They love to talk about the sales funnel, don’t they?
Here’s what I think: the “funnel” approach to the client journey happened because most salespeople lack a foundation understanding of their brand. Or, more likely, their brand has no foundation in the first place. The companies using the sales funnel analogy will likely revert to saying, "this is the easiest way for our sales team to visualize the process.”
Good for the sales team, I suppose. But if they aren’t the ones going through the process - why do they need to visualize it? Does the customer know when they are, or aren’t, in someone’s sales funnel? Do you, dear reader, understand when you become a sales-qualified lead?
Yeah, me neither.
The sales funnel is the simple idea of all of your leads being collected at the top of the funnel (the awareness stage) so they can be whittled down to fewer “qualified” customers coming out the bottom. As customers are exposed to the brand, the product (Interest), or the sale, they might fall out of the funnel. In a perfect situation, the bottom of the funnel is the action you want your customer to take - buy a product, sign up for a service, book a session, etc. However, the mere idea of a funnel usually means the company has lazily gathered leads instead of taking the time to discover its audience. This means they have wasted time and manpower all because they had zero faith in their brand.
At the bottom of the funnel? Nothing. If the journey ends with the client signing a contract or buying a product, what do you do then?
The same people who love the analogy of the sales funnel are the same ones who tell you how it costs more to acquire a new customer than it does to serve an existing one. Can you imagine how much it might cost to re-acquire customers who left?
For bigger businesses, this means spending money on leads, training sales staff, and finding the right account managers. For smaller companies or solo business owners, this might look like producing endless content for social media, reaching out to hundreds of LinkedIn connections each week, or trying to build a new product every other month so you can get something sold. After all, isn’t it all about the monthly and quarterly revenue? If they aren’t buying, you’re dying!
But what if it wasn’t a funnel? What if your client journey was something more circular? Something more…infinite?
Buckle in because we're going to cover a few things:
When done well, a client's journey is cyclical. There is no beginning or end for the client, no door for them to walk through, line to wait in, or a ride to buy a ticket for. Your client journey should be more like a holistic idea of what your clients will experience as they interface with you and your business.
For example: if Coca-Cola’s customer journey were to sell a bottle of Coke to everyone, they would have been out of business long ago. For them, selling Coke has little to do with getting people to ingest caramel colored syrup but a matter of becoming one with their customer’s lifestyle. Buying a Coke isn’t about quenching thirst. Customers don’t buy Coke, they buy into Coke. To the customer, Coke is the good feeling they get when they see the holiday ads on TV or when they pick one restaurant over another because one has Coke and the other Pepsi.
Apple wasn’t just selling iPods, they were selling an image of creative prestige - the iPod was just the start of the cycle. iPod, iTunes, iMac, iCloud, Apple Credit… but these are just products from a customer. What does the customer journey look like for the service provider?
Previously we went over the Good/ Better/ Best (link) pricing model that tech companies started and solopreneurs adopted. We work with countless brands who adopted this because any one of a thousand online courses told them to do so. The idea is that customers take the free/ good tier, buy into your better, and eventually hire you for the best - a funnel.
We also pointed out how ridiculously unsustainable this funnel is for most small businesses and solo owners. You’re effectively making a ton of lower-value stuff for everyone with the idea that there will be a few people out there who want to go for your more exclusive services.
The physics of a funnel depend on having more at the top than the bottom can handle. One of two things happens: you either lose things out the top or things have to go faster through the bottom of the funnel. And when they hit the bottom, they hit it fast.
Think about any cell phone company out there. They attract new customers with the promise of a free phone that isn’t really free but rather leased over a two-year contract. Once the contract is up and the phone is paid for (you now own an old phone…cool), the agreement goes month to month until you want a new phone. Sometimes, customers go looking for the next free phone with a different service provider instead of opting to renew their contract or pay out of pocket for a new device.
There is no long-term loyalty in the cell phone market. Customers get benefits when they jump from one company to another because even the hassle of switching companies is still worth it for the new phone. This happens all the time to companies that have a “bottom of a funnel.” Customers flow out and they have to find a way to get them scooped back into the top again.
It costs more to recruit and sign a new customer than it does to service an existing one, and it costs even more to re-acquire a lost customer. On a long enough timeline, funnels lose customers.
It’s time to ditch the funnel.
Just because a client journey comes to an end doesn’t mean anyone - you nor the client - needs to start at the beginning. The client journey we know of works through the idea that the end of the funnel either abandons your client or brings them back to the start of the funnel they just slid through.
Let’s change this picture. A client can start a new journey, but they don’t necessarily have to start at the same beginning. Think of it as an adventure: you’re giving them several paths/funnels to choose from, but it’s up to them to determine which one is right for them.
Consider the helix: a single spiral that crosses three dimensions. You see it in mattress springs and old phone cords - they mostly serve the same function as a straight line - start in one spot, finish in another - but the helix adds a new dimension to the journey.
A double helix is two helixes that turn in tandem of one another. Of course, you can’t consider the double helix without thinking of the structure of our DNA - the instruction manual for what makes you, you. Take the double helix, flatten it, and review it from the side: now you have a waveform. Think of each of the points on this waveform as a stage of your new client journey.
On it’s side, a double helix gives us three connection points with two divergent opportunities - the seven stages/ opportunities of your new client journey.
The rules that support this design are very simple:
Who are you, what do you do, and why should they pick you for the job? These are fundamental questions your brand should answer and the awareness stage is great for helping your customers determine if the free/freemium version of your offer is right for them.
This divergence will depend on whether your main offer has some pre-requisite. On one side, you highlight why the client needs your product or service, and the other is for them to internally consider if you’re truly beneficial to them.
We took a deep dive into this in a previous post about the Good/ Better/ Best offer. This is your primary offer. Notice how it is in the middle of the cycle, not the end of the funnel.
How can your client go deeper with you? Inversely, can they go wider with how they apply what you do with the rest of their business?
Here’s where the cycle has the chance to start anew. Your customer has had time to process what life is like with your product. What do they do next? How can they reconnect with the very thing that brought awareness of your brand in the first place?
How do you repurpose the stages of your existing “funnel” and apply them to this new format so your customers feel engaged for longer?
Furthermore, how can you use this new client journey model to turn your customers into advocates for your brands?
Lastly, how do you make this journey both ongoing AND sustainable?