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Analysis

Is the Sales Funnel a Thing of the Past?

Experts weigh in on the classic sales funnel’s continued relevance for life-cycle marketing

Keith Loria
January 22 2020

For many, the customer journey is no longer a one-size-fits-all purchase funnel. Rather, it’s a much more dynamic journey with various paths to purchase—and just one piece of a much larger and more complex puzzle.

For example, in the traditional sales funnel, you’d send a welcome email. But when it comes to lifecycle marketing, you’re pushing for user adoption. That’s why many believe marketers need to proactively engage new customers to help them see the added value, thus increasing retention.

More from PostFunnel on the customer journey:
Five Technologies Reshaping Customer Experience
Asking the Experts: The Need for a Customer Journey is Over
Asking The Experts: The Customer Journey is Vital (A Rebuttal)

“The sales funnel is obsolete,” said Courtney Doyle, partner and director of growth at Connelly Partners. “Passion, loyalty, and advocacy happen after the sale and are your most powerful tools for marketing today. For brands to end their relationship and communications at the time of sale puts them in the position of becoming a commodity product versus a brand.”

Some argue that the sales funnel doesn’t accommodate the modern customer’s journey, and fails to represent the nurturing strategy of inbound marketing.

“Companies should get rid of the sales funnel because present-day customers are too unpredictable,” said William Taylor, career development manager at MintResume. “They have a plethora of information at their fingertips influencing their shopping behavior and preferences, whereas the sales funnel can’t predict anything about customers. It doesn’t help understand their mentality, transition through the buyer’s journey, or when they might make a purchase.”

Nate Nead, CEO of SEO.co, noted that since the traditional sales funnel model is almost always transaction-based and not relationship-based, salespeople and marketers often miss two critical benefits that differentiate lifecycle marketing from a traditional funnel.

“First, lifecycle marketing, because it focuses on relationships as prospects move toward purchasing, often fosters a much stronger bond with customers,” he said. “Enhanced company/customer bonds of this type tend to create advocates for your brand. Advocates drive more sales and referrals, making the ROI from a single client more significant.”

Second, he added, typical sales funnel marketing is more churn and burn, ignoring the total customer lifetime value of a client.

“Lifecycle marketing focuses on longer-term goals and objectives, building relationships and extracting more value over a much longer time horizon than a single sale,” Nead said. “In sales funnel marketing, once the client has moved through the funnel, marketers and sales people

wash their hands and move on to the next prospect. In lifecycle marketing, the relationship nurturing continues, bringing in more sales and more referrals for additional sales in the future.”

DIY hack- Calculate your customers' LTV

Not Dead Yet

Cristina Maria, marketing executive for Commusoft, said that the sales funnel is still valuable, and after working for quite a while with the funnel and seeing real results, the company is not yet giving up on it.

“The lifecycle scheme helps us to focus on the customer and see their journey as a continuous activity rather than one with a beginning (top of the funnel) and an end (bottom of the funnel),” she explained. “At the same time, we’re not quite ready to give up on the funnel, as it’s an excellent method of structuring content and making sure there’s something for any visitor to engage with.”

Dan Klein, managing partner at Spoke Marketing, also believes that the sales funnel is not dead, but that it doesn’t always help you sell.

“It’s important to know how many leads you receive as well as the opportunities, proposals and wins generated from the funnel,” he said. “You absolutely need to know these metrics. However, if you want to move prospects through your funnel, you have to think differently. You have to follow each specific buyer through their marketing lifecycle.”

A traditional approach, he explained, documents the sales approach. What do you want the prospect to do? What do you want them to know about you?

“A marketing lifecycle is all about your prospect and their mindset. Where are they in this journey from awareness to decision? What you provide them has to be targeted, personalized, and reach them where they are,” Klein said. “Thanks to the internet, buyers know more about you than ever before. Buyers expect you to know them, too. If you haven’t adjusted to lifecycle marketing, your sales funnel isn’t going to matter.”

Mike Baker, marketing director at Lola.com, doesn’t think lifecycle marketing and the sales funnel are mutually exclusive.

“If anything, lifecycle marketing can be thought of as an inverted sales funnel to the bottom of the traditional sales funnel—a framework to help you nurture that customer to not only be a competent user of your product, but an active promoter of it,” he said. “But the tricky part is making sure all touchpoints from early prospect to customer advocate are part of a coherent, tonally consistent whole.”

This concept is harder than it seems because it not only means mapping this full journey out, but maintaining content and voice consistency across sales outreach, marketing communications, customer success, marketing advocacy, and more.

Ted Chan is the CEO of CareDash and teaches marketing analytics at Boston University. He still sees the funnel as a useful tool, but understands it doesn’t encompass the full view of lifecycle marketing.

“True lifecycle marketers, along with valuing the traditional awareness/interested/decision/action funnel elements, must now encompass customer value that also includes reviews, social media, user generated content, and word-of-mouth,” he said. “Lifecycle marketing is also increasingly content and brand driven, which from a cost and return perspective is very difficult to slice up and encompass in the funnel. Furthermore, I don’t think the funnel is especially effective for multi-click or multi-interaction sales that are now the norm with programmatic and retargeting.”

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Keith Loria

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for major newspapers and magazines for close to 20 years, on topics as diverse as sports, business and healthcare. You can view some of his recent writing at keithloria.contently.com.

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