In Defense of the Funnel

The last 12-18 months have proved to be a rough time for the proverbial “sales funnel”.  At the 2011, DemandCon conference, Forrester analyst Jeff Ernst declared in his keynote that “the funnel is dead.”  Needless to say this was fuel for quite a bit of conversation in the days that followed.  And since then many have jumped on the “death to the funnel” bandwagon.  The last salvo came from Tony Zambito, Founder and Principal of Buyerology, in his article Slow Death of the Funnel: Why Buyer Choice Matters to Revenue

In both the instances cited above, as well as in other recently published articles, the main point is relatively the same: Today’s B2B buyer does not buy in a linear Step 1 – 2 – 3 fashion.  In fact, today’s “buyer” is actually “buyers” (emphasis on plural) and to quote Zambito  . . . we go (or have moved) from a single buyer model to that of more interdependency among ecosystems and networks by B2B buyers.”

The point here is well taken. Both the buyer and the buying process have evolved. To think they can be mapped one-dimensionally is not practical.  However organizations must be careful to not throw the baby out with the bath water, as there is still an internal operational component to managing leads and sales that cannot become overly burdensome or complex.

Organizations need to understand that there are two sides in the funnel debate, both important in their own right:

  1. With the evolution of today’s buyer, it’s important that organizations revamp engagement strategies to communicate to the multiple buyers at the various stages of the funnel. This includes content marketing, demand generation strategies and sales approaches
  2. In order to manage any change, organizations must address the internal, operational process so that sales can effectively engage with customers

The operational process is really where many organizations struggle. They find that without it, their customer acquisition and engagement strategies fail.  That’s why it is vital that organizations understand that the foundation (i.e. the internal process) must be built first in order for the strategy construct to sustain and return the value that is expected.

Part of that process is a funnel where sales and marketing do their best to answer the question, “We generated a response, now what do we do?”  For many organizations this will mean more than one funnel (by product line, business unit, buyer type), but the work and the planning must be done.  Without a foundational process to support the market facing complexity, your marketing and sales efforts will be in vain.

As organizations contemplate blowing up their funnel and presiding over its funeral, keep in mind the second part of the equation to ensure that your internal operational process does have a funnel approach to manage the complex movements of your buyer.