It’s the end of August, as we’re writing this, and if the kids in your area haven’t already gone back to school, they will soon.
And while parents have been juggling the back to school rush, school teachers, college professors, staff and administrators have also been busy prepping for the new academic year; they have their rosters, they are buying supplies and setting up their classrooms, and they are writing lesson plans and assignments. All of this effort is expended in the service of providing an optimal educational experience for their students, i.e. the best product for their clients.
But students won’t get what they need from the school year if all the teachers do is the prep work at the beginning. Quality education requires an engaging classroom experience, consistent and timely grading, a physical environment that is conducive to learning, and providing students with coaching and encouragement throughout the nine-to-ten month school year. Some students will excel, some won’t: in fact, a significant number of students in high school, college, and beyond will abandon their education altogether for a variety of reasons.
There are many parallels between this example about education, and the interaction that occurs between businesses and the marketplace as companies look to attract potential customers and close sales. Traditionally, that relationship would have been expressed in terms of a “sales funnel,” an idea that implies that the more people we engage with sales and marketing material, the more money we will make. This is also an idea that we believe has outlived its usefulness. That would be like saying that the more students we fill a school with, the higher our graduation rate will be, or that the more reading a teacher assigns, the more knowledge a student will retain about a subject.
Instead, we view the relationship between a company and its market as a Sales Hill (see graphic below), where we acknowledge that the journey being undertaken by people buying goods and services in a marketplace is very much about their needs as buyers and less about ours as a vendor.
In our model, marketing and sales exist to support prospective customers through their buying journey while removing friction at each step.
The Sales Hill aligns your experience as a seller with the marketplace’s experience as a buyer. From the perspective of the people you are trying to sell to, it’s also clear that they have an alternative to climbing your hill: they can leave. As a vendor, you will be more successful when you align your process with the needs of your buyers, much as a teacher or a school will be more successful when learning opportunities align with the needs of their students.
Educators often refer to “the top of the mountain” when a milestone is achieved in a student’s life: the successful completion of a course, or maybe a graduation of some sort. In the sales process, the top of the Sales Hill is the closed sale and then the retention of the customer. In either example — in school or in sales — the summit is the ultimate goal, but climbers can’t get there if the path is blocked or unclear. This is where understanding each step of the Sales Hill and how it relates to the relationship between the product and service and the customer experience is crucial.
It’s common for business leaders to say that it’s marketing’s job to “fill the funnel.” At estound, we prefer to think of marketing as creating a scalable process that makes it as easy as possible for the right customers to buy from you in a mutually beneficial way.
The Sales Hill is a more realistic model to describe what happens in the buying process and whose needs are supposed to matter most.
To bring it back to where we started, in our model teachers can learn a lot through the relationship with their students — a relationship that grows and changes throughout the school year and one where the teacher can not force the student to learn, pass, or graduate. When we are engaged in sales, the best version of that process is cooperative: we can clear the way and give our prospects everything they need to become our customers… But we cannot make them buy.