In 1924, William Townsend wrote a book called “Bond Salesmanship.” Weighing in at 468 pages, the book promised to help budding Wall Street brokers by giving them the insight they needed to convince buyers and convert sales. The book itself has drifted into near obscurity as other manuals have come along. But “Bond Salesmanship” will never be totally forgotten, thanks to the inclusion of a very specific and important phrase, which framed the steps in making a sale as “the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel which produces the specific and favorable considerations of one fact.”
People had long considered the process of making a sale as a person going through a series of steps, from awareness to decision and action. But it wasn’t until Townsend’s tome that anyone had visualized this process as a funnel, where the top is broad and filled with many ideas and attitudes. Each successive step removes some of these ideas (hopefully the negative ones) until finally, all that is left is just a single, positive notion: “I should buy this thing.”
Since that first mention, we have seen any number of attacks on the purchase funnel. We’ve also seen modifications of the purchase funnel, seeing it as a pretzel, two nesting funnels, a sideways hourglass, an atom, a series of tubes, and whatever the heck this is.
But all of the marketing coroners lining up to declare the purchase funnel dead are dead wrong. People still move through a series of steps, and a successful trip through a funnel involves removing all barriers. The thing that’s different, though, is that people no longer, really, leave the consideration phase.
Yes, People Still Buy Things
OK, clearly people eventually buy things. It isn’t like they simply spend their entire life trying to make a decision about what toothpaste to buy (or to buy toothpaste at all, I guess). But consider two of the new business models that have emerged lately:
- Car services. Here in San Francisco (my fair city) we have a new service called Lyft, which essentially is a way to catch a ride with people. This is alongside other services like Uber, which allow people to, essentially, live without a car. And these companies are all disruptive to Zipcar, which disrupted the traditional world of buying a car. If you’re considering buying a car, you can spend a whole lot of time thinking about the one you want.
- Clothing. There are a number of services that sell clothing subscription services. Trunk Club is one of the better known brands out there. The scheme is that you get a monthly shipment of clothes, and you keep the ones that you like the best, send back the ones you don’t. The idea of going shopping is gone – you don’t need to make nearly as many decisions as you used to make.
There has been this idea floating around for a while that the Internet is an empowering technology, especially for people who want to buy something, and this is absolutely true. Actually, there are four ways that the Internet has enabled people to take control over their purchasing:
- Increased competition. Consumers can find any number of new options, many of which are extremely unique and may offer a special price or benefit
- Ability to price-shop. A couple quick clicks and a consumer can make sure that she is getting the absolute lowest price.
- New services. There seems to always be another option that is looking to give you a new way to experience the benefit you’re looking for.
All of this rolls up into a situation where the worst thing a consumer could do is to actually make a decision. The consumer is holding all of the power while she is still in that decisive mode. It’s like the attractive person at the bar…if you start dancing with one person, no one else wants to buy you a drink.
So, the increase in services and sites are feeding directly into a storm that has been building for many years. Today, we’re looking at what really amounts to a super-empowered consumer who not only has access to all of this technology, but has access to it all the time.
This is what’s changing that underlying nature of the purchase cycle. I think we can call it a funnel. You may have a different view. You may want to put it into a pretzel or an apple or whatever. The point is, it has changed and changed dramatically. The question isn’t the shape of the path that consumers take, but rather the time they take and the motivations that they need to move forward.
Conversion Funnel image on home page via Shutterstock.