Why the Sales Funnel is No Longer Useful

A new sales reality demands a new sales journey analogy. What your teams can do to adapt

Written by Robert Gold

Every salesperson knows the sales funnel. Prospects go in at the top, deals come out at the bottom. But that analogy for the sales process is no longer useful according to Lisa Shepherd, president of The Mezzanine Group, a B2B marketing company serving SMEs.

Shepherd is also the author of The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies, a book she was prompted to write after she noticed a change in the sales landscape. “I spend a lot of my time with owners and operators of small and midsized businesses, and over the last three years I’m hearing a constant lament from them to do with their sales departments and teams,” she explains. “They often say something like, €˜We can’t find any hunters. I need to hire some hunters to go out there and sell what we sell.'”

MORE MISSING HUNTERS: Why Your Sales Team is Obsolete »

Demographic factors are partly responsible for this shift. There’s a reticence among newly-minted salespeople to go out and hunt, to knock on doors and set up calls. One thing I’ve learned in sales is that every “no” you get gets you closer to a “yes,” but today’s salespeople tend to just tick prospects off a list when their voicemails don’t produce call-backs or their emails aren’t returned.

While Shepherd acknowledges that there is a different mindset today amongst those doing sales for the first time, she also believes things have gotten more difficult. “The challenge now is yes, it’s easy to send out emails and relatively easy to make phone calls and leave voicemails, but the problem is it’s really easy for emails to get deleted and nobody answers their phone anymore,” she says. “Nobody’s got time to have a conversation with a salesperson.”

Buyers are also better prepared when they do call. Shepherd cites a Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study which found that on average, a buyer completes 57% of their decision process before contacting a selling company. “I find that statistic so powerful,” she says. “If I’m a salesperson and I’m waiting for my phone to ring, the buyer that I’m talking to has already made more than half of their decision.”

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This newly-informed buyer is one reason why Shepherd believes the sales funnel analogy isn’t accurate anymore. Most versions of the sales funnel start with awareness at the top, and then proceed through familiarity and consideration, until finally the prospective customer makes a decision. But Shepherd outlines a better analogy for the modern sales process in her book: pinball. “I don’t think it’s as neat and as clean as that old funnel,” she says. “I see so many customers that pop around and bop to different points—they can come from consideration and pop back up to awareness, or they can move straight from familiarity into a decision.”

The availability of information about your company (and competitors) online makes it easier for a buyer to get relevant information about your offerings without having to pick up the phone and call. “Sometimes you’ll have a customer come into your company, and maybe they’ve found you via search and they’re really ready to make a decision,” Shepherd suggests. But sometimes there’s a much longer journey from start to sale. “A customer might come to an event that you host, and then maybe they download a whitepaper that you’ve put on your website and emailed to them a few months later,” Shepherd says. “They can bounce around from all of these points  on the pinball landscape before they finally get to decision.”

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That doesn’t mean you’ve lost all control over the sales process. The book emphasizes that as a business owner you can control the bumpers and the gates of the sales pinball machine.

The need to understand and adapt to the new sales reality is only growing, says Shepherd. “A lot of companies have stagnating revenues—they’re just not getting the growth that they want to see, and their cost of sales is going up,” she says. “This radical sales shift is occurring, and they need to think about how they structure their sales teams and their marketing function in order to adapt to the new way that buyers are buying.”

For more of Shepherd’s insights on the radical sales shift, listen to this week’s BusinessCast by clicking the button above or download by clicking on the iTunes logo below:

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com