Sales funnel reimagined: The brand-customer hourglass

Two hourglass shapes side by side to show the two halves of the brand-customer hourglass

Please tell me most of us cringe — even if it’s just a little bit — when we think of brands herding humanity through the sales funnel. I understand commonplace visuals are helpful toward explaining concepts; and technically, a funnel is a good enough description for the progressive nature of acquiring customers. Imagine with me for a moment, that there’s more to the funnel. Let’s reimagine the funnel as part of an hourglass, filled with the sands of our talents, personalities, challenges, solutions and finances brought together during this point in time.

Hopeful that our days and experiences are far from one and done, we strive to cherish experiences, learn from failure and recognize the joy of caring beyond ourselves. Successful brands respect this by building a brand-customer relationship that is cyclical and full of life. They understand we’re in this together.

Like a prequel to a movie, the long-viewed sales funnel makes more sense when we understand its brand development foundation, as well. Long before activating campaigns, we step back to determine what our brands and customers need from one another. These brand development stages inform the strategies we implement in the pursuit of acquiring customers.

Brand development stages


Differentiation
Analyzing a brand — through various internal and external viewpoints — to identify functional and emotional benefits and key points of differentiation

Audience
Pinpointing audience challenges and joys prior to sequencing audience search and purchase cycle patterns

Channels
Selecting optimal marketing channels as shared spaces for brand-customer connections via electronic devices (online and offline), physical locations and natural environments

Creative
Defining, pacing, prioritizing and designing communications with a purposeful tone


Each of these stages are guiding frameworks for exploration, empathy, understanding, direction and outreach. By creating space to view the brand through the customer’s perspective, we create greater opportunity for a shared journey that’s built on two-way communication. That’s not to say a brand is without boundaries for marketplace fulfillment. Diligent brand leaders clearly define how they’ll serve, but they also acknowledge how underlying motivations can make or break the brand-customer relationship. This foundation carries through into the delivery of outreach, as defined by the sales funnel.

Sales stages

Awareness
Activating shared storylines to make a brand known among targeted audience groups

Interest
Attracting brand interest among prospective customers, as indicated by their early engagement activity

Evaluation
Walking alongside the prospective customer to provide the most customized information possible, in the most timely and convenient way possible 

Conversion
Completing a sale

Loyalty
Continuing to build the brand-customer relationship by providing ongoing value and encouraging ongoing feedback and analysis


These sales stages require brand teams to reach across organizational silos to facilitate a customer experience that’s more relational and less transactional. A
Marketing Sherpa report underscores the importance of such brand alignment by revealing 79 percent of marketing leads never convert due to a failure to nurture consumer connections. This is where storyline sprints can create specific communications pathways throughout the sales funnel, from top to bottom. I utilize storyline sprints for my projects so brand departments can see the importance of working cooperatively to minimize disconnects within the funnel. Once a purchase is complete, ideally the ongoing value and feedback measures that are in place turn customers into long-term, repeat customers.

We’re in this together


While it’s tempting to skip the analysis of our shortcomings or accomplishments, the valuable information gained from analysis must make it back into the brand foundation and sales stages for refinements. That’s why I believe the brand-customer hourglass more accurately illustrates the brand-customer relationship. It’s a cyclical process, full of engagement. We owe it to ourselves and each other to make the best of this time and space we share, time and time again.

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