As marketers, we know a huge shift is happening in the buying process. Nowhere is that more pronounced than in the B2B space. These days, buyers do their own research. They don't talk to salespeople until late in their purchasing process.
The traditional sales funnel we all grew up with—that neat, linear process that moves the buyer smoothly from awareness to action—just isn't reality anymore.
So if we can't use the funnel anymore to explain the buying and selling process, what metaphor can we use to guide our marketing and sales activities?
Many options are out there. For example, Forrester discusses the French Horn, and while that model has its strong points, it's complicated and hard to implement. McKinsey has the Consumer Decision Journey, but that doesn't have much granularity to help us rethink our sales and marketing efforts.
The analogy I think best illustrates the new buying reality is the one I talk about in my book The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies.
The New Buying Process Is a Pinball Machine
The days of the predictable sales funnel are over. The purchasing journey isn't a straight line any more. Buyers ping back and forth between stages, jump back to an earlier stage, go straight to purchase, or end up not buying at all. The process is like a game of pinball.
In my analogy, the buyer is the ball, and the B2B company sets up the game board with paddles, flippers, and ramps that guide the ball's journey. The ball has to navigate bumpers and drains to reach the goal post, just as the buyer navigates specific touchpoints before making a buying decision. And like the ball in a pinball game, the decision can move unpredictably.