When Funnels Fall Apart – Horror Stories from the Front Lines

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“One of the very first emails I sent through Marketo addressed every single user in our customer base as ‘First Name,’” admits John Hurley, Radius’s Product Marketing Manager.

“I had scheduled the email to send at 7 AM on a Tuesday, and I got an email from our CEO at 7:03 AM asking me what I had done.”

The email, which was signed from the CEO, hadn’t been tested or proofread before it was scheduled to run.



We all have stories like this. Sometimes the best processes emerge from the biggest mistakes, and funnel horror stories point out the areas where our marketing and sales strategies need the most help.

After John fielded countless complaints from his “first name” mishap, he sent an apology email, and promptly built out the Radius communication schedule for the remainder of the quarter.

“At that point, all of our emails were ad hoc efforts that we put together at the last minute,” Hurley says. “We couldn’t see far enough into our marketing strategy to build an email cadence, and getting a single email out the door was a herculean effort back then.”

At the time, we chalked it up to a pesky typo in our marketing automation program. It’s appallingly easy to blame marketing and sales errors on one-time mishaps when a deeper glance reveals bigger issues.

Why the Best Sales Reps Don’t Send Cold Emails

About two years ago, we wrote about Why the Best Sales Reps Don’t Make Cold Calls, and we reconnected with the LinkedIn account executive, Schon Messier, who hasn’t made a cold call since we last spoke. As you might have guessed, Schon also isn’t a big proponent of cold emails.

When I asked Schon to share the worst funnel fail he witnessed in recent memory, he told the story of a cold email gone wrong: “One of my colleagues recently sent a cold email to a prospect who turned out to be married to a person whom he sits with in their San Francisco office.

One of the latest features of LinkedIn Sales Navigator, for which Schon sells, is called TeamLink, and was built to avoid such egregious sales mishaps.

“Sending a cold email without first checking your team’s LinkedIn connections is definitely bad practice for a LinkedIn sales rep,” Schon admits.

So how does it happen?

“This stuff happens mostly at the top of the funnel,” Schon explains.



For inside sales reps, cold calling and emailing can be a way of life. Some inside sales reps contact more than fifty prospects in a day – a practice that leaves no time for relationship building. However, taking advantage of your network isn’t entirely about building relationships with prospects.

email subject lines

As Schon points out, using connections is a best practice in funnel development:

“It’s about taking advantage of the best path in. People get so many brand emails these days, and email marketing has reached the point where it can be very difficult to distinguish between a human and a robot over email. When you use connections, your prospects are going to trust you more, and they’re going to invest more, which means that as prospects move through your funnel, deal size actually grows.”

wrong email subject lines

The Importance of a Data-Driven Funnel

Perhaps no one in B2B sales and marketing is more intrigued by the funnel than Craig Rosenberg, Chief Analyst at TOPO. Craig has helped companies of all sizes build and optimize their sales funnels for over 15 years. When we asked Craig to relate the most atrocious funnel fail he’s encountered recently, he emphasized the importance of looking at the right data:

“I was working with a company whose core demand generation strategy was paid media (CPL). They were actually pretty scientific  and leveraged metrics to understand the effectiveness of their various programs. One problem, they only judged programs by their sales acceptance rates. Basically, % of leads accepted by sales. One quarter they cut an expensive lead source because of their sales acceptance rate.This lead source did not have the worst conversion rate but since it was 2x more expensive, they expected them to be the best. Again, totally reasonable.”

Running data-driven programs is an increasingly important focus for marketing and sales leaders. However, as access to data grows easier, knowing which data to measure often gets more difficult.

“2 months later, the sales forecast suffered,” Craig explains. “Why? Because those leads they cut may have had a lower acceptance rate but they moved the quickest through the sales funnel. Then they looked further and these leads had the higher close rate.



“Needless to say they called the vendor back to not only restart the program but buy more than they did before.”

Building a data-driven funnel isn’t just about building measurable programs; it’s about building intelligent programs. Funnels are incredibly complex, and the more functionality we add to them the more complex they become. It’s important for sales and marketing leaders to evaluate their funnels from time to time to diagnose unhealthy marketing strategies, and learn from past mistakes.

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