Flipped Funnel: Changes In Sales Paradigm Affect Email, Too

The funnel is a tried-and-true symbol of the sales process. Leads come in at the top and are then refined/defined by the sales process till they emerge from the bottom as conversions.  For over a hundred years, this model has been a guide for countless sales professionals and marketers. However, in the new millennium the funnel has been flipped, shaken and stirred. 

If the paradigm of the sales funnel shifts, then so too must our perceptions on how to use email to feed and maintain it. After all, email has always been a very effective channel for keeping the funnel primed and flowing smoothly. But that linear process is being replaced by the marketing equivalent of a set of monkey bars.  So email marketing will have to morph right along with our changing perceptions of the funnel.

MECLAB’s managing director, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, shared his thoughts on this issue with me at the recent MarketingSherpa Email Summit in Las Vegas.

”Typically we think of the funnel as this big instrument that people pour into, and some fall out of the bottom. That’s not how it works,” said Dr. McGlaughlin.  “Gravity is not our friend.  The funnel should be inverted because people are not falling into the funnel, they’re falling out. We need to think about it where the marketer is attempting to defy the organic forces, the gravity of the marketplace. And we need a force with which to defy that gravity -- and that force is the value proposition.”

What? Does today’s new digital landscape make the value proposition the marketing equivalent of inertia? Isn’t marketing hard enough without adding physics to it?

 “People are trying to sort through the noise of the marketplace,” said Dr. McGlaughlin. “Life works against the marketer. So the marketer has to overcome that -- they have to be heard in all that noise. And then what they say has to be compelling enough to draw people, to attract them up the funnelm because we can’t really drive them -- all we can do is coax them, and it’s the value proposition that enables us to do that.

“And we don’t do it in one jump!” he added. “Nobody jumps from the bottom of the funnel to the top of the funnel  -- we must move in micro-steps.  Every micro-step requires a micro-yes -- and in the end, all the marketer is doing is aggregating micro-yeses to achieve a macro-yes. “

What Dr. McGlaughlin is really saying is that people don’t make giant leaps and just say yes.  For example, asking someone to marry you on the first date is probably not going to work out so well.  Even though (and I’m not making this up) I fell in love with my wife at first sight, her falling in love with me was a process where she made a series of evaluations and micro-decisions about our relationship.  Even her damned cat got to have an opinion about me before she decided I was a good risk.

The traditional funnel model represented a process that could be controlled by the salesperson or marketer, but that no longer holds true.  Today consumers are researching purchases online, leveraging the power of word-of-mouth and asserting their influence. Well-informed digital consumers are far more likely to sneak up the side of your funnel, swing their legs over the edge, and shine a very confident smile down on you. It seems that today, along with thinking outside the box, you have to think outside the funnel, too.

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