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demand, action) and the more modified version of that pipeline (awareness, interest, consideration, purchase) are outdated.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.

1. Contact

Though awareness is "just fine and dandy," as we say in Texas, what really matters is establishing contact. Prospects may be aware of your company and its products and services, but until they demonstrate some degree of interest you may be wasting time and money. Making contact means you need more than a vague idea of the market or customer set; you must have contact information.

Some organizations are just beginning to build their contact databases. Others already have extensive contact databases they may be adding to and maintaining. Regardless, "counting" the number of people who gave you their contact information and permission to contact them is possible. For example, you could "count" the "freshness" of each contact, the cost to acquire the contact, the cost to maintain the contact, the conversion number, and the rate of contacts to connects.

2. Connect

Once contact is made, the next thing to do is to connect. What is the difference between a contact and a connection? Another Texas reference sums it up: We've said "howdy," but "we ain't shook." A contact is an observable signal of hello from a customer; it doesn't mean she is eager to get to know you better. A connection is the virtual exchange of a handshake (at least) and the establishment of some type of rapport.

You can measure Marketing's impact on creating connections in much the same way you measure contacts: the number of connections made, the cost to acquire and maintain connections, and the rate of conversion from connection to conversation. (You can use a version of those metrics for each step.)

Unfortunately, you can't tell how deep a well is by measuring the length of the pump handle. That is, just because you have made the connection doesn't mean you have a customer or even someone who is inclined to engage in a conversation beyond a casual and polite visit to borrow a thing or two or to yack about the weather.

You want those you've connected with to become followers—and download material from your website, sign up for your newsletter, participate in your webinars, etc. That is why the conversation stage is so important. That is the first stage that truly signifies that a person has more than a passing interest.

3. Conversation

Now we're talking! That's the best way to describe the conversation stage. Information flows back and forth between prospectss/customers and you. Both parties are engaged.

This is the stage where the rubber meets the road: You cannot acquire a customer who requires a considered purchase without a conversation or a series of conversations. Once the conversation is in play, the next step is consideration.

4. Consideration

Just because you can put your boots in the oven, doesn't make 'em biscuits. That is the perfect Texas saying for understanding the difference between conversation and consideration. Just because you have a conversation in play with a customer, doesn't mean you have a qualified opportunity who is seriously considering purchasing from you.

Consideration involves customers'/prospects' applying careful thought to your offer and company and weighing their options. Different marketing vehicles, such as customer references, case studies, and third-party whitepapers, will be deployed at this stage to help the customer/prospect build preference and predisposition toward your offering. During the consideration stage, you can determine whether you have a Sales-ready opportunity worthy of sharing with Sales.

Time is money, so in addition to measuring the time it has taken to move a contact to this stage you can begin quantifying the value of the opportunity as well. You can measure Marketing's financial contribution to the pipeline.

5. Consumption

Even though the opportunity has now moved to the domain of Sales, Marketing still plays a role in converting the opportunity from consideration to a contract to consume, or an actual consumption of the product or service. And upon consumption, Marketing can measure the overall conversion rate and time, the cost from contact to customer, the cost to acquire, and Marketing's "win" rate (how many of the Marketing opportunities closed and how that rate compares with the win rate of non-Marketing-generated deals).

6. Community

To stop investing in a relationship that has just begun would be a shame. A customer is your most important asset. Customers are also your most important advocates. In the world of customer-generated content, blogs, social networks, and product reviews, marketing organizations need to focus on developing their customer communities, the final "C" in the pipeline.

You can build a community in numerous ways, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks that provide a means for your customers to engage with you and one another.

* * *

I hope that these six key measurable stages for developing, implementing, and measuring Marketing's contribution to the opportunity pipeline offer you a valuable approach to understanding how to measure customer engagement. Knowing the six "Cs" will also enable a more collaborative conversation between Marketing and Sales.

So "don't wait for the mule to go blind darlin', load up the wagon." A new year is on the horizon; now is the time to revisit how you frame your pipeline.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Alphabet Blocks.)

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The Six Cs of a Customer-Centric Marketing and Sales Pipeline

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is the president of VisionEdge Marketing. A pioneer in Marketing Performance Management, Laura has published four books and she has been recognized for her thought leadership, winning numerous industry awards.