The Three Flaws with the Funnel


Is the sales funnel dead?

Last quarter, Forrester and Pardot teamed up for a webinar to discuss this hotly debated question. “Actions and Outcomes that Elevate Leads to Revenue” covers a recent report from Forrester on the state of the current sales cycle, the need for a defined and optimized marketing process, and how automation can help.

The conclusion? Although the sales funnel is not dead, it has evolved into an almost unrecognizable state. Let’s take a look at three ways in which the sales funnel has evolved.

The “numbers game” is over.

Although the sales funnel may not be dead, there’s no doubt that “the numbers game” approach to marketing (cramming as many leads into the funnel as possible in hopes that more deals will come out) is over.

The “numbers game” approach to the sales funnel is flawed for two reasons. For one thing, this method implies that there is some sort of gravitational pull at work on the funnel, and a percentage of all leads subjected to this pull will result in closed deals. Obviously, no such force exists. In reality, if two million leads are fed into the sales funnel but none are a fit for your product, odds are that none will come out as closed deals.

Furthermore, today’s consumers don’t just appreciate smarter marketing, they’ve come to expect it. If you’re still blasting your message out to millions of unwilling and disinterested recipients, you’re not just risking your message being ignored — you’re risking giving your company a bad reputation.

The buyer’s journey has changed…

Marketing now owns a much larger portion of the sales cycle, and the traditional sales funnel fails to recognize this.

With inbound marketing on the rise, most consumers are subjected to a multitude of marketing touch points before they ever speak with a sales rep. They’ve read blog posts, downloaded white papers, done their research on social media — they have a pretty good idea that they’re interested in the product before they even pick up the phone. And if a sales rep has done his or her research, these touch points can reveal a lot about a prospect’s needs and interests without having to ask, further shortening and simplifying the sales portion of the cycle.

…And it’s anything but passive.

Remember that gravitational pull we mentioned earlier? The one that doesn’t exist?

As we mentioned before, more prospects doesn’t necessarily mean more clients, but the passivity of the traditional sales funnel is flawed for another reason. Prospects won’t just fall through the sales funnel, they need to be engaged — and increasingly so.

Forrester represents this phenomenon with an escalator rather than a funnel: a prospects’ engagement level must be elevated at each stage of the journey, as they move from awareness to interest, to consideration, to commitment, and (hopefully) to advocacy. The advent of inbound marketing and the increasingly informed buyer makes this continual engagement a necessity, and calls for a stronger emphasis on customer retention and client advocacy than ever before.

So if the traditional sales funnel is passive, overly simplified, and blind to the buyer’s journey, what does this new and evolved sales funnel look like? According to Forrester’s report, something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 10.52.01 AM

Overwhelmed? Don’t be. A more complex sales funnel just means you need a smarter, more targeted approach to marketing — and a more clearly defined process for optimizing it. Be sure to check out Forrester’s webinar for advice on taking on this new, evolved sales funnel with an effective marketing process.

What are your thoughts on Forrester’s version of the sales funnel? We’d love to hear from you in our comments section!

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