The Death Of The Funnel, Long Live The Funnel


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I’ve been reading a lot of articles, some from people who should know better, declaring the death of the funnel. I have to admit, I get frustrated and tired with a lot of this talk. But more importantly, I think it demonstrates a complete misunderstanding about what the funnel really is.

The funnel is simply a representation of a process. People choose to label or represent the “funnel” in different ways. I interchange the words pipeline and funnel, but mean the same thing. Some times, I use the concepts of selling cycles or buying cycles. Pictorially, it sometimes looks like a funnel with stages in the funnel (I guess that’s how you tell I’m a sales guy – because I draw those pictures). Sometimes I represent it as a circular sequence of steps or stages. Sometimes, it looks like a flow chart or a decision tree.

When I talk about the funnel, depending on the client or audience, it may have different steps/stages, and the labels of those stages may change. For example with one customer I might call the proposal stage “proposal,” (duhhh), with another I may call it “quote.” Only because it helps convey the concept or the key objectives of that sub-process more effectively to that group of people.

Where I “start” my funnel or “stop” it depends also on the audience and their perspective. I prefer not to distinguish between a marketing funnel and a sales funnel. It seems to me the processes must be integrated so, we should be talking about an integrated set of process flows. But very often, I talk about a sales funnel, because the audience I am addressing are sales people and we are talking about the set of processes they focus on. Equally often, I may talk about a buying funnel when I am focusing on understanding and aligning with a customer buying process.

But whatever words, whatever pictorial representation I choose. The funnel is really a description of a process. Everyone’s “funnel” will be different, because our processes for working with customers and their buying processes are different.

But all we are talking about is a way of expressing a set of processes. It’s odd, when I read about the “funnel being dead.” Often what the authors go on to explain is something that represents their version of a process with their usually trademarked label for the process. Others just demonstrate their blissful ignorance, because they focus on the label, not understanding that it is a convenient way for us to represent and talk about a set of processes. These folks seem to understand neither the underlying process, it’s importance, or the principles driving those processes.

The processes of engaging communities, prospects and customers will be called various things. The processes of communicating with them will be grouped in differing ways. The processes of attracting new customers, retaining existing customers, helping them buy will have different labels. As long as the we understand what those labels represent, they are convenient in facilitating the discussion.

However, make no mistake, the most impactful discussions are about the process. They are about how we tune and refine the processes to be as effective as possible. They are about how we align those processes to have meaning, value and impact on our customer. They are how we design our processes for inclusion. They are about how we execute the processes with precision and how we measure our effectiveness in execution and the results we produce.

I have no interest in engaging in discussions about which label should dominate, I’ll choose whichever is expedient for the moment. Labels are fundamentally unimportant. The only meaningful conversations to me are about the processes underlying these labels.

Am I being too cranky?

Join Andrew Rudin, Jack Malcolm, Paul McCord, Daniel Waldshmidt and me on Wed, 7.20 at 9:00 PDT for a Roundtable: How To Ask The Right Sales Questions,

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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