There are 213 million businesses operating in the world, each with a unique value they bring to their stakeholders.
What sets your business apart from the 213 million organizations competing for your customer's time and attention?
Customers want to do business with you. They have unmet needs that you are uniquely poised to meet, but they can't do business with you if they don't know what sets you apart from your competitors. To connect their needs and your solutions, you must answer customer questions at every stage of the sales funnel.
Managing the customer experience is a top priority for today's businesses, and many organizations sell themselves short by failing to answer their customer's questions at every step along their journey.
- There are various ways to show the sales funnel.
- Each stage of the funnel offers unique opportunities to answer customer questions
- Optimizely can revolutionize your customer experience.
What is the sales funnel?
A sales funnel is a way of visualizing the journey from non-customer to customer.
Organizations have conceptualized the sales funnel in different ways with different numbers of stages, but the overall concept is always the same: the journey begins with customers hearing about your brand. The entire A-Z journey begins with prospective leads—customers who may have heard of your business but don't currently have plans to do business with you—and ends with the sale.
You can write your sales funnel in many different ways—some have as few as three stages, and others have eight or more—but they all generally describe the same journey. Beyond the ways companies distinguish stages from each other, there are two key areas where sales funnels differ:
- Sales vs. Marketing. Some organizations distinguish between the marketing and sales activities of the customer journey. Beyond that distinction, different organizations disagree about what stages of the funnel belong to each department. From a customer experience perspective, what label you've placed on their stage of the funnel isn't important. What's important to the customer is that you are answering their questions promptly and competently.
To answer customer questions and provide a quality customer experience, consider the entire customer journey part of the sales funnel.
- Beyond the Sale. What is the end goal of the sales funnel? Traditionally, it has been the sale. Every business wants to make sales. It's been the goal of every salesperson in the history of commerce.
However, many businesses are reconsidering that model of the sales funnel because the sale is frequently not the end of the customer's experience. Beyond simply chasing the sale, businesses are competing for loyalty, advocacy and returning business, and reflecting those goals, many organizations conceptualize their sales funnel as including post-sale categories such as "loyalty" (the customer returns for future sales) and "delight" (the customer continues to have positive experiences).
Defining the sales funnel requires discernment and knowledge of your organization's specific needs, processes and budgets. When it comes to answering your customer's questions, however, you can segment your sales funnel into four stages: Awareness, Consideration, Decision, and Retention.
Identify and answer customer questions
Each stage of the process—Awareness, Consideration, Decision and Retention—brings unique questions. To develop the right strategy for answering these questions at every stage, you must first identify what your customers are asking and what opportunities you have to answer them.
There is a connection between your business and the customer. The customer will most likely be ambivalent towards your company at this stage. While they have the most questions at this point, they're also the least likely to ask them, which is why marketers should be proactive about answering customer questions.
- Goals. Before they have even begun to consider doing business with you, customers will be asking what their goals are, or perhaps what their goals should be.
- Obstacles. As the customer identifies their goals, they'll begin to identify pain points. At this stage, they may not know what obstacles stand in their way or what kinds of solutions are available to them.
- Options. Once customers have a broad idea of what their pain points are, they want to know what options they have. Now, they are not only asking what organizations can solve their problems, but what kinds of organizations can help.
B2B buyers are 57% of the way to a decision before they engage with a sales team. That means that for most of your customers' questions, they aren't asking you for answers. It's up to you to make answers accessible and helpful and ensure they end up in front of the right eyes. At the awareness stage of the sales funnel, you answer questions through marketing automation, social media, digital video, email newsletters, blogs, lead generation etc.
The awareness stage is an opportunity for brand proactivity. Before the customer considers the sale, you're responsible for communicating what you can offer them.
Your customer most likely knows their goals, obstacles and options by now and decides which option to move forward with. From a customer experience perspective, this is your best opportunity to demonstrate value by answering direct questions from them. At this point, your customers will likely ask your sales team questions.
- Specifics. Your customer wants to know more about your product or service. At this stage, customers are comparing their options.
- Contingencies. Can your company solve a problem for them? Can it solve more than one problem? If it can only meet a portion of their needs, what other solutions will they need to look for?
- Distinctives. What makes your solution unique from other solutions? How is your company different from competitors?
At the consideration stage, communication is frequently more direct. The nature of your industry, as well as the nature of your customer, will dictate what happens now. The average sale requires 6-10 decision-makers to come to an agreement. The complexity, risk and price of a product determine the length of a sales cycle, so your customer may spend only a few minutes in the consideration phase, or it may take over a year.
In this level of the sales funnel, you answer your customer's questions through how-to articles, demos, samples, and, most importantly, direct communication. Building rapport and trust are especially important at this time.
If you've been diligent at answering customer questions at every stage of the funnel, then hopefully, the customer has decided to do business with you. If not, the journey isn't over yet. Adverse decisions are opportunities to convert another time, and the customer may still have questions.
- Expectations. What's next? This is your opportunity to set a positive expectation. The key to turning one-time sales into returning customers is a positive customer experience. Answering their questions about what to expect in the future is critical to their journey.
- Responsibilities. What does the customer need to do next? The decision stage is your opportunity to set your customers up for success.
Now is the time to answer your customers' questions through direct communication (email, phone, in-person), contracts, spec sheets, and webinars/events.
Once you've made the sale, the customer experience is far from over. For service companies, the journey is just beginning. Whether you're targeting ongoing service, repeat business or just positive word of mouth, answering customer questions post-sale is important.
- Troubleshooting. No product is perfect. Your customers will have questions, and the accessibility and speed at which you answer them will leave a positive or negative taste in your customers' mouths.
- Opportunities. You've solved a pain point for your customer. What else can you do for them? A sale (or missed sale) isn't the end of the funnel. It's also an opportunity.
In the retention stage, it's critical to make information available. You should proactively answer questions before your customers ask them using CRM to follow up and build on the relationship, but you should also answer questions through online documentation, troubleshooting guides, webinars/events, and direct communication.
Consistency is important for businesses. 59% of customers will leave after only a few bad experiences, so to retain business and convert customers into brand advocates, you must maintain the customer experience after the sale.
Optimizely can help
The customer experience is essential in every stage of the sales funnel, so managing those experiences must be a top priority for any successful organization.
Whether you need help with engagement, content management, personalization or any of the many factors that go into a customer's journey with your company, Optimizely is here to help you manage your customer experience at every stage of the funnel.
If you're ready to turn leads into conversions and customers into brand advocates, see how Optimizely can help you get started today.