Attend virtually any sales or marketing conference today and you’ll see numerous graphs depicting marketing and sales funnels that take leads from awareness through interest, discovery, decision making and ultimately the purchase itself. At each stage, a percentage of leads makes it through to the next stage.

The fundamental problem with this traditional approach to sales and marketing is it presupposes a solution for customers without ever understanding their problem. Some leads mysteriously make it through and become customers while others do not.

Too often, brands have little engagement with potential customers between the awareness and decision-making stages. Potential customers are left to their own devices, with little or no input or guidance from brands over what they encounter in the process.

Smart businesses compensate by A/B split testing content and messaging to gauge what positively impacts prospects’ decisions, but even these methods don’t properly engage prospects or show what new information or interaction means for their decision-making process.

How CXM Fails when Brands aren’t Social

Let’s say John from Texas is interested in buying a new computer. The one he has now may be running into performance problems, or he may simply need something more powerful to keep up with his current demands. John has limited experience with different brands and the newest models available, and he doesn’t personally know anyone who recently purchased a new one.

The first thing John might do is ask his followers on Twitter or Google+ for their suggestions. He’ll almost certainly hear a mixture of feedback about the various brands or models, both positive and negative. His more influential friends may even sway him to seek out a particular brand or two in his research.

From there, he’ll likely check out user reviews on online retail sites or visit one or more manufacturers’ sites, where he’ll find plenty of high-level content and technical details that provide no clear indication of which product is best suited to meet his particular needs. John may even visit his local retail store to see the product for himself.

Up to this point, an anti-social brand or seller has very little influence over John’s discovery process or buying decision. They have no opportunity to counter negative reviews or address his concerns. In fact, in most cases, their opportunity to acquire John as a customer has already slipped away.

If brands stopped to think about John’s experience, they’d be justifiably upset. Yet this scenario plays out every day across numerous products and services, both in the B2C and B2B spaces. So what’s the solution to this largely ineffective, formulaic approach?

Enter Darwin’s Social Funnel

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In my experience, the customer dropout rate is dramatically reduced when brands engage directly with potential users based on real-time feedback as part of a process I call Darwin’s Social Funnel.

Darwin’s Funnel integrates social interactions into each stage of the buying process, allowing brands to make real-time adjustments to the multiple stages of a buying decision based on real-time feedback. No longer do you need to wait months for the results to trickle in while sales pass you by; you can take a proactive, social approach that enables you to fine-tune the funnel so that it is faster and more fluid.

Returning to our example, let’s say one of these brands took the time to monitor Twitter or Google+ for key terms that would let them know John is looking for a new computer. This company might respond to John and ask him pointedly about his needs and make recommendations.

Just by doing this, the company is making an impression that takes John through the first stages of the funnel: awareness and interest.

As the brand engages with John, he may raise concerns he’s read about, or respond with questions of his own as he gives the brand some extra consideration during the discovery process. Not every connection made this way will result in a sale, but this company has a significantly better chance to stay in the game if it does this.

Interest (the next stage of the funnel) is created during ongoing interaction between John and the brand. This is where the brand can establish a connection with John’s needs.

John might still be considering an alternative at this point, but at least the brand has made a good enough impression to be included in the decision stage. John may not have had a shred of connection with any other manufacturer, and this relationship that has been established through this open communication will help him make his decision.

Influencing Modern Consumers’ Buying Decisions

It’s this social customer experience and interactions with influencers that sway modern consumers’ buying decisions. A company that is willing to reach out and answer the tough questions from prospective customers and influencers (especially publicly) has a much greater chance of converting prospects into sales than a company that depends on passive customer service and marketing alone.

After John has decided to go with the company’s product, he’s left with the experience of having a personal connection with a brand. He’ll be more inclined to mention its products to friends when they ask the same question themselves. In addition, he might be less inclined to speak out against the company if something goes amiss with his user experience. A relationship and a level of trust has been generated through this interaction, and both John and the computer company stand to benefit.

Editor's Note: Interested in reading another take on the customer life cycle? Check out Bonnie Thomas's How Much Do Service Experiences Matter to the Customer Life Cycle? Ask USAA