Replace Your Sales Funnel with a Sponge

There are no funnels anymore.

I think it’s time to put the traditional sales funnel paradigm into the same category as pagers, fax machines, and videotape—tools that have traveled from inspirational to indispensable to mostly irrelevant. I say “mostly” because, like anything, there are still some businesses with extremely long sales cycles for which the funnel paradigm makes sense. Some hospitals still use pagers. Some insurance agents still submit applications for coverage via fax. And—well, sorry, I can’t think of any industry that needs videotape. So why lump the venerable sales funnel into that family? Simply put, it implies a certain linearity of decision-making and extended consideration behaviors that are no longer consistent with the instant gratification environment in which most customer relationships are created.

Customers have a need—they aren’t looking to build a relationship.

A funny thing happens when consumers have what effectively amounts to an infinite number of suppliers to choose from. Competition becomes infinite. Information arrives instantaneously. Pricing becomes transparent. And every “thing” becomes a commodity. For most sellers, the idea of nurturing a prospect through an imposed knowledge or awareness funnel of any kind is laughable. The idea of a sales funnel implies connections created and strengthened over time, but today, there are often only seconds between search and purchase, not days or weeks.

If their needs aren’t easily fulfilled, consumers adopt a new need.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post about a lead response study by sales training firm LeadSimple that showed a 40% close rate for leads contacted within an hour. Returns diminished over time, falling to a 10% close rate for leads contacted within 24 hours. That rate dropped even lower as time progressed. A fourfold decrease in results in less than a day! I would argue that this is less an indicator of the value of speedy customer service than it is an indicator that consumers are more often buying purely on impulse. Increasingly, it seems, transactions are instantiated more on a desire for consumption than a need for a specific end. And if our first impulses go unsatisfied, we bounce to the next whim and satisfy that until our capacity for (or interest in) consumption is exhausted.

Here comes the sponge.

In this environment, the paths to conversion are infinitely varied and nonlinear. But, ironically, so are the exit points. The trick is to view every entry point as the optimal completion point, not permission to force a potential customer to adhere to your internal processes. Don’t require registrations to get information or downloads. Don’t force account reps onto customers who merely wish to transact and disappear. A perfect example of this thinking is Amazon’s “Buy now with 1-Click” functionality. Ultimately, clicking “Buy now” is redundant with clicking the “Add to Cart” button followed by the “Choose Your Shipping” page, followed yet again by the “Review Your Order” page—either way, the box arrives in your preferred location at your chosen period of time. But it represents parallel paths to filling the desire, neither imposed on the customer by the company. You’ll see a lot of pundits talking about optimizing micro-moments. This is nothing more than the realization that every seemingly inconsequential point of friction in your web or mobile user experience that delays gratification of the purchasing impulse is a missed opportunity. Every extra step added to a process can devastate conversion rates. And I agree with that. But that thinking is potentially still too linear, too funnel-centric. The sponge perspective says you not only remove friction but also increase entry points and allow for more self-service. Put a “Buy Now” button in a banner ad. Create an e-commerce-enabled Facebook Messenger bot that customers can hail with a word and make purchases through without ever touching your site.

The only conversion that matters is a sale.

At the risk of sounding like Blake in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, while your marketing is focusing on filling the funnel, a closer may already be drinking your coffee.

Related reading:

Adweek - 81% of Shoppers Conduct Online Research Before Buying
Maketing Land - The evolution of the customer journey in 2017: Optimizing moments that matter


Magnani is an advertising agency that helps challenger brands amplify and accelerate their marketing initiatives.

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