Imagine you are car shopping. After doing some research online, you head down to a dealership to see your potential next ride in person. After wandering around the lot for a bit, a car catches your eye. You walk into the dealership and find a salesman and tell her what you’re interested in. She smiles and walks you over to her desk and invites you to sit down. Then she hands you a finance contract.

Would you sign it?

Unlikely. I know I wouldn’t. I'd want to test drive the car, ask some questions, understand my options and what choices may impact the price.

Often times an organization finds itself at odds with prospective customers in terms of the timing and steps needed to reach a purchase decision. Understanding a prospective customer’s timeline, knowing where she is, and anticipating next steps are crucial to creating an excellent user experience. The problem is, no two customers are alike.

The Railroad System

These behavioral differences among prospective customers have led to recent thinking that it may be time to abandon recruiting funnels, which offer a linear expression of the journey from uninformed prospect to satisfied customer and move to something less linear. Much of it comes from a myth about the funnel model that needs to be dispelled:

Customers can only go down or out the funnel.

I wouldn’t think of it this way at all. Instead, I think of a funnel more like a train line. There are a lot of stops, each at a different station serving to build the relationship towards leads... Towards buying... Towards re-conversion. Some customers will want to stop and visit each station, others will want to skip most of them.

Funnels work when you understand and design for both extremes and everything else in between.

Know Your Audience

We also have to understand that the journey to a conversion isn’t a steady march through the various touch points we’ve established. Some customers may move towards a conversion or away from it many times before they actually take action. Understanding your customers and sensing this movement is crucial.

Most importantly: what you establish as a funnel must be derived from observation and feedback from your customers. Once you have this information then you must use it to inform everything you build to support your customer experience. It guides interactions across all touch points. The funnel should help you organize the content on the website. It should help you determine when to give someone personal attention, when to nudge her or leave her alone.

Funnels, journey maps, whatever you want to call them, have been around for a while. The key to their effectiveness is how well they actually match up to the process a customer wants to go through to arrive at a purchase decision vs. the process an organization thinks their customers should go through.

So, are you asking your customers to sign the contract before you let them test drive the car?

Before you redesign your website, create a new email campaign, or try to improve the effectiveness of your call center, you first need to evaluate how well your funnels match what your customers actually want to do and how they want to interact with you. Only then can you bring upon effective change.