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This post was drawn from the teachings contained in Duct Tape Selling - Think Like a Marketer Sell Like a Superstar by John Jantsch

The Sales Funnel is a concept that's a bit broken these days because it implies that every customer lines up and marches down a predetermined path into loyalty heaven.

The reality is that every prospect takes a different journey and we need to design a path that guides them in the manner they want to buy. The path is more about organizing behavior than about creating demand.

Rather than a funnel - think in terms of an hourglass - a shape that put the emphasis back on the customer once they become one.

You can think of the Sales Hourglass as your individual prospect playbook, the tool that will help you tailor your sales method for each client. You will be focused on an individual prospect or need and operate on a much more personal level.

There are seven logical steps or behavior that make up the Sales Hourglass approach.

The explore phase is where you conduct your own research to discover the elements of community, construct stakeholder maps, and highlight problems you can bring attention to. This is how you start finding solutions for a prospect even if it is different from what they originally stated.

You want to find ways to push your prospects to think bigger, teach them new things, and lead them down a path to greater success.

The collaboration phase is all about sketching ideas and solutions that probably don't exist anywhere yet in the marketplace. You'll want to encourage your customer to dream about what they need and what the problems are; then, even bigger than that, what would it look like if those problems got solved. It's all about brainstorming.

The next big step is designing a solution with your customer and your company based on the challenges that you have found in the exploration phase. You want to push your customers to think in ways that are different than they're used to and come up with new solutions that go beyond what's already out there. Encourage them to think about new ways to use technology, social sharing, and collaboration that can move them forward.

Now that you have a plan in place, it is time to define how the solution will be structured, delivered, implemented, and paid for. This is where you make the deal in writing and get it signed.

There may be lots of pieces of the puzzle left to fall into place in this stage. There may be more money to be sought through sponsorship or more stakeholders to weigh in and understand what's all involved. But the good news is, even if there are more hoops to jump through and work to be figured out, you've essentially distanced direct competitors from the mix.

In a lot of sales scenarios, once the deal has been signed, the job is done and the next group of the team takes over. But what I suggest is that to truly expand your value, this is not the time to be handing over the baton. Stay active with your client in some manner. Will this require more time and effort on your part? Yes, but that is what I believe is crucial to your success and standing out from the crowd.

You started this journey with your client; see it through and be there with them to cross the finish line.

The Sales Hourglass becomes highly effective when you really focus on measuring, analyzing, and communicating the value your customers receive. You may find yourself having to dig deeper in order to get results. But the impact of being seen as a salesperson that cares about results is invaluable.

People don't like to be checked in on if it simply feels like a manipulation for asking for a favor; the same theory should be applied in sales. Don't reach out to your customers only when it's time for another re-order. Take the time to stay in contact and engage with them. People appreciate this because it is genuine. Taking this approach will lead the way to more opportunities and referrals.

The Sales Hourglass is a powerful sales methodology, but it is not limited to just the sales department. This can be equally applied to business development, tech support, and HR.

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.

His latest book, Duct Tape Selling - Think Like a Marketer, Sell Like a Superstar is available online and in bookstores May 15.