This Week’s Big Deal: From Funnel to Ecosystem

October 26, 2018

The Big Deal

If you’ve been a regular reader of our “trending in sales” posts on this blog each Friday, first of all, thank you! It’s been a pleasure to round up the most compelling stories in the world of B2B sales and highlight them for our insight-hungry audience.

Going forward, the series will continue in this spirit, but with a slightly altered format: Rather than briefly touching on numerous unrelated articles and opinion pieces from around the web, we’ll be zeroing in on one key topic that’s drawing the industry’s attention each week. Whether it’s an eye-opening research report, a pivotal development in the news, or a think piece that has the sales community buzzing, we’ll cover it in depth and surface the most vital takeaways.

We call it “This Week’s Big Deal,” and today we kick off this revamped exploration of sales trends with a focused look at one of the most critical narratives in B2B modern selling: the transforming sales funnel, and its effect on prospecting and pipeline management.

The Sales Funnel is Now a Sales Ecosystem

If you’ve worked in B2B sales for any length of time, it isn’t news that the “sales funnel” has changed drastically over the years. Those old models presenting the buyer’s journey as a neatly linear, step-by-step process now seem horribly outdated.

In his new piece at MarTech series this week titled The Funnel Isn’t a Funnel: Embracing the Way Businesses Buy and the Changing Role of B2B Sales, ClickDimensions CEO Mike Dickerson offers an interesting perspective on this evolution:

“The funnel is no longer linear, it’s not short and it’s not binary,” writes Dickerson. “The funnel isn’t even a funnel anymore. It’s an ecosystem.”

That’s a great way to put it. A funnel is inherently confined, with its boundaries shrinking as one moves forth. But in the era of digitization, this paradigm no longer reflects a buyer’s actual journey. Self-driven decision makers are gathering information from a multitude of disparate sources, and while they still tend to narrow down their options over time, the consideration phase can often be lengthy and circuitous.

Dickerson challenges sales teams to reinvent their approaches in this new environment:

To see this ecosystem thrive, we must rethink how we view sales, to better align it with the world outside of the sales office. We need to create fertile soil. Customers who have already purchased are more important than ever before. Sales representatives are still a necessary part of a B2B purchase, but they now exist to unite digital and human experiences by creating a coherent conversation and customer journey and driving a reputation for excellence that precedes customer contact with the brand. All of which is made easier by technology to orchestrate the full customer lifecycle.

In other words, buyers now look to sellers for relevant answers and advice, not pitching. This viewpoint is backed by findings in LinkedIn’s recently released 2018 State of Sales Report, which shows virtually all decision makers (96%) saying they’re more likely to consider a brand’s products or services if the sales rep has a clear understanding of their business needs.

Regarding Dickerson’s last point, the State of Sales Report also shines light on the growing influence of technology, with three-quarters of sales pros using tech and essentially all of those individuals (97%) citing it as “very important” or “important.”

B2B Sales Professionals Thrive by Enabling Buyers

One frustrating aspect of this ecosystem, from a seller’s standpoint, is the lack of control on a supplier’s side. We can’t do much to stop buyers from misinforming themselves or getting tangled in webs at their own company. The latter is a fairly prevalent issue, as Sam Del Rowe explained recently in an article for Destination CRM, Buyer Enablement Is the Key to B2B Sales.

“More often than not, problems originate not with the selling organizations but with the buying organization getting in its own way,” Del Rowe says, citing conclusions from a recent Gartner report.

The solution lies in buyer enablement, which is defined as “the provision of information that supports the completion of critical buying jobs.”

This breaks down into two key components:

  • Prescriptive advice: Information and direction that helps guide a buyer through the journey, making it easier for them to find specifically what they need
  • Practical support: Tools that customers can use to follow through on that prescriptive advice

This is a great framework for effective, buyer-centric modern selling. Think about simplifying the purchasing process rather than trying to dictate it. Focus on directing unfamiliar prospects to resources that can help them confidently reach a decision, rather than expecting them to buy into your personal expertise without context.

This is how you differentiate, gain trust, and win deals in a crowded and competitive ecosystem. The funnel as we once knew it is gone, but with the right mindset B2B sales pros can still be hugely impactful in a buyer’s journey.

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