How to foster trust and adherence through the funnel in the digital age

We hear a lot about lead management in the age of the internet: attribution reporting, adaptive nurturing, mapping the buyer journey. There’s no shortage of advice on what to do. But every now and then, it’s important to take a step back and contemplate why it all matters so much.

The digital world has reinvented the exchange of goods and services. We see evidence of this reinvention from both sides — we’re all customers as well as sellers. Since the internet advanced far enough to be a commerce engine, everything has changed.

But if the reinvention is the egg, what is the chicken? Which came first — the shift, or the demand for a shift?

The modern buyer is at the root of every current pressure on Sales and Marketing

These two classically quarreling siblings have to work together to coordinate activities through the funnel. Sales and Marketing no longer lead prospects through the funnel. They lead themselves. Prospects say:

  • “I’m trying to move my business forward and my career forward, and the only thing I know for certain is that I don’t trust sales.”
  • “I don’t have to put up with sales reps anymore. I can sort out how to solve my problems by myself. I can go around them.”
  • “I will incorporate what I want into my own discovery. I don’t need a slick delivery. I can get it myself.”
  • “If I’m not feeling authentically helped by you, I will go elsewhere. Why wouldn’t I? ‘Elsewhere’ is only a click away.”

We may not be in charge anymore, but if we support buyers in their empowerment — not only accepting it, but amplifying it — we have a chance to have an entirely new kind of influence over decision-making.

By taking off our ‘sales and marketing’ hat and putting on our ‘prospective customer’ hat, we remember all we need to know. What we’ve all experienced, being on the other side — having a need, and being approached by marketing campaigns and sales reps. Let’s tally some of the most important rallying cries we’ve felt ourselves, and use that perspective to inspire a long-overdue shift in how we approach our own funnel.

We know from experience that the informed buyer says:

1| I’m busy and overwhelmed. There’s too much information coming at me—how am I supposed to sort through and trust what’s genuinely going to help me?

These days, B2B prospects can spot a dog-and-pony show a mile away, and won’t respond to it. They’ll tune it out, being as familiar with their own sales process as they are with yours. They know the process inside and out as well as you do. This makes them deeply skeptical of marketing and sales. There’s so much at stake — not only for them as an organization, but for the prospect as an individual. As is the case with most B2B deals, the stakes are huge and their career is on the line.

If you want to make a prospect take time out of their day to listen to you or pay attention to what you have to offer, speak to them in a way that gets straight to what’s on their mind. Don’t think of it as earning their awareness. Think of it as earning their trust.

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2| If I feel like you’re selling to me, I’m going to go around you. Get used to it.

Prospects are much too savvy to be influenced by sales tricks. If they feel they’re being ushered into a pitch, they will go elsewhere to get the information they need, unvarnished. Because they can.

Long ago, an Oldsmobile billboard might have led to a phone call with a sales rep.
Now, a prospective customer can pop on to Twitter and post, Hey! Who likes #Oldsmobile? #carfleets and be immediately connected to an active community of hundreds of people who buy cars in bulk, just like they do. Within hours, they’ll have a wealth of impartial, real-life insight that they will trust more than any rehearsed line from a sales person. Even a simple Google search will nudge them one way or another.

Do your best with authentic and helpful outreach, but also, accept they’re going to go around you. Work with it. Show up with content that’s helpful, and that emulates the kind of real, human-to-human input they’re looking for.

A good sales funnel positions the people of your company as trusted guides, not hustlers. If you demonstrate you understand your prospects and their problems, you won’t be selling. You’ll be informing, positioning your product or service in a way that gets right to how you can help.

3| I don’t want a call, and I don’t want a meeting. Here’s how to help me help myself.

Be succinct. Do not waste your prospects’ time. Don’t inundate or swamp them. Pace the relationship. Off the top, send out a two-minute video, not a twenty-page whitepaper. Think of it like a handshake. Consider what it takes to have a good, relatable conversation. Don’t just talk about you — they don’t want to hear about your new product. Talk about that individual. Tell them what you can do to help them manage their team. Give them some value. Help them do their job.

Modern buyers are too smart for mass marketing. They know you have the capacity to approach them as real human beings, and not just as data points. ‘Mass personalization’ may sound like a contradiction in terms, but with automation, it’s not.

4| If you make my five minutes worthwhile, I might give you twenty. And if you make my twenty minutes worthwhile, I might give you an hour.

If you reach out to a prospect cold — based on an email an individual might have left for some tradeshow swag — you’ve got virtually no chance of giving them any value. 50,000 LinkedIn messages — none of them personalized beyond Dear <First Name> — are spam. A few people might respond, but most won’t. That kind of effort isn’t any more worthwhile for you than it is for them.

If you are going to knock on a door, here’s the most important thing you need to know before doing so: do you understand the specific stressor, problem, or opportunity unique to that individual’s career, employer, or industry? Do you have all the information you need to show them that you know how to address those challenges specifically?

Are you going to offer prospects some of that help right out of the gate? With lead management and all the automation and data of the digital age, you should be able to. That’s what they expect.

These days, marketing is lost in an avalanche of information overload. Sales has been relegated to order-takers. As buyers grow more confident, they also grow more distant and tougher to reach, let alone impress.

To thread more trust and adherence (stickiness!) into your funnel, go beyond thinking of your brand marketing as a one-way monologue. Use the insight of data to make your marketing more responsive, like a helpful conversation between human beings. Be open to buyers, allowing them to be in control of their own discovery.

That’s how what we do becomes worthwhile—for us, and for them.

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