A couple of months ago I was approached by a company to just talk about the online business world. About who I am, what I do, and how all of this -- blogging, business, products, webinars, social media, connection, etc. -- really works. The conversation kept coming back to these ideas of authenticity and connection and transparency. In part, how they play in our businesses and how that really connects me to you, the lovely person reading this post.
But more importantly, we talked about how those things tie into sales. Into creating a funnel to go from "Hey, you found me on social media and you like what I'm about" to "I want to hire you / buy your product because I totally love and believe in what you're doing."
This conversation turned into what the "funnel" looks like, and how it can be made better. To help this company get a deeper understanding of this creative online business world, a group of online entrepreneurs (including me!) got to test a really wonderful app that they're developing. If you came and tried it with us, you know how great it was.
We had a full week of using it, testing it, and pushing the app to it's limits. But we were also seeing how using an app like that can bring authenticity, connection, and transparency both into business itself and in deepening connections with you, my dear reader.
This is a summary of what we learned, and the takeaways from the conversations, the app test, and everything in between:
The Missing Middle
Friends & Readers,
Over past weeks I joined a group of 12 bloggers to experiment with a new social media app. As a result of the test, we unearthed a remarkable, devastating reality: among us we were losing approximately 60-90% of our visitors or leads, because we were missing something called "the middle of the funnel".
For those unfamiliar, a "funnel" is a simple model for understanding business performance, particularly in a sales context where the company or entrepreneur must take visitors and somehow transform them into customers, each of which must first become aware of you, then understand and prefer you, and finally choose to buy from you. The "inverted pyramid" shape of a funnel that's broad at the top and thin at the bottom represents how a business may reach many visitors or potential customers, but only generate interest in a proportion of these visitors, and finally only convert into customers a fraction of those interested. Sophisticated businesses and entrepreneurs use data to spot weaknesses in their funnel, take appropriate action to "optimize" their funnel, leading to uptick in their bottom line.
My funnel rocks!
In our mission to guide, support or inspire our audiences, we ultimately make it all possible via a process of sales, which is aptly described by a funnel. At the "top of the funnel" many of us use tools like Pinterest to reliably generate visitors to our blog, or we may make ourselves consistently present on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to create awareness. For some of us, effective use of Pinterest works remarkably well, generating more traffic to our blogs than we could hope to service as clients. At the "bottom of the funnel" many of us have newsletters or exclusive communities, where because most who are signed up have gone through the "pruning process" that the funnel's successive filtering stages represent (and are therefore there because they have a strong level of fit with our brand or capabilities to help them) we're typically able to generate a meaningful stream of income for the business.
My funnel sucks :(
However, what lies in the middle? A basic funnel is easily described by three words: (1) Reach, then (2) Like, and finally (3) Buy. Although many of us have found reliable methods for generating traffic to our blog ("reach"), or once we have whittled it down to the right group of people we're able to make sales with greater probability ("buy") - we employ a complete and utter tangle of tools and methods for migrating those we've reached, into those who're likely to buy - in a not so seamless, not so systematic, not so reliable, and definitely not so easy way. I hop on Facebook for hours to leave ad hoc tips and advice; on Twitter I network with peers, which sometimes turns up a referral; on occasion I run a webinar or host a Periscope to really show my audience who I reallyam, etc. While these are certainly valuable on occasion, they are far from reliable as systematic tools or methods for shuttling new leads into a position to purchase. Additionally, these tools obscure the problem because they spill across the funnel - partially getting you more reach, sometimes just showing who you are, occasionally where you convert a customer, but not doing any one task all that well.
So what's missing?
A well-optimized sales funnel not only creates reach (because the world is huge and I know my market is somewhere out there), and reliably converts qualified leads (now that I've gathered the people who were born to buy my product), but it reliably "funnels" your awaiting market toward purchase-readiness. A healthy funnel creates "like", meaning it takes a lead who is aware of you and turns her into someone who understands and prefers you - which ultimately tees her up for a purchase. It should ideally be like software - an input always translates into an output - in this case the inputs are new visitors and the output is a interested lead. If you've ever complained that you have difficulty distinguishing yourself from competitors, that you're unable to articulate your distinctive value add or brand personality, then you know you are struggling with part of this problem! Underlying this complaint is a frustration with the missing means to powerfully show people who you are and what makes you you - which if you only had, you'd stand a fighting chance at helping your audience understand you, at creating a connection with them. Your ad hoc activity on social media, fluttering from a post here to a tweet there, even if consistent doesn't powerfully expose people to who you are; your blog is static, and despite your best efforts to make it distinctive cannot avoid the universal structure of a blog and thus resembles the blogs of others; you can be yourself at full volume and in technicolor on YouTube or Periscope, but it takes an incredible amount of thought and hard work to produce quality visual content. All of this activity is consciously or unconsciously geared toward creating "like" - a meaningful connection with leads - but unfortunately for many represents a "middle of the funnel" that barely gets the sales or newsletter signups or whatever "bottom of the funnel" actions help to grow or maintain your business.
And what now?
Often, in an enterprise setting, expensive and sophisticated webinar platforms allow behemoth companies to turn raw prospects into interested leads - 20 or so potential buyers of their fancy SAAS solution file into a webinar, in which the sales team shows them the insides of the product with a built-in demo, demonstrate and talk up the values and culture of the company building it, and offer a taste of what it'd be like to work together, etc. This creates "like" (pretty effectively apparently).
However, while a time / thought / cost and prep-intensive AV webinar solution might work for them - consistently funneling in prospects and churning out interested leads - it may be too much for the single blogger trying to engage her audience. So far, we're starting to imagine what a similar platform, scaled down but equally effective, would look like for us! But to do it right, we want to make sure we've correctly identified the problem.
So let us know if what we've said makes sense to you - drop us a comment or a like to let us know if this is something you experience. Our group is trying to uncover a solution to this problem - but we want to know whether our diagnosis is right, and whether it resonates with the community. If it is, we're going to go to work on the problem by building something that bridges the chasm that is the middle of the funnel...
What do you think? Do you believe this conclusion, and takeaway, is accurate? Or do you feel like your funnel is complete? Let me know in the comments!