Why You Should Take Control of Your Sales Funnel – defining the other half of marketing’s mission

I have a confession to make. For much of my career, I could not explain why I was successful as a marketing executive. Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of success. I helped companies grow, both as an employee and as a consultant. In some instances, the companies I worked with grew by more than 1,000 percent. But I couldn’t really tell you why they grew. More than that, I couldn’t tell you what levers we had to pull every month to ensure that we consistently and repeatedly realized growth.

All this changed when I had an epiphany and discovered my real mission for professional service firms. I needed to manage, protect and strengthen the brand. AND I needed to take control of the sales funnel.

What is your mission?

This is a raging debate — OK maybe not raging, but certainly hotly contested — among leaders of professional service firms. What is the mission of the marketing function? What should the marketing function do for the company? What benchmarks should be used to measure marketing’s impact and value for the business?

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get very different answers to these questions. If you ask designers, they might tell you marketing’s mission is to make the brand look strong and credible. If you ask webmasters, they might tell you that the mission is to build and maintain a website that optimizes traffic and engagement. If you ask content creators, they might tell you the mission is to get downloads and registrations.

If you asked VPs of sales, they would probably say marketing’s mission is to generate qualified leads and lots of them. If you asked CFOs, they would probably say marketing’s job is to stay within budget.

But what if we asked CEOs or the managing partners or even board members? What would they say?

The senior executive perspective

I have asked senior-level executives this question, and the typical answer sounds like this. “We want the marketing function to build a systematic and repeatable process that we can count on to achieve our growth and profit goals every quarter and every year.” That’s what they want.

Now this is a very different perspective from what I hear from a lot of VPs of marketing. Usually these thoughtful and very intelligent people have created a marketing plan that includes all sorts of activities designed to strengthen the brand and generate leads. I think of these as the two halves of the marketing mission: infrastructure marketing and outbound marketing.

Infrastructure marketing is about ensuring that you have defined the right market position, packaged services in the best way possible and built a brand identity and sales tools that prospective ideal clients will find persuasive. Most marketing functions can deliver value to their companies in spades because they control most of this activity.

But the other half of the mission — outbound marketing — is where things start to go sideways for many marketing teams. They use all sorts of tools and activities to generate leads. They produce newsletters. They host webinars. They write white papers. They put up blogs and even make social media posts. But when I ask how their activities are impacting client acquisition and revenue, I typically hear this answer:

“I can’t control what sales people do with the leads once we turn them over.”

The root cause

I recognize that marketing people cannot control sales people and even that this is not desirable. But I believe it is critical for marketing people to finally, once and for all, recognize that it is not OK to say that they do not control the sales funnel. This is fundamentally untrue.

This is, I believe, the root cause of most of marketing’s under-performance issues. When the marketing function, at professional services firms, is not delivering against the number one goal of senior executives — consistent and repeatable growth — something is deeply amiss. There is a much better way.

The professional service sales funnel

Alignment between sales and marketing teams is a big topic that cannot be addressed here in full. But I believe the first step toward bridging this gap is developing a common vision of the sales funnel. The second step is defining who owns the different stages of the sales funnel.

Let’s begin by defining the sales funnel most prospective clients will pass through to become a client:

  • Awareness: Prospects become aware of your brand, services and content.
  • Consideration: Prospects sample your content to see how you can help them.
  • Interest: Prospects engage in serious dialogue, requesting a proposal.
  • Evaluation: Prospects evaluate your proposal against their needs and competitive offerings.
  • Selection: Prospects accept your proposal and move to next steps.

Now for those of you who’ve read my other articles and seen my videos, you may notice there is a new step in here: consideration. In my experience, a prospective client can sit in the consideration phase of the sales funnel, sampling your content and ideas, possibly for years.

Does this sales funnel make sense to you? When you think back about the last several deals you’ve acquired, did the clients pass through these stages? I’ll bet it’s pretty close.

The important thing here is that the VP of marketing and VP of sales agree on the sales funnel. If you can accomplish this, you are well on your way to repeatable and consistent revenue.

Who owns these stages?

Once you agree on the shape of the sales funnel, then the question becomes: Who owns the various stages? Most sales people would agree that they don’t want to be responsible for creating brand awareness and the campaigns that generate leads. Most marketing people would agree that they cannot be responsible for working deals, identifying decision-makers, writing proposals and closing deals.

So this probably means you agree that marketing owns the top of the sales funnel: awareness and consideration. This also likely means that you think sales team members own the bottom of the sales funnel: evaluation and selection.

The source of the disconnect

If you agree with these conclusions, then you’ve begun to see how marketing actually does control a huge portion of the sales funnel. So here is my question to marketing people.

What are you doing to ensure that the people you are placing into the top of the sales funnel are appropriate candidates to become clients?

In most instances, this is the source of the disconnect between sales and marketing. This is the primary reason that the marketing function is not putting the company in a position to realize consistent and repeatable growth. Marketing and sales people have different ideas about who should be in the sales funnel.

How to fix this

As a marketing executive, you do not control the bottom of the sales funnel. You cannot reasonably be held accountable for closing deals. But you can work closely with the VP of sales to agree upon a profile of your ideal client. You can create content that pulls prospects who fit the ideal client profile into your sales funnel. You actually can put your company in a position to realize consistent and repeatable growth.

To help you do this, I’ve built an Action Guide called Seven Strategies to Align Sales and Marketing Teams at Service Firms. This guide is free and it’s located on our website.

If you really want to be the kind of impact player that the senior executives at your company really respect and trust, I encourage you to go and register for this free resource right now.

About the author

Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at randy@theshattuckgroup.com.

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