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Having been familiar with the lead management processes in hundreds of B2B organizations of each strip, I would estimate that at least half have internal demand funnel (AKA waterfall) stages that combine stages of their sales process with what are actually stages of the buyer journey.
The difference between these two seemingly similar constructions is crucial. Not only are they different, but often poorly adjusted, and this misalignment is one of the most common causes of inconsistent revenue team performance.
Every B2B organization should work diligently to adapt their funnel to the buyer’s journey. This article will explain what each is, how they are different, why they are typically not closely matched, and what it takes to do so.
Your funnel is not their journey
A B2B buyer’s journey is not about an individual person, but almost always about a team of people working together to meet a business need. Buyer travel is therefore labels that are applied to the purchasing team’s internal state as they progress toward a purchase.
Typical stages of buyer journey include awareness (about the company’s needs and potential to meet it), consideration (of potential solutions and solution providers), decision (choice of one or more providers that can solve the business need) and purchases (where the transaction is negotiated and executed ).
What is crucial to understand about buyer travel is that they exist independently of seller funnels. A purchasing organization can easily go from consciousness all the way to the moment of purchase without having entered into the funnel of any selling organization.
In contrast, a funnel describes a provider organization’s advances in recognizing, engaging, and converting potential purchasing teams. There are several models that depict funnels, but the best known model is the one my colleagues and I built at SiriusDecisions, Demand Unit Waterfall, which includes phases ranging from Target (contains good potential buyers) and Detected (where a buyer’s journey has been detected through behavioral data) down to Pipeline and closed won (link out). Think of the funnel as a description of relationship status (we date), whereas the journey is the buyer’s internal state (I’m beaten).
Buyer travel and funnels are incorrectly adjusted
In an ideal world, B2B organizations would discover the buying journeys that their prospects embark on, as or even before they arise. This would allow organizations to understand and shape the needs of the buyer and establish their brands as desirable partners.
Early detection also allows salespeople to perform consistent buyer activation and sales practices, leading to more predictable revenue results.
However, when sellers encounter buyers at random times, funnels are compressed for the time left on the buyer’s journey. Unfortunately, as one poll I conducted during a recent webinar shows (see the following chart), most B2B organizations discover buyer journeys at random points in these trips – often when buyers have already selected providers.
Although 97% of our respondents reported that they wanted to know about the buyer journey when or before they started, no one reported predicting when buyer journeys would begin, and only 23% reported consistently discovering them while they started.
The Dark Funnel: Where Journeys Begins and Funnels Align
The key to adapting funnels to buyer travel is to apply modern computer science to illuminate what we at 6sense call the Dark Funnel.
Consider that unless you are the sole provider of the solutions you offer and your digital properties are the only places where your category of solution is discussed, it is likely that some or even most of your potential buyers will begin their buyer journeys. on influencer sites, product review sites, competitors’ sites, social media or countless other places buyers can turn to in the digital world. Together, all the places buyers search for information make up the Dark Funnel.
If you are a relatively small brand, it is especially important to enlighten Dark Funnel, but even the biggest brands may not see potential buyers until these buyers have gotten deep into their journey. By accessing evidence for this research activity – commonly referred to as intent data – from the Dark Funnel, sellers can begin to see virtually all relevant buyer journeys as they begin (see previous content contributed by 6sense on intent signals here and here).
Although most of the Dark Funnel is found on external resources, an important part of the Dark Funnel can be found much closer to home. We know that between 90-98% of the traffic on B2B sites is anonymous. Unless you identify the source of the anonymous traffic, there is a strong possibility that some of the buyer journeys that you would love to know about take place right under your nose.
What’s more, your organization’s marketing activities are responsible for bringing these anonymous visitors to your site. You have already paid to participate in these buyer journeys, but you need to illuminate that part of the Dark Funnel to capitalize on your investment.
Instead of looking at anonymous data as a mistake in converting visitors, you can work with a provider to de-anonymize the traffic and inform the part of the Dark Funnel that is closest to home.
Anticipate travel with dark funnel signals
In the poll discussed above, 65% of respondents said they would prefer to know about buying processes even before they start. While it may seem impossible, anticipating buyer travel simply means predicting or predicting the buyer’s needs. Fortunately, in addition to the well-known behavioral cues that have just been discussed, there are cues in the Dark Funnel to help you do just that.
For example, detailed technology data can identify companies that have aging equipment and technologies that need to be replaced. Economic performance data can identify companies that are growing and need to expand their infrastructure. Regulatory and firmographic data can identify companies that will require solutions to meet pending business requirements.
Many more such signals are available to help sellers anticipate buyer needs. By acquiring and trading on these types of Dark Funnel signals, organizations can begin to shape the needs and preferences of potential buyers, just as they become aware of the need to make a purchase.
In the poll discussed above, 39% of respondents said they met active buyers at random points along a buyer’s journey. When organizations first discover buyer journeys, when a member of the purchasing team becomes a lead, or when a prospector happens to reach out to a buyer team member, the results can be nothing but random.
Finding out if traveling at random times means your sales cycles and funnel will be unpredictable. By tapping the Dark Funnel, organizations can view and customize their marketing and sales processes for the beginning of the buyer’s journey. By doing so, you have a better chance of winning more deals, and you can bring consistency and predictability to the revenue generation process.