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Will That Be One Funnel Or Two?

by David Brock on July 18th, 2011

My post yesterday, The Death Of The Funnel, Long Live The Funnel, stirred up some interesting conversation.  I thought I’d continue to stir the pot by challenging the notions of marketing and sales funnels.  Frankly, I’m not sure why we ever needed to have two funnels (maybe it was some marketing VP didn’t want to talk to the sales VP), but I think the time for two funnels is long gone.

In theory a marketing funnel is the set of activities that attract the interest of prospects, increase awareness and understanding of the potential of our solutions, and keep their interest until they might want to buy.  Somehow, then, they become a sales qualified lead and marketing hands them off (Tag, You’re It) to sales.  Sales then takes these sales qualified leads into their sales funnel, further qualifies them, then takes the customer through their buying process, hopefully coming out the end of the sales funnel as an order.

I’m not sure this ever was a great model, other than to firm up the walls between sales and marketing, creating lots of arguments and debates about the quality and quantity of leads and providing both sales and marketing the opportunity to point fingers at each other.

The problem with this model is that it doesn’t seem to align with how customers buy— or the steps the customer goes through in informing themselves about solutions available in the market and engaging vendors to discuss alternative solutions.  Customers don’t go through two distinct sets of processes. 

There’s another problem with this model, it doesn’t reflect the emerging realities of customer engagement.  It artificially divides the responsibilities, saying that marketing is responsible for managing all interactions and customer engagement until a certain point, then sales is responsible for everything thereafter.

In the new world of buying, I beleive it’s critical that sales get involved much earlier than they currently do.  In fact, they may be the “first in” in starting the customer engagement.  The sales person can play a critical role in stimulating the customer to think about the business differently, to help the customer identify new opportunities to grow and serve their customers. Sales people can help their customers “see the forest instead of focusing on the trees.”  everyone is so busy just doing their day to day jobs, they miss opportunities—it’s a terrific place for sales people to contribute.

In the new world of buying, I see sales people serving as the “spark,” getting customers to start considering “what if…”  At this point, much of what marketing does is very powerful, they can effectively and efficiently nurture and develop a large number of people at various stages of the “what if…” process.  The sales person may engage every once in a while, but in my experience, the customer may have to spend some time noodling on the ideas, researching them, testing them internally, before they decide, “we need to do something about this.”

Likewise, in the new world of buying, marketing’s job does not end with the sales qualified lead.  There will be various points in the selling process where it might be more effective or efficient for marketing to manage a certain part of the process–for example, providing detailed case studies, certain types of demonstrations, and other things.  Additionally, marketing can be providing tools for the sales people to better understand and articulate value, for example, questioning and justification guides-perhaps even self justification tools that customers can use.

Marketing, job will continue post sale, continuing to nurture the customer, perhaps for leads and referrals, perhaps for upsell, cross sell opportunities.

It’s time we consider ending these artificial boundaries resulting from our internal organizational structures and boundaries.  It’s time we have a series of processes more aligned with how the customer works, that we identify through those processes which resources are best used in executing which steps.  Roles and responsibilities will shift through the process, marketing, sales, and other functions need to learn how to work nimbly together, rather than separately, each stepping in where they can most effectively contribute.

Perhaps, it’s time to stop talking about two funnels—it’s meaningless to our customers.  Perhaps it’s time to integrate things into a single process, a single funnel, with shifting roles and responsibilities–some sharing of responsibility, and more realistic accountability for all.

What do you think?

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2 Comments
  1. Dave,
    I am in violent agreement with you on this one. I wonder though how much controversy this post will stir up.

    There are many people out there believing that sales people are too much involved in generating leads, an activity for which they are considered too expensive. Usually they are also not considered to be very good at this. Well this school of thought will not like much of what you say here.

    I also wonder how the marketing automation folks will react to this. I hope they will speak up.

    IMHO there is though one caveat in your post. I think you infer situations where people reach their buying decision through a “learn buying journey”.

    If people reach their decision through a “know buying journey”, maybe the handover of marketing qualified leads to sales might work. However in these situations, I often ask myself what added the value the salesperson will have to the customer to reach the buying decision.

    It is as you said yesterday. There is “no one size fits all” solution for a sales process.

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