Every tactic group has its own set of leakage ratios (failure to progress), and lag (how long it takes).

    Back up to 40,000 feet: my argument was not with your article or your radar metaphor, only your headline. The funnel isn't dead, it's just changed.

  • by Vahe, MarketingProfs Tue Oct 15, 2013 via web

    Hugh, you'll have to let Tom off the hook regarding the title. His original title was "Is The Invisible Sale on Your Company’s Radar?" During the editorial process, we changed it to what you see now. Totally my fault, not Tom's.

  • by Hugh Macfarlane Tue Oct 15, 2013 via web

    Thanks Vahe. Good thing we're all playing nice, isn't it? Fascinating how titles get a life of their own. Tom's LinkedIn post was my first sighting of the article, and that took the idea even further: "Forget the Sales Funnel - It's Outdated".

    Here's where I think we all agree: buyers are exposed to messages from you and others from many sources. Some are visible, others not. If we could track them, all are valid signals. Best idea is for us to be the creator of the content so that a) we can influence them to our world view, and b) so we can track their consumption.

    I'd argue the buyer's journey remains key though, and this is my beef with those arguing that social and web has changed everything. The fact that you have been on 20 pages on my site, 3 of them key pages like pricing, and attended a presentation I gave, and clicked on 3 emails (etc.), only means you are interested, no more. Another buyer, who has only seen 2 pages might be just as interested. Perhaps she's more efficient, perhaps more time-poor, who knows? We can only assume interest. We can't yet assume the you or she are troubled about the problem enough to shell out company money to buy a solution.

    Clever marketers are crafting their tactics to act as indicators of progression, not just interest.

    The radar concept is still valid (I called it multi-channel marketing, but let Tom have his day), but busy is not an indicator of readiness. Not yet, anyway.

  • by Tom Martin Wed Oct 16, 2013 via web


    But if you track "interest" over time... against conversion... patterns will emerge. Patterns that can be mapped, and identified as "interest" or "in active purchase research" mode.

    Good convo...

  • by Hugh Macfarlane Wed Oct 16, 2013 via web

    You are right, Tom, of course. Your point, I believe, is that depth if interest, breadth of channel in which that interest is expressed and time over which that interest has been shown are good indicators. And who could argue with that?

    My point, is that we also need to know what do do next. Now that you have shown interest (deep, broad, over time), how will I get you frustrated about the issue I can solve? To some extent, all I am saying here, is "we need to agree what to do next (and next, and next) as well".

    But here's where the fun starts: do we want our sales people engaging with really interested people or those in pain? There's no universal answer, so we normally split test.

  • by Jorge Fernandez Wed Oct 23, 2013 via web

    Actually, I see it as a big funnel viewed from the top. The six "quadrants" are just the different content channels being used, but the actual number could vary depending on the nature of the business. To make it more effective I would love to be able to see some analytics related to each piece of content (published date, date read or downloaded, number of times shared, conversion rates, etc. All in all, a great visual concept. Wondering if any CRM firm has already developed something like this.

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