The Handover of Death: What to do if parts of your sales funnel are outside of your control (and are terrible)

A road block ahead.
What can you do if the next stage of your funnel is treacherous and outside of your control?

Are parts of your sales funnel outside of your control?

Many marketers have their hands tied, unable to edit crucial parts of their funnels.

This is particularly common for businesses that are paid for generating leads for other businesses—for example, for financial services, education, healthcare or real estate:

  • A financial services company might send its visitors to an application form on a bank’s website. If the bank’s website is terrible (many are), what can the financial services company do?
  • A college education broker might send its leads to an application form on a particular college’s website. If the college’s website is terrible (many are), what can the broker do?
  • A real estate broker or a healthcare provider might send its visitors to a local sales team that is terrible at closing the deal (many are). What can the real estate broker do?

The problem also occurs when part of the funnel is managed by a different department that isn’t interested in doing CRO. This happens surprisingly often. For example, many of our clients hire us for help with their marketing materials, but then discover through our research that numerous opportunities lie within the onboarding and usability of the product itself. This is really common with web-app companies.

The “other” part of the organization is typically much worse at CRO, and doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem. (We presume it’s because of the Dunning-Kruger effect; people who lack particular skills also lack the metacognition to appreciate their lack of skills.)

Regardless, it’s frustrating—for your visitors, who have to face the Handover of Death, and for you, who knows it could be prevented.

Flowchart illustrating the Handover of Death
How can you protect your visitors from the Handover of Death?

Seven effective remedies for when you don’t control the conversion page

Here’s what you can do to fix the problem:

1. Ensure your visitors are fully persuaded

Ensure that your visitors are fully persuaded before they leave your website. Don’t rush them to leave. Don’t push them into a checkout process, for example, before they are persuaded to take action.

2. Ensure your visitors qualify

Before your visitors leave, ensure that they qualify for the product they are considering. Financial products, for example, often have many qualification criteria. If you send a visitor to apply for a mortgage that they aren’t qualified for, they won’t (can’t) convert, and you are unlikely to see them again.

3. Hustle your tracking code onto the ultimate conversion page

If you are only able to track when someone clicks away from your website, you will optimize your business for click-outs, not for conversions. So do whatever you can to put tracking code on the ultimate conversion page—even if it takes some negotiating and hustling. That way, you can optimize for the true goal.

4. Be a destination, not just the station

Build a relationship with your visitors. You don’t want to simply be the station that your visitors pass through on the way to their final destination. Find ways of providing value to them, so they come to see you as a trusted advisor. Get their contact details, or get them to follow you on social media, so they remember to return next time they need your advice.

5. Be memorable

Be memorable in terms of your name and branding, so that visitors think of you next time they have the same need. (For further details, see our article on keeping attention.)

6. Have a reason why visitors should order via you

Offer visitors a reason to order via you rather than via a competitor. A highly effective technique is to give away information, because the marginal cost of doing so is almost zero, yet it can provide significant value to the customer. Information can be a deal-maker. Shell Oil did this with outrageous success by giving away booklets about motoring. The booklets had titles like “How you can spot some car problems before they cost big money” and “How to save gasoline when you buy a car, drive a car, and take care of a car.” The campaign was Shell’s most successful ever. 300 million booklets were given away.

7. Expand your influence

Do whatever you can to get permission to edit those parts of the funnel that aren’t in your control. One of our clients, a phone company, discovered that one-third of all its inbound calls were from customers inquiring how to use the travel adapters that came free with the phones. We decided to contact the company that made the travel adapters, and offered to redesign its packaging to make it more usable. After several rounds of iteratively designing and then usability-testing, we sent off the much-improved packaging designs to the manufacturer. Several weeks later, when customers started receiving the newly designed travel adapters, the problematic inbound customer calls dropped to zero.

Lid of travel adapters
The lid of the redesigned box. The adapters themselves weren’t numbered, so on the lid we added a picture of each adapter with a number next to it. (The manufacturer insisted on having the flags.)
Side of the travel adapters
We used color coding to indicate which adapter to use in each country. (These days, we’d use a fallback to the color coding, but this solution was already enough to stop all of the customer inquiries.)
Inside the travel adapters box.
Some users ignored the lid and side of the box, and just dived straight in. So, inside the lid, we referred them back, and also showed some of the less obvious (more mind-boggling) ways of using the adapters.

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