Digital TransformationStrategy & LeadershipFunnel vision: the dangerous trap of lead stages

Funnel vision: the dangerous trap of lead stages

Norman Guadagno, CMO at Acoustic, explores how renaming sales stages can help to build further collaboration between marketing and sales

30-second summary:

  • Great B2B GTM is a partnership between the sales and marketing functions, working synergistically to understand the needs of the prospect
  • Dated nomenclature like MAL, MQL, SAL, and SQL misrepresent how intertwined the sales and marketing teams truly are during these phases
  • Companies can cure this “funnel vision” by removing the assignments of “marketing” or “sales” to lead stages

We have all heard CEOs and board members say, “we need more leads at the top of the funnel” or “marketing has to create more leads.” These statements are often followed by a discussion over how the sales team is going to progress and close all those tasty leads that marketing is about to generate. Everyone nods and goes off to do their thing. This is a classic case of what I call, “funnel vision”.

Skewed perspective

What is wrong with this picture? Frankly, everything. For too long and across too many companies, the persistence of this “funnel vision” has impeded the success of revenue generation activities across teams. I describe the phenomenon of funnel vision as such:

  • Marketing is responsible for getting prospects into the funnel (MAL) through a variety of demand generation activities such as advertising, SEM, social, and events
  • Once a prospect “raises their hand” (completes a contact form) or scores enough points (takes actions such as downloading a report or joining a webinar) they become an MQL and get handed off to sales
  • Now sales takes control and are responsible for progression to close or loss
  • Marketing, go make more leads

This perspective ignores the actual reality of how the process really works. Marketing is involved in every step of the journey from prospect to customer. Marketing attracts, informs, educates, enables, and empowers the prospect with the information long before they are considering a purchase (this is where the brand comes into play) and long after they have become a customer (through loyalty and other programs). In fact, the most important work that marketing does is often when the prospect is in discussions with sales.

How? Well, after that great call with a BDR or AE, most prospects head back to the company website to do some additional research, confirm answers to questions they didn’t get to ask in a 30-minute meeting, and likely are reading those case studies and reports the smart seller sent them. Every element here is likely content and channels created and managed by marketing.

When it gets to those late stages of the deal and prospects are being wooed by a competitor, the smart sellers are putting together point by point comparisons (built from the competitive intelligence that marketing manages) and identifying great customer references (often managed by marketing) to help get the sale over the line.

Lonely partners

Great B2B go-to-market is always a partnership between the sales and marketing functions, working synergistically to understand the needs of the prospect and help them get to an outcome that is truly a win/win. Most leaders inside the sales and marketing functions not only understand this but embrace it and count on it for success. So why do smart people outside these functions continue to insist on seeing lead stages neatly separated into what marketing does and what sales do?

Here is the dirty truth: marketers bring it on ourselves. Adhering to dated nomenclatures like MAL, MQL, SAL, and SQL perpetuates the faulty perspective of others. If marketing attaches its name to the stage, then that is where marketing must spend time and money. Likewise for the sales team. No matter how everyone likes to talk about the customer journey, the internal focus tends to be on a marketing journey and a sales journey. This is funnel vision in action.

A new vision

The cure for funnel vision requires both tactical and strategic changes. First, the teams need to replace the terms that begin with “marketing” (MAL, MQL) and “sales” (SAL, SQL) with something different. It can be as simple as Stage one, stage two, and the likes. Better yet, it can deconstruct the entire notion of a funnel and truly emphasize the actual journey the customer makes. Aligning marketing and sales actions with customer intentions makes the entire process more likely to succeed.

I will admit this is not easy. We still use the classic funnel stages at my company, and it will likely take a few more years before we are fully ready to shift away from them. People are trained in the funnel and systems are built with these stages as the core model. We may all have a bit of funnel vision, but we can still see a better future ahead.


Norman Guadagno is Chief Marketing Officer at Acoustic, the largest independent marketing cloud, and a member of the ClickZ Advisory Board.

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