Today’s world is marked by unprecedented access to diverse products and vendors. With this influx of choice, contemporary marketing poses a unique challenge: how to rise above the noise and establish a singular connection with a customer? The answer lies in leveraging foundational principles of customer-seller interactions – principles designed to speak to the human quotient.
In considering the customer journey, it is essential to understand two key components – the customer relationship with the seller and the navigation of the sales funnel. Success in both areas is predicated on the achievement of three things: 1) awareness, (2) credibility, and (3) trust. These three elements outline the rough progression of a customer-seller relationship and should be reflected in the development and execution of the sales funnel.
The first stage in the customer journey is awareness. At this level, the average customer is rarely ready to talk to a human. Instead, the seller goal is to establish brand visibility. Unsurprisingly, a customer can’t buy from a seller they don’t know exists! The funnel should reflect this with an emphasis on dissemination of awareness assets – these include things like digital and paper-based advertisements, blog posts, webinars, videos, etc. Customer interactions with these assets can then be tracked to inform seller decision making in subsequent stages of the funnel. It is important to remember that, as a customer, awareness does not intrinsically equate to feelings of trust (something essential to empowering confident decision making). This is where the credibility stage comes in.
The credibility stage bridges the gap between awareness and trust, promoting increased familiarity and comfort with the brand/products (note that this is an excellent time to nurture the burgeoning relationship with the customer!). Establishing credibility is often accomplished by exposing the customer to meaningful content designed to educate them about the brand’s offerings and superior qualities. Some content even goes so far as to target an emotional response! All of these efforts should be designed around the target customer experience – what should they walk away thinking and feeling? Ideally the conclusion they’ll be moving towards is that the seller is an authority in their product space. Some examples of target feelings that can promote this conclusion include intrigue, curiosity, satisfaction, and encouragement.
When creating and selecting content, it is critical to understand that the content is only as good as the context driving it. Without context, it becomes very difficult to purposefully meet the customer where they are. One excellent source of customer context involves tracking their interactions with the brand assets/content (see below for a high level discussion of tracking tools). This insight into the customer’s interests and needs can be injected into communication with them, allowing for targeted and incisive interactions that build confidence in the brand as an authority.
The final stage in the funnel is trust. Once the customer has reached this level of the funnel, they are typically ready to do two things: 1) provide more personal information and (2) purchase a product. Once trust is established, efforts to convert the customer to a repeat/long term buyer can begin. This is done by leveraging the new rapport, as well as utilizing any additional information (demographic, personal preferences, etc.) to continue presenting them with tailored communication and marketing (consider product recommendations, for example). In establishing and maintaining trust, the seller appeals to the customer’s innate need for security with the brand and product(s) they’re interested in purchasing.
Tools that Can Help
Some tools that can aid a seller’s ability to track and engage with a customer throughout the funnel include CRMs, MAPs, and CDPs. There is some overlap across each of these systems, and each shares a foundational purpose of tracking and managing customer information. Where they differ is in their specific focus. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and focuses primarily on the state the customer is in/where are they in the funnel. Marketing Automation Platforms (MAP) focus on the actions that should be taken based on the customer state (e.g. a drip campaign). Finally, Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) can bring in any system that has interactions with the customer and pass that information through a data warehouse; the system then determines what instructions should be sent out to the other platforms. Given the overlap in functionality, these various systems are often rolled out in some combination depending on the business’s particular needs. Whether used alone, or in concert, CRMs, MAPs, and CDPs significantly enhance a seller’s ability to walk a customer through the awareness-credibility-trust funnel and are worth exploring as a resource.
Bringing it All Together – A Use Case
For this use case, our scenario will be a conference that helps multinational businesses expand into other countries. Business representatives attend the conference to meet people from a particular country and learn about their legal requirements. One way to begin building the awareness-credibility-trust funnel would be to identify the target audience of executives and show them ads for content on a blog. This constitutes the awareness stage. Moving on from awareness to credibility, a CRM/MAP/CDP could be implemented to track the customer’s engagement with the blog content and identify specific areas of interest (E.g. what country are they researching). This information can be used to provide the customer with access to more specific content that establishes the creator as a reliable source of knowledge.
Information about the customer’s interests can also be leveraged by a sales rep, shaping the interaction goals with conversational context. For example, if someone interacted primarily with content focusing on India’s legal requirements, the sales rep will be able to immediately direct the discussion to that area, reducing significant time and noise for the customer. This incisiveness helps the customer navigate to the end of the funnel – trust. At this stage, the brand has established itself as a reliable source of information and a capable advisor on the topic of international legal requirements. The customer now has sufficient confidence in the brand to purchase tickets and attend the conference. Throughout this process, the MAP/CRM/CDP can be used to do things like track, manage, and store data about the customers interests, interactions with the brand (including conversations with the reps), and set up follow up campaigns.
The awareness-credibility-trust sales funnel utilizes fundamental principles of decision-making and buyer-seller relationships. The competition for customers is multifaceted, and those who succeed invariably do so by establishing themselves as the definitive representatives of their industry. Nurturing a customer from awareness to trust is key to establishing positive brand differentiation by orienting around the human component of the funnel. Doing so competitively can be significantly enhanced through utilization of the tools discussed above. Today’s customers are presented with unprecedented quantities of media messages – instead of being lost in the noise, stand out with genuine and customized interactions that build strong customer relationships and brand longevity.