The Death of the Sales Funnel
The Death of the Sales Funnel As We Know It
The Death of the Sales Funnel As We Know It
by

The sales funnel has been around for as long as any of us have been in business. It is a tool that has been used to visualize everything from the sales process to marketing impact on an organization. I’m a big fan of the sales funnel. It is one of the primary visuals I’ve used to help executives understand where social media and digital marketing fit into the context of business. But the truth is, the traditional sales funnel model has been dead for years; we just haven’t come to accept it yet. So why do I still use it? Because people understand it. I know it isn’t perfect, but I look for the opportunity to create progress while we work on optimizing for perfection.

Buying patterns have changed drastically in the last decade. They’ve changed so much that they have truly broken the sales funnel as we know it. Old habits die hard, so the big question is whether or not a sales funnel is still a viable model for sales concepts. Here are the biggest challenges I see with the sales funnel in today’s buying environment.

Buyers Don’t Follow a Linear Path

The sales funnel relies on the theory that someone comes into the top of the funnel and sales fall out the bottom. But is that true in today’s world? Do we start at the top and make our way through to the end? Or do we start at the top, leave, jump levels, come back, leave again, come back at the beginning and at some point come back and buy? Are we following a linear purchase pattern or an erratic path of engagement that sometimes results in a purchase?

I think the assumption that any large percentage of buyers follow a pre-determined path to a sale online is incorrect. One of my favorite exercises is to attempt to model the path to conversion. If you look at the path to conversion, this becomes abundantly clear.

We assume you come to our website from somewhere, for illustration purposes let’s assume you came to the website from a link to a blog post that was posted in a tweet. You come to the site and you read a blog post. Do you buy? No, probably not. Then perhaps, you do a Google search and find an article on our site. You come to our site through organic search, you read the article. Do you buy? No, probably not. Several months go by. You don’t visit our site at all. But then you see a link shared on Facebook to one of our products. Back on our site, you read about the product. You notice a new e-book we are promoting, your interest is peaked. You fill out the form to get our e-book. You leave. This process alone could go on for months. You could click on multiple links in tweets, you could visit from content shared on Facebook, you could find us through organic search, and not to forget you could find us through any other marketing channel. And you could never buy a thing.

Have you entered the sales funnel? Should we be tracking when you buy? If we argue that yes, any website visitor is a potential sale and we should be including you in the funnel, then at a minimum your experience in the funnel is like a 7 year old boy enticed into a pool surrounded by water slides. You’re just in the water long enough to get wet, but then you are on to the next adventure. It’s an experience of diving in, sliding in, jumping in but never staying long enough to enjoy the water. Does that make you a swimmer? It’s a question we need to seriously consider. At what point do you really enter the “sales funnel” and do you ever “enter” at all.

Distraction is the Number 1 Barrier to Sale

Distraction is destroying the sales funnel.

It’s clear that buyer behavior is erratic, but we are also finicky. Distraction may very well be the number one barrier to a sale. We get distracted and abandon our cart. We stop reading the article that brought us to you. Simply put, any little distraction means we move on to something else and we may never come back. We are also finicky buyers, what we think one day may be dramatically changed by another piece of content that contradicts our previous opinion.

We still make purchases and purchase inquiries on a whim. Something interests us and we say yes, we are interested in that. But if we can’t get the information we are looking for immediately, we are off to something else and may never come back, or it could take us weeks to come back. We are a culture of immediate gratification. How does that impact your sales funnel? If you provide all of the information needed to make a purchase, it could mean you can sell faster. If you haven’t provided enough information, it could mean you lose opportunities every day and chalk them up to casual website visitors.

We are also lazy consumers. If a purchase requires effort, we are likely to put it off until we have “time.” When we finally set aside the time, we will also take the time to do more research, look at reviews, look for other opinions and guess what. We may get distracted during that process and you may lose us.

Tracking is Flawed at Best

What’s worse? It is extremely difficult to track the true path to sale when there are only online components. Throw in offline components and you’re toast. If you rely on Google Analytics you are suffering from Last Touch Attribution Syndrome. There are a few other tools that will give you First Touch Attribution Syndrome and a couple that get into First and Last Touch Attribution Disease. Basically this means with most tools you are seeing the first campaign, the last campaign or the first and last campaign the buyer touched, but you aren’t seeing anything in between.

And here’s a real doozy. Most marketers aren’t using campaign tracking for the majority of the content marketing efforts they are using. Because it’s not a “spring” campaign, it’s a blog post. So poof. There goes any tracking.

Why are we not fighting to understand full campaign history? If we truly want to understand this erratic ride our buyers are taking us on we should be demanding that tools start to keep track of EVERY touch point, at least online. The best we can do at this point is to layer on a marketing automation tool. This is the best way to know everything someone touches on our website over time. It still isn’t perfect but it gets us closer. Progress before perfection should be your new motto. Start getting better data with what you have now, but we should always be working towards perfection.

Reporting is Abysmal

And it keeps getting worse, say you have added on a marketing automation tool and you can see every touch point. Can you aggregate data to see what the optimal path to conversion really is? Can you do predictive modeling so you know based upon historical data whether the combination of marketing channels you are using in your existing campaign will produce the results you want? Do you know if there is a combination of touch points that lead to the highest conversion rates and sales so you can start to optimize future results?

No. Reporting for online and offline is still in its infancy. We are still trying to separate marketing from sales and reporting has yet to be unified. We have disparate tools from web analytics to marketing automation to CRM. And very few companies have taken the time to connect them together. For those that have, many are suffering from Out of the Box Reporting Disorder. The problem is that there isn’t enough focus on understanding the real data so we can start to create a new model for understanding our buyer’s habits. And the companies who provide the out of the box reporting are focused on the “easy” data without taking the time to understand the data that would be transformational for a business. It’s funny honestly, because the company who does will have a huge differentiator, but it requires a lot of work and therefore it’s one of those things that never makes it into reality.

Should the Sales Funnel Be Transformed to a Neural Network?

(c) - dreamstime.comDoes the sales funnel method of visualization still apply? I would argue that the model for visualization is still a valid model for illustration purposes because it is one that is widely understood. At the end of the day there are “core” points in every sales process that most buyers go through. They may fall in and out of the funnel at various stages, but we still can focus our efforts on optimizing the path from one stage to the next, understanding we are simply modeling a process not the reality of the buyer’s progress.

But I think a new model is needed and it doesn’t look like a funnel. Rather it looks like an illustration of the interworking of a neural network. A neural network is a connection of neurons or nerve cells that work together to form the nervous system. Put very simply, neurons are what allow humans to process information, and react to the information through chemical, physical and emotional means. Admittedly, I have a very elementary understanding of the interworking of the human brain and neural networks. However, when I look at the visualization of these systems it seems like a more realistic model of purchase behaviors. Each lighted area in a neural network is an opportunity to educate a buyer and each cell body (large areas with multiple threads (axons) branching off) could illustrate where a conversion happens. This could illustrate where we are leading the buyer and the various paths a buyer could take to get there. It shows that the path to purchase is no longer linear; it is a network of touch points, decision points, and opportunities that are either taken or declined by the buyer. If we could track this it seems reasonable to assume that certain paths and certain conversions would glow brighter as they are working more effectively than others.  It could also show the black hole where potential buyers go and never return. Could we then optimize our efforts to put others down that path over less effective paths? Honestly, I don’t know. But I will tell you, if I can figure out how to model this with real data in a way that can be analyzed I’ll be the first to try. For now, I’ll continue to use a model that people recognize understanding the flaws it holds, while I try to build a new model for the future.  Until then…

What do you think? Is the sales funnel dead or alive and well? What should the model of the future look like? Is our focus on the sales funnel preventing innovation? Leave a comment and join the debate over the death of the sales funnel as we know it.

About the Author

Nichole Kelly
Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole
  • Nicole, you have some really notable points here, and you are right, the (eventual) buying process is not a straight line. But companies really need an understandable model. The challenge is that the buying journey is becoming more complex by the day. The question is, if we could merge all info and data from all sources, if it would be understandable and useful? So we need something basics, from my perspective, complex selling BtB companies need to focus their resources on the accounts that really matters. The only way to do this is to focus on the actual list of companies they are working on, either existing customers or newbiz. Sales people then need to use their work on the “right” accounts. If marketing use the same list we would at least not be spending money on accounts sales are not working on = customers who will not buy anyway. Makes sense? The next thing we need to do is to be flexible and react on changes in the way potential buyers behave. If a number of customers on our list stops coming back, don’t want to take meetings, we need to put them in the fridge. Stop using saleswork on them, stop using marketing money on them…

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  • Deepika Mouli

    The analogy is quite intriguing Nichole. The sales funnel has
    certainly become outdated. The faster businesses recognize that it is
    actually closer to a loop, the better they will fare. I was reading an
    article along similar lines and thought I’d share it here as well
    http://bit.ly/1aeHwST
    What is your take on the loop?

  • Bill Allen

    I just stumbled on this, and honestly found the comments pretty “entertaining”. As far as the jest of the article, I can understand the concept, but I think it isn’t worked out enough.

    Personally I use funnels in my business. Not just for me as a marketer, but also as a clear path for my clients. Meaning, for my product line, the products do fit a liner path as far as where the client is in their learning.

    For example, I sell information products in the MMO niche. For my funnel I have a clear path from setting up a squeeze page, creating products for the front-end and back-end, driving traffic, email marketing, and so on. This is a sequential learning pattern.

    Now first, having this clear liner approach helps me to best layout my products in a way that matches my customers natural learning path. Second, if the client comes in at the top of the funnel, it gives them a clear way of getting to point a (being new to MMO) to where they want to be z (making a full time income). And it’s in a “bite sized” actionable sequence.

    Now one way to make this “liner” process work in an un-liner world would be where the potential client comes into the funnel. A few real world examples I am trying is to create squeeze pages (I use paid traffic to squeeze pages as my business model) for each part of my funnel or use the appropriate link (to those squeeze pages) depending on where I am sharing the link (Social networks, etc…).

    So if I am on FaceBook and someone asks me how to create a video product, I can either drop a link to my “Product Creation” site, or a squeeze page giving away a “Product Creation” type freebie (or something along those lines). This way if they are added to my liner sales funnel, they are receiving emails/marketing materials about that “level” and beyond without going backwards to information that is too basic for them.

    But again, after they come into the funnel, regardless of where they are entering from, they are still on a liner path. But of course my situation may be unique as my products fit nicely into a liner path. Car parts may not.

    It might be a flawed system, but it works. And works very well. But of course I am always open to new ideas, that’s why I read this in the first place. Still, nice work, thanks!

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  • Farmore

    I agree that the funnel architecture is dead. I wrote a similar article, but for different reasons (http://www.farmoremarketing.com/blog/) Things have indeed changed and business needs to change with the times. Engagement is key and it is important to make connections on every step of the customer buying journey. Great article!

  • Boris

    I appreciate you post Nichole. It has some great points. It does approach the sales funnel with many assumptions tho. I feel the whole process becomes highly over-complicated. Much more so than it should be. Its is all really a whole lot simpler in reality. Structure is superseded by many things before it.

    Still the RIGHT AUDIENCE, THE QUALITY of OFFER and COPY are what rules the roost. Get those right and the rest is quiet easy to track, tweak and build out to maximum profitability (especially with the magnificent technology available today).

  • Sutters

    This post assumes that the path to a sale was previously “linear” and that social media and the internet have changed that. The problem is that the assumption is false. The path to a sale has never been entirely linear.

    This is because it misunderstands the point of the funnel. The purpose of the funnel is not to describe the real life route taken by the consumer / client to the sale; it’s to give the company a system for managing the process of taking a lead to a sale. Different things.

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  • Mathews

    It is difficult to fit customers or web visitors into some level of the sales or marketing funnel, you’re right to a certain extend. Certainly customers have awareness and there own consideration before doing any purchase. So different marketing methods has to be put together to make it work.

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  • sanitychecker

    If you think of the sales funnel in terms of what comes into it, then I think we can safely conclude that it never worked.

    But if you think of the sales funnel in terms of what comes out of it, in terms of thinking backwards from the narrow end to the wider end, then the sales funnel is still a very useful concept.

    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.

    Marketing information will always be imperfect. Always. Get over it, and start applying what you DO know rather than fretting about what you DON’T know!

    • Bravo! You’re obviously a successful web marketer, because these were my thoughts exactly as I was reading the post.

      “What matters isn’t the complete path regarding how someone got to the point of making a purchase…What matters is what happens at the narrow end, and what can be learned
      (and applied) about the information available on that end.”

      Exactly!!!

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  • Chief_JoelH

    Interesting post. Coming at it from a lit background, it sounds like a shift from linear narrative to rhizome theory. Might be worth looking at? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhizome_(philosophy).

    However, if you can make rhizomes as commonly understood as funnels, you would be the boss of everything. :)

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Oh my! Now that is some interesting stuff. Looks like I have some reading to do as now my synapses are firing all over the place! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Andrew McCreath

      Mind blown!….

  • Devin Asaro

    Fantastic post. I’m surprised I haven’t read this yet. The nonlinear “neural” approach is one that I think all savvy marketers are beginning to tacitly adopt in their way of thinking and campaign planning, simply because they have to — we just haven’t figured out how to articulate a schema that accounts for the variances in the modern customer decision journey.

    I feel like there is a great deal of potential to the neural approach if we can map the various contact points to demographic and psychographic data, and track our various personas across their own journeys until we begin to detect patterns — not unreasonable given the amount of information we can collect through social logins. I think we can make huge strides by leveraging analysis of natural language processing and sentiment analysis via social media.

    I talk to a lot of clients who mention the concern stated in your article — that distraction is the number one barrier to sales…though they’re generally afraid of their own content being a barrier to the artificial sales funnel they prescribe to the user experience. The rigidity with which some brands coerce an ultimatum out of “potential customers” (that phrase again!) is unsettling. You’re absolutely right, the funnel is the lingua franca when it comes to consumer decision information, and breaking that cycle is going to require a lot of footwork from those of us that are interested in effecting sea change. Lots of food for thought. Thanks for the insight!

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Devin – Thanks so much for joining the conversation and your feedback on the post. :-) I agree the articulation is the hardest part. A lot of us are actively doing this stuff. Describing it to management in terms and models that are easy to digest is a barrier.

      I also agree that getting stuck in “the model” prevents testing that falls outside of the framework, especially with content marketing. It’s hard to justify the time and expense for a piece of content that doesn’t promote your products or directly align with the sales process unless you can show where that content fits into the overall scheme of things. I see two schools of thought on this. The ones who never produce any content about their products or services and the ones who only produce content about their product or service. There is some beauty in the landscape in between that allows marketers to test, reiterate, and test until they find something that works for reasons that inexplicable to us all.

  • Phoenix

    This post and most of the fawning comments display ignorance of the original intent of a funnel.

    It’s pretty simple. People get to know a brand and its offerings, people then either include or exclude that offering from their consideration set, people then either buy or deselect that offering, and then they use it, love/hate it, need support with it, and if it’s all positive, talk about it.

    This cycle of interaction with a brand is absolutely and precisely the same as it was 200 years or more ago.

    We were human. We are human. The tools may have changed, but marketers who utilize the tools according to their new features will succeed and those that don’t, those who get confused by “hey, the funnel is now different”, will continue to confound their teams and endeavors with nonsense.

    Posts like this actually do a great disservice to the marketing world.

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Phoenix – I’m all for a healthy debate, but unfortunately your comment doesn’t have enough substance to have a real conversation.

      You say that the post and comments “display ignorance of the original intent of a funnel.” However, you provide no research to oppose the viewpoints stated here. The funnel was developed in 1898 by E. St. Lewis Elmo. He “mapped a theoretical customer journey from the moment a brand or product attracted consumer attention to the point of action or purchase.” (source: wikipedia, The Development of the Hierarchy of Effects: An Historical Perspective. Current Issues and Research in Advertising, 251-295)

      The key word is “theoretical”. Since then the funnel has been widely researched and research has shown that the buyer journey is changing. Check out this article from McKinsey with research from 2009 showing the beginning of this change. This is one of many articles I’ve read on the subject, but felt it was the most appropriate and didn’t want to overburden you with dozens of articles that essentially say the same thing; the funnel is changing. http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/the_consumer_decision_journey#

      Therefore, your statement that the “cycle of interaction with a brand is absolutely and precisely the same as it was 200 years or more ago” presents a rather closed viewpoint that research from as far back as 2009 has proven to be false.

      The key is that there is no single “fact” in any model of consumer behavior. They are theoretical representations based on aggregate data. And as buyers we are human. And as humans we do what ever we want when we are making a purchase. The funnel struggles to accommodate for free will.

      Having a conversation about the changing world of marketing is a great service to the marketing world, in my opinion. This post was purely to serve as a conversation starter to understand other’s perspectives. Taking the time to understand what other marketers are struggling with, working to understand and creating a forum for healthy conversation is also a great service to the marketing world, in my opinion.

      Closing our mind to the possibilities and realities that the digital age is presenting us in order to satisfy those who are holding onto models that research is showing are out-dated? Now, that would be a disservice.

      Thanks for commenting.

      • P.K. Hunter

        Not sure what research you were looking for. The funnel is an age-old concept. Your post states that the funnel has changed. McKinsey’s glib but silly cycle is on the same lines — the funnel according to them was represented sequentially, which they kindly modernized into a cycle, but geez, no one bothered to check that the intent of a funnel was never meant to be a sequential process as customers can enter and exit the funnel from any direction.

        My contention is that basic human behavior of needing/wanting, finding information for alternatives, and then purchasing something to satisfy them, has not changed at all.

        The tools available to us have evolved of course. Marketers can either waste their time rejigging the funnel, or focus on how to address the same age-old human realities with new tools. The funnel is the same as it always was. So, well, sorry, but no cigar. You’ll have to cite better than a flawed McKinsey piece. As much as I respect an agency that can produce top dollar out of regurgitating PPT decks, their thinking in the marketing space is far behind the real world of leading marketers.

        • Nichole_Kelly

          I think the challenge here is that you are focusing on the marketers needs, views and tools, whereas I’m looking through the buyer’s lens into the models marketers are using. Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. :) Thanks for commenting.

          • P.K. Hunter

            You can look at it from any perspective. The process of buying, liking, disliking, etc remains the same as it was ages ago. But please, feel free to continue being glib. That you decided to quote that silly fluff piece from McKinsey didn’t help your cause at all. That article had come and vanished pretty quickly (it was laughed out from the industry, more like). Cheers..

          • Don’t you find it hard to call Nichole glib when she writes a well thought out piece, responds to you with research to support her points and you just stamp your feet without a shred of evidence to support your points and instead just say “you’re wrong?” You can postulate all you want but you’re not making a very effective argument. Quite frankly, who cares what the original “intent” of the funnel is. It’s a way of explaining something. It is, as Nichole put it, a THEORY.

            The simple fact is that the path to purchase has changed, there are more channels than ever before, customers are part of the process now, more so than ever before. Nichole’s points about attribution are valid, as is her point about the complexity of moving people through a linear funnel in a non-linear world. So I’m pretty sure it’s you who is out of line here.

            If you want to have an intellectual discussion about how the world has changed and what impact that has on marketing, sales, and business, then I’m sure I speak for everyone when I invite you to do so.

            Thanks for playing though. Maybe in your response you can cite some “real world of leading marketers.”

          • P.K. Hunter

            Did I hurt your feelings? Sorry. But articles like this one, and commentators like you that fawn on them, are hurting an entire industry. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the leading marketers in the world — yes, even the FMCG giants who coined the phrase you so freely use, “Path to Purchase” — which is basically the funnel. All the research for those brands shows that the channels used are now multifold, and yet, the intent of the funnel, which was to orchestrate all marketing activity, has not changed at all.

            What research and evidence do you wish? It’s a concept. That aids in simpllfying how we react to a customer’s interactions with our brand. Citing McKinsey’s idiotic attempt at “Consumer Journey” is more laughable than not citing anything at all. Do whatever research you wish. I can take whatever channels you find and put them in a funnel from 100 years ago, and yet end up with a much simpler and actionable version of a marketing plan than you would come up with, with your “death of the funnel” drivel.

            Apologies that I can’t have the patience to mollycoddle you and the other commentators here with sugar-coated affectionate words. Scathing feedback is precisely what the ignorant jazz posted in this page deserves. But go ahead, there’s many of you guys, spewing this flawed logic all over the industry, with enough clueless “marketers” willing to listen.

            The fact doesn’t change that basic human behavior hasn’t changed one bit; only the tools have.

          • In retrospect, this is my fault. I broke one of my own rules: never engage the troll.

            Do you really think you’re impressing anyone or convincing anyone that YOU know better? You still haven’t actually said anything.

            You think that everyone else’s respectful and constructive dialogue about this idea is “hurting the industry?” Where’s your blog, genius? Let’s all get a glimpse into the staggering brilliance of PK. Post it tough guy. Or are you afraid that some of us marketing phonies trying to have a dialogue might not get how smart you are and come onto your blog acting like a know-it-all in the comments section?

            Seems to me that you’re just an arrogant asshole with a keyboard. Do you feel better now?

            Tell me what value do you provide exactly by coming into a comments section and peeing in everyone’s cereal.

            Human behavior hasn’t changed? Really? Really? When in the history of mankind has a significant portion of the population woken up, and before getting out of bed or brushing their teeth, checked a social network? That is a behavior that has changed.

            When in the history of mankind has a person walked into a store, looked at a product, and order it from the palm of their hand from a cheaper source without a brick and mortar retail location? That’s behavior.

            When in the history of mankind have human beings been able to interact and communicate with hundreds or thousands of people across time and geography, sharing thoughts, opinions, location and moments from our lives, all in real time?

            Yeah, you’re the smart one, because you came onto a blog and acted like an asshole in the comments section without a shred of proof about who you are or what impact you’ve had on anything or anyone, anywhere.

            Crawl back in your hole troll. You’ve added nothing here and you’re invited to not come back.

          • P.K. Hunter

            Intellectually the laziest copout: call someone who sees things differently a troll. If you agree human behavior hasn’t changed, then all the rest of your intellectualization on this site (and I am sure in your job) is baloney. Tools have changed. Focus on what marketers can do to utilize those tools and become a more value-oriented part of people’s lives.

            This type of writing tells me all I need to know about you: “Really? Really?”. Of course, it’s hard to expect people on a site called “social media explorer” to have a truly well-rounded perspective on marketing. But enjoy your own commentary. Just hope you never cross paths with marketers of my ilk, because you’ll struggle :)

            Anyway, the funnel has not changed. It’s going nowhere. Marketers just need to evolve to suit evolving media, which is what they have had to do pretty much every century.

          • Until you back up your assertions with more than name calling and chest thumping, you are a troll. IMO.

          • P.K. Hunter

            By that definition others are bigger trolls. They started the name calling; I am merely commenting about the content — and yes, it’s out of date and flawed.

            If you expect citation of confidential client data on a blog post, that’s not going to happen. Linking to a puerile McKinsey report is hardly ‘data and research’ either. But glad to see you gentlemen come to the rescue of the author.

            All the chivalry aside, the concept in this blog post is perfectly amenable to discussion without any data. Or research.

            If you have the experience and backing of having worked with massive multi-brand, multi-country portfolios, my comments will make sense to you. Leading marketing directors at the like of P&G or Nestle are not besotted anymore with ‘whoa we have have a whole new p2p now!’ Try that in those forums if you want to disprove your own misgivings.

            Ages ago, a person could read about a product in a newspaper or hear about it from a friend. Then they would enquire about the product by perhaps handwriting a letter to the seller. Or go to the local store and talk to the store keeper. And so on.

            Today, technology and globalization have made a lot of things simpler, faster. That word of mouth happens on social media or email lists or forums. People can search online. They can buy from stores online. If you follow the ‘ROPO’ research or all the MCA stuff, a lot of the times online and offline worlds collide. Consumers don’t see them differently. Marketers make mountains of these molehills because they’re organizationally under-prepared.

            Here’s a thought: if you really want to have a meaningful discussion, show me a customer journey from any industry where the customer uses any tools or touch points. Any. From any industry.

            Then watch me fit those into a funnel from 50 years ago.

            (And stop calling people “trolls”. That’s just Americana online and frankly intellectually quite lazy. Argue the content.)

          • The thing is, Nichole and I have worked with massive, multi-brand, multi-country portfolios. My first major role in the marketing world was advising a global portfolio of dozens of brands on social and digital marketing. That was in the mid-2000s. We’ve partnered with some of the largest brands and agencies out there and have been at it — brand-side and agency side — for almost a decade each. I have personal friends who are executives at Fortune 100s, even 10s frankly. The one thing all those contacts have in common is they don’t blovate about how important or smart they are in the comments sections of blogs just to feel superior to others.

            You’ve made some valid points, but your bullying and insistence that you’re right and we’re junior high talent belittles your credibility. It’s like you’re overcompensating for some unfortunate career setbacks of late, or of old. Well, if feeling smart means picking on people in the comments section of a blog, the only piece of advice I’d offer — fully expecting you not to take it — is do it on a blog where you know the background and credibility of the authors. We don’t need to toot our own horn. I’m sorry if you came here unfamiliar with our track record.

            We love feedback that questions our assumptions, pushes us to think harder. And maybe it’s the Southerner in me, but I prefer that feedback be constructive and friendly. Yours is not. I’ll give you credit — you’re not a troll. I defined trolls years ago as gutless and anonymous folks who pick just to pick. You’ve signed your name, though it’s not one we’re familiar with. Trolls who sign their names fall into a different category: Turds.

            So you’ve at least exhibited turd-like behavior. We can forgive that. But if you’re going to continue the discussion here, we’d appreciate it if you would elevate your own game, get your ego out of the way and offer up something constructive. Otherwise, you’ll just be showing those here you’re exactly how we pegged you.

            Fair?

          • Glastohead

            Wow. That escalated quickly!

            Dissent on this blog results in being labelled a troll, then later being labelled a turd. In the latter case by the moderators no less. It seems to me at least that Mr Hunter disagrees, vigorously no doubt, but he disagrees. Where is the problem in that?

            I’m surprised you have any readers left.

            FWIW I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who thinks the sales funnel is strictly linear either. Clearly it isn’t, so suggesting that it is, is undoubtedly wrong beyond any shadow of a doubt.

            [exheunt stage right]

          • Nichole_Kelly

            We are huge fans of healthy debate on Social Media Explorer. I did my best to open the door for that debate. However, launching personal attacks, calling people idiots and questioning their credibility without presenting an argument you can stand behind and support isn’t a healthy debate. It’s a breeding ground for thinly veiled arguments that quickly turn into negativity that isn’t what Social Media Explorer is about. We aren’t always perfect, but we do our best to create a forum where the audience can challenge ideas, bring new ones to the table, and work together to move the industry forward. I respect P.K.’s dissenting view point. I just wish he could come to the table with a viewpoint that was open for a real discussion on the subject vs. launching personal attacks to support his position. A healthy debate requires an open-mindedness on both sides and an ability to understand another’s perspective. This is why I stepped back from the conversation. I didn’t see an opportunity to have a healthy discourse.

            As the owners of Social Media Explorer, we also have a responsibility to moderate comments and try to turn them around when they become negative so that our readers can get value from the conversation. I think Jason did a great job of trying to do that, but when P.K. attacked our professional credibility it escalated things to another level. We are also human after all. In our experience, there are people who comment who don’t want to have a conversation. They want to attack people. Unfortunately, this thread is an indicator that P.K. might be one of those people. Personally, I don’t know because all I have to go on is what he wrote here. I’m sure if we met in person, we would have a great conversation about this. Or we might find that the personality he showed here, is the same personality he has in the real world. In that case, I’d respectfully decline to debate further, as I have here.

            I can tell you this type of discourse is far from the norm on SME. If you read some of the other conversations in this post that also presented opposing view points you’ll see healthy conversation with the goal of exploring new ideas and opinions.

            Thanks so much for commenting.

          • Glastohead

            > I can tell you this type of discourse is far from the norm on SME. If you read some of the other conversations in this post that also presented opposing view points you’ll see healthy conversation with the goal of exploring new ideas and opinions.

            Understood, however I choose not to frequent a site where moderators label readers turds – whatever their discourse – I merely popped back in to see if there was a sensible response. But no.

            I mean, honestly, are you attempting to justify a mod calling a reader a turd? SERIOUSLY?!?

            Maybe they should limit themselves to moderating an obscure subreddit for 4Chan readers?

            I see we dodged my point that no sane observer imagines the sales funnel to be linear also? So much for debate.

          • It’s a matter of civility. When you insist on thumping your own chest while belittling others, we’d prefer you take that engagement elsewhere. What word I use (and have used) to label that behavior is a semantic argument and one of little relevance. If its the single word that bothers you, well, it seems you’ve missed the point.

          • I would hope that P.K., in his next semi lucid moment, would endeavor to accomplish something more positive than the disconnected self-serving rants posted here. Might I suggest taking a walk, eating something healthy or remembering to take his meds.

          • If you are simply trying to say that customers can always be fit (labeled) into some level of the sales or marketing funnel, you’re not entirely wrong. But we’re not debating whether AIDA (or any other variation of the funnel) exists psychologically in purchase decisions, or whether you are an expert at labeling where people are in the funnel.

            No one is saying customers no longer need to be aware of something, or have interest to make a purchase. Sure, we can safely assume that customers have awareness and consideration before purchase, and that building loyalty comes after purchase…but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intent of this article. The point is to discuss how much more complex the journey is through what was once a much more clean, linear funnel.

            Building Awareness used to be limited to a small number of channels, now there are more. This makes it harder than it was in the past to select the proper channel or to measure what is working.

            Consideration, Interest, Desire, Intent have all changed from 50 years ago when there was information asymmetry, the seller had more information than the buyer. Now the buyer has as much, or more information than the seller in many cases. In 2011, the average consumer looked at 10.4 sources of data before making a decision to purchase, compared to 5.3 in 2010. That’s a behavior change that complicates a linear funnel.

            As the number of channels increases, people have shifted their trust and consequently where they source information from. This means buyers are not as easy to manipulate and push through a linear funnel. You don’t need to look further than the declining effectiveness of push advertising. This is why social actually matters, because p2p recommendations typically carry more weight. This is a marketing challenge.

            And even purchasing has changed. It used to be, you walk into a store, and buy something. Now you can research a product on your way to a store, get a notification that another store is closer with a discount, walk into that store and decide to buy the same thing from Amazon on your phone. And even when the buyer has desire or intent, they are easily distracted. Shopping cart abandonment rates are at an all time high, 70% in 2012.

            No one denies that you can apply a label fitting all consumers into a piece of the funnel. The question is whether a single funnel accurately represents what customers go through today and whether thinking of the sales journey in a linear fashion is a useful method to visualize the world we currently live in?

            Perhaps part of the problem you’re having communicating your points is that we can’t see through all the boasting and belittling.

          • P.K. Hunter

            This is the first interesting post on this page. Thanks for the thoughts.

            We used to be, with good reason, beguiled by the information asymmetry 10 years ago. I now question whether this change is truly as sweeping as we make it out to be. Content Marketing is now even more important than before, but it just means we need to have presence in newer channels, not all of which are paid. Sure. And that’s a rich discussion.

            Using the very same principles of funnels as we have known them for a while, a marketer can still orchestrate an always-on presence in people’s lives. The idea is to create true value (because lack of it will get communicated much faster), find ways to become a part of people’s lives as the tools now allow us to be. We can also lead them more readily to a more immediate purchase than before. And we can more effectively, perhaps, manage the ongoing relationship with customers with the advent of technology — depending on the industry, because not all industries have the luxury of owning customer data.

            There is a simple way to organize this thought. When marketers become overwhelmed with “proliferating media” (a modern cliche), that’s when they run around in directions with diminishing returns. People want the same things as they always have, but can now get them from newer touchpoints, more often, more easily, in more places. Brands need to tap into these emerging toichpoints, but the concepts of WHY brands create content is not a dramatic departure from many years ago. Nor is the WHO that different; I was a part of umpteen studies for “Gen Y” who were supposed to be oh-so-different. Ultimately, each new generation is similar.

            All of this is rich discussion. But this is not what the article was about. How to use modern tools — for the same funnel as always, with the same intent as a marketer — is what it could have been about. But it isn’t.

          • We can go back and forth assuming what Nichole’s intent actually was, but the way I read this was to present an alternative way of looking at something.

            This is not to say you have to accept anything, but I don’t think Nichole is presenting this perspective as fact or rigid marketing dogma. You’ll even notice that in closing Nichole says:

            “What do you think? Is the sales funnel dead or alive and well? What should the model of the future look like? Is our focus on the sales funnel preventing innovation?”

            You don’t have to agree with her headline, or her assertions, but what harm is there in examining an age-old concept from a new perspective? The world has undoubtedly changed in many ways. New generations behave very differently than the previous ones, it’s always been that way. We can all plainly see that new technology can bring about entirely new ways of acting. And you’re right that as humans we do have common motivations, desires, fears. But given all this change, it’s important that we try to understand that by challenging established ideas and presenting things in new ways. Seemingly crazy ideas are often the only way to shake up and disrupt the status quo.

            When someone puts thoughts out there, I think it is important to remain open minded and try to see things from a different perspective. Otherwise, what is the point of reading or engaging in this dialogue?

            I don’t think anyone takes issues with the fact that you disagree. Respectful dissent is ALWAYS welcomed, conflicting opinions give us all a chance to grow. What caused the visceral reaction was the way in which you did it. I don’t think tearing down the author, trying to discredit her or trying to position yourself as superior is a good way to advance a civil and intellectual discourse. I for one appreciate the change in your tone, and invite you to continue exploring this issue more thoroughly.

          • No buddy, you’re a troll because your M.O is to comment like a jerk. I’ve seen your disqus profile. Truth is, you’re a nobody, with nothing constructive or positive to say. Wanna prove to everyone how smart you are? Back up anything you say with intelligent well thought out reasons. Until then, keep believing your own narrative, everyone else just thinks you’re an asshole. Cheers.

          • Alright guys. Lets keep it respectful. Discourse is fine. Disagreement is fine. Disrespect isn’t.

            PK – We’d love for you to back up your assertions with more than flippant disrespect for Internet marketers.

            Jeff – Appreciate the defense of Nichole, but let’s not let the wrong side of your Philly background soil a good debate. Fair?

          • PK, thanks for fighting the good fight. I’m willing to set aside the name calling and look deeper into your comments. Because you’re right. The social media “industry” and big consulting firms are very busy re-inventing the truth, spinning yarns of Revolutions that don’t exist rather than just saying, “the tools are new, let’s learn how to adapt them to what we know works.”

            I call this the Ignorance Economy. The more they can frighten bean counters the more their bullshit passes as sound business advice.

            Buying behavior has not changed radically by going non-linear. You can navel-gaze on the subject all you want. But I think you’re right, it’s hurting more than it’s helping. It’s stifling evolution and adoption of the new tools.

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  • Jeff Berezny

    Hi Nichole, I agree that the path is certainly not linear and in an ideal world perhaps a neural network versus a funnel would be more relevant. That being said, I think that the funnel still identifies different levels of readiness as it relates to a consumer mindset, regardless of where they bounce around from there. Consumer behaviour is insanely complex and executing against this behaviour is only getting more difficult as channel fragmentation continues. I believe something like the sales funnel actually helps business owners and marketers simplistically look at their communications instead of blasting the same message and tactics to everyone. If we complicate it any more, marketers will only be more lost, although they should be made aware of its limitations.

    I broke down this consumer journey in a recent infographic we created called: From Stranger to Lover – How to do digital marketing in 2013.

    http://tent.to/strangertolover_infographic

    Would love to hear any thoughts you have on it. Keep up the great posts! – Jeff

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Jeff – I am a huge fan of optimizing each stage of the funnel to make it ridiculously easy for people to buy. However, as marketers I think we need to understand that the path to purchase is far more complex than the models we are using today. I still use the funnel as a visualization tool, but I also present it with it’s limitations. If we fixate on something because it is easy to understand, we are setting ourselves up to miss the bigger opportunity. I’m always a fan of trying to represent complex ideas in a way that the audience can understand it, so I agree with you that we should try to model the real buyer’s journey. However, if it is complex. It is complex and we can’t simplify it to the point of ineffectiveness. Fair? Thanks for commenting!

      • Nichole, with all due respect, you’re not inventing a new approach to sales, you’re arguing about how to explain the sales process to a customer… a less than bright customer it seems.

        Send the right message to the right prospect at a time as close as possible to their moment of need for your product or service. Your message should predispose the prospect to buying what you offer over any competition. Be consistent, not sporadic in your efforts thereby building a residual positive image for yourself within the prospect community. When a prospect responds, be quick to engage them… add them to your database in order to remain connected to them and do all you can to close the sale. Make a good accounting of all your efforts, successes and failures, adapting your sales efforts to consistently better your results.

        Funnel, neural network or common sense plainly spoken? Making the explanation more complex than what you’re attempting to describe seems odd to me.

        • Nichole_Kelly

          Rick – I think the reality of how our buyers actually make purchases could create modifications to the sales process, however we can’t understand the changes that are necessary if we aren’t looking at the data.

          The process you describe sounds very simple. And it can be at a holistic level. It also depends on how many customers we are talking about. If you are a company that sells multi-million dollar IT consulting projects, you may only have 50-100 prospects you are working with at any given time. If you are a consumer product company it can increase to millions of prospects. Scaling is an important factor and can introduce complexity. Being consistent with messaging with 1,000,000 prospects when you are doing one-on-one engagement in a social channel, for example can be very challenging.

          I don’t disagree with you in theory. When we get into the weeds of implementing I find that there is more complexity than we typically expect. However, I don’t think the customer is “less than bright”, however. I think these challenges come from dealing with more sophisticated buyers who use technology to facilitate their research and decision process.

          Thanks for commenting and joining the conversation!

          • “Make a good accounting of all your efforts, successes and failures, adapting your sales efforts to consistently better your results.” = Looking at the data… and using it for something.

            The love it takes to love one or a million comes from the same place. The insights required to sell to one or sell to a million also come from the same place. Needs and wants differ. Messages differ. Channels of communication differ. Scaling does not automatically mean increased complexity.

            Companies (brands) who believe they’re doing one-on-one engagement via social media are deluding themselves. They’re driving on a one way street. They can accomplish their objectives that way, but they’re still aloof and disconnected.

            Finally, don’t overlook Occam’s Razor. “It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”

          • Nichole_Kelly

            Rick – Love your perspective! I totally agree with Occam’s Razor. I believe the answer still lies in simplicity. Be a company that people love to buy from and they will continue to buy. Being able to fulfill that mission requires an in-depth understanding of the customer-base and their preferred behaviors. I believe data provides a tremendous asset in understanding that, however getting the data today isn’t as simple as we’d like. This is primarily because most tools have created attribution models that only tell part of the story.

            If we had the data on full campaign history for every customer, I believe it will open our eyes to buyer patterns that we don’t expect. I’ve done this and found some interesting insights. For example, in the test I ran, social media was really good at bringing people to the table, but they tended to convert in organic search or email marketing campaigns. However, within that buying process they continued to engage in social media over and over, they visited the website multiple times and we could watch their buying readiness change as they transitioned from the blog onto pages about the product, pricing and into decision-making content. The conversion rates of these customers who touched social media were ridiculously higher, enough to make me question whether they were accurate. They were. These customers also retained much better than those who never touched social.

            We are constantly testing our assumptions and using data to drive new test models. The goal is to consistently improve. We consider everything a test until it has been proven to deliver the results we’re after. Then we test more to see if we can beat our prior success. My biggest worry about relying on the traditional sales funnel, is that it can close our minds to scenarios that don’t follow the traditional path and make it difficult to justify testing outside the funnel. The sales funnel starts with awareness. Is it possible that there is a stage prior to awareness? The stage that focuses on creating awareness. Today, many aren’t effectively measuring their ability to transition these efforts into awareness and consideration. You could have 1 million fans on Facebook, but if they don’t remember liking your page and don’t pay attention to your content, do they have awareness? Would you be part of the consideration phase? Probably not.

            I’ve loved chatting with you and hope the conversation has expanded both of our perspectives. :-)

        • Actually, Rick, in order for The Ignorance Economy to survive it must constantly invent complex explanations rather than lean on commons sense. The social media industry’s oxygen is navel-gazing bullshit that sounds impressive enough for CEOs and CFOs to believe. It is what has led us to best-sellers proclaiming “Engage!” and encouraged us to set aside ideas like business outcomes.

          • Actually, Jeff, slipping back in two months after a conversation has come to a close… especially one as volatile as this one seemed to get, makes no sense to me. It’s doubly odd that you drop almost the same comment twice, rude language and all. If you’re really this far behind, don’t bother responding to me… get on with the important stuff. Cheers.

          • You’re right Rick. I must be a colossal fool to want to learn from really old, worthless conversation.Thanks for pointing out how interacting with you is a huge time-waster. Cheers to you too!

          • “A colossal fool” yes, you hit the nail on the head… finally.

  • Although I agree in principle with most of the points, I think ignoring any sort of funnel is leaving money on the table. Whether or not the path is linear, I think that a customer does go through every stage of the funnel on their path to purchase and forgetting that can cause problems.

    Although people can become much too focused on funnels, ignoring them altogether risks communicating something sub-optimal. By trying to have every touch point be sales cycle-agnostic, you can end up resonating with no one by trying to resonate with everyone.

    I’m in full agreement about how difficult it is to merge online and offline data, although Google’s Universal Analytics should bridge that gap rather quickly. Also, standard GA supports attribution modelling now so you don’t need to worry about being tied to one type of attribution model :)

    Interesting topic – thanks for the article!

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Jeff – I am a huge fan of optimizing each stage of the funnel to make it ridiculously easy for people to buy. However, as marketers I think we need to understand that the path to purchase is far more complex than the models we are using today. I still use the funnel as a visualization tool, but I also present it with it’s limitations. If we fixate on something because it is easy to understand, we are setting ourselves up to miss the bigger opportunity. I’m always a fan of trying to represent complex ideas in a way that the audience can understand it, so I agree with you that we should try to model the real buyer’s journey. However, if it is complex. It is complex and we can’t simplify it to the point of ineffectiveness. Fair? Thanks for commenting!

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Hi Josh – I don’t think we should ignore the funnel, but I would have to disagree that every buyer goes through every stage of the funnel. I’ve seen buyers start at the beginning and follow the path all the way through, but I’ve also seen buyers suddenly jump to the purchase and skip all levels in between. GA attribution modeling is one step, but the data I’ve pulled can’t be validated based on what is available in the interface, so I’m still skeptical. Thanks for commenting. :-)

  • Nichole – very interesting stuff and exactly what we are wrestling with right now….you share great insights, and of course I was hoping for more direction ;-). Anyway – agree with your use of funnel and your musings on the neural network as well. This won’t get either of us any closer to our answer but what about a network sort of laid out with the buy at the middle and the various touch points out getting progressively brighter as they near the buy (presumably as they build up points they an a very small way get closer to buying but may stay on each level for a while coming in and out with touches….sort of a flatter funnel (inverted in my mind) with many chaotic paths to the top (the buy). I am wondering if, as random that may appear, if over time you could aggregate some broader paths and key touches? Kind of how climbing a mountain could be done by presumably any route but over time some meaningful number of folks take the same type of path -with variations inherent but in total a broadly similar route? thanks for sharing!
    Shannon

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Hi Josh – I don’t think we should ignore the funnel, but I would have to disagree that every buyer goes through every stage of the funnel. I’ve seen buyers start at the beginning and follow the path all the way through, but I’ve also seen buyers suddenly jump to the purchase and skip all levels in between. GA attribution modeling is one step, but the data I’ve pulled can’t be validated based on what is available in the interface, so I’m still skeptical. Thanks for commenting. :-)

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Shannon – I wish I had all the answers. :-) Right now it’s about having the tools in place to collect the data and start to analyze patterns. The buying process is very different from industry to industry, so I don’t think there is one model that will work for every company. Each company will have it’s own nuances and paths to purchase. If we can collect the data we can begin to analyze what exists today and which levers we can pull to improve. We’re implementing marketing automation with ourselves and our clients to begin the analysis process. I’ll let you know how it goes. Please let me know how it goes on your end as well! Thanks for commenting.
      .

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Shannon – I wish I had all the answers. :-) Right now it’s about having the tools in place to collect the data and start to analyze patterns. The buying process is very different from industry to industry, so I don’t think there is one model that will work for every company. Each company will have it’s own nuances and paths to purchase. If we can collect the data we can begin to analyze what exists today and which levers we can pull to improve. We’re implementing marketing automation with ourselves and our clients to begin the analysis process. I’ll let you know how it goes. Please let me know how it goes on your end as well! Thanks for commenting.

  • Rob Buser

    Hi Nicole,

    Thank you so much for this article. I enjoyed every letter of it. For the last 7 to 10 years I have been developing a software program that will make sure sales funnels to be ”as well” strategies… It puts articles, 1-liners etc. etc. all over the place in one flow over and over without spam, indoctrination or repetition.

    Video and personal branding as the main issue.

    Thank you for the conformation, it came at the right time.

    Hope to someday meet you or do business together.
    Lots off succes,

    Rob Buser
    ROBPORTUNITY

    Skype: robbuser
    email: info@robbuser.nl

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  • The ultimate solution, be visible & ensure your copy makes sense when folk are searching online…

    Better still, go find those who could be interested in what you have, make your case and move on to the next, leaving them to work things out in their own mind.

    I think in reality, the more data you have the further you get from the decision to buy… as a buyer your head gets full of options… and someone trying to find the perfect client profile finds there isn’t one!

    Enjoy selling your favourite widget and at least, if you’re not able to sell them, you’ll love looking at them ;)

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  • Nichole –  You outlined it well.  Some thoughts:

    1. The sales funnel implies the seller is in control of a process.  I believe, as you indicate, their is no funnel, because it is a buyer journey.  As marketers and sales people, we need to accept that we are now guides in a buyers journey.  It is there process and we are there to help, through education, knowledge sharing and helpful insights.

    2.  The buyers want our help on the journey.  When we think how things have changed for the buyer, many cite  the stat that buyers are normally at least 50% of the way through the sales process before they engage with a sales person.  At the same time, buyers tell us (from Forrester work) that they reward the sales person who helps them create the vison for what they will attain from making the purchase with the deal at least 65% of the time.  So, the job is to be able to develop that trusted relationship and share real insights with the buyer.

    3.  The buyers brain –  The buyer is constantly trying to understand if they change from their current status quo will things be better and if so, what risks are there that could make things worse.  If they get overloaded with too much information that is not made relevant to their situation, then their brain goes on overload. It literally shuts down. It says this is way to complicated, so I am just going to stay with the status quo.    How we guide is really important and right now the biggest competitor for any organization is no decision (we lose to them 24% of the time).

    Cliff

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  • Buyers are much more informed now, so they enter the funnel at different stages. I’d also argue that there are multiple funnels relative to where leads come from regardless of channel i.e. Twitter and Facebook leads might go down a different funnel but they are regarded as the same channel (social). Smarter technology is needed to create these funnels on the fly – particularly in B2B where it relies on sales admin to get accurate forecasts (rubbish in rubbish out).

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  • There are 2 problems with the funnel as I see it:
    1) Sales and executives see the funnel as something you push leads down. In other words, forcing the behavior of your contact toward a conversion.
    2) You’re absolutely right that there are as many variations on the lead to conversion path as there are human beings. Even more than that if you take into account competition, changing priorities and other external factors.

    As for measuring engagements though, I’m in the beginning stages of setting up Marketo. While it won’t take into account social network engagement, unless it connects to a landing page, it should show each touch from a contact. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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  • Dara Khajavi

    Interesting post. I enjoyed reading your perspective on the sales funnel. Customers are constantly changing. Customers expect and demand more. It is up to businesses to adapt. 

  • I’m not sure if you saw the SSIR report from last week titled the “Permanent Disruption of Social Media”. It made some very similar points regarding how the ladder / pyramid engagement process for nonprofits is dead. 

    http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_permanent_disruption_of_social_media It made the recommendation of a “vortex”, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around. 

    • Nichole_Kelly

      Sue Anne – This is an awesome article. Thanks for sharing!

  • Nichole, are you a fan of or have you explored assisted conversions in Google Analytics? In past marketing efforts, it’s provided me with a great deal of insight on who is buying and what they are doing before the purchase.

    I do like your choice for describing it as a neural network, that’s dead on in my experience. They come and go and eventually, if what we’ve demonstrated is valuable to the person, they purchase. 

    • Yes, but I’m curious as to your thoughts on the reliability of the data. As you know we use campaign tracking on social links so we know how much traffic is being driven and what the resulting conversions are. When I compare this to what I see in assisted conversions the traffic is significantly less, typically only 30-40% of the real traffic we see in campaigns. 

      Google analytics is very last touch and the assisted conversions start to get us there if it works. However, in the social reports and multi-funnel reports the big challenge I have is that I can see where an assist came from, but not which conversion it influenced. I just know that an assist occurred, but I can’t dig into the data to validate the numbers, in any easy way. You know I’m a big fan of Google Analytics, I just wish there were more mechanisms to validate and drill into the data for assists. It’s nice to know that an assist occurred from a channel, but I want to know that a Twitter assist converted in Organic Search. That’s where the data gets fuzzy. Tracking channel to channel conversions in a meaningful way.

      What do you think? How are you using it? Is it working for you?

      • Assisted conversion traffic should be slightly less than resulting conversions. Two reasons for that are

        1. A conversion can happen outside the timeframe that you are looking at. If your goal chains are longer than the window you are looking at then it makes sense that some would get cut out, yes?

        2. Not ALL conversions are assisted. Some people come directly into the site and know what they want to do. 

        I completely understand where you are going with the less fuzzy data desires. That’s my biggest gripe about where we are now. You still have to use a marketing automation system to get that far down into the individual conversion data. That’s where GA falls down and hopefully catches up soon. It would be fantastic to have that all in one place, but for now, thems the breaks.

        Right *now*, I don’t have enough data to make a decision about anything. There’s not enough to know what’s working and what isn’t except on a base level about where to spend the bulk of time.  I’m hoping by the end of the first campaign this will help more.

        Previously, it helped immensely because I knew what converted and needed to build a lot around that while testing with other channels. If you can find a thread that generates results and use the rest of the time to test other avenues to find something that may work that you aren’t doing yet, I think it’s a valuable use of time/effort.  

        • I totally understand why the traffic falls off in the conversions. But here’s what I see more often, all same time period. Twitter drove 1,500 site visits (based on campaign tracking), in conversions I see 100 conversions with campaigns from Twitter. In social reports I see 30 assists and 4 last touch. When I look in multi-funnel conversions I see 3 last touch and 2 first touch. Again same time period.  That’s where it gets really fuzzy, none of the data adds up and I can’t dig into any of the reports far enough to see how it’s calculating and where the other conversions went to validate. Make sense?

          • Hi Nicole and Chel, This is a great conversation. I think that GA’s Multi-Channel Conversion could address some of these issues in the future and maybe become a premium tool. It would be nice if GA made it easier to dive deep into each Conversion Path for individual goals that are set up and not have to set up custom Channel Groupings. Also, is there a way to set the Lookback Window to more than 30 days? 

  • Davidclark

    Nicole. As usual you nailed it. This is why you make the big bucks and we resend your words to others.

  • This is brilliant Nichole.  We are trying to map the human decision making process when we create a simple model like the sales funnel where we imagine that that process is a simple, linear, few step process.  Yet everything we know about the way decisions are made tell us otherwise.  We may not be able to easily map the human decision making process but at least your thoughts help us acknowledge that we’ve got it wrong. And that will help us make better decisions as business people.

    • Ilana – While the sales funnel may not be a complete visualization you can argue that it covers the high points. I think the biggest challenge I see is that when we start charting out a linear conversion process we are trying to force prospects through “our funnel” rather than their natural buying process. I’ve found that anytime we are trying to force someone to follow an unnatural path there is a high margin for fall-off as buyers revolt and do what they want. :-) 

      It’s kind of like taking someone who subscribes to your blog and trying to send them sales messages because our funnel says the next step is purchase. The unsubscribe rate on sales messages to blog subscribers can be unnecessarily high. We could instead provide more of what they came for, content. If we present options to buy in a more integrated fashion the buyer can choose when they are ready to buy without feeling like they got duped. 

      I believe the more we can align our marketing and sales efforts to the decision making process the better our results will be. So for now we test and test until we have better data to show what the decision making process really looks like. :-) Thanks so much for commenting. 

  • Great post and something I find myself asking all the time, but so far I haven’t been able to find a better tool than the good old sales pipeline (funnel).
    Trying to indentify that final touch point when the prospect decides to buy is still more of an art than a science

    • Steve – Well said, but oh how I look forward to the day when we have the data to understand the science behind these decisions. I believe the science exists, but the tools to model it don’t. And if those tools did exist, I wonder if we’d see a path that looks like a funnel or if it would look like a neural network. For now, we use a combination of art and science to make progress. Thanks for commenting!

  • In my opinion.. I feel that this is a very subjective topic. We would not be able to generalize the point that the sales funnel is going to die.. as the heart of it all lies in the quality of the content.

    We know that there are different parts of the sales funnel.. the offer, the promise, the lead capture, the followups, the upsells, etc. And in my opinion.. if we look at this as a factory or some kind of a machine.. without having an emotional connect at any stage.. we can expect people to be easily distracted by other similar offers..

    At the end of the day.. the funnels that win will have only 2 key components:
    – Really good copywriting which connects with the reader
    – Transparency and Emotional based content – such as stories, etc.

    All other content is probably going to be jargon.. and in other words ‘junk’. 

    So.. I say that the Sales Funnel will always prevail.. no matter what.. But with the number of sales funnels increasing in different niches… the ones who’ll win are the ones who really care about their prospects.. Hope this makes sense.

    • Siddharth – I think the bigger question is where great content fits into the sales funnel? I’d argue that great content helps us capture “high funnel” prospects before our competition, but the path from there to conversion is certainly not linear and while we can use the funnel to illustrate certain steps in the sales process the progress through those steps is fairly erratic and less predictable than the funnel implies. It’s a known model and is the easiest one I’ve found to resonate with business executives, but it certainly doesn’t come without its own disclaimer. Thanks so much for commenting!

      • You’re welcome Nichole.. Yes I do agree with your point here. Awesome post. Looking forward to more.. 

  • Pingback: The Death of the Sales Funnel | digitalnews2000()

  • A very interesting post, and I think about too others ways to imagine and represent the conversion funnel, may I suggest you a presentation I made:
    7 metaphorical variations about customer conversion funnel
    http://fr.slideshare.net/dfailly/7-metaphorical-variation-about-customer-conversion-funnel

    • Denis – Thanks so much for commenting! Your presentation is very interesting. It’s certainly a complex subject and one that will be an iterative process of understanding prospect and customer interactions. Great stuff!

    • Denis – I liked your Strange Attractor model and I wonder if the Massachusetts driving situation known as the rotary might be a simplified variation.
      One enters the rotary via one of several predictable paths. The driver might be unsure where they are going so they continue around the rotary multiple times on the inside lane. Another entrant moves into the rotary, gets off at the 3rd exit, which may lead them to another rotary or to conversion. This gives us a model with multiple entrance and exit points determined by an engagement, and offers multiple holding areas for people not yet ready to move on.