The Sales Funnel Paradox: A Communications & Technology Challenge  

Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatchTM 

It’s harder to get people to read emails, press releases, blogs and drive people through sales funnels.

A big reason for this is volume.  There’s simply more stuff being pushed at audiences from every direction.

In the content marketing arena this has been described as “Content Shock” by Mark Schaefer.

It’s the inevitable consequence of every company, PR agency or communicator pursuing the same strategy – using content as a tool to build engagement and drive SEO.

Because barriers to producing content are low, and the cost of content delivery and sales funnel platforms designed to turn traffic into business – from the most basic (Website) to the most sophisticated (HubSpot) – are relatively modest, there’s no sign that the deluge of content will slow.

But there’s something else also at play.  Audiences are getting more sophisticated.

As digital marketing developed, virgin consumers were far more likely to click, signup for newsletters, and go through sales funnels because they hadn’t done this before.  They lacked the experience and understanding of business models for technology companies, services providers and others seeking to capture their business.

Experience is a great teacher.  Audiences are not stupid.  They learn.  We all do.

Sales funnels became more transparent and therefore suspect.  What worked once, does not work as well with a better-informed audience.

“Once bitten, twice shy,” comes into play.

Greater clarity around business models and tools comes when it’s not just one company shilling services or making the picks and shovels for businesses – it is hundreds clamoring for attention.

And at that moment, dynamics change.  Audience behavior changes, because they now get it.

Are the sellers of services changing?  The answer is, of course, yes.  Innovation is happening at breathtaking speed, but I would argue as a technology entrepreneur and communicator that the power of the tools at our disposal – no matter how new – will diminish in their efficacy, because audiences are no longer sales funnel virgins.

They are better able to sort through the noise and focus on what’s important (or more likely entertaining).  Content nails that stand out.  Not because it is better, but because it is different in a world of undifferentiated information.

What are the implications?

For one, it will simply be harder and harder to engage audiences on a mass basis.  And, as I have written in the past, we are moving ever closer to a time when we have to market to an audience of one.  The one client who’s an exact fit for your service and needs it.  They will either want to sit down and have a conversation (how old fashioned) or will want a combination of conversation and tech platform, or simply an online solution that fits their needs.

As we move down this path, services providers will need to find ways to develop sales funnels that are transparent and frictionless for audiences for whom this will not be their first rodeo, who understand the tricks of the trade and are increasingly skeptical.

I see this first hand.  Trust is hard to come by in a world where it has been undermined by failed promises or the fake-it-till-you-make-it hubris of a venture capital fueled technology landscape.  In this context, trust needs to be earned the old-fashioned way.  One client at a time.  Thank you, Morgan Stanley.

Second, we need to recognize the fundamental paradox driving this.  The more companies create sales funnels, content and other means to drive their businesses, the smarter audiences become about how they are being sold to and the greater the barriers to sales.

The most powerful exercise of power is when people don’t know power is being exercised.  Knowledge in the form of experience brings with it the power to resist.

The most important takeaway is that as audiences learn the tricks of content and digital marketing – content and digital marketing must not employ tricks.

As Richard Levick argued in a recent Communicators-to-Communicators Insights Video the communications industry needs to avoid blowback from using tools or approaches that are found not to be credible or ethical.

Both Levick’s argument for Integrity in PR, and Richard Edelman’s focus on the need to build trust, require a careful evaluation of approaches to sales funnels, digital marketing and PR itself.  I recently wrote about this in more detail.  Click here.

How you build engagement matters.  It will matter more and more as audiences become increasingly knowledgeable.  Trust in your business and the communications industry depends upon it.


About the Author: CommunicationsMatch is a search tool that helps companies find, shortlist and hire communications agencies and consultants by industry and communications expertise, location and size.  The site has 5,000 agencies and consultant profiles in areas including: crisis communications, public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography and video.  Listing and Search are Free.  See more videos and articles on our Insights Blog.  Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies.