Build a Better Marketing Funnel

Understanding and optimizing your marketing funnel is an essential part of modern marketing, but after a long career as a data-driven marketer, I've come to realize that there are several reasons the very idea of funnels is just plain wrong.

Reason 1: They perpetuate a failure-centric mindset.

The very shape of the funnel assumes we are only going to move a small percentage of folks through to purchase.

In baseball, a lifetime .300 batting average puts a player in the elite class. A nonmarketing friend once asked me, "What other profession accepts the idea that the best in the business only succeed a third of the time?" I didn't have the courage to tell him that marketers are heroes if they succeed 10 percent of the time.

According to HubSpot, lead-nurturing emails generate an 8 percent click-through rate (CTR), while general email sends generate just a 3 percent CTR. If an 8 percent CTR is considered good, we're lauding marketers for a 92 percent rate of failure. However, email remains one of the cheapest forms of marketing, and when you compare the ROI of an email campaign with an 8 percent CTR to an AdWords campaign or a sponsored social media ad, email is often the cheapest option. Because the cost is so low, many B2B marketers have stopped worrying about targeting.

If we only talk to people who will say yes, we can guarantee that all our marketing and sales engagements contribute to revenue generation. Take a look at the deals you have won already, and figure out what they have in common.

Reason 2: They are based on interruption marketing.

In the good old days of B2B, marketing's job was to get raw contact info and hand it to sales. Anything that got a stranger to fill out a form was a lead. Sales would work on the prospects and close some of them.

Interruption marketing was the norm; we sent emails on our schedules, inserted ads in the middle of TV shows (or YouTube videos), filled the white space on the Internet with display ads, and when we ran out of ways to interrupt, made up white space to splash in front of, on top of, and underneath the content our prospects actually wanted to see.

Today buyers are in control. The marketer's job now is to facilitate buying, not selling. How can you help prospects move themselves through the buying cycle on their own time? How can you deliver the right content when they need it, rather than when you feel like sending it?

We now gate our best content so our prospects enter our marketing funnels of their own accord, but gating content to capture leads doesn't work. We're interrupting the buying process so we can start a selling process.

Reason 3: They assume a one-way trip through the pipe.

For anything other than the simplest B2B cases, your customer is going to take many trips through the pipe, and for multiproduct vendors that sell to large companies, it is quite likely that a single customer will be in every stage of the pipeline at all times. How does that map to a funnel? It doesn't.

The customer life cycle is neither linear nor singular, so why do we try to force it into a funnel that only goes in one direction?

Reason 4: They lead you to measure the wrong things.

I recently heard a customer for one of our marketing products tell one of our sales reps, "I don't care about analyzing my funnel; I just 

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