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Why Your Sales Funnel No Longer Works

Wait, what…?

I get kind of a twisted kick watching the reaction of people in the digital business world when I say this. I have always said this. The sales funnel is inappropriate for professional services. My stance always creates quite a stir. Turns out the sales funnel is central to the way most people think about how to acquire new customers.

Now I’m a millennial and if anyone who was alive in the ’90s and early ’00s remembers all the old diet supplement websites we fell for. “Just pay Shipping for Dr. Smith’s Fat Buster Pills!” These terrible-looking websites were the original basis for platforms like Cl*ckFunn3ls™ and other similar funnel platforms that are still being peddled by influencers today who have affiliate links to promote with.

This exact template is still being used by modern coaches and funnel enthusiasts alike.

Aside from these websites just making users fell gross… The idea of a sales funnel is not just useless in the world of professional services, it is a distorted and misleading model. The sales funnel model causes otherwise smart people to do the wrong thing when trying to drive business development.

You know the sales funnel. Everyone does, and that is part of the problem.

At the wide end of the funnel are prospective customers who are believed to be primed to buy your product or service. Leads are filtered. The uninterested are culled. The rest are pre-qualified, pitched, and (hopefully) closed over time.

When selling consulting or professional services, the goal is not to find leads then process them like your digestive tract. The objective is to identify a community and position yourself to serve that community over time.

The Math

Now I’ve said it before I’m bad at math, but even I questions the traditional sales model numbers. When managing sales, traditional sales funnel theory tells us to measure yield from one step to the next:

  • 20 of 100 leads result in an initial meeting (a 20% yield).
  • Half of those meetings lead to an opportunity to make a proposal (a 50% yield).
  • 2 of 10 proposals yield a sale (a 20% yield).
  • So, the overall lead-to-sales yield is 2% (20% × 50% × 20% = 2%).

2%! 2%!? What a waste of time…

And from the consumer’s end, millions of dollars are being gained by attracting them in with a small offer. An offer that any TikTok marketer will tell you only takes the professional a bit of time (ex. Record a video of professional tips) to make. Charge for that video and never work again as all that passive income comes rolling in every time someone pays and automates the already recorded video. And to the consumer, they often are getting sub-par info or info they already knew. By 2021, consumers are onto you AND seeing sales funnely website or offer, feels gross.

But instead of jumping into a sales funnel business model what should you do instead?

Are you selling a product?

  1. Start with quality leads: Know who might buy your product. In addition, have someone who can separate themselves from the business pick the products. (Ex. If you’re a boutique owner who loved the color yellow and you end up only stocking yellow products, you won’t sell much). Gather intelligence. Ideally, interview someone who used to work at a company that you want to emulate. The object here is not complicated. You are trying to amass a list of human beings you might call on who would be in a position to authorize the purchase of your product. Keep a list of those people.
  2. Sell! Sell! Sell!: This is where previous sales experience is essential. Which I know is hard to hear if you’re starting your eCommerce or brick-and-mortar boutique. If you do not have sales experience either find another business to run or hire a salesperson to run it for you. Selling is a conversation. The goal is to get a customer to express a “felt need” for which the salesperson or shop can propose a solution. If you have products that can be bought elsewhere, you won’t make sales that can sustain you full-time.

Are you selling a professional service(s)?

We all know that consulting and professional services are sold differently than products. Expert services are sold on reputation, referral, relationships… not selling features of the service. The purchase of professional services requires a leap of faith beforehand.

Despite this, the temptation is to pretend the purchase of expert advice or services is the same as buying office supplies. We’ve been encouraged to accept that the funnel and step-by-step sales process is appropriate. It’s not, and here’s why:

  • The number of relevant leads is limited in a funnel
  • The duration of relationships between client and professional is often long, which causes issues when you are constantly thinking of the client as a new lead to toss back into a new funnel
  • Each client is special, your measurable client data will change per client and the progression of your relationship with them cannot be reduced to anywhere in the funnel process

The super-salesperson is a myth when it comes to professional services. Now there are tons of people online. You see them in Facebook ads and everywhere else convincing you with great charisma to buy their course. You buy. You start the course. You learn nothing. But that person still sold the hell out of you in the beginning, because he’s a salesperson, not a professional service provider. Focusing on the meeting and the art of the sale suggests that some people have some special way with others that causes the target of their affection to bend to their wills. Make sense!?

Salespeople who are thought to be really good with people often come off as just inauthentic and slimy. Call it the backfire effect. I myself am a terrible salesperson. I always have been. I’m here to provide professional creative services, not sell you something you don’t need or want.

The sales funnel assumes that you first create awareness, then uncover interest and desire, and finally that you manifest action. (This is the “AIDA” model of client engagement to which you were exposed in undergraduate marketing.) But what if you stumble on desire first which causes you to get yourself in front of a prospect (awareness)? You decide to do a pilot (action) that leads you to lift the stone on what turns out to be their real problem (interest).

In short for professionals… Do good work for a client. Stay in touch. Keep a long-term relationship with them. It’s that simple. Don’t toss them into a garbage disposable known as a sales funnel.

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