How to fix the funnel?

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Sales and marketing alignment, Uncategorized

The sales funnel is dead. The funnel is leaking. Flip the funnel.

You see quite a lot stories about the demise of the sales funnel. But like it or not, the funnel metaphor is here to stay. And we shouldn’t worry about that, but rather focus on the shape and the stages of the funnel – without forgetting the terminology, as you’ll see!

Shaping the funnel

Sales and marketing funnel should look like a real funnel. Wide from the top, narrow from the bottom (with a concave shape!). Yet, our experience shows that most B2B funnels still look something totally different – a funnel rarely gathers enough data from the early phases, which makes it look like a lemon, or even worse, a straight pipe. A pipe-looking funnel gives you false hopes about the flow in the sales and marketing process. How to shape the funnel into the right form then?

Create demand, gather lead data, qualify the best and pass them on to sales. That’s the idea in a nutshell. In reality, you need multi-channel data integration, programmatic marketing, marketing automation and CRM integration to make this happen (you might also need a bit of change management every now and then). Moreover, you need to understand the revolution that has taken place in the way purchase decisions are made.

“Staging” the funnel

B2B buying journey is already digital. Many sources (including Forrester) claim that over 70% of the buyer’s journey is done before an actual contact with a salesperson. Until now, sales has basically owned the whole funnel. However, the shift in the buying process means that marketing should be responsible for a larger part of the overall funnel. How does this show in the funnel?

A few progressive B2B companies have made it far with sales and marketing integration. They have defined marketing qualified leads (MQLs), sales qualified leads (SQLs) and SLAs between sales and marketing. Yet, marketing is still responsible for the funnel only up to the lead stage.

So, I have a simple question: why is everybody still talking about passing leads from marketing to sales? If the buyer’s journey has shifted, why the hand-off between marketing and sales still happens at lead stage?

The leads are weak

Instead of leads, the marketing function of the future should produce marketing qualified opportunities for sales. Yes, opportunities, not leads. While this may sound utopian, there are two reasons for this. First, marketing and sales automation (together with predictive analytics) is happening at an ever increasing speed. At some point in the near future, automation will enable marketing to pass qualified sales opportunities to sales architects (or whatever the sales people of the future will be called).

Second, terminology matters. A change in terminology is the easiest way for mindset change. The definition of a lead is always difficult, but an opportunity has a clear business value attached in it. Getting marketing and sales to talk about opportunities would definitely help to bridge the gap between the two functions.

The buyer’s journey has changed but the funnel stays, like it or not. It just that talking about leads leads to nowhere. What do you think?

Image credit (cc license): Christian Schröder
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