The sales funnel has been around for a long time – apparently, since 1898. It is one of those models marketers use on a regular basis to plan and present their strategy for the year. (Admit it, you have a slide with it for 2015. And if you haven’t used it before, give it a try and really go into detail.) However, over the last couple of years, it seems some people have started questioning its relevance – in particular, with the growth of digital marketing.
At ZN, we’re fans of the sales funnel and we still think it is very relevant in the world of digital marketing. Here’s why:
- It shows how marketing activities contribute to sales
- It demonstrates the purpose for each marketing activity
- It helps with the process of creating customer journeys
- It identifies potential gaps
- It reminds marketers to think about identifying/qualifying leads, and about providing clients with a personalized content experience
- It provides a good starting schematic for monitoring
- It helps understand when content is not working
However, you will find online articles accusing the sales funnel of being irrelevant in the digital world. Here are five prevalent accusations against the sales funnel I found, and my response to them:
- The model assumes consumers follow a linear path from top to bottom
Clearly that’s not true. Consumers jump around the funnel all the time. For marketers, the exercise of creating these linear pathways helps to define what the next steps are if the prospect’s intention to buy is elevated. And if you observe consumers going backwards, it probably means that the content is not addressing an important question or need of the client.
- The sales funnel does not account for distractions during the process
I disagree: the model calls these distractions “leaks.”As marketers, it is our role to facilitate transactions and ensure people complete their purchase. So if the prospect becomes distracted by someone else’s content, that means I need to improve my content, making it more convincing or more memorable. If the prospect does not complete the purchase because he/she reads negative reviews, I should improve my reputation management. And, finally, if the prospect ran out of time and abandoned their cart, I need to make the transaction faster and simpler.Perhaps, then, it would be better to think of the model as a conical sieve rather than a sales funnel; but what adds value is that the model helps us identify leaks and fix them.
- You cannot completely monitor and track the progression of a consumer from start to finish because their path is both online and offline
True, monitoring the pathway is challenging, but technology is catching up. The model does not require perfect tracking to work.
- The model assumes that a specific number of leads will result in a percentage of sales
That’s silly. Marketers can monitor and model input/output values throughout a sales funnel – but there are no certainties. Instead, this exercise is meant to help define KPIs and understand where issues are occurring. (For example, identifying gaps or ineffective content.)
- Technology has made mass targeting at the beginning of the funnel irrelevant
The use of mass targeting is very much dependent on your business and audience. It is true that technology has made targeting much more accurate, but the model can still accommodate this activity next to all others.Even if an activity is targeting just 20 people, the sales funnel can help track their progression and identify if content is successfully driving them to a sale.
The truth is, the sales funnel is not a perfect model, but it does provide a lot of support and insights when designing your marketing campaign. It helps you think about the purpose of each asset at your disposal and how these assets are used together to achieve your goal. Whether the asset is online or offline is of no particular relevance: I would even go so far as to argue that the wider selection of channels and the fact that you can link digital assets together has made the sales funnel more relevant than before the emergence of digital marketing.
In conclusion, I want to share a comment (by sanitychecker) on one of these blogs, because it epitomizes the value of the sales funnel: “What matters isn’t the complete path regarding how someone got to the point of making a purchase. It doesn’t matter that people take a variety of different routes to get to the goal. It doesn’t matter whether you visualize that end of things as a neural network or a funnel. What matters is what happens at the narrow end, and what can be learned (and applied) about the information available on that end.”
Keeping these wise words in mind, the question then becomes: when was the last time you actually refined your sales funnel?