Growth Funnels Look Linear But They’re Not

How simple is your sales and marketing funnel?

You get some leads in the top, send ‘em some content and then they come out the bottom (some becoming customers and others not). That sounds ideal, and if every business owner had their way, it would work flawlessly.

But it doesn’t, and probably never has worked in a straight up manner like that.

It worked better in the past, but as we forge ahead into the world of instant gratification and multiple browser screens, buyers are as finicky as they are well-informed.

People don’t take a linear path to becoming a customer. They (more than ever) spend time researching, trying things out before they commit, and even take their sweet time becoming aware of your product.

Instead of a straight line to closed-won or closed-lost, it’s like a tornado at all stages of the buying process.

Defining the Difference

If you’re in the marketing world at all, you understand that there are “stages” of the buying process. A very basic setup would be something like this:

Awareness — Interest — Evaluate — Purchase — Post-Purchase

The image represents that classic linear sales funnel that oh so many of us try to jam our leads down. Sometimes it works, but a lot of times it’s not enough for today’s buyer.

The truth is that people become aware of you in different ways, express interest in various ways, evaluate you in every way they can, and even want to be able to purchase your goods and services a few different ways.

As some marketers are calling it, it’s looking more like a tornado than a line.

While all of this sounds scary (like an actual tornado), there are ways for you set up your marketing and sales efforts to harness the power of this new stormfront of purchasing prowess.

Let’s take a look at a more realistic view of how your leads travel to and fro within your funnel and then line out steps for you to become a verified storm chaser.

What Does the Funnel Actually Look Like?

A tornado is literally a funnel, but it’s not the way you think. Marketers think that it’s broad at the top due to all of the fresh leads going in and customers (which are fewer than the number of leads) come out at the bottom.

This is only half of the equation. Let’s take awareness for an example:

Marketer’s thoughts: People become aware of our brand through cold outreach.

Reality: People become aware of your brand through word of mouth, SEO, cold outreach, social media, PR, the list goes on.

Focusing on one method, instead of looking at the where the funnel cloud is forming can be dangerous. Maybe PPC and social ads could revolutionize your funnel, but you weren’t looking at it as viable.

Your funnel may not be the biggest problem, the issue may be attribution (or the way people find out about your brand).

It’s Not Just Awareness

The entire funnel cloud is full of options that researchers want and need in order to feel like they are making a fully-educated decision. Let’s take a look at a couple more of the linear funnel steps and the elements involved in each.

Interest/Evaluate isn’t just a sales call or webinar. It could be:

  • Ebook, White Papers
  • Website, Blog
  • Social Media (posts and reviews)
  • Sales Calls, Webinars
  • Free Trials
  • FAQ

Purchase isn’t just a sales call followed by a contract. It could be:

  • eCommerce, Website
  • Multiple Terms (monthly, annually, etc.)
  • In-App
  • Free Trial
  • Sales Call, Webinars

Post-Purchase isn’t just a referral or review. It could be:

  • Community Involvement (forums, events)
  • Reviews, Testimonials
  • Social Awareness and Sharing

Starting to get the picture? Let’s take a look at how to adapt.

How to Chase (and Tame) the Storm

Like all growth marketing, figuring out your funnel is about experimentation and evaluating the results of those experiments. You can’t tap every silo that brings in leads (or moves them forward), but you sure can test and see which venues are the most lucrative and then scale those methods.

Not to get all amateur weatherman on you, but you can’t predict where a tornado starts or how it’s going to move. Although, you can see rotation starting to form, a funnel cloud comes next, and finally a touchdown.

Key Point: You’re not trying to shove people into your system (linear thinking), you’re trying to find out how people want to come to your system and what they want once they’re in it.

3 Things to Do Now

1. Understand and Look for Behaviors

The first step in this is to flip your thinking and understand that potential buyers don’t fit into a single file line (aka linear funnel). Then, you have to start tracking those behaviors and derive data that helps you recognize the benchmarks of both healthy and unhealthy users.

There are multiple points within each stage of the traditional funnel. Someone may want to sit through your webinar, read your white paper, and follow your blog for a bit before they are ready to give you a shot.

Look for things like the average length of time people spend at different stages and the types of interactions that they make.

Potential Factor: If you’re not a direct to consumer product/service, there could very well be multiple people involved in the buying process. This means that your funnel is even less linear.

2. Use Tools to Harness Data

Since the funnel isn’t simple, the data won’t be either.

There is no shortage of neat tools out there to track the important stuff and shove it into spreadsheets to help you experiment (next step). Depending on the stage of your funnel, the tools may be different.

Here’s a list of some to think about:

  • Google Analytics (tons of data, but it can be confusing. A couple of good guides for you here and here.)
  • Crazy Egg (heat map tool to see where people are clicking and when people are leaving.
  • KissMetrics (fantastic tool for getting to know your web traffic)

Track all the data that gets people in and what they do on properties (social, websites) that you own. Look for insights that tell you what people may be wanting that you don’t provide. Make a list of the behaviors and move to step three.

3. Funnel Experimentation

Now it’s really time to expand that linear funnel.

You don’t want to just start pumping out ads, content, and landing pages. Eventually, you will have a library of things to use for each of the traditional stages of the funnel. However, if you move too quickly, there will be things that are done poorly and others that shouldn’t have been done at all.

Take the data (from the previous step) and look for the holes that potential buyers are slipping through.

Early in the funnel it could be that you’re not acquiring leads from the right places (or enough places). During the education type stages, it could be that users prefer video as opposed to talking to a rep.

Even the purchasing stage could need refreshing. If you’re a SaaS, maybe a free trial would convert better. Pricing, ways to purchase, everything should be experimented on in a controlled environment.

Preferably by a well-constructed team and an outside consultant (if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of growth marketing).