Why the concept of marketing and sales funnel is a flawed analogy?

Okay! I know am going to hear an earful of opinions of why it's right. I absolutely am with you on this. But let's try and open our minds to a modern day sales practice to understand why we should find a better representation of the sales process.

Why is this important? Metaphors have traditionally helped brains figure out unknown using what's known. And a funnel is the image that you'll see in any book or article that explains sales basics.Visual cues are key to have a subconscious understanding of any concept. Now that am running around this funnel to make it work, I want to take a step back to see if it's really working like a funnel? Do I have a to have a better image in mind to represent today's sales process,that's more appropriate and intuitive? Hence this attempt to write my thoughts down and take your opinion on.

When we think of the sales and marketing, whoever you are, a student of a B-School, A Management consultant or a Field sales executive, this concept of Sales funnel is hard-wired in our heads. Sales process as defined by a funnel, starts with marketing where you identify suspects, pass on to sales as prospects who in-turn become your customers. But let me tell you why it isn't accurate?

  • Firstly, it doesn't give a role to what's being passed in. I mean the power is still with someone who handles the funnel (the organization). Come on! Have you ever seen something that's poured in a funnel to pop right on your face and tell you that it isn't interested in passing through this process. As hilarious as it sounds, in today's customer-centric, knowledge-driven market, that's what happens when you want to push customer through.
  • It doesn't account for active efforts that are required for pushing the leads from one stage to another. What's poured through the funnel,just flows out (the wonder called gravity!) And any sales guy will vouch for me when I say this flow isn't smooth as it seems in our head when we think of a funnel.
  • While we think of a real-world funnel, all that flows in flows out, which is not the case with a Sales funnel. There're filters and drop-outs at all stages. While all sales tutorials talk about this, this needs to come out visually.
  • It has one-way in. Just like leads drop out at various stages in the funnel, a lead could come in at any stage. And the traditional funnel accounts for one-way of communication and process that doesn't accommodate modern customers and the two-way communication that's enabled by Social media. Should we have a porous funnel where a lead can drop in and out at any stage?
  • And lastly, it has a clear divide between sales and marketing, which isn't fully true today. In the past, lead generation (the top, and broadest, part of the funnel) was typically the responsibility of marketing departments, while sales was responsible for nurturing leads and guiding prospects through the sales pipeline. But today, messaging and sourcing leads is not exclusive to marketing while nurturing is not exclusive to sales. So the process isn't linear as it looks in a funnel and there's no marking between sales and marketing.

What could be a better representation of a sales process? A transparent porous concentric funnel!? Your thoughts are welcome!

Author: Papitha Mohan, CEO and Growth Head