Managing the Social Marketing Funnel

The funnel is no longer in your CRM database: it moved to Social Media

Adoption of Social Technologies and the shift of the media mix towards Social Media is changing the way we look at the marketing funnel and customer relationships. What used to be a list in our business database system is now a list of brand followers, likers and fans in outside communities. We don’t own or control those contacts, but we need to know their Social-ID and keep track of our conversations with them across all channels.

This post discusses how marketers can deal with that change.

The Marketing Funnel

Classical methods of lead generation are modeled as a “funnel”: among all potential buyers in the market (“suspects”), companies needs to move (or “nurture”) them from awareness (know it exists) to consideration (think of it as viable supplier) to preference (consider it the most adequate) to action (decision to buy) to loyalty (experience value and remain a long-term customer).

In that model, Marketing’s mission is to manage that funnel and deliver sales leads ready for a transactional action with a sales person.

Nurturing the funnel typically consists of periodic message push followed by listening for responses (click-throughs, submission of a web-form, phone call). The implicit reliance on serendipity (hitting “suspects” at the exact time when they  are sensitive to the message and ready to engage in a sales conversation) annoys the audience, but it is really the most efficient method if your media choices are restricted to print, broadcast and e-mail.

The Buying Process has always been social

People buy from people they trust. Buyers need to trust the brand or, at least, the person interacting with them in that “last mile” of the sales process. The majority of purchases are based on recommendation. Buyers tend to buy what their peers recommend.

Two of the promises of Social Media that are relevant to marketers in this context:

  • Because the media is participative, it allows direct influence between happy customers and prospects, harnessing the social character of the buying process and let the funnel “self-nurture”. Rather than depending on glossy case studies, the marketer focus on amplifying that peer influence.
  • By enabling continuous and less intrusive bi-directional engagement, Social Media allows for less reliance on serendipity. Rather than shoot in every direction and hoping to hit people at the right time, prospects themselves will let you know when they are ready for a sales discussion.

In Social Marketing the goal of the marketing process goes beyond Loyalty. You have reached fully realized relationship with a customer when it becomes a Brand Advocate.

The New Marketing Funnel is in Social Media

The “Funnel” metaphor implies control and tossing suspects that are not ready out of the marketing process, and might no longer be the best way to describe our relationship with potential customers.

In Social Media circles, we talk about “communities”, which includes not only prospective customers, but also existing customers, partners, influencers and even competitors.

Today, you manage you contact lists using spreadsheets or tools provided by some type of CRM system. The Social Marketing Funnel is now the union of contacts in the customer database, and followers, likers and fans in the places where your customers congregate (which may or may not be places you control).

How to manage the Social Marketing Funnel?

The natural impulse is to re-gain control. Build a better CRM database. Build a proprietary online community. Create company-controlled forums.

But the pendulum of control has shifted towards customers and is not swinging back anytime soon. We need to adapt to that new reality.

We need a new generation of tools and technology that can help us to manage our relationship with stakeholders, independent of them being in a venue that is under our control. We need to know their identity (their “Social-ID“) and track the total interaction with them as a company.

  • Communication – Learn to listen, communicate more openly and transparently. Adopt a relationship platform that enables you to communicate with the audience across all the available channels.
  • Embrace Social – Customers no longer rely on you as the primary source of information about your product or anything else. They will talk to their peers. Focus on amplifying the voice of your happy customers.
  • Share Control – Customers control the buying process. You need to be able to track your interactions with them, but influence is mutual. Let them tell you when they are ready.
  • Management – Marketers still need to segment, push a message, convert. But those functions don’t necessarily reside in your local system or database. Customers segment themselves by, for example, making their profiles available or using hash tags. Tools and methods you use need to be able to reach outside your systems.

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