In 1975, Ray Dalio founded an investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Forty years later, Bridgewater has made more money for its clients than any other hedge fund in history and grown into the fifth most important private company in the United States, according to Fortune magazine.
Along the way, Dalio discovered a set of unique principles that have led to Bridgewater's exceptionally effective culture, which he describes as "an idea meritocracy that strives to achieve meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical transparency." He captured these ideas in his book Principles: Life and Work.
As he writes in one passage, he learned to see pain as a teacher — it almost became a game to him to figure out the hidden lessons in each painful experience:
I began to experience painful moments in a radically different way. Instead of feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, I saw pain as nature's reminder that there is something important for me to learn. Encountering pains and figuring out the lessons they were trying to give me became sort of a game to me. The more I played it, the better I got at it, the less painful those situations became, and the more rewarding the process of reflecting, developing principles, and then getting rewards for using those principles became. I learned to love my struggles, which I suppose is a healthy perspective to have…
Ray Dalio learnt that painful experiences are the universe's way of telling us we need to learn something. As entrepreneurs, we seem to be constantly learning - but when we've learnt a lesson and apply the teachings to our businesses or lives, amazing stuff happens.
This is what can happen when you start thinking of your sales funnel as a way to tell a story.
How can your sales funnel tell a story?
If you've been in business for any length of time you know the concept of a sales funnel. This is the idea that many people become aware of you; only some of them may be interested in what you do; some of those people will be really interested and some of those, in turn, will eventually buy a product or service from you. At each stage of the sales process there are fewer people but their interest in your products or services increases.
￼Almost every business that I've worked with over the last 30+ years shares the same "problem": revenue. Or, to put it another way, sales. And all of us (yes, including me) are struggling - or have struggled - to fill our sales funnels so that we have enough sales.
We can get so involved in designing and building those sales funnels we can sometimes forget that what we're really doing is crafting a story - a story the people in your sales funnel are actively participating in.
Your sales funnel is a story. It has an opening that gets people's attention and engages them. Over time, you build the story by adding details, giving examples and building trust. People that like the story will stay engaged, and if the story you're telling is compelling enough to them, they will eventually buy your products or services. If the story does not engage them, they will go and find another story to listen to.
So how is this useful?
We can get so wrapped up in designing and building lead magnets, marketing material, campaigns and special offers that we sometimes forget that there are people at the other end of this. And if your sales funnel is not delivering the results you're looking for, it may be worth stepping into their shoes and seeing what your sales funnel looks like from their side.
The best way to do that is to write a story. A story of how they're experiencing your sales funnel - from their point of view.
A sales funnel story
In my business I have a sales funnel for three kinds of products: business coaching, workshops and info products. Here's what I would like potential coaching clients to experience as they go through my sales funnel:
I first saw an advertisement for the Tornado Method 101 workshop on LinkedIn. It immediately caught my attention because I've been struggling with overwhelm, so I decided to attend the workshop.
In the workshop Neville introduced us to the Tornado Method and showed us how to use it to deal with overwhelm. I was so impressed with the methodology that I decided to start using it immediately. It helped - but I realised that I needed more help to get around my sales barriers. I emailed him to see if he could help and he asked me to schedule a 30-minute phone call. In this call (which actually lasted closer to an hour) we talked about my business and the barriers I felt I had to overcome. At the end of the meeting he promised me some more information on the specific problems I was battling with.
Over the next couple of days he sent me a couple of articles and a checklist that helped me understand how I could solve some of my most immediate problems. The quality of the information impressed me so much that I started looking seriously at his coaching offerings on the Britewrx website.
A couple of days later he called to hear how things were going. By that time I knew that I could use some help and we started talking about coaching. He suggested we start with a Breakthrough Session which I liked - the investment I would have to make was relatively small and if he could show that it really helped I would be interested in more.
The Breakthrough Session was great; in the first session we pinpointed the main problems I was dealing with and identified the first thing I had to solve. He sent me some worksheets to help me solve the problem and we set up the next session for a couple of weeks later.
In the second part of the Breakthrough Session he reviewed what I had done and made some suggestions for things that I could still improve. By the end of this session I knew that I could use more of this quality help - so I signed up for the full Breakthrough Intensive coaching program.
How does this help?
The sales funnel story sounds a bit like an advertisement for my coaching services, right? But that's not the point; the point is that this is what I would like an ideal client to experience as they get to know about me, build trust over time, buy the entry-level coaching program and eventually sign up for my flagship coaching program.
When I look at this story, I can immediately relate it to how my coaching sales funnel works - or should be working. It helps me understand where my sales funnel is working and where it needs to be improved. If there are gaps in my sales funnel I will see that - because I can see where my sales funnel process matches up with what the client is experiencing and where not.
From the story above, I can extract the following:
- Channel to market: LinkedIn
- Activities on LinkedIn: promote workshops
- Workshop: teach something valuable and provide follow-up information
- 30-minute phone call: structured / checklist to ensure I deliver the most value. Qualify leads and divert if necessary.
- lead nurturing: relevant articles, checklists
- entry-level product: make it easy to buy (low cost) and provide real value. Checklists will help ensure I don't miss anything.
I can now compare these items against my sales funnel (and how I deliver my coaching services) and make improvements where I need to.
How can you use this?
You can use the story technique to compare what you would like your clients to experience with what your sales funnel is delivering to them right now. You will immediately see where there are gaps or where you need to make improvements.
If you've done your due diligence in designing your business you've probably already designed a customer avatar - a concept from the marketing world designed to help you better understand your clients, their pains, needs and wants. You can use this avatar to step into their shoes and try to write the story from their point of view - and discover how well your sales funnel process is designed to meet their needs.
It's all about writing the story. So go write your customers' story.
But not all my clients will follow this process?
Very few of your clients will follow your sales funnel process exactly the way you've designed it. They're not ready to buy when you're ready to sell; they may have other priorities and other needs. They may not even stay in that funnel (if someone enquires about coaching but can't afford to invest I will try to recommend my own or other more affordable resources).
The story-telling technique helps you design an ideal process so that you can adapt to their needs as they become clear; without any kind of process you're in reactive mode all the time and your clients will be missing out on valuable information you could be providing to them.
Marketing, lead nurturing and sales is a numbers game. You have to generate many leads to get some prospects; you have to nurture those prospects to remind them that you can help them when they're ready. If you're not top of mind when they're ready to buy - or something triggers them to need your services right now - they won't call you.
Here's what you should take away from this article:
- We can get so wrapped up in designing and building sales funnels we can sometimes forget there are real people at the receiving end.
- By writing the story of their journey - from their point of view - we can get an idea of what this looks like and identify places where we need to improve our sales processes.
- Very few customers will follow the ideal sales journey exactly as we designed it.
From painful experience to reliable revenue streams
Every entrepreneur has to go through the painful process of learning what works when it comes to sales.
Ray Dalio turned his painful experiences into one of the most successful hedge fund companies in the world. In his book he talks about establishing principles as the guides for what and how we do things:
That brings me to my first principle:
Think for yourself to decide 1) what you want, 2) what is true, and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2…
…and do that with humility and open-mindedness so that you consider the best thinking available to you.
A non-performing sales funnel is a painful experience. If you want it to perform well (#1), you will have to decide what is true for your clients (#2) and then how to change your sales process (#3) to achieve #1.
What you should do next
To see where your sales process needs improvement, write your clients' story - in as much or as little detail as you like. You may be amazed at what you find.