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What if the sales funnel is really an hourglass?

Lindsay Says

Meet your customers where they are, not where you are or where you want them to be.

Taking the old standby of the sales funnel and expanding it into an hourglass is a great way to follow your customers through their entire journey with you. But first, some background.

Any time you talk to your customers – whether through website copy, ad messaging, a tagline, a pitch, or a script for customer service reps – it’s critical that you first identify where they are in their journey with your brand. There is no such thing as one message that suits all customers at all stages of their journey with your business. Don’t even try to find such a message. Instead, understand the mindset of your audience and develop a specific message just for that mindset.

The Sales Funnel Framework

We’re all familiar with the classic framework of the sales funnel, in which customers progress through a funnel as they get to know your business. A relationship between people begins with an introduction of some sort, then with a first conversation, then a second, and so on. A relationship between a business and a customer builds in a similar way.

There are five traditional steps through the funnel. Prospects who are Unaware of your brand become people who are Aware of your brand. They then begin to Consider it, then Purchase it, and then they become Loyal. At any given time, you have customers at various points in this funnel. Recognizing the distinct stages enables you to tailor your messages according to where your customers are in the funnel.

The Customer Journey Framework

What I like about the funnel as a model is that by identifying your customer’s stage, it enables more granular and therefore more effective messaging. But there are a couple things I don’t like about the funnel, so I modify this model in two ways:

  1. The name: Replace the phrase “sales funnel” with “customer journey” to foster a human, customer-centric orientation. Customers do not consider themselves to be objects in your funnel, nor should you. Your customer does not represent a wallet you are trying to access at the end of a funnel but a human being with whom your business is making a reciprocal commitment.
  2. The shape: Rather than a funnel that tapers, the customer journey resembles an hourglass. While a funnel ends once a customer makes a purchase, the hourglass continues well past the purchase, expanding as you enrich your relationship with that customer. Commonly, businesses disproportionately nurture the customer at the beginning of the journey when building awareness, consideration, and conversion. Ironclad brands lavish love on existing customers just as much, recognizing that the purchase is a beginning, not an end.

Pair Each Stage with a Mindset

The five basic stages of a customer’s journey are the same as they were with the funnel, but now, if you imagine yourself walking alongside your customer on a journey, you can imagine that person’s mindset toward your business at each stage. To move them from unaware to aware, your communication goal is that your customers See you, that they are introduced to you. From aware to considering, the goal is that they Like you. From considering to purchasing, your goal is to help them Believe in you, which inspires them to Commit to you. As they become loyal to you, you ignite their Love.


I’ll deconstruct these steps, with guidance for adjusting your messaging to meet your customers in each stage of their journey:

1. Unaware ➔ See
Remember that your target customers’ attention is scarce, so do the cognitive heavy lifting for them. Employ their existing mental file folders with a familiar category descriptor or a familiar functional benefit.

2. Aware ➔ Like
Being meaningful and likable to your customer and unique in your category will encourage your target customer to latch onto your brand.

3. Consider ➔ Believe
Take the time now to tell them a little bit more about you. You’ve promised them X, and now you can back that up with A, B, and C, which supports your promise and deepens their trust in you.

4. Purchase ➔ Commit
Make it easy for a person to pull the trigger on a purchase – with a user-friendly website, short lines in your storefronts, or quick responses at your call center. When you make it easy for a person to commit to purchase your offering, they are not only more likely to make the purchase, but they are also more likely to be happy about their decision.

5. Loyal ➔ Love
Use your compelling product experience and post-purchase communication to deepen your customer relationships. Make it worth their while to stay.

The Math of Loyalty

At the point where customers purchase, the tapered part of the hourglass gives way to a flared out opening where your current customers deepen their relationship with your business by buying more from you. Your loyal customers also inspire new prospects to See, Like, and Believe, so now you have new customers entering the journey already Aware of and Considering your brand.

The math of loyalty is compelling: the cost of keeping a current customer is lower than the cost of acquiring a new one, especially with frequent repeat purchases. Even better, your marketing ROI improves sharply when current customers themselves evangelize your brand to new customers.

But really, beyond the math, this is a moral imperative. It is your duty and privilege to delight your customers. They have given you money or time, so live up to your end of the bargain by delivering and overdelivering on that promise.

Walk at Your Customer’s Pace

Respect the journey as the progression of stages through which all relationships move. If you conflate the stages and cram multiple communication goals into one tactic, your customer will not as easily progress through the stages. In return, you will not be given as much of their time and attention. If you communicate one stage at a time, you’ll earn that time and attention.

You are proud of your product, and you are farther along in the journey than your customer. After all, you have been seeing this offering, liking it, believing it, committing to it, and loving it for quite some time – maybe years. Use your imagination to see that your customer needs to be brought along at their own pace.

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