Reconfiguring Marketing's Flat Funnel

The concept of "the funnel" is a sacred cow in marketing. The idea of leads progressing through a series of steps of escalating interaction until they finally purchase is intuitive. At the macro level, it is fairly easy to model the funnel and assign labels to each step (awareness, interest, consideration, evaluation, commitment, advocacy, etc.). However, the model's accuracy decays rapidly when marketers attempt to predict the behavior of their prospects by cutting each step into ever smaller slices. The primary reason for this decay is that we visualize a funnel based on the two-dimensional illustrations found in marketing textbooks written decades before the Web even existed.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Two-dimensional funnels shown from a side view suggest you can identify a <i>linear</i> series of steps leading up to a sale. However, anyone who has tried to model his or her own organization's funnel can tell you that trying to define the path of a prospect at a granular level is an exercise in futility. Does a prospect watch a Webinar before or after they inquire about pricing? Does a prospect view a demo before or after they sign up for a newsletter? Unlike many other forms of communication, the Web is an inherently user-driven medium that defies marketers' attempts to dictate user experience. No single path even remotely represents prospects' series of interactions accurately.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Perspective</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Does this mean the funnel model of engagement is an illusion? No, but it means that if we want to model the granular behaviors of prospects within the funnel, we need to look at the funnel from a different perspective, literally. If we abandon the two-dimensional model and instead view the funnel as if we are standing in front of the mouth and peering inside, we will see that each of the steps drawn on the two-dimensional funnel now appear as concentric rings, much like a target.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Each ring represents a certain degree of engagement based on the level of effort required by the prospect. The amount of effort a prospect is willing to devote is a reasonably reliable indicator of interest. We can still apply a traditional funnel label for each ring (e.g., consideration), but in addition we must define the interactions that reflect that label (e.g., download documentation, view live demo, watch Webinar). Measuring the number of prospects who graduate from ring to ring, and identifying which interactions within a given ring result in abandonment, will help us to refine our content or activities to remove friction from the funnel and drive more conversion and ultimately more revenue.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Funnel Interactions and Marketing Automation</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> If we use a marketing automation solution, the rings also can be used as the foundation for both lead nurturing and lead scoring configuration. Lead scoring typically is governed by a set of independent custom rules based on profile data or behavioral data. Like so many things, the most challenging aspect of lead scoring is getting started. Simply create a rule for each interaction shown in the rings of our new funnel. As we move deeper into the rings of the funnel, each rule is assigned a higher score. Of course, this approach isn't perfect because some key buying signals may require a relatively low amount of effort on behalf of the prospect. However, these adjustments are a natural part of the "execute, measure, refine" methodology that should dictate all marketing efforts. To get the most out of your lead scoring system, you also should add rules that evaluate how closely the prospect matches your ideal profile (e.g., does the prospect's vertical industry match your target industries?).<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Likewise, the new funnel diagram can be used as the basis for lead nurturing programs and personalization. Start by identifying and tracking on which ring each prospect resides. Then build a lead nurturing program for each ring that highlights the interactions found on the next ring of the funnel. Ideally, we would have at least three interactions on each ring so we can spoon-feed them as a "drip" campaign over time. We also can personalize this prospect's Website experience by dynamically inserting these next interactions (e.g., white paper, screencast, demo) directly into the pages of our Website based on the prospect's current ring. These tactics can be used individually or in concert to encourage prospects to graduate to the next stage of the funnel.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Simple Is Better</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Avoid turning your funnel model into a black hole (from which no productivity can escape) by resisting the temptation to slice your funnel into too many rings. Most organization's funnels will consist of between four and eight rings, each ring consisting of interactions requiring at least double the effort of their predecessor. Use these funnel rings as the basis for your lead scoring rules and lead nurturing efforts. Most importantly, don't forget the funnel is a model that attempts to emulate the natural progression of your prospect's engagement cycle. To be successful, you must accept that this model will need to evolve and adapt as you learn more about your prospects and your business. Commit to measuring, monitoring, and reviewing the progress of your prospects through this funnel and revising your model appropriately as you gain insight.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Matthew Quinlan is the vice president of field operations at <a href="" target="_blank">LoopFuse</a>, the company behind Loopfuse OneView, an on-demand sales and marketing automation solution. LoopFuse provides full-featured sales and marketing automation services designed to close the loop between sales and marketing.</i>