Retiring an icon: it’s time to let our sales funnels go

The sales funnel is an iconic concept, but one that has outlived its usefulness.

The funnel has been traditionally used in sales and marketing to express how leads become customers. But it is time to, respectfully, put the sales funnel out to pasture. 

The sales funnel is exactly what it sounds like; picture an actual funnel where a large amount of prospects are put in at the top, and then work their way down through the sales process to a narrow end, with a much smaller amount coming out as closed sales at the bottom. The “magic” of how it works is thought by many to be that, the more prospects you can stuff into the top, the more closed sales you’re going to get at the bottom; i.e., reach as big an audience as you can, whatever the message, and some of them will turn into sales. In reality though, sales does not work this way. 

The truth is that our prospects are in charge of their own buying journeys, treating some vendors (and their messages) as valued partners and others like an unwanted text on a cell phone. Spamming the marketplace with advertising to get the most people into the top of the funnel does not work anymore, if it ever did. So now, more than ever, it’s important to treat your audience with more respect than the funnel analogy allows and cater to their needs rather than your own.

Why do we think the sales funnel is a horse and buggy in an electric car world? 

Here are a few reasons:

  • Unlike what we see in funnels, there is no gravity in a real sales process – people are not like marbles, they will not just fall through the bottom of the sales funnel as if pulled by an invisible force. 
  • People have free will (and can be fickle) – if they don’t like what’s happening, they can exit the sales process at any point. The walls of the sales funnel are not binding. 
  • The sales funnel is more administrative than anything else – it represents the transactional aspect of the sales process and not everything else that happened to get the prospects to the top of the funnel in the first place. 
  • The bottom of the funnel is not the end of the sales process – again, it’s a transactional representation of the closed sale, but not what happens with the customer after that point. Most of the time there is a continued marketing effort to keep existing customers on board while also acquiring new customers.  

So how can marketers today better visualize their sales process? 

At estound, one of the concepts we discuss is a Sales Hill (we’ll go into more detail about this in our next post). Instead of shaking customers down a funnel, we encourage our clients to guide prospects up a hill, where the view of the sales process is clear, and we can leave the old marketing ideas grazing happily in the pasture below.

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Drop us a note and we'll coordinate a time to discuss where your marketing has hit a wall and how UMS might help you break through.

The UMS method has transformed our business. The discipline it gave us helped us survive through tough times and then thrive with years of double-digit growth. This process works and we are evidence of it.

David DeCamillis
VP Sales & Marketing, Platte River Networks