Shutter the Sales FunnelAs form publishers find they are able to ask for less and less personal information (and get away with it), some panic, thinking they're losing the best, cheapest lead stream they know. And, without a doubt, they are. This article continues that discussion started in Free Me From Your Website Forms, but from the perspective of the marketer who now needs an alternate solution.

Professional marketers reading this will likely take one of two positions: They’ll panic at the idea of shuttering the tops of their sales funnels or they’ll see the writing on the wall and think, yep, this is exactly the way things are going.

Those of us who have accepted that an increasing fear of forms is inevitable have done so because global privacy concerns are becoming too amplified to ignore. What’s more, diverse global regulations are becoming too difficult to honor.

Still, list building is an instinctive practice for marketing pros. If we can’t collect leads from the website, then what do we do to fill our sales funnels? Even more of a concern, how do we justify our function to those who already question the value of marketing?

Here’s one idea: Let’s do away with the antiquated notion of stuffing a sales funnel. Our prospects are not captive toys floating through some conceptual obstacle course. Our prospects are people who might or might not decide we’re worthy of their confidence and cash. Sometimes they decide this within moments, thanks to some flashy landing page, but for most B2B businesses, this is a process that takes time.

One problem with the sales funnel is that it assumes prospects come to us in an “awareness” stage, each having the same intention and basic level of knowledge. Increasingly though, prospects are educating (or disqualifying) themselves long before they ever submit that first form. In fact, we lose prospects we didn’t even know existed -- it happens all the time.

Social media and the web make it easy to learn about companies and products. Companies that pollinate the web with rich information people appreciate, make it easier for those people to nurture themselves toward a purchase. Conversely, organizations whose websites are slight of useful content will become less trusted in the eyes of prospects and also Google SERP. How often have new customers told you that they originally contacted you because your website said nothing useful and your e-Books were pointless?

By the time prospects contact us, it’s anyone’s guess how well they know us. Rather than a sales funnel, it’s more like we’re at the center of a sales sphere, with prospects coming at us from all angles and all backgrounds. In the outer layers of the sphere, prospects are invisible to us. We know they’re there because we can hear them. But we can’t see them and we can’t reach them. More notably, we can’t easily manipulate them, and this scares the hell out of many marketing professionals.

Marketing no longer acquires prospects -- they acquire us. The hunted have become the hunters.