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Is the Funnel Dead? A Few Pros and Cons

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

In 2018, the Harvard Business Review published an article by a writer who declared the sales funnel officially retired, complete with retirement party, gold watch and congratulations on its move to a condo in Florida.

But like many retirees, it’s still working.

So, what gives?

In 2018, the HBR writer wasn’t alone in thinking that the sales funnel was dead and forever replaced by the flywheel.

The flywheel pointed out a major problem within the sales funnel.

Not only does the linear approach of the funnel lose all of the marketing and sales momentum as the customer reaches the bottom, but there is another major problem.

In our customer-centric world, customers dropping out from the funnel into what looks like the abyss, a place where they will never be attended to again, just doesn’t work.

More Cons of the Funnel

The customer is not prioritized. The sales funnel prioritizes marketing and sales and largely ignores the power customers possess to help organizations grow. In today’s world, that is dangerous.

Customers must move up the priority chain; some even argue they should be prioritized above all else.

The flywheel often replaces the funnel because of its customer-centric focus.

Ever since the flywheel became a marketing metaphor, multiple iterations have emerged. The first was a simple diagram with marketing, sales and service revolving around customers at the center. Another illustrated the concepts of attracting, engaging and delighting customers. Some versions get quite complicated layering the two previously mentioned iterations on top of one another.

But one thing never changes – the customer is always at the center. And that’s why the flywheel works.

The sales funnel, on its own, doesn’t pay homage to the power of word of mouth or customer retention, loyalty or advocacy. Word of mouth has always been essential for brand marketing, but today’s world takes it to a new level.

  1. Informational trust is at an all-time low.

  2. Visibility on search engines is a labyrinth.

  3. Customers do more independent research than ever before.

The sales funnel is designed to lose momentum. Because flywheels preserve and leverage that momentum, it’s like creating something out of nothing. 1+1=3, if you will.

While the flywheel is correct to position the customer at such a high priority, viewing it as the sole compass for marketing strategies might be a mistake. For quite a while, marketing departments ditched the funnel entirely and turned to the flywheel.

Pros of the Funnel

Because they have different goals, the funnel and the flywheel should work in conjunction with one another.

  1. The goal of the flywheel is to increase customer retention, loyalty and advocacy.

  2. The goal of the funnel is to increase revenue.

The funnel adds value by measuring how you attract new business, while the flywheel measures how new customers experience your brand.

Before you throw out your sales funnel entirely, consider these pros:

Increases conversion rate. The number of customers moving down the funnel decreases. Those who remain are more likely and willing to make a buying decision.

Drives efficiency. By filtering out leads that are unlikely to convert, time and effort wasted will decrease. Because only customers who are likely to convert remain in the funnel, your brand has a better chance for lasting connections when deploying marketing dollars.

Coordinates internal efforts. The funnel is an essential tool for building a sustainable marketing and sales strategy. In order to manage operations and effectively engage customers in today’s ever-changing environment, companies must be able to address internal operations and processes.

Informs planning. How do you know when you’re doing something wrong when communicating with customers? Your sales funnel provides you with this information. The analytic nature of the funnel allows you to monitor the number of buyers at each stage within funnel, so you can calculate conversion rates at each stage. You learn which strategies are effective and which are creating bottlenecks.

Maintains control over the process. When the sales funnel was the only tool used by marketing departments, customers didn’t have the same type of access to data and, as a result, sellers had all the power. Now the opposite is true and a strong imbalance in favor of customers exists. Some wonder if buyers having complete control is a good thing. Using the funnel in coordination with the flywheel can help restore balance.

The flywheel is certainly here to stay, but – just like that retiree who decided to keep working a few days a week – the funnel isn’t going away.


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