The New Marketing & Sales Funnel

I’ve spent the better part of my career in the B2B marketing world, and can say with a great deal of certainty that a major shift is underway creating a very different dynamic between marketing and sales.  Now, you might be thinking “oh great, another post about the new world of marketing, everything is social and digital and unicorns, your customers own your brand, etc. etc.” but bear with me.

Not long ago, there was a clear approach to the B2B sales funnel:  marketing was primarily responsible for filling the top of the funnel with leads, and the sales organization was responsible for pulling those leads through the middle and lower portions of the funnel and closing business. In theory it seems like a reasonable approach, but in reality it was flawed, and typically created a sizable rift between the marketing and sales organizations: sales was dissatisfied with the leads that marketing delivered and felt they were alone in pursuing revenue, and marketing felt sales couldn’t convert the leads they delivered and felt alone in developing strategy.

The result was that marketing would work harder to generate more leads in the hopes of finding a quantity of qualified leads, and sales would spend more time chasing more unqualified opportunities. Both groups became even more frustrated and the rift widened.

Meanwhile, two important things happened over the past few years: businesses dramatically changed how they buy, and the toolkit for marketers got far more powerful than it’s ever been – not just by a little, but by leaps and bounds.

Businesses Changing How They Buy

Due in part to the economic turmoil in the late 2000’s, businesses have radically changed the way they buy. For one, they’ve distributed decision-making down and out across the organization, giving individual business units the power to make decisions that will allow them to be more agile and scale faster. A by-product of this approach is that there’s now a much more consensus-based buying process, which I’ll talk more about in a future post.

The second, and arguably more disruptive, change in the buying process is the way businesses research before they buy. It’s never been easier for a buyer to research a product via websites, forums, social media, and free trials before ever speaking to a salesperson. That seems natural today, but it wasn’t very long ago that the primary – if not only – means of learning about product offerings was through a salesperson. Today, buyers are 60-70% through their decision-making process before engaging a salesperson. That is a staggering statistic with massive ramifications for B2B marketers and sellers.

A Bigger, Better Toolkit for Marketers

While consumer internet companies tend to get the majority of coverage, an incredible evolution in business and enterprise technologies, fueled by the mainstream emergence of cloud computing and social media, has given many functional leaders far more tools then they’ve ever had. But marketing leaders have perhaps received a far greater share of value than any other group.

Marketers have never had so many tools to connect with so many customers with such scale, efficiency and ease.  The combination of more targeted outbound opportunities informed by social platform profile data, tools to more easily create and distribute informative content, listening systems to understand real-time sentiment, and a new and rich palette of powerful inbound marketing tools to market to and nurture interested prospects has given the modern marketer the ability to play a much bigger role in the sales process than ever before.  Now marketers can target and engage customers with a strategic and tactical array of content updates, webinars, social media connections, case studies and decision tools to help the buyer through the research process in ways that just wasn’t scalable nor a good use of time for the sales organization to handle.

The New Marketing and Sales Funnel

So buyers are changing how they buy and doing far more research before engaging a salesperson, and marketers have far more tools and capabilities to engage that buyer during that research process. This shift is creating an urgent need for businesses to reformulate their marketing and sales funnels, with a very positive upside:

1) Marketers now have the tools to efficiently engage and serve customers during the upper and middle parts of the funnel when customers are not engaging salespeople

2) Salespeople can spend most if not all of their selling time with customers who are deep in the funnel and likely to buy

The New Marketing & Sales Funnel

As marketers take on more of the stages in the purchase funnel that were previously owned by sales, it’s likely that the prototypical marketer of the future will need a decent amount of “sales DNA” to best serve their organizations. It’s also likely that the role of the marketer will take on a greater level of prominence in their companies over the long haul – and these are also topics I’ll be addressing in future posts.

34 thoughts on “The New Marketing & Sales Funnel

  1. Gloria Buono-Daly

    I enjoyed reading this and really like Steve’s concept. The existing purchase funnel does need to be revisited, however, I do not believe the funnel as dilineated here would account for our age of Web 2.0 and internet consumers who change the funnel dynamics entirely to account for the many folks who would become aware of, interested or consider a brand, product or service until after searching on the internet — in this case, not represent the top portion of the funnel.


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  5. Jeff

    Steve, your theory, while great fodder for a discussion around future state, is flawed for the current state. In fact, the tools do not exist or are not yet developed enough to support the theory. Marketers who are digging deeper into the funnel and attempting to move opportunities along with today’s tools are frustrating buyers! In the 2012 B2B Buyer Landscape Survey, many data points indicate that the sales person is still key to success in moving through the phases at the top end of the funnel. The relationships they build and the insights gained as a result allow a sales person to tailor the correct message for the right individuals involved in the process. Each tailored message designed to achieve a particular objective along the journey to the purchase decision. Relevancy of each message being key.

    Every individual is different. Every company we sell to has its uniqueness. There is not an algorithm that I could possibly imagine that will replace the ability of a human in determining the right message at the right time for the right person. This is where technology meets its limits and begins to piss off buyers.

    In my view, Marketers deal with markets and personas. The tools built built for marketers are optimized to that level. Sales people deal with individuals. As marketers we must focus our attention on enabling the sales people to move prospects from consideration through close by making them more productive (handle more customers) and effective (move customers through stages with higher success rates). The first step is knowing our limitations.


    1. Mike Dailey

      Jeff, I agree with you in part, and I agree with Steve, in part. I think this transition to marketing having a bigger piece of the sales funnel is a reality. I ran the sales and marketing department of a small business before striking out on my own, and I encountered first hand this effect. Cold calling is dead and the only people that make money at a trade show are the groups putting it on.

      Without our solid SEO, blogs, video testimonies, deep content like white papers (though fading) and case studies, webinars and freemiums, our B2B niche software was dead in the water.

      I would counter, however, that Steve’s perspective is probably absolutely true in B2C today, but it is quickly heading that way with B2B funnels, too. There will always be a place for a strong sales guy in every step of the marketing and sales funnel process, but without the strong support of a good marketing program, that company will increasingly be missing out on leads, opporunities and closed sales.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. spatrizi Post author

    Hi Jeff –

    Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I agree that there is a need for human touch, particularly in high-consideration purchases, but not only do the tools exist for what I describe, but they’re being used by many very successful companies with many very happy customers. While many of the tools allowing you to do this are individual applications like HubSpot, MailChimp, and Mixpanel, Salesforce is building an increasingly comprehensive suite under its Marketing Cloud umbrella. Note that each of these companies employs the tactics I describe above – not only do they sell the technology that does this, they practice what they preach.

    To be clear, I’m not claiming this is an original idea – I’m simply commenting on what’s already happening. Companies are using smart SEO tactics, producing educational and informative content, hosting free webinars, and using free trials / freemium models to let customers discover for themselves if the product is a fit – then they engage a salesperson to help them buy.

    There are a number of companies, mature and early stage, B2B and B2C, that are taking this approach:

    Salesforce: Why Salespeople Shouldn’t Prospect

    Gilt Groupe: Sending 3,000 individualized emails per day

    New Relic: Signed up 14,000 customers by bucking traditional enterprise software approach

    Lastly, David Skok has a great post which breaks down the costs associated with the traditional approach, and talks about the importance of taking a technology-driven approach to ensuring your LTV exceeds your CAC, and why companies who don’t get that model right often fail:


  7. Simcha Kackley

    This is great. Marketing can even move into the “Purchase” area with online shopping cart initiatives for those sales that don’t require a relationship. I love this quote I heard at UC at a seminar on the ongoing war between Sales and Marketing: “Sales is too busy knocking off gas stations, when they need to be robbing the bank.”


  8. rocknaspire

    This is great. Marketing can even move into the “Purchase” area with online shopping cart initiatives for those sales that don’t require a relationship. I love this quote I heard at a seminar on what they called the ongoing war between Sales and Marketing: “Sales is too busy knocking off gas stations, when they need to be robbing the bank.”


  9. Terri Lucas

    Reblogged this on Humans Buy Services. Honest. and commented:
    Quite. And Board executives are well advised to understand the key differences – that marketing is an organisation wide agent of change and sales is a function that needs to be focused and systematic. Boards get it the wrong way round at their peril. Thanks for illustrating the roles so graphically.


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  12. Mike Garland

    Just found your blog when searching for a graphic of the funnel just as you describe. Would like to use it with credit to you next week in a small seminar.
    The great thing about marketing today is that we do indeed have the tools to add automation to the process, such as HubSpot. These are awesome accelerators that bring order and results to what can be a chaotic mixture of data and messaging.


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  17. Mike Dailey

    Reblogged this on YOUR DAILEY BREAD and commented:
    I think Steve is spot on with his assessment of the shift in who dominates what part of the sales funnel. There will always be a role for sales at every step of the process, but increasingly, if your firm is not engaging in the new, core marketing efforts (seo, blogs, vlogs, premium content, freemiums), you will be missing out on a boat load of sales!


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  19. douglaskarr

    I do believe there’s a great opportunity for sales professionals to work their way backwards. Having a great social selling strategy and being available on networks where awareness and interest set in can help bridge the sales effort and drive a lead through to conversion effectively.


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  26. R Paul Singh

    Very interesting ideas here. Because of this trend, Marketing Technology (MarTech) is one of the heaviest invested sectors in the enterprise app space. The need for sales will never go away but sales will be equipped with lots and lots of data even before they make the first call and so they will also have to become a data evaluator and see what is relevant data and how to use it to make their call.


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