How (And Why) Brands Should Rethink Their Marketing Funnel

CEO, Chili Piper

In the early days of my company, which provides advanced scheduling software, I sold the product myself and loved it. But as our product and business strategy evolved, I realized we were missing a fundamental component: marketing.

A salesperson at heart, I’ve always had a natural skepticism about marketing efforts. This was a skepticism that, after bringing on a CMO in 2019 to little success, only grew larger. As CEO, I felt that I failed in some fundamental way. But as a leader, I knew our early marketing hiccups presented an opportunity for growth and introspection.

Re-Thinking The Marketing Funnel

When I took over as CMO in early 2020, my lack of a marketing background allowed me to look at our marketing funnel with fresh eyes. Like many business-to-business, Sofware-as-a-Service companies, our marketing strategy consisted of collecting email addresses and slowly nurturing leads toward conversion.

There’s just one problem with this: I’m finding it’s not how people buy in 2022. Nowadays, buyers have the power to self-educate. Your website is no longer the sole gateway to information. Today, buyers read review sites, engage in communities and network peer-to-peer on social media sites.

So, where does that leave marketing strategies in 2022?

Embracing The Dark Funnel

As it turns out, I was not alone in my hunch that the days of email nurturing aided by marketing automation platforms may no longer suffice. A company called 6sense coined the term “dark funnel,” which refers to the buying activities that take place in third-party channels like the ones mentioned above. The dark funnel includes things such as social media, podcasts, brand plays—essentially anything that’s difficult to track or attribute to a specific campaign.

For a data-driven person like myself, this is a nightmare. How can we tell what’s working and what’s not if we can’t attribute it to a specific campaign? The answer is simpler than you might think: You ask your customers. Since we’ve embraced dark funnel channels, we’ve incorporated a simple question into our sales cycle: “How’d you hear about us?”

With myself and the team fully bought into the dark funnel, a critical piece was still missing from the puzzle. How do we ensure our dark funnel activities result in a qualified pipeline and revenue for the business? This came with an assumption. Because buyers are educating themselves in third-party channels, by the time they hit our website, they’re ready to talk. This shifts the goal for website visitors from “educate” to “convert.”

Conversion Rate Optimization For B2B

For a long time, conversion rate optimization was a business-to-consumer marketer’s game. A person lands on your website, and you try to get them to the checkout page as quickly as possible. B2B was always thought of as a longer play, but the wealth of information available and more complex technology needs arising has necessitated a higher velocity of buying decisions.

Even given this new reality, B2B vendor response times can still be slow. What’s the reason? In my experience, over-engineered marketing automation and poor lead follow-up processes allow high-intent leads to slip through the cracks.

So, what’s the solution to all of this? Should you rip out your marketing automation platforms and revert to the old way of doing things? Not quite. As it turns out, I’ve found there are some tactical things you can do right now to help increase conversions on your website.

1. Distribute content in dark funnel channels. A common mistake made by B2B companies is only investing in content geared toward direct response. But in my experience, capturing email addresses through gated content and nurturing them toward conversion has proven to be an ineffective tactic.

Instead, create and distribute content in “dark funnel” channels, such as podcasts, review sites and organic social. In my experience, your target audience is more likely to consume content in these channels because they’re already active in them. If you’re concerned about proving a return on investment, you can always implement a required field on your demo request forms, such as, “How did you hear about us?” This will allow your prospects to tell you where they engaged with your content, as well as help you justify budget allocation to these channels.

2. A/B test your web pages. The old way of marketing meant prospects educated themselves on your website and converted on the phone with a salesperson. In the new way, where buyers educate themselves in dark funnel channels, your website’s job is to convert visitors. Another way you can optimize your website for conversion is through testing and optimization software that allows you to analyze your web pages and see exactly where visitors are dropping off. You can also A/B test different versions of copy, creative and overall site experience to maximize conversion.

Putting It All Together

I’d be lying if I said adopting this new way of thinking about the marketing funnel was an easy sell to my team. One skill I’ve developed as an entrepreneur is embracing change. That’s not something everyone is comfortable with, especially people who’ve built their entire careers on the traditional marketing strategy of nurturing toward conversion.

Embracing the dark funnel and the inbound conversion movement requires a leap of faith many aren’t yet ready to take. But I implore you: Dip your toe in, and the results will likely speak for themselves.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?


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