The funnel. We love to hate it – or is it that we hate to love it? While “funnel” has been part of our lexicon for decades, defining its proper shape is something that’s always up for debate. Flipping the funnel appears to be the latest trend, but no matter what approach we take, we always end up in the same place. Unsatisfied with the results.
Why do we continue to stick with a model that never seems to deliver on the promise? I’d argue that it’s because it’s comfortable. We’re used to the funnel and constructing our demand generation engines around it. But the time has come to accept that the funnel is holding us back, no matter how hard we try to reshape it. A look back our past approaches may help convince you.
The Gold Panning Approach
At first, it was all about creating more. More inbound, more outbound, more downloads, more followers. The more people you could pour into the top of the funnel, the better. Sales needed “leads” and we delivered. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that pouring every contact into the top of the funnel creates a lot of waste. Wasted money on bad contacts, wasted marketing resources to acquire them, and wasted time sorting out the quality leads from the junk. Sales was forced to sift through most of this junk on their own, and eventually, they all just gave up.
The Brita Approach
The next phase created a system that looked more like a Ninja Warrior obstacle course than a funnel. Pour all contacts into the top and make them go through a ridiculous gauntlet of filters before they drip out the bottom. We initially loved this approach because we could finally deliver something that had perceived value, without being held to actual conversions. We soon realized that this method created a new problem. Just like a Brita filter, leads came out in slow drips. Even worse, the demographic filtering we used to generate leads was proving to not to be a leading indicator of future purchase intent. There were massive missed opportunities due to over-filtering, and sales ended up receiving fewer leads of questionable quality and conversion.
The latest trend is all about flipping the funnel and spending more time satisfying our current customers and focusing on specific accounts. This one was supposed to be the savior of demand generation marketing, but it has its own flaws. While I believe marketing should play an essential role in customer advocacy and success, I’m not convinced that betting everything on our customers (or a few select accounts) and completely ignoring the wider market is a wise decision. Part of our job should be to scale demand generation and create new customers, especially if we’re responsible for new products and emerging markets. I can’t count on my super satisfied customers to do this all for me, no matter how great I treat them. To me, flipping the funnel feels more like a retreat due to previous funnel failures instead of the future.
So where do we go from here?
What is it that we are actually trying to accomplish with our cherished funnel model? I’d argue that it comes down to increasing pipeline. So instead of a funnel, let’s try and create a solution that aligns closer to our goals. How about a pipe? A pipe model offers several advantages over the traditional funnel model.
1) It reduces the requirements for over-filtering because it’s not as wide at the top.
2) It delivers the right amount of deal flow because it’s not as narrow at the bottom.
3) It increases deal discovery to close because it’s a direct line.
So how do we squish our rusty old funnel and sculpt it into a shiny new pipe?
Pour quality data in
As we all learned the hard way, pouring junk into the top of the funnel doesn’t work. To move to the pipe model, you’ll need to focus on the data your putting in. I’d suggest you swap standard firmographic filters for more accurate intent data sources. Behavior is always the best indicator for future sales. If you don’t believe me, ask Google.
Prioritize opportunities to manage deal flow
If you send too many unqualified prospects to sales, they will stop chasing them. Excessively over-filter and they will complain you’re not delivering enough. The best way to control deal flow is to prioritize all discovered opportunities based on behavior. Let sales understand the universe of potential deals out there, but help them focus their time on the ones that are closer to purchase.
Influence opportunities early to improve speed to sale
A proper pipe should have a significant speed advantage over a funnel. The best way to increase deal speed is to make sure that you’re considered on all the deals that are closer to purchase. Make sure you’re surrounding the opportunities you’ve prioritized and increase your efforts against the lower priority accounts. Sales should be focusing their attention on the high-priority deals, and you should be spending time on the opportunities that are starting to bloom. You must influence early to win.
While the funnel will always be close to my heart, it’s time for the new Queen of demand to rule. My vote is for the Pipe to take the reins and carry us into the future. Who’s with me?