Most Sales Processes, Funnels and Pipelines are How Old?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Sep 29, 2021 @ 16:09 PM

Have you ever conducted a Google or Amazon search for one thing only to be presented with search results that were completely different than what you were looking for?

I was looking for an image of a sales funnel and couldn't believe what I found!  My search results can be found here.  Can you believe all of those images of sales funnels?  Look them over and see if you can recognize the  problem with all of them.

There were a number of marketing funnels included on the page but I wanted to see the images for sales funnels. 

The first one I found had the title, "Sales Funnel Stages."  It had six stages and none of the stages were sufficiently defined so as to determine where a prospect is in the sales process or for forecasting whether the opportunity will close and when it will close.  The six stages were:

        1. Awareness
        2. Interest
        3. Consideration
        4. Intent
        5. Evaluation
        6. Purchase

I'm sorry, but that is not a predictive sales funnel.  Awareness is a marketing stage.  Purchase is post-pipeline.  Evaluation is just like consideration.  Intent - is that intent with us or intent in general?  This funnel is for an optimistic sales leader who wants things to look good but I guarantee that the win rate out of this funnel is brutal.

I found a variation of that funnel without the evaluation stage and with intent replaced by decision.  In other words, they are evaluating!

The second funnel I found had the title, "Sales Funnel."  It was four stages so that seemed promising until I saw the stages:

        1. Awareness
        2. Interaction
        3. Interest
        4. Action

More awareness.  Interaction - you mean like a conversation to get them interested?  And once they were interested they were going to take action?  Wow.  I'm sure that has a high win-rate.  Not.

Then there was a variation of that funnel where Interest is replaced by Decision.  So we go from a conversation to a decision.  It's very transactional, isn't it?

Then I found a "Detailed Guide to Building a Sales Funnel" and it even had descriptions of its five stages:

        1. Unaware
        2. Lead
        3. Prospect
        4. Customer
        5. Fan

In this funnel, they go from lead to prospect to customer so the only part of the sales funnel that has anything to do with selling is stage 3 - prospect!  Guess what their win rate must be?  This is an incorrectly named marketing funnel!

Then I found a three-stage six-part funnel that had:

        1. Awareness
          1. Visit
          2. Lead
        2. Consideration
          1. Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
          2. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
          3. Opportunity
        3. Decision
          1. Customer

It appears more complex than the funnel before this one but it is essentially the same thing with the same problem.  The entire sales part of the sales funnel was 2.3 - opportunity.

It was only a matter of time before I found a graphically modern and pleasing version of the original sales process, AIDA:

        1. Awareness
        2. Interest
        3. Decision
        4. Action

Now it should make sense to you.  Nearly every single pipeline, funnel and sales process shown on that page full of funnel images is based on this old, antiquated AIDA process that was developed by St. Elmo Lewis in 1898.  That's right. In the 19th century, five years before Henry Ford rolled out the first Model A from his plant in 1903, St. Elmo Lewis gave the world a sales process that is still being used by most companies.

So what should a modern funnel look like?

It should have just four stages.  Any additional stages would be for marketing and if it's marketing-related it doesn't belong in the sales funnel!

The funnel should mimmic the sales process.  The stages don't necessarily need to have the same names but the stages should represent the same milestones.

The funnel or pipeline should trace the evolution of a sales opportunity as it moves from suspect to prospect to qualified opportunity to closable opportunity.

          1. Suspect - you have a first meeting, call, or video scheduled (3 milestones) based on discovering that they have issues that you can address
          2. Prospect - they have a compelling reason to buy what you sell and buy it from you (5 milestones)
          3. Qualified - they are thoroughly qualified to do business with you (7 milestones)
          4. Closable - they have given you a verbal and you are waiting to formalize the agreement (3 milestones)

If you want to see what a funnel should look like when you bring it to life, in the context of a full and comprehensive sales process, then watch this video.  It has a run-time of ten minutes.  I have shared this video before so if you have seen it and don't need to see it in the context of this article, feel free to skip past.

You heard and saw in the video that the only complete sales process with a built-in methodology is Baseline Selling.  Baseline Selling is pre-integrated and easy to further customize in the Baseline Selling edition of Membrain, simply the best sales-specific CRM application on the planet.  Check it out here

The danger of having your funnel rooted in 120-year-old theory becomes even more troublesome when your sales training and coaching is based on this and it is this which is integrated into your CRM.

It should be crystal clear by now that most of what you learn about sales today, is no more relevant, thorough, fresh, on-point or correct than the sales process served up by St. Elmo Lewis in 1898.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales pipeline, crm, sales funnel

Why Inbound and Inside Sales Experts Think Sales Process is Dead Too

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Aug 18, 2015 @ 16:08 PM

Sales Process isn't even the only thing that inbound marketers say is dead. They'll have you believing that salespeople are no longer needed, selling is dead, and a consultative approach is dead too. They are basically ready to proclaim that anything selling-related, that they don't really understand or find it necessary to do, is not needed and dead.  

Let's start with my recent Google search for "Sales Process is Dead."  That search turned up these articles on the first page of results:

So who wrote all of these articles?  

One article was written by a sales expert discussing the concept of following the buyer's purchasing process. OK, that's still a sales process and it has some validity if you have weak salespeople that sell to large companies where you can't impact or change anything relative to how they buy.

One article was published in Harvard Business Review and was really about Solution Selling being dead. It isn't dead, but the authors are making a lot of money by saying that and pushing the Challenger Sale!

And the rest were written by marketers who might sell a lot more of their services if they can convince you that sales process is dead. 

The second page of the Google search results was even worse, including proclamations that B2B selling is dead and that field sales is dead. Don't get me wrong. I love and use some of their tools and services and recommend them to clients too. But the key word here is tools. They support and enhance selling. Tools don't replace selling.

There's very little question that everything we know about selling has changed dramatically in the past 5-8 years. I've written about these changes on 5 occasions and even my viewpoint has changed during this time! See:

There is some truth to what inbound marketing experts and inside sales experts are saying relative to the context of who they work with. Certainly, those who work inbound leads only need to follow up and either schedule a call or get the lead to click a button and subscribe. There isn't any complicated selling or sales process to navigate in order for that to work! Many inside salespeople only need to concern themselves with the top of the funnel where scheduling an appointment is their ultimate success.  

The disconnect occurs when salespeople, sales managers, sales leaders, marketing executives and CEOs read the propaganda from the inbound/inside experts and mistakenly believe that it applies to them! There are 10 scenarios where that message does not and will not ever apply to you:

  1. If you don't sell inexpensive subscriptions,
  2. If you aren't the lowest price in your category,
  3. If you don't have a short sales cycle,
  4. If you aren't the brand leader,
  5. If you have a story to tell,
  6. If your product requires design/build or customization,
  7. If what you sell is a lot of money,
  8. If you have a new company, new product or new technology,
  9. If you need to get to the C Suite, and/or
  10. If you are the underdog.

Today, there are a significant number of inside salespeople who are responsible for the entire sales cycle and they carry a quota too. Don't even suggest that they don't need a sales process and don't need to sell. Today, if you want even a chance of selling value, differentiating your company and winning business, you must take a consultative approach and use a milestone-centric sales process. You can include buyer-side milestones in that process if you like, but if you include only buyer-side milestones and don't focus on sales-side milestones too, you will get beat by competitors who have a true sales process.

This is important.  

Selling has become more difficult than ever before. Consistent success requires a consultative approach that most salespeople have difficulty executing. They haven't been properly trained or coached in its application, don't practice, and aren't confident enough to use it. It's much easier to give in to the marketers, abandon the sales process, abandon the consultative approach, abandon value selling, and abandon best practices despite how relevant and effective they still are. You'll have a longer sales process and a lower win-rate, but failing could never be easier!

Or, you can take the path less traveled, use the more difficult consultative approach in a more challenging milestone-centric sales process. It will be harder, but your sales cycle will be shorter and you'll have a higher win rate.

Easy gets you lousy results. Difficult helps you achieve consistent success.

I've seen this first-hand with golf and tennis. Accept the difficult job of learning to play either game the right way, learn the correct way to stroke the ball, learn the right strategies, practice your butt off and you'll win a lot more than you'll lose and feel much better about yourself too. Or, continue to play like a hack and you'll lose a lot more than you'll win and constantly have a feeling of frustration and discouragement.

In the end, it's always up to you. There are plenty of us who are always more than willing to help if you want to take the journey to mastery.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, Inbound Marketing, sales process, solution selling, sales funnel, cold calling, inside sales, SPIN Selling, selling is dead

Sales Leadership Observations about Pipeline and Terminations

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sun, Jun 02, 2013 @ 22:06 PM

The Pipeline, The Funnel and the Inaccurate Forecast - It gets a bit scary when people who are experts in one thing write about another.  Today's example was sent to me by OMG partner Mike Shannon.  He sent along a recent BtoBonline.com post by Jeff Perkins.  Jeff suggests that the sales funnel is a thing of the past, but his examples, and therefore reasons, are way off base.  He seems confused about what the sales pipeline or funnel is supposed to do for us.  

His examples are that people change their minds about what they will buy and/or take varying amounts of time to become customers.  

But pipeline isn't about the what or the how long; it's all about tractionmovement, the if and the when.  The funnel or pipeline shows prospects moving from stage to stage in the sales process whether they are buying one or ten, spending $10K or $100K, or buying in 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years.  

Many sales leaders are confused about the pipeline.  After all, the single biggest complaint I hear is the one about inaccurate forecasts followed closely by delayed closings.  The pipeline should be the single most accurate predictor of future revenue.  If your pipeline is not providing you with that information, something is wrong with either your process, your stages, your criteria, your CRM, or your people.  And don't rule out yourself on this one.  Many leaders have simply given up!  You must fix it.  The pipeline should also be a powerful coaching tool.   Is yours?

The Termination, The Cake and the Celebration - I was called into a conference room last week where I found my team waiting for me with a cake.  I asked if we were celebrating our big month, but was told that we were celebrating the one-year anniversary of a firing!  

That particular firing was a huge milestone and it allowed us to build a better team, a better product and a better company.  Sales leaders often fear, delay and sometimes refuse to put termination on the table.  We hear things like, "You need to know that we aren't getting rid of anyone." in the same conversation as "Our numbers are unacceptable."  More importantly, sales leaders often worry that terminations will be viewed as a negative or demotivate the team when, in reality, the opposite is usually true.  Wouldn't a cake and celebration by the remaining and new team members be a good indication of that?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales pipeline, sales funnel, sales termination, sales CRM

Controversial "Best Time" For Salespeople To Fill Their Pipeline

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jun 21, 2012 @ 15:06 PM

empty sales pipelineThe obvious answer is to make sure that they fill the pipeline when it begins to empty or is getting close to being empty, right?  

Wrong.

If the pipeline is nearly empty today, your salespeople are feeling scared, stressed, discouraged and demotivated.  If awful is how your salespeople feel, then do you really believe that NOW is the ideal time to get them prospecting?  I understand how badly you need them to get the pipeline filled, but from their perspective, and in the state they are in, are they capable?  Will they do it?

If their pipeline runs dry and that isn't the time to ask them to fill it up, then when would be the right time?

You won't like this answer, but it's correct.

Have them fill the pipeline, or in this case, add to it, when their pipeline is already full.  That's when they feel the most motivated, excited, confident, positive, relaxed and successful.  That's when they should look for more opportunities.  That's when they will be most effective and successful.  And adding opportunities to the pipeline is what will prevent them from ever having an empty pipeline.

This works just like the saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person."

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Force, sales pipeline, sales competency, sales funnel, Sales Accountability, sales metrics, sales forecast

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for nine consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave

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