If you've worked in traditional sales for any length of time, you've probably heard about the sales funnel. It's a vital part of understanding your sales and marketing activity, and it's long been a part of the acquisition cycle.
But what about the buyer's journey? If you're new to digital marketing, the term might leave you scratching your head. Let's break down the finer points of both the sales funnel and the buyer's journey so that you'll have a better understanding of the similarities and the differences between the two.
The Sales Funnel
The sales funnel, also known as the "marketing funnel" or "purchase funnel", was developed in the early part of the 20th century. It can have as many as seven steps and as few as three, but the modern incarnation seems to have settled into five steps. They are as follows:
Step 1 (The widest part of the funnel): Awareness — This refers to a prospect to whom you haven't spoken, but who becomes aware of the solution you're offering. This person might not be in line with your target customer, but you still might decide they're worth pursuing.
Step 2: Interest — In this stage, the prospect sees what you've got to offer, and they're actually expressing interest in learning more about your solution. At this point, you've spoken to the prospect, and you've agreed mutually to proceed to the next step together.
Step 3: Evaluation — Now your prospect steps back a little and evaluates how your solution stacks up to those of your competitors. They're nearing the end of their decision process, and they want to be sure that they've looked at all of their options.
Step 4: Decision — The prospect has looked at all the options, and they've decided to go with your solution. This is when any of the negotiation that might happen during the process would occur.
Step 5 (The narrowest point of the funnel): Purchase — The transaction is completed, and the prospect has finally become a customer. Hopefully, they'll go back into the top of the funnel and will go through the process again at a later date.
Pretty straightforward, right?
Sure, but there's one problem... it approaches the process entirely from the seller's point of view. What about the customer?
The Buyer's Journey
From the name alone, you can probably determine that this process considers sales from the point of view of the buyer, not the seller. A relatively new addition to the marketing pantheon, the buyer's journey is a major cornerstone of inbound marketing, with its focus on the context of the buyer rather than the way the buyer affects the sales force. Here are the three steps in the process.
Step 1: Awareness Stage — At this part of the process, the buyer becomes aware that there is an issue to be resolved, or an opportunity that they wish to pursue. They've identified the symptoms, but they haven't yet determined what's causing them or how they're going to treat them. At this stage, the marketer should offer content that educates potential buyers about the issues or opportunities at hand without attempting to sell directly to them.
Step 2: Consideration Stage — So the buyer has defined their issue or their goal and they're ready to respond to it. They begin to look different services and approaches that are available to resolve their problems. Now your content should focus on educating the buyer about the solutions you have to offer.
Step 3: Decision Stage — Now your buyer has decided upon a solution, so it's time for you to sell your company as the purveyor of this solution. Just because the buyer has accompanied you this far on the journey doesn't guarantee that you've got their business, so you've got to convince them that your solution is the best. Offer them content and resources that can educate them about what you have to offer, and, in tandem with your sales team, you can close the deal.
Everything is focused on the buyer, and all of the content is pointed toward educating the buyer so that they can make the decision that is best for them, whether they end up using your solution or not. (Of course, you hope that they'll find yours is best!) You're not selling actively at every stage.
Sure, the buyer's journey might take more time, and it will require you to create content that focuses around the different stages of the journey, but ultimately it will leave customers feeling empowered and positive about their experience, and hopefully it will encourage them to tell their friends and, if they have a need, come back again.