• Charles Comenos

How the Marketing Funnel Can Harm Your Business

Updated: Jan 28

Viewing the buyer journey through an antiquated lens misaligns your marketing efforts with the habits of your prospects.


The humble marketing funnel has died, at the ripe old age of 123 years old.


That kind of longevity is absurd in an industry that changes as quickly as the marketing world does, and there’s a good reason for its demise. New forms of media, a wealth of information on the Internet, on-demand access to reviews and aggregators, and many other factors have dramatically changed the way that B2B buyers learn about and choose their vendors.

E. St. Elmo Lewis
“Times have changed since the funnel was invented"

Here are a few powerful B2B marketing statistics:


57% of the sales process is complete by time a prospect reaches out to a sales person.


Only 29% of buyers are interested in talking to a salesperson during the research phase.


That means your prospects are jumping in (and sometimes out) of the buyer’s journey at every stage of the traditional funnel.


What does the mean for your marketing strategy? Let’s look at some of the other popular models being proposed and what they mean for your marketing.


Hubspot: That’s Not a Funnel, That’s a Flywheel

Leading the charge for a new model of client acquisition Hubspot co-founder Brian Halligan. At the 2018 Grow with Inbound event, he talked about the way that the company, a leader in content marketing, views the new customer journey.


“In a world where customers’ main source of info was vendors, you thought of your business like a funnel. In a world where customer’s main source of info is other customers, you think of your business like a flywheel that spins at the rate of your customer’s delight. If you want to grow better in 2018 [and beyond, presumably], you need to match your business to the modern buyer, throw away the funnel and embrace the flywheel.”

The flywheel model he proposes a customer-centric replacement for the funnel. By generating referrals and helping the company make sales, the funnel is transformed into a giant spinning wheel, that builds greater business momentum as more satisfied customers move through it and refer you to their network.


In the model above, you’ll see that people at various stages of familiarty with your business are revolving around the three major focuses, “attract,” “engage,” and “delight.” What’s great about the Flywheel model?


First, it reflects the important ways that customer loyalty and evangelism are crucial to the way that businesses grow their brand online.


Second, the Flywheel model means that marketers who have typically focused on passing qualified leads off to sales now have an active engagement in the entire lifecycle of the customer. This makes their job a more critical business function, and a lot more fun.


Historic Note: Hubspot’s flywheel is similar to Jeff Bezos’ Virtuous Cycle, which he used to build Amazon’s marketing philosophy. Bezos borrowed the idea from Jim Collins.


McKinsey’s Customer Decision Journey

While Hubspot gets a lot of the attention as a digital marketing leader, consulting firm McKinsey had proposed its own update to the marketing funnel, called the Customer Decision Journey (CDJ), ten years before Hubspot demonstrated its Flywheel model.


The CDJ responds to many of the same forces that Hubspot does, including a growing amount of available online information, the complexities of the digital-enabled buying journey, and the importance of loyalty and evangelism in building a brand.


Here’s more info about the CDJ and what it looks like:

mckinsey's customer decision journey
Customer Decision Journey Courtesy of McKinsey & Company

If Hubspot and McKinsey are noticing and pivoting to the same forces, there’s a good chance that all brands should take note, right? Yes, and research from various sources shows just how urgent that need may be.


Here’s what the data shows:

  • According to their internal research teams, 90% of categories showed no customer loyalty [McKinsey]

  • 81% of buyers will trust advice from a colleague or friend over any other source, leading to a 50% increase in customer acquisition cost in the last 5 years [Hubspot]

  • Loyal customers, who make up only 20% of a business’s audience, but provide up to 80% of their revenue. This is called the “Pareto Principle,” for the uninitiated.


Turning Your Content Marketing Funnel into a Flywheel

So, according to both Hubspot and McKinsey, companies must be placing greater emphasis on customer retention and loyalty than before. The problem with both models is that they’re not terribly descriptive about how to do that.


Thankfully, the content marketer is uniquely positioned to help you deal with the vagaries of the modern custom loyalty.


Why? Because content marketers know exactly how to dig deep into a buyer persona’s needs and build a long-term relationship based on business value. Whether that happens at the awareness, consideration, engage, or post-purchase phase of the journey is immaterial.


Here are some low-friction, economical ways that you can get started on boosting client loyalty now:


Develop sharp on-boarding content The early days of a new client engagement are critical to establishing a solid relationship, because the client is going to be most engaged with you after they’ve signed their first check. They’re looking forward to your cooperation and hope you can help them achieve great things.


This is a valuable opportunity to set things off on the right foot and reassure them that they made the right choice. Here’s what that means from a copywriting and content marketing point of view:

  • Welcome Email Cycle Upbeat email cycle to welcome them to your company and provide guidance on the next steps. Let your brand voice shine through and start building a personal relationship with the client. Take it a step further with several personalized email cycles, segmented to each of your buyers.

  • Onboarding Guide Create a downloadable PDF, blog post, or video to guide your new clients through onboarding process. If you want to create a truly unique customer experience, create an interactive walk-through.


Note: Ensure sure that your internal onboarding processes are streamlined first. If your team isn’t on the same page about how the process should unfold or if they aren’t armed with the right tools to provide a seamless customer experience, then you’ll undermine your content efforts.


Targeted Content for Existing Clients Content marketing is designed to cater to the buyer’s journey. Though typically marketers focus on awareness and consideration stages, you should extend that customers journey far past the sale and dedicate your content budget accordingly.


By targeting one blog post a month to post-sales clients, you can help keep existing customers engaging with your brand on social media, subtly create upsell opportunities, demonstrate though leadership and commitment to client success, and move beyond past a transactional relationship.


Here are some ideas you can use as compass points

  • Highlight customer success on social media

  • Connect your features and services with trending news topics

  • Curate evergreen content around important topics for your customers

  • Create exclusive thought leadership for clients and make them feel valued


Did you know that businesses have a 60% to 70% chance of selling to an existing customer, versus only a 5% to 20% chance of selling to a new customer?



Content Marketing Support for B2B Technology Firms

Struggling to keep see ROI from your content strategy? Perhaps creating marketing content internally has put a strain on your team? For over a decade I've been helping software and SaaS, IT services firms, cybersecurity, and data science firms develop and execute impactful content strategies.


Reach out to me any time at charles@hellobios.com or 215 392 0750.

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