Death of the Sales Funnel

Before discussing whether the well-known funnel-shaped sales model is of use to us any more, you might want to read my previous article on the sales funnel.

Hopefully I can guide you through a topic on which continuous debate has arisen…

Death is, well, a harsh word really, isn’t it? To say something is dead is to say something no longer exists in the way it used to; ‘it’ no longer has, seems to have, or expects to have life. Perhaps because it no longer seems to have force or relevance, or perhaps, in sales, because the funnel model is no longer yielding the theorised return originally expected of it, it can no longer be justified as a relevant or utilised model for today. Whilst it still exists enough for debate to be continually hinged upon it, what is it about the architecture of the sales funnel that makes it ‘dead’? Here’s a few factors which will hopefully shed some light on the topic:


It’s deceiving us

Yes it is, you see, it just makes everything seem far too easy; far too achievable. You only seem to need a flicker of interest from your identified market – a proportion of which seems to effortlessly tumble down into the funnel to make the inevitable purchase. We all know that it doesn’t work like that though; leads can appear, disappear and reappear at any given stage in the funnel and for a multitude of reasons; most of which we may never know, or ever be able to decipher. This could go on for months; one may enter the sales funnel at various points for different reasons but might not even buy a single thing. Why does this happen though? It could be due to…


To many distractions

Interruption, diversion, interference, confusion; whatever you call the break in attention that was necessary to aid a potential customer further down the funnel towards a sale – distractions happen all the time. You could be mid-way through a purchase but you change your mind because a friend says something else is better, or you’re in a retail park and about to buy the latest Android tablet but you spot the Apple Store across the way and think twice (despite the price!). It could even be as simple as the fire alarm going off because you left your cheese on toast under the grill for too long, you go off to flap at the alarm and sort everything out and by the time you come back your session has timed out or you can’t be bothered and you ‘leave it for another day’ – which turns into days, maybe weeks, maybe never! People are subject to constant distractions; of which it is impossible to list even the smallest percentage.


Tracking and reporting in a grey area

Buying patterns have altered dramatically over the last decade and are continually changing with the introduction of new technology and mobile commerce. What actually happens in between the point you gain that initial interest to the point of sale? This is about the lead’s behaviour – why do they disappear or reappear? How do marketers perceive the ‘way’ people make decisions about purchasing nowadays? The truth is we don’t know all the reasons people disappear or how they even decide to purchase because we can’t analyse information we don’t even know how to track. There are a multitude of ways to monitor various aspects of a campaign both online and offline, but can we tie everything together effectively enough? We may see that there’s a niche in the market for a service, or that a certain group of people might want something, you can follow the sales funnel model precisely but you don’t get constant feedback for everything you do and even if you did how would you analyse and manage that feedback before being able to take steps on improving what you’re doing?


A lack of engagement

The funnel is like a giant food processor full of holes – chuck everything in, blitz it up and you might be left with a few remnants of what originally went in.

To find out what happens in the customer decision journey, you would have to try and engage the customer as much as possible – from the initial stage to the point they either bought something or left the funnel – find a way to block those holes in the food processor. The results could leave you in a dilemma – you might find that a huge proportion of potential customers failed to make a sale because they realised they were hungry at the last second, or because they simply got a call from their partner. You can take steps to deal with the hunger and position your shops optimally, for example next to a food outlet, but how do you ‘help’ someone focus on buying your product, or even gather data which helps you to determine ‘when’ to help people focus. Is it even appropriate to try and find this kind of information out? How far do we go?

The online world has plenty of tools out there to help you see what’s going on, Google Analytics, for example, tells you how many people are visiting your site – which can look amazing if you’re getting thousands of hits a day, but if hardly anyone is buying – why are potential buyers dropping out? How can we track the entire customer journey? How do we truly begin to understand and accommodate the buyer’s habits, perception of available products or even ability to buy? If we could understand and accommodate these things, would our customers still buy from us?

In conclusion

Perhaps, though widely understood, the sales funnel theory was never detailed enough in the first place. I often imagine a new model to resemble a huge flowchart of yes/no questions, full of hundreds, maybe thousands of redirections – all attempting to ‘handle’ anyone in the originally identified market to buy a product – a kind of mental mind map of behaviour. The topic leaves me with many questions of my own:

  • Will we ever truly understand and be able to accommodate for all the variables?
  • Has the sales funnel become a scapegoat for an understanding of the customer journey that we may never be able to achieve?
  • Are we on some kind of quest for pure and ultimate knowledge about customers?
  • What can we ever realistically know about the customer journey?
  • Do I even really understand my own reasons for buying or avoiding certain products?
  • When do you actually, really join the sales funnel?
  • If the sales funnel really is dead, why do we still refer to it and even use it?

If you have the answers or would like to add to the conversation please leave your comment below!