Forget the sales funnel: how buyers really decide

Back in the days of sales funnels, marketing was simpler. Not easier – it’s never been easy to take business away from a determined competitor. But simpler in the sense that years ago one could push an ad schedule on a limited number of targeted media, create awareness, offer credible (with luck, USP) differentiation within your category, and close the sale. Bingo.

Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.


But buyer decision-making has evolved, and we must adapt. Sources of information have multiplied while willingness to listen to your sales pitch has disappeared. Even that page-one finish on Google for your (burrito joint, university, financial services or IT consulting firm) can now get crushed by negative Twitter reviews.

Which brings us back to that tired old metaphor, the sales funnel. It always was misleading: everything that enters any funnel goes through, given time and gravity. But prospects for your (burrito/college/consulting) brand can and do detour out of the process at many different points, for good reasons and bad. (Click to enlarge the flowchart.) Today you have to consider many more media and processes and influences than ever before. It’s gettin’ com-pli-ca-ted out there.

Budgeting is harder too, of course. Sure, you can zero out media that are struggling (magazines) or dying (newspapers) or stone-cold-dead-but-still-twitching (Yellow Pages), but where do you re-allocate those funds? There are at least ten places where a marketer can invest for better results. You don’t have unlimited bucks, so where can you get the most bang? Question old assumptions, choose wisely and know that today, thanks to rapid growth in advanced marketing automation tools, a trend we enthusiastically embrace, it’s finally possible to measure the ROI of every marketing tactic. That puts the fun in funnel…

It’s a “Buyer’s Journey, not a sales funnel. Let’s talk about it.

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