When the concept of the sales funnel was introduced shortly before the turn of the 20th century, the customer's purchase journey was a linear progression with four identifiable steps.
- Consumer became aware that a product or company existed.
- Once aware, consumer might become interested in learning more about the product and possibly acquiring it.
- Consumer decided that he did, in fact, want the product.
- Consumer became a customer by purchasing the product.
Once the product was purchased, i.e., the sale was closed, there was little or no future interaction with the customer. In short, he "fell out" of the sales funnel.
The model held up as long as the journey progressed in a logical, linear and predictable manner. However, the digital age has changed the linear journey. Today, consumers do not necessarily progress in a straightforward, predictable line. There are numerous channels they can use to interact with businesses. They can move through all four stages of the traditional funnel in a matter of seconds, or they can skip or add stages.
To illustrate, suppose someone is interested in growing mint in her backyard garden. She enters the word "mint" into a search engine. If she is in the United States, she will be shown a link for the U.S. Mint; following the link, she discovers a collection of beautiful coins she had not known existed. She makes a purchase, but she is curious about the identity of a figure honored on a different commemorative coin. Searching the honoree's name, she discovers that he was not only a famous scientist but a renowned chef as well. This reminds her that she has invited guests to dinner next weekend, so she searches for directions to make a centerpiece using fresh fruit. While reviewing the directions, she notices your ad for a special type of melon baller and decides she must have it immediately.
This customer did not go online to research collector's coins or melon ballers, much less buy them. However, in one single session, she went through all four stages of the traditional funnel — twice. You simply cannot predict that type of convoluted path with the traditional steps of the sales funnel.
What is a Continuous Engagement Circle?
The theory of a continuous engagement circle is essentially the idea that businesses should be engaging customers in a circular manner rather than a linear progression. It begins by establishing communications with customers before attempting to "sell" to them. Furthermore, unlike a funnel, a purchase is not the end of the path. It is simply the beginning of a new cycle — one that seeks to build customer loyalty and convert first-time buyers into lifelong customers.
The first step in establishing initial communications is to tell consumers a story. You want the story to do two things: make the reader "fall in love" with your brand and inspire them to take an action. (Your story might trigger some impulse purchases, but that is not your primary goal at the moment.) Your initial communications are intended to build customer trust, pique their interest and draw attention to your brand.
When crafting your story, employ the elements used by successful authors when they write a piece of fiction.
- Generate suspense. Do not immediately reveal every element of your story. Hold something back to keep the reader interested.
- Use the proper voice. There are certain words and phrases that resonate better with some readers than with others. Choose the voice that will give you the best chance of triggering a positive response among members of your target audience.
- Appeal to their "humanity." You are trying to connect with human beings, not machines. Humans have emotions, aspirations, desires and needs. Craft your story to touch them. Whether you are "pulling their heartstrings" or making them smile, your goal is to trigger an emotion that they feel they share with you.
Keeping customers engaged before, during and after the sale may not be the easiest thing you have ever done. However, abandoning your "funneled" thinking can lead to greater long-term success.