Why the Dark Funnel is the New Sales Funnel

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Over the past few months, we have talked extensively about how the customer journey has changed. So many new and developing channels have been added to the marketing mix in the past ten years and they have impacted the way potential customers engage with brands online.

Recognizing the tangible difference in the way brand interaction is happening has been a gradual progression. We have seen this change both from gShift’s internal marketing efforts and conversions for traditional on-site digital content. However, more impactful to our thinking was a significant number of our clients reporting prospects were disappearing, prospect engagement with their traditional website content was decreasing and when prospects would ‘hit’ their website for the first time, they were already informed and prepared to buy.

The question many asked is where and how did the prospect get informed throughout their purchasing journey? It is becoming obvious now. Most of the purchasing journey is occurring off-site through social, paid, competitive, influencer and other channels not controlled or visible to the brand. Recent research supports this, showing at least 67% of the customer’s journey [Sirius Decisions] occurs while consuming off-site content, and in some cases, it is as high as 90% [Forrester Research].

This change has completely altered the traditional sales funnel, adding twists and bends along the way and leaving sales and marketing teams struggling to play catch up. Essentially, the sales funnel has been replaced by the Dark Funnel.

Change in the Customer Journey with Dark Funnel

I recently had the opportunity to share our insight around the Dark Funnel with the audience of my friend, Mark Schaefer, through a post titled “Are marketers getting lost in the Dark Funnel?” Always a forward-thinking marketer, Mark has also been recognizing this change and the challenges facing his peers today.

Upon identifying this ever growing challenge, we decided we wanted to pioneer the solution. gShift has great digital DNA. We understand big data, we understand digital content and our focus has always been on providing insight to a brand’s web presence, both on-site and off-site. This having been said, it was clear to us a broader solution and one which widened the focus from on-site to off-site content, was required. As we surveyed our peer group, the most amazing thing is not one of our contemporaries is moving the industry towards understanding the interplay of prospects with on-site and off-site content. The concept of a significant change in the sales funnel was recognized, but no one was talking about the current lay of the land and what to make of it.

We coined the term Dark Funnel after extensive research into how the customer journey had changed. The traditional sales funnel still exists, but your prospects enter it, build their awareness, consideration and preference before you even know they are there.

Why the Dark Funnel is the New Sales Funnel

We concluded the issues involved with deeper reporting on off-site content engagement were fundamental to fully understanding how SEO, content and social, both on-site and off-site, play a role in the sales funnel. With this in mind, we set about understanding what it would take from a technical perspective to solve this challenge. It didn’t take long to identify several companies with various technologies addressing multiple parts of the Dark Funnel challenge.

Over the past year, our passion to help illuminate the Dark Funnel has only grown. We are focused on bringing a SaaS platform to market, which reports meaningful engagement metrics, not just follows, likes and shares for all digital content. We feel these metrics are equally important for known content on and off-site, as well as the unknown content being created and shared off-site. We are singularly focused on bringing ROI for CMOs digital marketing investments.

In more recent months, we have been talking about the Dark Funnel with industry peers and potential investors. The response has been universally jaw dropping. Potential investors have never had the dots connected for them in such a simple and elegant manner and not one investor has called bull on the story we are starting to tell. From a industry peer perspective, many of our mutual partners and advocates are beginning to blog about the topic, as the notion of the Dark Funnel captures, in one simple concept, a very complicated and interconnected set of behaviors and unintended consequences. These behaviors result from the collision of brands on-site, off-site and offline presences, the accessibility and prevalence of digital content, and the customer’s insatiable appetite to be fully informed before they feel they are ready to visit a brand’s website or make a purchase.

The first step to illuminating the Dark Funnel is through the use of kontextURLs, a smart URL system, which enables marketers to track on-site and off-site content engagement metrics. However, our innovation does not stop there. Over the coming months, we will be sharing more details of how we are solving the Dark Funnel dilemma.

We will continue to put unprecedented technology into the hands of marketers, helping them to create a new and improved map of the customer journey.

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