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Introducing the Marketing Lifecycle: An Evolved Take on The Sales Funnel

Marketing is an evolving science.

The terms we use and the approaches we take change over time.

Some concepts and strategies that were once paramount to success have been made obsolete. Time and better options have taken older concepts like the sales funnel and changed the way we view it.

First off, just think of the name. The sales funnel. The sales funnel? It sounds like a hybrid between a marketing strategy and a kitchen tool.

Today we’ll discuss the Marketing Lifecycle – a different way of looking at the customer’s journey, and a means for getting more out of your marketing efforts.

To begin, let’s discuss the sales funnel.

What is it, where did it come from, and why did it need replaced?

marketing lifecycle

A Guide to the Marketing Lifecycle

  1. Origins (& Downfalls) of the Sales Funnel
  2. What is the Marketing Lifecycle?
  3. Staying Relevant to the Modern Buyer
  4. Maximizing Your Marketing’s ROI

Sales Funnel: Defining & Examining an Antique Concept

On the surface, the sales funnel is a sound idea. It’s designed to represent the journey of a customer – from the early stages of finding out about a business to making a purchase and beyond.

marketing lifecycle

Image from Entrepreneur

This model of Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action, was first discussed by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. But the process of AIDA wouldn’t be characterized as a funnel until 1924, in William Townsend’s book, Bond Salesmanship.
sales funnel bond

Image from Bond Salesmanship via Google Books

Given that 1924 was almost a century ago, maybe we’re being a bit harsh on the funnel. It’s understandably a bit dated. It’s as old as frozen food – plus it predates television, penicillin, and even Scotch tape.

But when we think of how content marketing has changed just plain marketing, we see the shortcoming of the funnel approach.

With models like the sales funnel, we think of people literally funneled through a single set of steps toward a singular goal. But great content is designed to keep your audience in the loop. Content marketing’s impact on ROI is that it does this type of self-generation so well.

That means not only generating customers from leads, but also leads from previous customers.

We know what that goal is, and it’s still relevant. According to a survey by Hubspot, 69% of marketers say converting leads to buyers is their top priority.

Sales are still the objective. But the way to get there in the digital age involves understanding your leads. It’s about knowing where they are and what they think at each stage.

As the internet has changed the way we think of marketing, it’s also added a lot of twists, turns, and terrific opportunities to the journey of the average lead.

content strategy course cta

What is the Marketing Lifecycle? Similarities & Differences 

My Marketing Lifecycle, first shared on the Write Blog in December of 2017, could be thought of as a modern replacement for the sales funnel.

There are similarities – both are about your user’s journey from awareness to action and beyond. But the difference lies in how the customer is viewed.

In today’s market, the customer is well-informed. Not only can they find out about your business with a single Google search, but they’re well-conditioned to those dated sales strategies of the last century.

And the second they feel like they’re being nudged to the narrow point of a funnel, they’ll be easily inclined to take their business elsewhere.  The modern user wants to be engaged in a competitive digital environment. They’re still looking for organizations to help them solve potential pain points – but their journeys aren’t linear.

For example, at what point would it be right to connect with a buyer to offer product information? The right answer is there is no one right answer. It depends on your buyer. Some may want to connect during the awareness stage (19%), some may want to connect during the consideration stage (60%), and others may want to wait until the decision stage (20%).

The Marketing Lifecycle’s architecture sees plenty of intersection and overlap. There are no stifling boundaries, and no one-way pathways the customer or lead must be forced down.

This is a double-sided benefit. On the sales side, you open yourself up to future business by keeping your customers as your priority. Customers can be worth 10 times their initial purchase – and they’re much easier to sell to again. That’s way too much potential to let fall out of the bottom of some old funnel.

marketing lifecycle julia mccoy

More about my original concept: Express Writers  Share with credit.

The Marketing Lifecycle has similar steps. Users discover you, reach out, take action, and express loyalty. But the primary difference is you’re dealing with a self-fueling roundabout rather than a one-way street.

  • Awareness: At this stage, your customer is finding out about you (and things you offer) through content like web pages, blogs, eBooks, social media, or even personal referrals.
  • Interest/Intent: Here’s a good place for conversations and interaction. Your customers are already beginning to see the value of what you offer, and want things like personal calls, live chat, etc.
  • Decision: If you’ve answered your customer’s questions and given them what they need, here’s the phase where they’ll make a purchase. At this stage, it’s important to be able to show them previous success stories.
  • Loyalty: Here is where satisfied customers go to tell their story – and remain a vital part of your customer base in the long-term.

Let’s say you have a new prospect who just became aware of your brand thanks to high-quality SEO blogs. Today’s user can make decisions quickly given their access to so much information. So while interest and intent (or desire) were formally looked at as two separate stages, these two can often blend together.

If a user goes to the desire stage, they can become a lead immediately. If they remain in the interest stage, the way to approach them may be different.

Then there’s the loyalty stage – which isn’t even mentioned in the traditional funnel. But with customers able to give and share feedback about their experiences so easy, maintaining the relationship with a customer remains important even beyond the buying phase.

A Modern Approach for the Modern Buyer

Good marketing tells a customer how the organization can solve one of their pain points. Companies that know how to serve their customers can enjoy profit margins up to 24% higher.

Customers who find brands that take care of them will continue returning to that brand in the future. This isn’t just for sales, either. If you’re looking for followers and subscribers, which are the foundation of future leads, you need to hold onto your base whether they make a purchase or not.

Traditionally, the funnel approach had marketers believing that once their customers acted or made a decision the business wanted them to make, that was the end.

But the modern buyer sticks by brands, entertains new offers, and responds to strategies that put them as the focal point. And when they feel taken care of, customers are likely to tell others.

sprout social

Image from Sprout Social

Whether they’re functioning as a promoter by leaving a product review or continuing to function as an audience member before eventually becoming a lead again, they’re still in the mix.

When it comes to the place your customers find themselves in, remember the advantages of the Marketing Lifecycle’s structure. It’s okay if a customer moves back from the interest/intent stage. They could become aware of another aspect of your business and start their ascent again.

It’s even possible a customer could skip the decision stage, but move to loyalty by giving a good review about their experience even minus a purchase. Since you already have that trust built, it is easy for them to fit back in at any of the other stages.

Modern Marketing Focuses on ROI

A marketing approach aimed at ROI doesn’t waste any potential leads – and it focuses on keeping those leads in the mix, no matter what stage of the journey they’re on.

The bottom line is buyers in 2019 aren’t looking to be forced through a funnel. They want businesses to meet them where they are and give them what’s relevant to their situation.

Whatever stage a person is in and whichever way they’re leaning, you need the right content and the right approach.

Marketing Metrics tells us that existing, happier customers can be up to 14 times easier to sell to. So when you’re considering your relationship with a customer to be “completed” after they make a purchase, you’re selling yourself short.

Keep those connections, and keep the people in your circle content and ready to see what you’ve got to offer them.

Final Thoughts: Marketing is an Evolving Science

The Marketing Lifecycle shows us that our ongoing relationships with customers are the foundation of our success.

At one time, sales numbers were the priority and customers were the means to that end, forced down the narrow end of an old funnel. But content marketing, and the Marketing Lifecycle, have changed that.

As our methods for reaching customers change, so does our approach to giving them what they need.

Terms and strategies that were once pillars of the industry can now be set aside. As we change how we look at the customer’s journey, both in its importance and its linear nature, we see new possibilities.

Looking to refine your approach to marketing with the lifecycle approach? Watch my free on-demand training to learn more about profitable content marketing.

Profitable Content Marketer Cheat Sheet

marketing lifecycle sales funnel

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