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Slow Death of the Funnel: Why Buyer Choice Matters to Revenue

IT Buying Process © All rights reserved by Kenny Madden

This is part 1 of a limited series on why buyer choice modeling is the new view B2B Business must adopt to improve revenue performance and develop long lasting relationships with buyers. 

Finding the keys that unlock improving revenue performance and achieving growth is becoming harder and harder as we go from a single buyer model to that of more interdependency among ecosystems and networks by B2B buyers.  B2B marketing and sales is still predominantly tethered to traditional ideas, approaches, and systems that are being dragged into the modern era.  While we have seen modifications, the idea of the traditional funnel is still at the core of many B2B organizations today.  It matters little whether you keep it vertical or flip it sideways and make it horizontal – it is still suggesting a funnel that winnows down opportunities down to a “buy” decision.

As the modern era rages on with increasing speed where the Internet and Social Technologies are converging into new forms, the oversimplification of the funnel becomes more and more apparent.  Simply put, buyers just don’t act or behave in that way anymore.  Evidence suggesting that buyers are behaving well out of the norm of our conventional views of the funnel as well as the buying process is abundant from surveys.  These behaviors cannot be represented in the view of a funnel.  DemandGen, for example, reported that B2B buyers don’t talk to a sales rep until they’ve conducted independent research 77% of the time.  There are plenty of surveys around showing buyers acting and behaving differently – yet – the willingness to snap the tether cord of the funnel doesn’t appear readily apparent.  It does beg the question of: what is going on?

I believe that is still an open question without an answer.  We are about to see an uptick in Big Data being touted as the next Big Thing.  Why?  To figure out what’s going on.  My thinking is that if this Big Data explosion is designed to tell us what’s going on within the confines of the funnel – then B2B organizations can find themselves in the untenable position of explaining why Big Data is not telling them anything.  Here’s why: we will learn a lot about what buyers purchase and we will learn a lot about how they are purchasing – perhaps.  What is missing is the most important question of all – why.  And there are two very important components to the why question:

First, why are they buying and second, why are they making the choices they make. 

Traditional marketing and sales, oriented towards the funnel, don’t answer these why questions very well.  To get close, it may take years of piling on data after data to get a clue.  This is a very expensive proposition for companies to take on today.

Despite the many super hyped concepts coming to the forefront attempting to address the 77% who are not getting a sales rep involved until much later, the funnel – whether vertical or horizontal or even cyclical – seems to be glossed over like a sacred cow.  The language of these many new concepts is spoken through the prism of the funnel – still.  For example, if we take an often used expression of the first part of a funnel – awareness – many of the new concepts are really talking about how to make awareness happen differently in the new social buyer era.  But is that what’s really going on?  I don’t believe so.

Before moving on to what I believe, let’s review limitations of funnel thinking against the new realities of today:

Buyers Explore vs. Become Aware.   B2B buyers are less likely to become aware of solutions and more likely to explore and find them.  And they are making significant choices during their exploring based on what they find.  Unlike consumer purchases where there is an object of purchase desired – for example a HDTV – B2B buyers are making choices on which path they will invest more time hiking and exploring.

Buyers Are Part of Ecosystems and Networks.  The age of the single buyer has come to a close in complex B2B environments.  While there may be a target buyer per se’, they are increasingly dependent upon various ecosystem participants who are directly impacted by purchase decisions and have a voice in these decisions.  The funnel is very limited outside the scope of the single buyer.

Buyers Just Don’t Make New Buys.  In the complex realities of today, buyers are not repeating the new buy orientation of the funnel.  There are many choices being made around how to modify different alternatives.  In the age of just-in-time – and now in the age of real-time, buyers look ahead into the longevity of repurchase – or continuous supply that feeds the ecosystem with little disruption.

Buyer Views Extend Beyond Purchase.   The funnel is based on the short-term view of making the sale and it is measured in quantities.  In today’s environment, the funnel cannot accommodate the long term views buyers have on the overall buying experience and doesn’t account for many factors that happen well after the sale.

Given these limitations, I believe that companies today must attempt to understand buyer choices and adopt a different model.  A Buyer Choice Model that begins to reflect buyer behavior and provides the language and terminology needed to understand why buyers choose as they do.  It puts the buyer at the center of B2B marketing, sales, and service and reflects, more accurately, that buyers are making multiple choices throughout their actions as well as behaviors that ultimately lead to a purchase decision.  But – it doesn’t stop there at the purchase decision.  There is a continuous loop that extends beyond the purchase decision.  The idea of buyer choice modeling is to understand choices that are being made in this continuous loop – so as not to be left out of the loop.

Next up: The elements of the Buyer Choice Model

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