Is the Sales Funnel Really Dead? Print E-mail
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Written by Susan Mucha   
Tuesday, 04 October 2011 00:18



Not in the least. The trick is knowing its application.

A recent post on Forbes.com titled, “How Sales is Totally Different from 10 Years Ago: RIP the Sales Funnel” considers how the sales cycle has changed. Blogger Karl Moore interviewed an executive from marketing agency OgilvyOne, who asserts that consumers won’t take time to tell a salesperson their problems anymore because they are better informed. He then emphasized that today’s sales environment demands a more consultative approach.

The post was thought-provoking for several reasons. I agree with the premise that the dynamics of a short sell cycle sale have changed. In that environment, the sales funnel is often talking points in a single conversation. Customers today are better educated on products and don’t want a scripted sales speech. But in electronics manufacturing services, the sales funnel is a much different tool, and consultative selling approaches have been in vogue as long as I can remember.
I took away four points from the post:

  • Beware the dangers of overgeneralization.
  • Periodically evaluate the ways social networking is used in the sales cycle.
  • Study history.
  • In a rush to avoid appearing “old school,” don’t throw away tools that work.
  • From that perspective, I’d like to debunk a few emerging myths.

Myth 1: The EMS decision process has changed. The basic EMS decision process is the same. A group of people is charged with identifying potential suppliers. If their strategy works and they help the senior management team achieve its goals, they have some level of job security in a very insecure world. If there are large hidden cost surprises, or a product recall lands their CEO on 60 Minutes explaining why his company outsources, job security disappears. What has changed are the channels used to build awareness and affinity with this team. Content also varies because, in many cases, the team charged with outsourcing isn’t as experienced as it used to be. More experienced teams were influenced by industry word-of-mouth and the results of their audits. Today’s teams are more influenced by what they read online, see at conferences or hear in social networks. Inexperienced teams also tend to be more focused on price because it takes a couple of bad projects to fully appreciate lowest total cost.

Myth 2:  Social networking holds all the answers. There is no question social networks are evolving into an increasingly important role in the selling process. However, there are effective and ineffective ways to use them. The Internet and social networks offer the ability to send messages to large numbers of people 24/7. Properly segregated and timed, those messages can be an effective way to keep in touch and positively influence prospects. But large numbers of messages, messages irrelevant to a portion of the recipients, messages that are deemed offensive and infomercial-like do more harm than good. Social networking is one tool in a tool box. The best companies use social networks the same way they use professional associations. They network, establish competency through educated communication and build strong relationships over time. That is a far different process from linking to 1000 contacts that one either never communicates with or blasts with untargeted tweets 20 times a day.

Myth 3: The sales funnel is dead. EMS has a six- to 18-month sell cycle, and customers cycle in and out of ready-to-buy mode. When a customer isn’t ready to buy or is too far along in its decision cycle to consider an additional supplier, the world’s best salesperson couldn’t change its mind. However, that company will eventually go back into ready-to-buy mode. A sales-funnel-driven approach helps manage those dynamics by segregating prospects into phases associated with specific sales activities. Prospects at the top of the funnel are often eager for knowledge; prospects in the middle are ready for a consultative approach, and prospects at the bottom are in final negotiations. Targeted social networking, white papers, articles and conference presentations can be effective at the top of the funnel. Interaction with sales and the program team works in the middle. Management and program team interaction increases at the bottom. A properly phased funnel helps ensure that valuable sales, program team and management time is spent with the most serious prospects when they are at right points in ready-to-buy mode.

Myth 4: It’s all about price. In the absence of a good relationship, it is all about price. However, when marketing, social networking, sales, team competency and a company’s track record of relevant solutions are introduced in the right sequence, it’s all about value for price. As mentioned in Myth 1, the decision process hasn’t changed. It is a matter of building relationships with the decision team and demonstrating effective solutions to what keeps them up at night.

Myth 5: Sales closes the deal. Sales facilitates the close, but more often than not, team competency or a prospect’s perception that a company can solve their most pressing challenge is really what closes the deal. If we go back to Myth 2, social networking could not only provide a channel for sales and marketing to build relationships, but also present the opportunity for program team members to identify opportunities and build relationships.

Before I get hate mail from overworked engineers for even suggesting they become part of social networking marketing, let me qualify. Social networking works two ways: Just as a company can get its messages out via social networks, it can also identify opportunities via the conversations in social networks. Engineering-oriented networks are great for this because engineers discuss problems and look for solutions. Savvy companies might want to pay finder’s fees or give extra days off to team members who successfully refer prospects they’ve networked within the normal course of their duties. There may be similar rewards for referrals generated from participation in technical committees. The bottom line is that there are a lot of ways to take a consultative approach in building relationships that lead to future business.

In EMS, the sales funnel is still alive and kicking. However, technology and younger decision teams open the door to new ways to build the relationships that lead to business.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (powell-muchaconsulting.com), and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 October 2011 12:17
 

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