Building a successful acquisition funnel... in 2022

Rodolphe Strauss
September 29, 2022

Quick reminder, why is it sometimes called a “funnel” and sometimes a “tunnel”?

The word “funnel” creates an image that illustrates the mechanics of a sales tunnel – or acquisition tunnel – quite well. As a very general outline, the top of the tunnel is where all contacts are captured; the middle contains qualified contacts interested in our proposal; and at the bottom of the tunnel are prospects who have become clients. So the aim is to make sure that we have enough traffic entering the tunnel and that every contact goes through the different stages. The idea is not to force everyone all the way through the end of the tunnel. If a contact is not interested, it is pointless – and more importantly, damaging – to try to force the relationship. So the further down the tunnel you go, the fewer people there are, hence the image of the funnel. In short, “funnel” or “tunnel” are both fine; use whichever expression you prefer!

Which teams are involved in this acquisition tunnel – the marketing team?

Yes, the marketing team is involved; but that’s not all, because the tunnel has a real ability to create structure. It needs to enable everyone – marketing and sales teams – to move forward in the same process with well-known and common stages. The fact that everyone is part of this tunnel makes it possible to construct forecasts and assess the benefits of the current “pipe”. 

Aaron Ross, author of the “Predictable Revenue” sales bible, likes to compare the sales process to the successive layers of an onion. It may start with a blog post by a member of your marketing team or a TV appearance by your CEO, followed by a demo given by a salesperson. These steps will potentially turn a lead into a customer.

The acquisition funnel is therefore not just relevant to sales people: it involves many teams, and can be orchestrated in an infinite number of ways. It is important to view the acquisition funnel as an expression of the soul of the company as a whole. This involves the tone of your communications, the empathy expressed in your phone calls, the quality of your demos, the discipline of your sales teams, etc. It is a complex balance to get right, but has the ability to offer increased opportunities to engage in conversation.

Does the same funnel work for everyone?

Let’s say that there is a common base; a shared state of mind. Of course, the funnel must be tailored to the complexity of the product, the sales cycle and the recommendation channels. Obviously, the sales tunnel for home insurance is not the same as for life insurance. The motivations are not the same, nor is the prospect’s time for reflection. In one case, a 4-step tunnel – capture, qualify, reassure, convert – may be sufficient. In another case, 6 or 7 steps may be needed to cover the entire sales cycle effectively. 

And this is not something fixed in time: it’s about testing scenarios, drawing inspiration from top performers and, above all, observing. Because each contact will have its own path through the tunnel: the entry point will not be the same for all. Some will skip certain steps; others will spend a lot of time on them. What counts in the end is the trust generated, and the close relationship established.

What ingredients should you consider when designing your own acquisition tunnel?

There are several factors to consider. Let’s start with the obvious one – which is always worth remembering – correctly assessing the importance of the brand. How authoritative is it in its market? Obviously, if your brand name is Apple or Tesla, there’s no point in striving for a large number of contact points to generate consumer desire. A low-profile brand, or one that is just starting out, will need to be creative in order to attract attention. For example, it may seek to turn its first customers into ambassadors. This scenario can be applied to insurance: contract-holders can be offered offers or discounts if they recommend their insurer to others. A viral driver that has led to some great successes (Slack, Dropbox)? 

The next step is to formalise the main sales stages – the ones that really increase the probability of closing, without forgetting to specify the average duration of these stages. Another key factor is the value of the sale, weighted by the stage of completion. Some methodologies make it possible to precisely frame the different steps, such as the MEDDIC methodology. This gives a clear picture of how the sale is progressing. Let’s take the following funnel as an example: 

  • New business opportunity identified
  • 30% progress: budget and planning approval by the prospect Budget and planning Approval (1 month)
  • 60% progress: decision-maker and Transaction Manager have approved the project – Budget, Timeline, KPIs defined – (1 month) 
  • 80% progress: financial negotiations (Only one competitor left) 
  • 90% progress: ready for agreement by the prospect

The gaps between the different stages are determined by very concrete actions and elements, and not by basic intuition. Hence the importance of relying on a documented sales history, and therefore on data, when attempting to build a realistic tunnel.

Acquisition tunnel means... automation?

It’s true; or at least, it used to be. When these practices were first adopted, the effort was concentrated on email with a high level of automation. And that inevitably led to abuses: wrongly personalised emails, messages that appeared again and again... The same phenomenon was observed on LinkedIn, with phases of learning and exceeded boundaries. Not surprisingly, over time, audiences became less tolerant and conversion rates suffered. Hence the effort now being made to segment the basic areas. This is a necessary effort to ensure that the message is as relevant as possible to a given target audience. 

We are also returning to more conversational patterns, which are better at building relationships and are more acceptable to recipients. For example: a quick message asking if you are dealing with the right person, compared to a 3-paragraph chunk of text that does not match the person’s actual situation. 

How do you reconcile the acquisition tunnel and the GDPR?

There are sometimes misunderstandings on this subject. It is worth remembering that the GDPR does not prohibit canvassing; it merely regulates it. The rules differ slightly between BtoC and BtoB prospecting, with more flexibility in the latter case. Taking the example of LinkedIn, for instance, it is clearly a personal network, but it’s also a professional one. By accepting the general conditions, you agree to be contacted for business purposes. In all cases, it should also be noted that there must be a guaranteed right to opt out. Ultimately, the GDPR has not killed the acquisition tunnel...

What are the current trends in good practice?

The concern at the moment is to reintroduce conversation into the tunnel. We have relied too much on automation, sometimes so much so that we have forgotten that a sale is first and foremost a human being who... is talking to another human being. Hence the value of a network such as LinkedIn in particular, which enables real conversations to be initiated. Via such conversations, prospecting will be better perceived and much more readily accepted by prospects.

What would be your recommendations for a streamlined acquisition funnel? 

I’m going to deliberately give a slightly oblique answer to that question. To drastically shorten your acquisition funnel... pamper your current customers. There is no more effective driver of acquisition than word of mouth. 

Having said that, there are always the usual suspects: 

1. Free demos

2. SEO. Choose your keywords, optimise your pages and build links. A long-haul process

3. Start a blog. The aim is not to make yourself look smart, but to provide value and engage in two-way conversations

4. Newsletters, etc. Because of the wealth of topics it covers, I strongly suggest that you watch this webinar by Benoit Dubos and Gabriel Gourovitch

5. Webinars. Difficult to pull off well, but a great way of bringing value to your customers and humanising your brand.

In short, be very clear what your value proposition is, define your ideal customer profile, and identify how you can help them.

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