Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Sales Funnel Revisted

For my whole career, both in marketing and sales, I have understood the concept and importance of the sales funnel. Conceptually speaking, the traditional sales funnel starts with awareness being generated at the top of the funnel (the widest part) and then having the prospect work down the funnel through the stages of interest, consideration, commitment and eventually having a sale made at the narrowest part of the funnel. The funnel framework worked fairly well in providing the foundation for understanding what metrics should be concentrated on and where resources should be deployed.

But what happens in a world where prospects have so many more tools at their disposal to evaluate your offerings on their own or where they skip stages of the process all together?
In addition, while the traditional sales funnel usually ends when the sale is consummated, should that really be the end of sales and marketing's engagement with the customer? Shouldn't we also measure post sales activities that build share of wallet and recognize the challenges of an unengaged customer or one who attrites?

A couple months ago, the people at asked 14 sales and marketing experts to view the sales funnel concept in a world of the Internet, social media, word of mouth marketing, massive choice and competition? They reached out to their Focus Expert Network to submit their version of the sales funnel with one condition . . . the funnel and the rationale for their depiction had to fit on one page.

The results just released this week were, to say the least, both innovative and thought provoking. Some experts provided an interpretation that redefined the steps of the sales process and the sources of leads, taking into account the impact of the Internet and the need to more closely integrate sales and marketing. Matt West from had a traditional shaped funnel but added the important steps of lead nurturing and cross-selling while discussing the challenge of unknown prospects 'above the funnel'.

There was more than one version that visually looked more like an hour glass, reflecting the important post-sale steps that are required to get a new customer engaged and to build the value of the relationship through repurchase or evangelism. Matt Heinz from Heinz Marketing stated that, "the traditional sales funnel only reflects half the story", ignoring the impact of referrals, repeat business, renewals, etc.

My favorite, however, was probably the entry from Michael Damphousse from Green Leads who threw away the visual of the funnel altogether and provided a diagram of a 'DemandGen Cloud', reflecting that prospects have the power and capability to insert themselves anywhere they want in the sales and marketing funnel. He also reflected that once in the funnel, the prospect can jump to any step they want as a result of web content and word of mouth. He emphasizes the importance of harnessing the chaos to maximize results.

So what does this have to do with banking? First of all, it reflects the impact of the new communication channels such as the Internet and social media. It also emphasizes the importance of going beyond generating a sale, and instead, generating a relationship. Finally, it reflects the diversity of ways to look at the interaction of sales and marketing in any sales process. This is especially true in more complex sales such as small business, commercial, investment services, etc. Whatever funnel you prefer, however, one major challenge needs to be addressed. Whatever the steps, sales and marketing must be in alignment and finance needs to buy off on the metrics and business case. With this uniform and integrated view, the sales process will definitely not be optimized, and it may actually fail.

What does your sales funnel look like? I would love to see even more creative examples of what your interpretation of today's sales funnel might be. Share it with me at and I will post some of my favorites. Oh yeah, the same rules of a one page limit still apply.

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