Fire the funnel — 5 stages of the real buyer’s journey


Share on LinkedIn

5 Stages of the Buyer's Journey

The funnel model of marketing and sales doesn’t reflect reality very well. We know this.

Buyers don’t proceed in lock-step fashion down a pipeline. They never did, actually. But the wide-ranging journeys of exploration that buyers can take today on the web have only exacerbated the disparity between the model and reality.

A More Realistic Funnel

This more realistic diagram of the “funnel” by Lori Wizdo of Forrester Research brilliantly illustrates that point. The real funnel doesn’t look like a funnel at all. It looks like a tangled morass of plumbing. But we’re better off managing that reality than playing ostrich to the complexity of modern marketing.

But again, we know this.

Yet still the language of the funnel persists in marketing. We talk about the top of the funnel, the middle of the funnel, and the bottom of the funnel. We use rhymed abbreviations of TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU respectively.

Why? Mostly inertia. The path of least resistance is to keep calling these stages what we always have — even if the stages, and the way in which they’re framed together, have evolved significantly. Inventing new nomenclature, it could be argued, simply confuses people. Keep it simple. Keep with what we know.

But I’d like to make the argument in favor of something better for three reasons:

  1. The funnel shape doesn’t reflect reality (we know this).
  2. The funnel is missing two important stages of marketing.
  3. The funnel has negative connotations.

The first issue we’ve already acknowledged.

The second issue is that the funnel ends as soon as someone either becomes a customer or chooses a competitor instead. From that point onward, the buyer is off the edge of the map. But the opportunities to grow existing customers and make them advocates of your brand — and the opportunities to win over lost prospects further down the road — are important moments in the buyer’s lifecycle. Marketing should use a model that recognizes them.

The third issue is its tone. The funnel is a somewhat negative way of framing the progression of buyer relationships. Its design filters people out, a process of exclusion. People who buy are pushed to the very bottom. And the abbreviations. Ugh. TOFU sounds like, well, bean curd. MOFU, not to be crude, but there are vulgar interpretations for what that could stand for. And BOFU, um, sounds like “boffed you.” Not exactly a respectful connotation.

I know, I’m reading a little too much into the funnel. But language affects our perceptions. As marketers, we know that better than most. It would be nice if the model we used to describe customer relationships had a more positive vibe.

Proposed 5 stages of the buyer’s journey

I agree with Lori and others who have recommended that we frame the progression of these relationships as the buyer’s journey rather than the marketing funnel or purchase funnel. Right away, it’s a more customer-centric — rather than marketer-centric — view.

5 Stages of the Buyer's Journey

Within the buyer’s journey, I propose there are five stages:

  1. Start of Journey (SOJO)
  2. Middle of Journey (MOJO)
  3. Conversion of Journey (COJO)
  4. Rejuvenation of Journey (ROJO)
  5. Diversion of Journey (DOJO)

The first three are roughly analogous to the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel.

But there are subtle differences. The inner stages are drawn like less of a filter and more of a flow. The middle reflects a more wavy journey rather than a purely linear funnel. And instead of putting our likeliest candidates at the “bottom,” we identify later-stage prospects as being at a conversion point in their journey — converting from prospects to customers.

But the conversion of a prospect into a customer, or even their loss to a competitor, is not the end of their journey. It’s the beginning of the next stage.

If we won their business, our marketing responsibility to them has not ended. We want to make sure that they have a great experience as a customer — for they will share their experiences with others. We want to earn repeat business and grow the account. All these objectives fit under the heading of ROJO, the Rejuvenation of Journey. We want to continually rejuvenate relationships in this stage.

If we lost the customer to a competitor, however, that isn’t the end of the journey either. We want to be supportive and ideally remain as a resource to them. After all, they may chose to defect from that competitor in the future. And even if they don’t, they may still influence other buyers. For both reasons, we want to treat that stage as a delicate but special stage of our relationship with them.

We should view this as a Diversion of Journey (DOJO) — they’ve been diverted from a customer relationship with us. But our paths may very well have the opportunity to intersect further down the road. We want to be ready with open arms.

For what it’s worth, I can’t think of obvious negative connotations for any of these labels or abbreviations. I really like MOJO, since that’s where the heavy lifting of marketing is done — good to have marketing mojo. ROJO, if read as rojo in Spanish means red, making me think of existing customers as the lifeblood of the organization. And DOJO brings to mind images of a dojo, where we face an opponent (a competitor) more directly.

What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker is the president & CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of post-click marketing software and services. He writes the Conversion Science column on Search Engine Land and frequently speaks at industry events such as SMX, Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. He chairs the marketing track at the Semantic Technology Conference. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist.


  1. Hello,

    To complete this alternative approach of buyer journey, I suggest this presentation :

    “7 metaphorical variation about customer conversion funnel”


    – simplicity & linearity,
    – A prospect irrationnal and multiple
    – A non sequential conversion journey
    – The Labyrinth
    – Quantum tunneling in customer conversion prospect, – Virtuous strip or spatio – temporal shifts,
    – Chaos and catastrophe
    – Strange attractor« A field based approach of the buying cycle »


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here