By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

In days of yore, the stages of the online buyer’s journey also mirrored what was considered the traditional sales funnel. Shaped like an upside-down pyramid, as shown, the flow of browser to buyer was simple and straightforward, but that’s no longer thought to be the case.

onbiz-pyramid
The traditional sales funnel was a direct route to purchase.

Previously, it was assumed that there were large numbers of prospective buyers in the awareness stage. As your sales and marketing efforts were realized, the number of prospects slowly filtered down as they made a linear progression through the next stages of the funnel. Your salesperson introduced the key information a prospect might need to essentially guide or pull the prospect through the funnel. Eventually the prospect becomes a buyer and then an advocate of your product or service.

When learning about the buyer stages as they relate to the sales funnel, you hear it described based on the physical location in the funnel. The awareness stage is considered the top of the funnel (or ToFu). The consideration stage correlates to the middle of the funnel (or MoFu). And the decision and advocacy stages are considered the bottom of the funnel (or BoFu).

But the modern buyer’s journey is a bit more complicated. As we mention at the beginning of this chapter, buyers already know quite a bit about you before interacting with your website or your sales team. In addition, they have lots of sources for and types of information they receive. The modern buyer, not the brand, now controls the buying process.

There’s lots of debate around today’s sales funnel — what it looks like, how buyers move through it, and if it even exists. However you choose to describe its existence, most experts agree on the following when describing the digital sales funnel:

  • Buyers no longer move in a linear progression through the stages, but move in and out of the various stages in a fluid, and sometimes repetitive, nature (as shown).
  • Brands no longer control the process, but instead influence it through content, awareness, and advocates.
  • Buyers may skip stages, especially in an e-commerce environment, where it’s easy to go from awareness to decision stage, especially when offered an immediate incentive to purchase (for example, having brand advocates distribute $10 off codes in social media channels for prospective buyers who are just in the awareness stage).
  • Movement through the funnel no longer occurs from a single platform or device (such as from the desktop), but instead occurs in an omnichannel environment — moving between the desktop, tablet, and smartphone, and by visiting social media, websites, and bricks-and-mortar storefronts.
onbiz-funnel
Buyers move in and out of the various stages of the modern sales funnel.

What does this all mean for your online business? When it comes to tracking buyers through the sales funnel, it’s important that you understand how and where buyers are converting, and making sure you have buyer-specific content that is appropriate for each stage of the funnel.