Is Your Sales and Marketing Process 100 Years Old?


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Technology is amazing. I have worked with primarily SaaS type companies over the past 5-years and amazed at the technology advancements and sophistication during this time. There seems to be no end to technology. Even adding to this is the amount of sophistication that has gone into the analytics and not only do we have predictive but now we seemingly are segmenting this into fields like anticipatory design.

With all this technology and this new found customer information, I am still quite bewildered that the majority of us and even some of the most technology advanced SaaS companies still rely on plus 100-year old thinking for their sales and marketing. They still rely on the thought processes of people like Elias St. Elmo Lewis, Daniel McCallum, and John Wanamaker.

Elias St. Elmo Lewis The original sales funnel (AIDA Model) and still the one in general use today was developed by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. We appeal to as many people as we can and narrow them down to the point of sale. Not a bad run for any system. This was refined by the Fuller Brush people going door to door and refined even more by the next generation of cold-callers. The only real revision in this method has been the use of further marketing techniques developed for referral strategies. All the new systems still rely on appealing to mass audiences.

I call Lewis’s AIDI Model of 1898: A Funnel of Depletion

The original organizational chart was developed by Daniel Craig McCallum.  We use the Org Chart thinking to penetrate an account, trying to reach the decision maker. From Wikipedia: Daniel_Craig_McCallum

In 1854/54 he got promoted General Superintendent of the New York and Erie Railroad as the successor of Charles Minot under Homer Ramsdell’s presidency. In this position, he supervised the entire railroad and restructured the organization to make it more efficient and safe. He introduced new management methods and communication protocol using the telegraph. He also described these new principles of management and introduced the first modern organizational chart as a way to manage business operations.

McCallum’s organizational chart today looks more like AutoDesk’s Org Chart: The New Org Chart for Customer Engagement

John Wanamaker popularized the saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” He was a department store magnet, his Wikipedia description:

John_WanamakerWanamaker was an innovator, creative in his work, a merchandising genius, and proponent of the power of advertising, though modest and with an enduring reputation for honesty.  Although he did not invent the fixed price system, he is credited with the creation of the price tag; he popularized it into what became the industry standard and did create the money-back guarantee that is now standard business practice.

Many call this Agile Marketing or a similar term but based on the theory of fail often, fail fast.

As a result, today’s sales and marketing practices are geared towards marketing to the masses, towards the decision maker guided by some organizational chart and with a strategy to fail often and fail quickly. Without a blink of an eye, companies then ask for a return on investment in their marketing. I don’t have a problem with the ask;  the biggest problem I have is that sales and marketing companies agree with the thought process and promote it like they can get an ROI on it.

Every marketing system, every CRM is built on this type of thinking.

We draw funnels; we create organizational charts and build marketing campaign all based on flawed thinking.  It is yesterday’s thinking incorporated with some great technology but as the old saying goes, garbage in equals garbage out.

Wanamaker’s 50% Theory, I tried to prove correct with the Information Theory, but I think in today’s world we can do much better, Ulwick’s Job To Be Done is a step in the right direction along with the latest Adjacency Theories described in this article, Mathematical Model Reveals the Patterns of How Innovations Arise: by Emerging Technology from the arXiv, January 13, 2017,  where the authors discuss Heaps’s Law and Zipf’s law.

Old practices and thoughts are still popular throughout mainstream technology landscape. This results in marketing being thought of as an expense instead of a business builder similar to new innovative products. The good news is that practices like Account Based Marketing are starting to take hold. As a result, we see older terms with slightly different meanings like key account management and scenario thinking. New terms like adjacency, pattern recognition, futurist, relevance are being used more often.

Sales and Marketing is a science.

There will always be exploration on the edges of markets. Failures will occur in the sense of market share, but never in learning. It is the feedback loop that allows for success and if we are co-creating vision and efforts with our key customers that practice alone will undoubtedly have an ROI. As sales and marketing professionals, let’s stop using 100-year old thoughts and practices.  Let’s be guided by a Funnel of Opportunity that incorporates today’s organizational structures, relevant marketing, and adjacent futures.

The 12 Steps of The Funnel of Opportunity

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


  1. Perhaps the biggest issues with these antecedent sales and marketing theories is that all operated on the basis that customers were available, passive, and reactive and that their decision-making was linear and rational, not emotional. To a greater or lesser extent, that kind of myopic thinking got organizations by in the bygone days of buggy whips and coal oil lamps; but, the reality is that its effectiveness has been declining for decades. With the advent of computers and high tech mobile devices, companies which stuck with old sales and marketing paradigms found themselves on the outside looking in.

    One of my posts from a few years ago addressed the dangers of taking a single value element approach to sales and marketing. It was an update from a piece written almost 20 years ago, and its purpose was to demonstrate, as you did, what can happen to complacent companies that don’t adapt to marketplace changes. And, while I’d agree that sales and marketing both have a scientific core, like fine, creative cuisine, there is also a liberal sprinkling of art involved. As Plato determined in his play, Gorgias, it’s a knack.

  2. Great article and great thinking.
    How do we get people to change their thinking and mind-sets than to make minor changes in systems? Do you ave an answer to that?

  3. Gautam,

    Why would you want to do wholesale change? Seems dangerous. I really can’t add much to change management that Kotter and disciplines like Lean are not saying much better than I can.

    I would recommend reading Robert Fritz’s Path of Least Resistance (there is a new and old version) though that specifically discusses the need for changing the structure to create change. Exactly what the article is referencing.

    Thanks for the comment.

  4. I’m sorry to be counter-intuitive here, but IMHO the key to sales performance success is not in systems per se. It is in people. Do you realize what inefficiencies and wasted time, money, effort and productivity hide in the marketing and sales departments of medium and large organizations ? I wrote this LinkedIn post on the subject recently:

    Nothing boosts sales performance quicker and more sustainably than getting your marketing and your sales people to collaborate more effectively. I call that Smarketing®, but you might call it wonderful. 🙂

  5. Philip Kotler has just written for the Journal of Creating Value which I edit, to state that value creation is most important. Companies continue to be focused on the business, though this is changing slowly. Mind set has to change to create value beyond just being efficiency experts, just good administrators and functional managers. Do read my book on Value Creation.
    Prof V. Kumar of GSU just stated that value creaion and the custome were the most important thought changes required fro the future.
    The ACSI index has remained static in the last 20 years, the longevity of CEOs has dropped to 2 years versus 12 years in 1978. Only 41% of Fortune 500 companies give positive returns to share holders (returns over cost of capital.
    Is this enough reason for a mind-set change?


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