Focus Funnel Expert: Ardath Albee of Marketing Interactions

Today, we’re delving deeper into the Focus Experts’ Guide: Sales and Marketing Pipeline and Funnel Models, so I’d like to introduce another of the industry thought-leaders who contributed to the Focus Experts’ Guide.

Meet Ardath Albee, CEO and B2B Marketing Strategist at Marketing Interactions. Ardath brings over 20 years of business management and marketing experience to help B2B companies with complex sales create e-marketing strategies, using contagious content to turn prospects into buyers. She shares her insights on the Marketing Interactions blog, and is the author of the book eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale.

The Funnelholic: Explain your approach to the funnel.

Ardath: I approached the funnel from how the buyer might experience it. If organizations are truly going to achieve customer-centric orientation, they need to start thinking from the buyers’ perspective, not their company’s.

The labeling of a buyer as a contact, lead, prospect, marketing qualified lead, sales accepted lead, etc., is a company construct that emphasizes our interests in selling to them, not theirs in buying from us. What might make an interesting experiment is to overlay the buyer perspective funnel on top of a company perspective funnel and take a look at how the stages line up. We might learn something.

The Funnelholic: Besides your own, were there any other funnels that resonated with you?

Ardath: Several. I really enjoyed Mike Damphousse’s take on the demand-gen cloud as a funnel. There’s definitely a lot more going on these days than there used to be, and “harnessing the chaos” is definitely now within marketing’s purview. That said, I think “managing the demand-gen cloud” is a tall order. We need to embrace it, learn from it and proactively work to engage in all the channels that our prospects spend time in, as Mike discusses, but control is firmly in the hands of buyers.

The statement that the funnel “is a living object that changes as business conditions evolve,” made by Christopher Doran also resonated with me. We would all be well served to pay attention to how fast our marketplaces are changing to make sure we change in parallel. Barbra Gago’s funnel focused on community to the point of involving all customer-facing departments within the organization; that got me thinking about some new opportunities. I also liked the fact that she went beyond purchase, as did Matt Heinz and Matt West, to loyalty, lifetime value and evangelism. I actually found something unique to consider in all the funnels. Each of them had points I found well worth considering.

The Funnelholic: What did you learn from the exercise?

Ardath: That designing a funnel is challenging. Especially — as a practicing marketer — to separate the strategic from the tactical in order to draw the funnel to support a specific perspective. And, not being a graphic designer, it was frustrating trying to determine just how to depict my funnel so that what I visualized in my head would get my point across to the audience.

I think I created and discarded five or six funnels before I landed on my final version. It made me think about the process from different angles and also challenged me to look for a new way of presenting a funnel that might help others look at the concept of a funnel differently.

The Funnelholic: If everyone needs to create a funnel to model their business, what are best practices for creating it?

Ardath: That’s a tough question. Here are a few insights from my experience that may be helpful. I’m just not sure they should be called “best practices.”

Play. Allow yourself to toss out a number of ideas that are not traditional for your company.

Start from a blank page. Trying to change the funnel you already have by working within that construct will limit your ability to envision things differently.

Make sure each section of your funnel makes a logical transition. If you see gaps, insert another stage to fill them.

Describe your funnel in 100 words or less. You made us do that, and it caused me to really think about what I needed to say to get my point across. If you can’t describe your funnel so that people understand it in 100 words or less, go back to the drawing table.

Invite people with various perspectives to participate. I drew my funnel by myself. After seeing other Focus Experts’ funnels, I realized there were a few things that I hadn’t considered that I’ll now incorporate into my funnel.

Consider your funnel’s application. Once you have your funnel, take a look at your processes and determine how they might be modified to smooth the transitions from one stage to the next — or better connect them. If you’ve flipped your funnel on its head, this could be a really enlightening exercise.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter