“Is the marketing funnel total bullsh*t?”

Dear Marketing Guru, 

I recently switched to a new job in the field of B2B marketing, but I’m feeling more than a little disoriented. In my last position, our team was guided by the marketing funnel. While I sometimes found this restrictive, overall, we had success with it.

Then I received an offer from a well-backed startup that I couldn’t pass up. My boss here, however, insists that the marketing funnel is outdated and silly. He enjoys making fun of anyone who still uses it, which has me feeling sheepish.

At this new job, my focus has been on building campaigns that lead to direct sales conversions; while this can prove successful at times, it also feels too commercial for me and the cost per sale can be disproportionately high. What thoughts do you have about the classic funnel model?



A marketer in need of the Guru’s help

Dear LostInBetweenAwarenessAndConversion, 

Sounds like you’ve got yourself an ego-inflated, tyrannical boss! If I were in your shoes, I’d be itching to change jobs. But that’s not what this column is for – I’m sure there is a career advice blog with more tips on how to spot toxic work environments before accepting a job offer.

Have you ever heard of the adage “You have to know the rules before you can break them?” Well, that’s my philosophy when it comes to the marketing funnel. It shouldn’t become a dogma in your life, but at the same time don’t be too quick to forsake it altogether. There is great wisdom in the funnel.

I recently read a book from the spirituality section on Amazon, which mentioned that people who are more conservative and traditional tend to be happier. I guess you could say the same about marketers who still value the marketing funnel; it offers us a framework in a chaotic world. Well, I won’t bore you with too much spiritual wisdom. 

My point is that the funnel is a great place to start from. It’s a way of thinking that puts your customer at the center. Is it an overly simplified version of reality? Yes. Does it accurately represent how your target group will move toward becoming a customer? Hardly. Yet, there is still much to be gained by using it as a guide while developing your marketing strategy.

For starters, it’s a reminder that you can’t just storm up to people and demand they purchase something from you. I mean sure, some people do that. But let’s face it- nobody really likes them very much. So your goal should be to foster a relationship of mutual respect with potential customers. In B2B, there’s no way around this!

Let’s just say that I don’t regard your boss’s words as truthful. In the world of marketing, you often come across these types of folks. Heck, I’ve bumped into so many of them that I think my BS detector has upgraded to a superpower. You know what this brings up for me? A shocking chat I had at a conference ages ago.

It was one of those events that had gone a bit off the rails. The theme of the conference was ‘The Island of Creativity’ and they had created an artificial beach paradise, complete with pearl white sand, umbrella-clad tables under palm trees.

At this event, there was a speaker that seemed to be spouting absolute nonsense, and yet the rest of the audience was enamored with him. His idea was that customers were clueless until you showed them the light, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit confrontational.

I trudged through the sand, wearing my bohemian sandals for the occasion, and introduced myself as the head of a global marketing team to this speaker.

He readily agreed to speak with me, putting down his silly coconut drink to shake my hand. He looked horribly out of place in his suit and his forehead was beaded with sweat. 

“I’m convinced our customers are not as stupid as you seem to think,” I blurted out, not wasting a single second.

He flashed his overly white teeth and asked, “What industry are you in?”

A waiter with a skirt made of straw offered me one of the coconut concoctions and I waved him away. 

“We’re an agency that mostly works with B2C brands,” I told my arch-nemesis for the day.   

“Luxury? Commodity?” he inquired. 

“Both,” I answered eagerly, wanting to press on with my point. “And I would never advise my clients to be as disrespectful as you are suggesting we should be.”

He cocked his head to the side. “Me neither,” he uttered with an air of indifference.

This response astounded me. Confused, I gestured in the general area of where the stage had been. “But…”

“I make my living as a speaker,” he said, shrugging. “Sometimes I sell something which I think other people should try. I like to stir things up! I experiment and then see what sticks.”

I have to let you in on a little secret: I’m never at a loss for words, LostInBetweenAwarenessAndConversion, but that time I was. Yes, I even accepted the next coconut drink they offered me. It was vile! My point is that some people love spewing out bullshit, because it might make them money or make them feel superior. 

My suggestion to you is not to swallow a single syllable of your boss’s nonsense. He’ll likely go on an irrational tirade about something else after listening to the summary of the latest marketing book during his next workout. If the marketing funnel makes your work more efficient, continue utilizing it, even if you do so covertly.

Use it at a high-level to see if your marketing efforts are covering the whole journey for your customers. I assume you will find gaping holes you need to fill. Maybe you can convince your boss to invest in initiatives that fill those voids without mentioning the funnel?

To start, I’d become very clear on what is going wrong, just for my own understanding. Then, I’d attempt to be creative in how I may fix it. If I didn’t find an approach around my boss’s bullshit, I’d leave that job. Why would you invest your time and energy into a job where chaos and bad energy dominate?

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Hi, I’m Angie. I was a brilliant marketing director before cashing out my stocks and retiring (very) early. Now, I answer your questions about marketing so I can feel better about myself while I relax on my yacht and pretend to write my first novel. Hey, at least I’m honest about it! Want to know more about me?

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