Ditch the Funnel and Build Better Relationships with Consumers and Teams

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Funnels image by MediaFace’s Jacquelyn McColl

I don’t need to ask you if you’ve heard of the funnel before – of course you have. Called the “marketing funnel” or “sales funnel,” it’s a model for how customers interact with a business leading up to conversion to a sale. It imagines a large number of people at the funnel mouth, who either proceed on down the line to buy, or drop off at some point. Some marketers and salespeople think that analyzing those drop-off points can strengthen your sales process and convert more of those people into buyers (e.g. if people drop off during the shopping process, maybe your e-commerce cart is needlessly complicated).

In that respect, the funnel can be a helpful visualization tool. For the most part, though? It’s killing your chance to build trusted relationships with your audience, and keeping the functions of your business from working in concert with each other. I have three main reasons why that is.

The funnel splits the functions of marketing and sales

It’s something I hear all the time from my clients: that they have no idea what’s going on in other departments of the same company (sometimes, what’s going on in the same department – but that’s another article). This is totally symptomatic of the funnel, because certain stages of it are owned by certain departments. Discovery is for marketing, consideration is for sales, and with the proliferation of e-commerce, shopping increasingly goes to digital.

Really great marketing should continue on all through a customer’s journey with your brand and products. But that can’t happen if every customer interaction is managed by a different team.

The funnel leaves a bad taste in your audience’s mouth

If you feel like you’re not sure what other departments are up to, imagine what that does for your customer’s experience. Being pushed towards a buy button by a relay of incongruous messaging doesn’t inspire warm and fuzzy feelings about your brand. The “in or out” mentality of the funnel doesn’t allow for long-term, naturally-developing relationships between your audience and your company. 

Moreover, audiences don’t “get sold” anymore – they do their own research and comparisons to make a decision to buy. Instead of forcing them to a conclusion, you should be helping them towards an educated decision.

It’s literally a hundred years old

Believe it or not, the first mention of the funnel was in 1924, in a book called Bond Salesmanship by William W. Townsend. Here’s the quotation:

“The salesman should visualize his whole problem of developing the sales steps as the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel which produces the specific and favorable consideration of one fact. The process is continually from the general to the specific, and the visualizing of the funnel has helped many salesmen to lead a customer from Attention to Interest, and beyond.”

Many of the funnel’s problems are right here: “forcing” people through sales steps toward purchasing. “One fact” – versus many – of why someone would purchase your products and services. Even describing developing your steps to sale as a “problem” makes me wonder why you’d want to be in business in the first place. We should always think of working with our customers as a privilege, not a problem.

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