I used to like the sales funnel. It made sense, was easy to understand, and had universal appeal. Unfortunately, the sales funnel has had its day. The world of marketing and business development has moved on and the funnel is not an accurate representation of the sales process anymore. Here are 3 reasons why:
It’s a one way process
Some people do remember to add the last bit at the bottom that says “repeat”, but very few remember to act on it. And considering the comment we often hear from marketing directors, “we could do a lot more to reduce churn”, the funnel definitely points in a single direction, and that’s down.
It splits marketing from sales
In a lot of B2B companies marketing and sales need marriage counselling and the funnel does not help put things right. It splits the process and puts marketing on one end of the boxing rig and sales on the other. This results in typical marital problems such as lack of mutual understanding, not spending enough time together, suspicion that the other party is not pulling their weight, etc. etc.
It’s too structured
It is likely that I was not around when the funnel was first conceived , but I suspect it was the outcome of an honest effort to put some logic and structure around the messy process that is sales. Considering that back then the main channels were probably just mail, telemarketing and exhibitions, it’s not difficult to see how the sales funnel has lost most of its relevance in today’s topsy-turvy world.
Here is a suggestion for an alternative concept that better encapsulates the modern B2B marketing and sales environment. Myriads of perpetual, always-on cycles each representing an ongoing conversation between you and someone out there; a customer or a prospect. Let’s call it the engagement cycle.
Here are 6 reasons why the engagement cycle is a better representation of the sales process than the sales funnel:
It incites action
All the sales funnel appears to require is gravity; you dump bodies in at the top and some will fall as revenue off the bottom. The engagement cycle though is like a bike pedal. You have to commit the time and effort to make this thing turn and keep it cranked up.
It’s always on
There is no in or out, beginning on end. The engagement cycle relates better to the life time value of a customer than the linear dart shooting of the sales funnel. A cold contact might become warm and a warm contact a customer and the conversation continues. If you stop turning that pedal the conversation ends and the opportunity slips away.
Shifts focus from the sale to delivering value
Unlike the sales funnel, a sale is a by-product of the conversation and not the single focus. Notice how sale is not even mentioned. Sale is something that just happens as the cycle turns.
The funnel slices the sales process into generic actions needing further translation and analysis to turn them into real scenarios. The engagement cycle includes real actions and forces you to think in real terms from the outset.
Drives creative collaboration
What is the role of marketing in the engagement cycle? How about the role of sales? The cycle forces you to think not as a collection of departments each with its own targets and right to glory, but as a team of effective thinkers focusing on specific tasks instead of territorial claims.
It puts the prospect in focus
While the sales funnel is a collection of nouns, the engagement cycle is a collection of prospect actions. These actions help the team focus on the subject of the conversation and not on a textbook process where human presence is nowhere to be found.