The marketing funnel as we know it is gone. Or at least it needs to be, if we as marketers want to move toward a truly customer-centric operation.
In this new installment of our Trust Factors series, we’ll review the conventional models for customer acquisition and explain why they’re going out of style. Then, we’ll present an updated version, geared toward long-term sustainable growth.
The Funnel Fallacy
We’re all accustomed to funnels: marketing funnels, sales funnels, conversion funnels. These frameworks can be helpful in guiding our strategies, but there’s an inherent disconnect at play: they tend to commoditize our customers, because these models are solely focused on the end result (revenue). Traditionally, the funnel is designed to usher prospects from awareness, to consideration, to purchase, and then the job is done.
In today’s buyer-controlled landscape, where retention and advocacy are at a premium, marketers need to align with every other customer-facing business unit to ensure trust is being built at each interaction — including (and especially) those after the purchase.
In today’s buyer-controlled landscape, where retention and advocacy are at a premium, #marketers need to align with every other customer-facing business unit to ensure trust is being built at each interaction. @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet
What is the Trust Funnel?
This theme has been covered in the past from a variety of different viewpoints (including a book by Brian G. Johnson), but we’ve got our own spin on it. By our definition, the trust funnel is a reconfiguration of the buying cycle, with a shift in orientation and objective. The focus here is not only generating sales, but also, generating trust (which leads to the same result).
At TopRank Marketing, we follow a modified version of the traditional marketing funnel, extending it beyond the purchase stage and accounting for the full customer lifecycle:
The trust funnel is essentially aimed at optimizing each of the first three stages to support the last two by inspiring loyalty and cultivating long-term relationships throughout. Why is this important? Because successfully mastering this process is the key to running an efficient and sustainable business. Consider that increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase profits by 25%-95%. Meanwhile, studies show that customer-referred leads are far more likely to convert, and deliver considerably higher lifetime value on average.
In short, an effective customer retention and advocacy model helps your marketing become more self-sufficient. Trust unlocks this ideal.
Optimizing for Each Stage of the Trust Funnel
Adopting the trust funnel methodology is all about a shift in mindset. The stages are not fundamentally different than those in the aforementioned marketing funnel, at a high level, but you’ll be better positioned to serve your customers when thinking about them in these terms:
1. Attract: Foundational Credibility
“Awareness” is a broad and ambiguous concept. It’s not enough to simply make people aware of our brands — we need to instill an immediate sense of credibility, so that trust is being established in the very first interactions. How can we accomplish this? Focus on three vital touchpoints:
- Your Website. Does it convey authority of expertise in your vertical? Is it easily navigable, with quick access to resources that a curious buyer might want? Are there seamless methods to get in touch? If the site contains contact fields, do you clearly outline your commitment to privacy and care when handling a user’s personal data?
- Your Social Media Accounts. At any given time, your latest tweet or update might be the first time a new prospect experiences your brand. As such, it’s important to be thoughtful with each one. Make sure your voice is consistent, genuine, and directly aligned with your target audience. Are you approachable and conversant?
- Your Search Visibility. As we wrote here recently, your presence in search results is instrumental to your brand’s credibility. Are you delivering best answer content that satisfies search intent for prioritized phrases? Consequently, are you outranking competitors for these terms? Do your page titles and meta descriptions reflect an inviting and knowledgeable demeanor?
2. Engage: Authenticity and Conversations
Once you’ve taken the appropriate steps to develop an air of credibility, it’s time to cement this perception as people begin to engage with your brand. Seize these opportunities to do so:
- Be Available and Responsive. Candace Lun Plotkin of McKinsey & Company published a post on LinkedIn recently discussing the growing expectation of B2B customers for rapid response times. In the age of an on-demand economy, people are conditioned for short waits and fast access to what they need. This is why an always-on marketing strategy is highly advisable, and why digital tools like chatbots and predictive technologies are gaining prominence.
- Employee Engagement. As users start to immerse themselves more deeply into your brand and its content, they’ll likely start encountering your employees, either directly or through social media. When the people who work for a business embody its philosophies and values, and are actively engaged in the work, it’s a major affirmation of authenticity.
- Influencer Partnerships. Working with the right influencers, who are familiar to and respected by your audience, also provides a major credibility assist as they compare solutions. Note that in order to achieve this purpose, your influencer partnerships need to feel natural and not forced. Also, influencers play a key role at every stage of the trust funnel, but their recognition and built-in authority are especially crucial in separating your solution from others at this pivotal stage of deliberation.
3. Convert: Transparency and Comfort
As a prospect moves closer to making a decision, the stakes are raised. By now a buyer (or buying committee) has likely been engaging with your brand, and they are feeling the pressure that accompanies making a major business purchase decision. It is imperative to build comfort at this stage.
- Be Open and Honest. The last thing you want to do at this point is make a buyer feel like there are hidden concerns or reasons for reservation. One key opportunity is to acknowledge and address negative reviews of your product/service. As our CEO Lee Odden put it in his Sophisticated Marketers interview with LinkedIn: “Millennial and Gen Z audiences expect brands to be honest and forthcoming. While some companies view information that is not a glowing endorsement of the brand as a liability, others are embracing those challenges as an opportunity to be transparent about issues and how they’re being solved. That transparency builds trust and confidence in the brand, key differentiators for customers who become loyal advocates.”
- Lean on Case Studies and Testimonials. Of course, positive and reinforcing examples of happy customers will be your strongest assets at this stage, so you’ll want to have plenty on hand — ideally, covering a variety of different challenges and scenarios, so you can match them up to the prospect in question for maximum resonance.
- Frictionless Purchase Process. How easy is it for someone to make a purchase from your company? Take whatever steps you can to make it painless and simple, so that a person going through it never stops and wonders, “What’s going on here?” Test relentlessly and gather feedback from existing customers.
4. Retain: Follow-through and Service
One of the most prevalent missteps for brands and marketers is a failure to account for the post-sale customer experience. The attitude that once a sale is complete it’s time to move on is misguided. This is, in fact, perhaps your most critical moment to make a positive impact. Given that everyone is aware of the relative cost difference between selling to a repeat customer and acquiring a new one, it’s kind of crazy how few marketers prioritize this stage. Note that according to one study, 68% of customer defections occur because customers perceive “an attitude of indifference.”
- Assist with Implementation. Do you have at least one person on your staff who is solely dedicated to ensuring customers are able to implement and leverage your solution without issue? Can the customer easily get in touch with this person, and troubleshoot quickly? Although these activities don’t necessarily fall directly under the purview of marketing, there is a fair amount of overlap (social media, customer resources, integrations, etc.) and it’s an essential aspect of the customer experience so it’s important for marketers to have visibility and influence.
- Create a Loyalty Loop. This convention is at the center of our friend Andrew Davis’s marketing philosophy. As he puts it: “You serve your audience and subscribers first,” rather than constantly emphasizing the importance of new eyeballs and new business. Basically, the Loyalty Loop is about taking advantage of that “moment of inspiration” right after someone commits to your brand, by delighting them and reinforcing the decision. The idea is that as a result, the next time they have a need, they won’t even consider your competition.
- Offer Post-Purchase Content. This is one smart retention tactic recommended by Marcia Riefer Johnston in a piece for Content Marketing Institute. Post-purchase content can include things like care and maintenance instructions, set-up guides, and repair help. This type of content can line up functionally with either, or both, of the bullets above.
5. Advocacy: Relationship Maintenance
Customer advocates are incredibly valuable, but also exceedingly rare. These are the people who will autonomously recommend your brand to others, and sing your praises publicly without prompting. In some cases this will happen organically because they simply love your offering so dang much, but more often, you need to develop this deep brand affinity through ongoing engagement and relationship-building.
- Stay in Touch. Don’t just reach out because their renewal is coming up and you want them to buy from you again. Use a birthday, anniversary, or job change as a prompt to check in and say hello. Provide helpful content just for the sake of doing it. You should aspire to be an advocate for your customer if you want them to do the same.
- Offer Customer Newsletters. This is a great way to stay in touch at scale. Email marketing is generally viewed as a lead generation tactic but it’s also an excellent channel for increasing loyalty. Make sure the content in your newsletter for existing customers is purposeful and value-oriented.
- Promote Customer Accomplishments. The primary issue with most case studies is that they’re so focused on the solution, rather than the customer who used it. You’ll build more affinity by highlighting the user’s accomplishment — how they smartly handled a problem and got the most out of your product or service. Heck, you can even promote achievements by your customers that don’t involve your solution. Get the good vibes rolling.
Put Trust First, and the Results Will Follow
When companies are focused on sales and revenues and bottom lines, it becomes apparent in the way they operate. This is why the “sales funnel” or “marketing funnel” concept is one I find myself referencing less and less these days. The true end-goals of any savvy modern marketing strategy are to inspire loyalty, affinity, and advocacy. The trust funnel is built to do just that. As a natural result, the sales, revenue, and bottom-line impact will follow — consistently, and over the long haul.
Trust me on that.
Want to learn more about developing a truly trust-driven marketing strategy? Check out these other entries in our “Trust Factors” series: