I don’t know about you, but I cringe when I see good businesses struggle – businesses that make the world a better place, do great work, treat people with respect, and generate money for everyone involved.
It pains me even more to witness sleazy, snake oil salesman-types sneak in at the last moment, land a big sale, do shoddy work, and leave their customers (and competition) flustered and angry. Today, we’re going to break down why both scenarios take place – and what you can do to prevent your sales funnel from costing you money.
What is the Sales Funnel?
The “sales funnel” is a phrase used to describe the process of moving people and/or businesses from total strangers to customers of your company. The exact labels and number of steps will vary depending on the type of product or service you offer – as well as what industry your company services – but here are the major stages:
- Stranger – Someone who has never heard of your company/brand.
- Prospect – Someone who has heard of your company and may need what you offer, but doesn’t know what you do.
- Lead – Someone who now understands your product offering but is not quite ready to buy and may need some convincing.
- Proposal/Sales Call – An active lead who is vetting your services, evaluating your price, or qualifying you against other options.
- Customer – Someone who actually pays you money for your offering.
Most sales funnels stop at the Customer level because that is where the “sale” was made. But as this post title suggests, your body of work – the quantity and quality of what you produce for your clients over time – has a significant impact on both future sales and production. As such, we’re going to add a few steps to the Production process:
- Specification – Outlining exactly what is needed for a project, campaign, or client.
- Conceptualization/Customization – Modifying or adding to your existing systems to deliver precisely what the client is looking for.
- Prototyping (if needed) – Producing a small run of your widget or service to see it in action before beginning production and/or releasing it to the public.
- End Product – Full-scale manufacturing and implementation of your solution.
The Shape of Your Sales Funnel
In my experience, struggling businesses often fall into one of two camps:
- The ones who focus on sales and marketing but struggle executing, or
- Those who have optimized their production processes with few to no customers.
Top-of-the-funnel businesses are Sales, Marketing, and/or Business Development-driven organizations focused on front-end numbers.
- They find joy in getting the phone to ring and going on sales calls.
- They love the thrill of the hunt, of chasing down leads.
- They meet with customers and tell them how great their organization is and what a difference their products and services will make.
But further down the funnel, they usually falter.
Production is sloppy or inconsistent or slow. They are unorganized or unqualified or unprepared. They are ill-equipped or overwhelmed and can’t deliver on the promises that were made during the sales process.
When supply can’t keep up with demand, they shoot themselves in the foot by over promising and under delivering – making it increasingly difficult to bring in new business over time.
Bottom-of-the-funnel businesses, on the other hand, are production-focused organizations and often masters of their craft.
- They are artists who find great joy in perfecting every aspect of their offering before handing it over to the customer.
- They take pride in doing things “the right way” and wouldn’t dare sacrifice quality for speed.
- They optimize processes and invent systems to facilitate more work if/when it ever comes rushing down the pipeline.
But the top of their funnel is weak at best. They avoid talking to prospects and would prefer keeping themselves busy behind the scenes. They tell themselves that “if we do enough good work, word will just spread and new customers will seek us out.”
Which end of the spectrum do you fall on?
Of course, business isn’t this cut and dry. There are extreme cases, but your business will likely land somewhere in the middle and lean toward one version. Identifying your organization’s tendencies, however, will help break down the barriers that inhibit sustainable growth. Why?
Growth can only occur if the top and bottom of your funnel are in sync.
Matthew Russo, Systems for Growth
When one end of the funnel is weak, the other has to throttle back to reduce its capacity. The have to prevent themselves from being the best they can be. But when both are in sync, the entire business can fire on all cylinders and hit the open road.
Open Your Funnel Through Feedback
Regardless of what end of the spectrum you fall, you should be relying on your company’s (or team’s or department’s) body of work for feedback to strengthen its weak points.
A body of work is the collection of products, solutions and experiences your organization has produced for its clients and customers over time. As more and more work is added to this collection, the best ideas and projects rise to the top and can strengthen both the top (Marketing/Sales) and bottom (Production) of your funnel.
From a Sales standpoint, utilize your body of work to strengthen your marketing systems:
- Take time to document the work you complete.
- Create written descriptions to explain the finished product in detail, as well as the process used to get there.
- Use photos and images to create a portfolio piece or case study.
- Ask happy customers for testimonials. Written praise is great, but videos increase social proof even further.
From a Production standpoint, use your body of work to improve internal production systems to:
- Identify what worked/didn’t work during your last project.
- Review of redundancies/inefficiencies.
- Identify opportunities to improve the process in the future.
Just like anything worth doing, this process takes time and commitment.
It is much easier to keep your head down and continue down the same path you’ve been on. But so long as you feel like your business could be doing more – either on the sales or production side – you need to be using the feedback from your body of work to improve whatever is holding your business back.