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March 9, 2018
Sales Process  |  4 min read

Rethinking the Sales Funnel Metaphor

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Matt Solar

The sales funnel is one of a handful of business metaphors that are universally accepted.

And why wouldn’t it be? You know you have to move customers from awareness to consideration, to conversion, and then focus on retention. All you have to do is execute.

Except sales funnels in every industry have been cracking in recent years. Now, they might be broken altogether.

Changes in consumers behavior are forcing us all to rethink the sales funnel and find new ways to improve engagement at every stage of the customer journey.

The path to purchase looks aimless

The funnel metaphor has always been perfect because business leaders could draw a clear line from awareness to purchase for each and every customer. In the past, customers didn’t have much freedom to stray from the linear path.

But digital channels, social, and mobile have completely changed that.

Consumers have more power than ever to inform themselves, conduct product research, and self-serve their way through your sales funnel.

The result is a purchase path that looks entirely aimless from the outside. Customers can rapidly move from one stage to the other. They can move forwards or backward in the funnel. They can remain at a standstill in one stage indefinitely.

Any notion of sales funnel standardization has fallen by the wayside. And worse yet, the aimless purchase path results in leaks in your sales funnel.

Because consumers have so much autonomy, it’s harder than ever for you to actively (and effectively) engage with them along the customer journey. Every time a potential customer moves from one stage to another, you risk having them fall through the cracks.

This is why we spend so much time considering how to improve customer experiences—it’s the key to plugging up holes in the broken sales funnel metaphor.

Are chatbots the answer to your engagement problems?

Judging by the hype, chatbots seem poised to fix broken sales funnels. They promise customer engagement in preferred channels. And they can do it at scale. When deployed properly, chatbots are capable of bridging the gaps between stages of the sales funnel. However, you can’t them to completely redefine the customer journey alone.

The reality is that chatbots can’t replace human interactions. They’re great for automating some lower-level aspects of customer engagement, but they aren’t going to bring life back to the sales funnel metaphor.

If you want to fill the gaps in your customer engagement, you need to think outside the sales funnel.

Think people, not platforms

The biggest mistake brands are making when it comes to the sales funnel problem is thinking that a new platform will solve everything. Some marketers think that if they can just find a way to engage with customers via mobile messaging, they’ll be able to shore up any cracks in the funnel.

The problem is that no matter what seems like the preferred platform today, there’s still no way to accurately predict an individual customer’s precise journey. Rather than thinking about platforms, start thinking about how to better engage with individual people.

Sales funnels are meant to universally apply to all customers. It’s a metaphor that emerged to satisfy the era of mass marketing. Scalable, yes. Personal, no.

If you’re taking personalization seriously (and what marketer isn’t?), it’s time to move beyond the sales funnel.

Embrace new ways to track individual customer journeys and engage with each prospect in her unique context.

How are you keeping track of customer context on an individual level? We’d love to hear how you’re thinking bigger than the traditional sales funnel.

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This story was contributed by nDash.co—a content marketing platform offering software and services to the leading digital marketers and agencies. Using vetted subject matter experts, nDash.co ensures you receive content relevant to your audience across formats, channels, and industries. With on-demand and subscription pricing, nDash.co offers options for everyone from small startups to large agencies.


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