Continuing with The Funnelholic’s series of interviews of industry thought-leaders who contributed to the Focus Experts’ Guide: Sales and Marketing Pipeline and Funnel Models, today we interview Michael Brenner, Director of Online/Social Media at SAP North America and author of the blog B2B Marketing Insider. With 16 years of experience in sales and marketing, Michael’s common focus has been using customer and market insights to drive results-based marketing and produce a return on investment.
The Funnelholic: Explain your approach to the funnel.
Michael: One of the challenges in many large B2B companies like ours is marketing and sales alignment. Another is marketing strategy. And many times these two issues are competing for time, resources and attention. “Close more sales now!” and “Build the brand for the future” are hard to pull off in tandem. So I thought it was important to emphasize that we can accomplish both if marketing and sales are working together. I have witnessed the success of this approach when we throw away the old conventions of the marketing funnel and the sales funnel. But we can still maintain focus on our particular areas of expertise. Another amazing thing happens when we put the customer at the center instead of our own interests: earlier engagement based on trust that leads to higher conversion, more sales and longer term customer value and retention.
The Funnelholic: Besides your own, were there any other funnels that resonated with you?
Michael: I really liked them all and appreciated the different perspectives. The one that resonated with me the most was Barbra Gago’s. I think she’s right that if we focus on the larger community at the top, that ultimately we will see a positive feedback loop once those prospects become customers and evangelize back within the community. This is when your customers become your greatest asset and an actual extension of your marketing activities. As I was reading it, I experienced a familiar feeling of wishing I had thought of it!
The Funnelholic: What did you learn from the exercise?
Michael: I learned that there really is no easy answer and that there may be different situations that require different approaches or “funnels.” When I talk to folks in marketing, sales, operations and across the enterprise, everyone wants to express their passion and demonstrate the contribution they make to our companies. The funnel is one way to do that, but it might also prohibit us from seeing the customer. When we use terms and images like funnels, I am afraid that sometimes we forget that there are real people swirling around inside. If we focus on them — who they are, what they want, how we can deliver on that — then we will all win.
The Funnelholic: If everyone needs to create a funnel to model their business, what are best practices for creating it?
Michael: I think it’s important to have a real dialogue and strong relationship across marketing, sales and operations. It truly is an enterprise-wide effort. From the person who greets our customers at trade shows to the telemarketing reps to the customer service person, we all touch the process of driving prospects to customers to brand fans. I think it starts with a philosophy and the right goal (such as lifetime customers and value) that then gets translated into a strategy. Next you have to define your process. And it’s really important to define what can be measured, and therefore improved, along the buying journey. Once all that is done, it is much easier to create the picture.