If you know sales, you know Alec Baldwin’s monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross¹ which, as Blake, he opens with the classic subtitle.¹ Between profanity, he tosses out a half-dozen more iconic quotes and his sales philosophy: “Because only one thing counts in this life: get them to sign on the line which is dotted.”
Sales philosophy like Blake’s tainted the entire sales profession, and conditioned prospects to avoid talking to salespeople. Wariness rocketed after shady-salespeople (with banker titles, from supposedly reputable firms) destroyed the world economy with investments far dodgier than Glenngarry Highlands. Blake’s obsolete — can anything he says contribute to honest and effective sales, marketing, or any facet of modern business?
As a matter of fact…..
Look at the right side of the chalkboard. If there’s a unified theory of sales and marketing, that’s it: AIDA. It describes the cognitive journey buyers take on the way to a purchase. It’s generally attributed to Elias St. Elmo Lewis, and dates back 100+ years. Like so many other sales and marketing pioneers of that era, Elmo Lewis worked at NCR (in his case for barely a year). Then he went on to manage advertising for Burroughs.
The first A in AIDA is Attention, or sometimes Awareness. While they’re not the same — subliminal advertising attempts to exert influence without attracting attention — we’ll consider them interchangeable.
Have you heard the meme that technology has shortened human attention span to less than a goldfish’s? It makes intuitive sense, and great headlines. Except there’s no evidence to support it (it also turns out that goldfish don’t have particularly short attention spans).
However long our it is, there is ravenous demand for our attention — first to get it, and then to keep it. But, isn’t AIDA dead because customer-journeys is no longer a straight line?
No. In fact, that’s exactly why it’s more relevant than ever. Because customer journeys are morphing back to the non-linear ones they looked like when AIDA was created, before broadcasting.
Look at the ad below. It’s by Claude Hopkins who wrote Scientific Advertising, about which David Ogilvy said: “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.” ³ I
Hopkins is advertising his own services using his two signature features: an enticing item to request by mail for result tracking, and a clip-out reminder. Even in 1900 it was hard to retain enough attention to have readers complete a call-to-action. The clip-out was a device to regain attention later.
As in modern content-marketing, Hopkins’ CTA is an interim step toward the ultimate goal of a sale. His approach is classic. He pre-qualifies readers — only those unfazed by todays equivalent of a 7-figure ad budget will send away for his white-paper. He raises the uncomfortable subject of cost, gives the reader the information to justify it, and challenges them to do just that.
The coupon reminds busy executives to follow up, while his white-paper creates a warm lead and opens a dialog. Why the coupon? Because buying journeys weren’t linear.
The $1,000 a week headline it high-class 3IR clickbait. It gets attention — but unlike clickbait it also adds value by providing the ballpark budget that informs and qualifies the reader. The coupon is a reminder and call to action.
AIDA is like a fractal image: it happens at every level (here’s a vertigo-inducing illustration— click at your own risk). If interaction results in action, it follows the same cognitive journey whether it’s an ad, a campaign, or a presentation — even post-purchase journeys.
Phone calls and meetings also. If a conversation ends in Action, it started with Attention.
AIDA isn’t just an important template, but a unifying sales/marketing principal. 4IR marketing is sales — increasingly automating and subsuming once-human interaction. Going back to Hopkins: “Treat [advertising] as a salesman. Force it to justify itself. Compare it with other salesmen. Figure its cost and result. Accept no excuses which good salesmen do not make.”
AIDA continues post-purchase, as illustrated on the back of a napkin:
Moving from napkin to production first requires a little added ink: Holes for inevitable leaks, and more handles to illustrate the recycling of leakage into the appropriate layer.
Park of the beauty of a funnel is the ease of visualizing improvement metaphors:
- Increase attention/awareness: widen the top of the funnel
- Increase conversions: widen the body — unattainable perfection would morph the funnel into a cylinder
- Increase retention/loyalty: lengthen or curl the spout (or tack on a second post-purchase funnel)
- Improvement processes: plug holes, and increase the percentage of captured and recycled leakage
Marketing and sales can each have a funnel, or they can share one. When they share, there’s a handoff line. Usually marketing “owns” the systems and processes above this line, and sales below it. Regardless, the separator is increasingly fuzzy.
In Everything-as-a-Service, a sale is only the beginning. Recovering customer acquisition cost takes months. For subscriptions, the telemetry from well-instrumented software should drive post-sale communications. Telemetry showing declining usage signals should trigger a retention process which — naturally — follows the AIDA progression. Healthy usage signals initiate referral incentives or an other advocate-creation measures:
Marketing-automation impacts AIDA with granular touch points between Attention and Action. A typical top-level AIDA funnel for a B2B company has 2–4 stages associated with nurturing. There are many more touch points. As an example, a nurturing campaign I put together has 28 emails sent over 90 days, variably, based on persona and activity. Plus up to 10 SDR phone calls, at specific intervals, over 6 weeks. Every single one of those follows the AIDA model: attract attention, spur interest, create desire, and ideally persuade an action. A lead progresses via activity-based lead scoring. For example:
4IR technology excels at sales enablement. Salesforce’s Einstein AI, given sufficient historical data, will score leads without a preset model. Conversica, Drift and other social bots provide 20% uplift in B2B lead capture. Using AI-driven conversational messaging, these bots also deliver richer lead data than content download forms. Social bots can also improve attribution via earlier engagement. Increased top of funnel engagement and identification, along with account-based marketing, enables revenue-focused marketing KPIs: Marketing Impacted Pipeline, Revenue, and Average Deal Size. Instead of counting leads, marketing is graded on revenue — just like sales.
This AIDA funnel adds explanation and terminology:
Tagging leads as shown in red — not much different than Claude Hopkins tabulation keys — enables organizational attribution (tele-prospecting, automation campaigns, salespeople).
Unlike the days where B2B sales had assigned buyers, typical B2B sales now engage 5+ individual. The funnel still works: each contact is assigned a buyer persona, which link together to form a “Demand Unit.
Claude Hopkins was obsessed with data — I could see him saying “In God we trust, all others bring data.” He iterated continually, A/B tested, and kept detailed results. He’d adore todays’ marketing-automation.
It’s like a duck paddling on a pond. Claude Hopkins would recognize this evolved stage AIDA reporting — the serene surface. Below that, there’s furious activity — although that work is mostly machine based. With good design and instrumentation, and the right 4IR tools, metrics are visible on dashboards in real time — including KPIs, forecasts, and revenue impact of each customer facing unit. And total ROI. Like driving a car, leaders get a rearview mirror, an instrument panel, and a clear windshield to look ahead.
Chalkboards are gone, but AIDA is going strong — and foundational in 4IR. In Part 2 we look at the other half of the Blake’s blackboard: ABC.
³ David Ogilvy: Ogilvy on Advertising. Pan Books (London and Sydney). 1983, p. 203 (without “at any level”)
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