Monday, July 23, 2012

Using the Marketing Funnel to Drive Marketing Action

The concept of inbound marketing has caught on, and one of today’s mantras is, “We’re going to do content marketing.” That sounds a lot easier than it is; there are a number of disciplines to be followed if content marketing is to be successful. But lately I’ve been struck by the extent to which marketers fail to use the marketing funnel as one of those disciplines.

We are all familiar with the concept of the funnel, both as a strategy concept and as a way to report metrics. SEOmoz has a good generic concept, one which parallels the consumer purchase process and is an excellent beginning. Awareness shows that funnels can become complex by setting a social marketing funnel on top of the classic marketing funnel.

The very idea of a funnel, of course, is that many prospects are acquired, some drop out along the way, a smaller number convert to actual customers and once they are customers, they need to be retained. The concept seems impeccable, but I see two big problems in the way it is being used.

1. The assumption that marketers want to get as many prospects as possible into the top of the funnel. Are they getting more than they can properly handle in qualification and conversion processes? This may be more a problem in B2B where qualification is labor intensive than in B2C, but unqualified prospects are a problem in any space. The more unqualified prospects there are the more filtering has to be done, whether they are businesses or consumers. More is not necessarily better—it is just more.

I remember a story told to me long ago by a direct marketing agency. They had a client who needed a really small number of qualified leads, say 10 per month, because that’s all their service operation could handle. The marketer’s point was that it was harder to get a finite number of well qualified leads than a lot of leads. Amen.    

2. Not using the funnel to reverse engineer the acquisitions plan. It seems obvious, but if you need a certain number of customers to meet sales goals, and you have a known conversion rate, that is a simple model of how many acquisitions you need.

That also makes the point that a funnel is not just a concept. It is a model that needs to be quantified for each business—probably for each product or at least product line. Given the data marketers have today, that really isn’t a tall order.

But it does require discipline to create the model and to use it to guide marketing activities—turning up the throttle when needed, turning it down as required.

That should lead to a steady flow of sales. From the marketer’s perspective it should provide a number of prospects that can be given appropriate attention in the conversion process. That’s a well ordered and productive funnel, not one that is prone to unmanageable torrents and dangerous shortfalls.

That’s a well ordered and productive funnel, not one that is prone to unmanageable torrents and dangerous shortfalls.

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