The Sales Funnel Isn’t 

funnel (noun)
A tube or pipe that is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, used for guiding liquid or powder into a small opening.

We all know and use the classic sales funnel that was conceptualized in 1898 by E. St. Elmo Lewis. It describes the customer journey from the moment a brand or product attracted his or her attention to the point of action or purchase. St. Elmo Lewis idea is often referred to as the AIDA model, an acronym that stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action.

Since then, we have seen this concept described as sales funnel, marketing funnel, purchase funnel, and other similar terms. We have also seen the concept expanded and stages added to describe parallel subsets of marketing and sales activities. The funnel became so popular that marketers have become accustomed to defining the process by which a group of suspects is exposed to a series of marketing and sales activities that results in some of them making a purchase, as the funnel.

A funnel, as a metaphor for this marketing and sales process, is somewhat flawed. When using a real funnel, everything that enters its wide mouth at the top, eventually goes through the small opening at the bottom. In other words, everything that goes in comes out of the funnel at the end. As marketers, we could only wish that things were this simple and this predictable.

If everyone who becomes aware of what we offer ended up making a purchase, the task of marketers would be very easy. All that we would have to do is feed the funnel with prospects and then just wait for them to make a buying decision. Alas, as we know, not all of our prospects end up becoming customers. As marketers, we are tasked with bringing prospects into the sales process (or funnel) and applying a myriad of techniques and creative ways to move them closer to making a purchase decisionall the while knowing full well that only a subgroup of them will actually get to the desired end result.

A funnel, therefore, is an inaccurate metaphor; a sorter is a more appropriate descriptor. Sorters are used to separate coins, rocks, and other materials by size, shape, or weight. Sorters are designed to take in a collection of dissimilar items and move them though the device while removing some of them from the main chamber at different stages. Only certain items with particular characteristics go through the sorter all the way to the very end.

So the next time you’re discussing how prospects turn into customers, remember that a sorter is probably a better way to describe the process. Knowing that some leads leave the mix along the way is just as valuable to a marketer. It allows us to apply different types of marketing efforts to those who remain in the process and to those who leaked at various stages.


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