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The Reality of Living in a Digital-First World…The Sales Funnel is Now A Wheel!

By March 17, 2021No Comments

Believe it or not, the decision-making framework outlined by American philosopher John Dewey in 1910 has guided marketers’ sales approaches for over a century.

An expanded version of the framework, termed the Buyer Decision Process, aims to help marketers recognize when prospects are most susceptible to brand influence.  Using a stepped funnel as a metaphor, 1968’s Consumer Behavior described how customers whittle down the number of brands from which they are willing to buy until only one remains.

At each step, or touchpoint, marketing researchers determined that a brand must take some action to continue down the funnel.

This classic marketing tool, while still useful, is no longer enough – especially for business-to-business companies trying to generate new business today.

Here’s why…

How to Sell a Flat Tire

The Buyer Decision Process outlines an early space-age consumer’s behaviour.  It was a wild era where NBC’s As the World Turns sold Procter & Gamble soap, eight per cent of Americans had post-secondary educations, and Microsoft was a distant dream.

Today, a discerning, well-educated consumer with access to a constant stream of virtually unlimited, digitally powered choices requires a new means of address.  In their research, David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susie Mulder and Ole Jørgen Vetvik of the McKinsey Institute found that information saturation has decreased prospects’ susceptibility to brand influence.

We consume so much information in our daily lives that brand messaging can sneak its way through to us later into the sales cycle, they say.  As such, the sales cycle has become just that – a cycle; a flat tire that businesses can inflate with their messaging through multiple valves.  Where once the funnel ended, buyers now evaluate the quality of their transaction and, hopefully, develop enough brand loyalty to keep the wheel turning.


Pushing, Pulling and Delivering

In ye olde marketing funnel days, brands had all the power.  They pushed out messaging, and prospects received it.  It was a one-sided exchange of information.  Today, empowered by the Internet Age, buyers talk back.

Customer reviews, word-of-mouth, blogs and journalistic articles form brand narratives that carry more weight than traditional ads. Prospects pull in data and use it to inform their initial-consideration phases.  The McKinsey Institute found that company-driven marketing has been reduced to one-third of its former power.

This development creates an exciting crossing of touchpoints: Buyers in the post purchase phase directly impact prospects in the initial-consideration stages with their reviews.

In other words, improving post purchase quality of life increases future sales.

What Goes Around …

Of course, all happy customers are not created equal.

While some are “active loyalists,” who both continue to purchase from a Partner and speak positively of it to their friends.  Others are more passive.  Either out of complacency or confusion caused by the dizzying array of choices, they stick with a solution provider but feel no real attachment to them.  “Passive loyalists”, if given an incentive, will gladly jump ship.

By making comparison shopping easy and switching services seamless, B2B companies can swipe passive loyalists away from their competitors.  Once the customers have entered your organization’s fold, you can begin working to make them active.

New Touchpoints

To transform passive loyalty into active loyalty, businesses must interact with their customers in the right ways at the right times.  Internet-powered, real-time engagement with customers allows marketers to personalize messaging, answer questions and offer support when and where they are needed.

Whereas marketers used to push messaging out to prospects at their initial consideration phase or to customers at their active evaluation phase, we now know that a business can improve their ROI by focusing their resources at multiple touchpoints within their customers’ sales cycles.

By leveraging the power of marketing automation, a business can implement dynamic tools that empower customers to learn about companies at their own pace.  Advertisements can be automatically optimised to appeal to a prospect based on context, the prospect’s past behaviour and your company’s larger marketing goals.

How to Navigate This New World

B2B companies are now able to harness the power of a digital-first world by creating a methodology that tracks and measures prospect interest through the cycles of Awareness, Consideration, Conversion, Advocacy and Loyalty. Using what is now known as the digital fly wheel, companies that are succeeding online have moved away from thinking there is a mass audience at the top of the funnel just waiting to be sold to, to understanding customer engagement at each phase of the wheel to build momentum for new buyers.  The Digital-First World has arrived.


About Marie Wiese is a marketing executive and founder of Marketing CoPilot, an award-winning digital marketing agency that has helped hundreds of companies turn their websites into lead generation and sales machines.  She is a Growth Advisor with start-ups at innovation centers in Ontario, host of the podcast Women Talk Tech and the author of the award-winning business book, You Can’t Be Everywhere: A Common-Sense Approach to Digital Marketing for Any Business.  She can be reached at or M: 416.436.7931   O: 289-806-7136