The Marketing Funnel – Are We Falling Down the Rabbit Hole?

old-school-leads-genMarketer Lynn Serafinn challenges the ‘hunter’ approach to the marketing funnel, and explains how adopting a ‘farmer’ approach is more ethical and sustainable.

Nearly everyone who has studied marketing–especially Internet marketing–is familiar with the idea of the ‘marketing funnel’. The ‘funnel’ is a conceptual depiction of how the public come into our ‘space’ and eventually become our customers and clients. At the top of the funnel is a big wide mouth, where many people ‘pour in’. These people are our ‘leads’, meaning they fit the typical profile of our ideal customer. As leads come ‘down the funnel’ and get a closer look at who we are, some of them will become ‘prospects’, meaning they have shown a real interest in us and may become customers. Finally, at the bottom of the funnel–at the narrowest and most concentrated point–are our customers.

Many people look at the old-school marketing funnel and see it as an act of ‘gravity’: if you make the top of the funnel wide enough to draw in lots of people, and then exert enough force at the top of the funnel, you will drive a certain percentage of them downwards into the customer zone.

But the funnel also shows us that the vast majority of people do NOT make it down to the bottom of the funnel to become our customers. Old-school marketers operate by casting a wide net and hoping to ‘capture’ a few fish, where a typical ‘conversion rate’ is often far less than 1%. That’s an awful lot of energy expended for a very small return.

The Physics of the Marketing Funnel

Let’s take a look at the marketing funnel from the perspective of basic physics: if we wish to move randomly moving objects in a specific direction we need to apply some kind of energy, pressure or force. Old-school marketers use any number of ‘forces’ that I call the ‘7 Deadly Sins’ of marketing: Disconnection, Persuasion, Invasion, Distraction, Deception, Scarcity or Competition. All these tactics (described in the book The 7 Graces of Marketing) create feelings of discomfort in the consumer. These feelings create a pressure that either causes them to spill out of the top of the funnel or to go down into it (i.e., make a purchase).

As sales are made in the short-term this pressure seems to work, but they are ultimately inefficient. Far more prospects spill over the top of the funnel than come out the other end. Casting a wide net also takes a LOT of energy, time and money. AND it saps energy from your customer. In the long-term, when customers feel sucked dry by your marketing and sales process, they will stop using your products or services. Ultimately, high-pressure marketing strategies will keep you locked in a stressful pattern of continually having to be on the ‘hunt’ for new customers.

Farmers versus Hunters

For many, being a ‘hunter’ has its appeal. It is high-energy, fast-moving and gives you a rush when you ‘make the kill’. But as we’ve seen, it is also inefficient. Furthermore, it almost certainly requires that you utilise some form of unethical practice if you are to exert enough energy to convert ‘prospects’ into customers within the timeframe you wish.

In short:

Hunting is not only an unethical marketing model, it’s also unsustainable.

A more energy-efficient form of marketing (for both marketers and consumers) is where marketers become farmers rather than hunters. This is when our focus is not so much about dragging people down the rabbit hole (or down the drain!) of our marketing funnel, as much as it is to nurture them at every level, so they grow and move about it of their own accord. It becomes both an ethical and sustainable model, as customers who enter the funnel in this fashion will grow and flourish. This means that they will give back to our company, not merely by purchasing our products and services, but by feeding ideas back to us, telling others about us, etc. This means that the amount of energy we get back from this seemingly slower model is actually greater than what we put in.

Just as the high-pressure, top-down marketing funnel implemented the 7 Deadly Sins of marketing, the slower-paced, sustainable farming model will need to draw upon the 7 Graces of Marketing. And one of these is particularly helpful: the Grace of Invitation.

The Grace of Invitation

Before we take a second look at the marketing funnel, let’s get an overview of the Grace of Invitation, and how it appears in our business. The Grace of Invitation has four cornerstones: openness, engagement, hospitality and respect:

  • Openness means our company embraces the ethos of holding our audience (whether customers or not) as a part of our operations, and invites people into our process.
  • Engagement means we create ways to invite and encourage our audience to share dialogue, ideas and feedback.
  • Hospitality means we give things to our audience whether or not they are our customers, in much the same way we would offer a cup of tea to a guest in our home.
  • Respect means we do not overstep our boundaries. For example, if someone signs up to your mailing list, it is not an open invitation to bombard them with emails every day. That’s the old school, high-pressure hunter model, and it has no place within a Grace-full universe.

Creating a Grace-full Marketing Funnel

Here’s a diagram of what our marketing funnel could look like if we were to use the Grace of Invitation (along with the other Graces) as our guide:


Admittedly, this diagram focuses on Internet marketing as I assume that many people reading this article use the web and social media for a substantial part of their marketing platform. Let’s take a look at each level.

LEVEL 1: The Cloud. The big cloud at the top represents our social media connections on Twitter, Facebook, etc. These people are our ‘loose ties’ (I talk in detail about this group in the chapter called ‘Building Relationships’ in my book Tweep-e-licious). Hunter marketers typically make the mistake of trying to ‘sell’ to this group and only end up alienating their audience. While your loose ties may not appear to be part of your marketing funnel, they actually contain the most potential energy of all components in your platform. To cultivate the Cloud, your sole objective should be to create a compelling ‘invitation’ for them to take a look at content-rich material on your blog. Over 90% of my traffic on this blog comes from social media. I take a LONG time crafting Tweets and posts that invite people to read this content (perhaps you responded to one of them). My objective isn’t to get people to buy anything. I want to give them something relevant, valuable and interesting. If you are not ‘feeding’ your Cloud this way, the rest of your funnel will suffer.

LEVEL 2: Blog reader. The top layer of the funnel is comprised of people who land on your site and read an article or two. If this is the first time they have visited your site, they have no real connection (yet) to you or your business. Again, your aim should not be to sell them anything, but to build credibility, trust and familiarity by sharing your wisdom, information, advice, personality and good will. Your ‘invitation’ should be to invite them to engage with you by leaving a comment.

LEVEL 3: Subscriber. When someone subscribes to your blog or newsletter, it is a sign they wish to stay connected with you. Visiting your blog requires no commitment. Subscribing demonstrates a show of trust and faith in you. It’s fine to invite your readers to subscribe to your blog, but return their trust by using casual, no-pressure language. After they subscribe, do NOT take them to a sales page or send a sales email trying to get them to buy ‘stuff’. Respect means that you give people ONLY what they ask for.

LEVEL 4: Request for your free offer. A greater level of commitment is when people opt in to a free offer you might have on your site: an eBook, an audio download, a special report, etc. By requesting this product, people know they are ‘in your funnel’ (although they probably don’t think of it that way). At this point, many marketers exploit the connection by sending auto-responder emails every day after the person has opted in. Others will immediately send the customer to an ‘upload’ page, where they are told ‘Now that you got the freebie, you’re going to want this super-duper deluxe version.’ Some marketers even withhold the free download until the person scrolls all the way down an elaborate sales page for the ‘upsell’ product. These are all classic invasive ‘hunter’ strategies. If you want to feed your marketing funnel, just give people what they asked for (and make sure it’s something of genuine value).

LEVEL 5: Purchase entry level product. An ‘entry level product’ is typically something priced between $17 and $47. This could be a book, eBook, eCourse or something similar. It is more substantive than the ‘free offer’. Many hunter marketers (especially on Facebook adverts and Tweets) focus on driving people to the entry level product right away. Ironically, many of these are offering courses or software programmes promising to help you with your Internet marketing. Again, while this might make the quick sale, it does nothing to cultivate the long-term relationship between you and your customers. Resist succumbing to the ‘quick fix’. Your entry level products should be for people who have at least had a good browse around your blog.

LEVEL 6: Consultation request (or purchase mid-level product). Many people who offer services (such as coaching, therapy, business advice, consulting, etc.) wonder why they don’t get clients or purchases of more expensive products through their website. This is why consultation requests are at ‘level 6’ in your marketing funnel. Until people have gotten to know you–what you stand for, what you know and what kind of person you are–they are unlikely to contact you for personal or professional services. Make sure your website gives them ample opportunity to come through the funnel with ease, and then make it easy for them to contact you. For mid-level products, make it easy for them to ask questions before purchasing. Don’t fail at the last minute by resorting to high-pressure ‘close the deal’ strategies. People need SPACE to make informed decisions. Hiring you is not always about you, but about whether it is the right time for them. Many of my clients come back to me several months after their initial consultation. A few of them came back after a year or more has passed because the time simply wasn’t right for them when we first spoke.

LEVEL 7: Becoming your client (or purchasing high-end products). These are people who have either come through the entire marketing funnel, or who have been recommended to you by others. They will almost never come to you via point of first contact, such as an Internet search, advertisement, Tweet, etc. While this deep end of the funnel contains the fewest people, they have the highest degree of commitment and financial investment in you. Similarly, you must also give the highest degree of commitment and respect to them. Delivering the greatest care–and showing love–to your clients and most loyal customers is the best investment you can make in your business.

Closing Thoughts

The marketing funnel model has often been misrepresented by marketing gurus and misunderstood by business owners. But if we reframe it from a new-paradigm ‘farmer’ perspective, rather than falling down the rabbit hole of the old-school ‘hunter’ perspective, it can become a valuable tool. By summoning up the 7 Graces of Marketing–and especially the Grace of Invitation–this new understanding of the marketing funnel can help us learn how to build long-term customer relationships. This ethical, sustainable approach to marketing can not only strengthen our businesses, but create a better world for all of us.

I hope you found this discussion of the marketing funnel to be useful and informative. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, so please do share your comments below.

And, of course, if you’d like to dive more deeply into the new paradigm of the 7 Graces, you can subscribe via the form at the top of this page or check out our books from Humanity 1 Press (more information below).

Lynn Serafinn
4th June 2013

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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2 Responses to The Marketing Funnel – Are We Falling Down the Rabbit Hole?

  1. Pingback: Is Your Call to Action an Invitation or a Demand? | The 7 Graces of Marketing - ethical marketing for social entrepreneurs

  2. Lubna says:

    Hi Lynn

    Loved reading this. I also find attempts to force me down a funnel a total turn-off and I don’t want to do it to anyone else either. It doesn’t seem a good use of energy for anyone.

    I’m just wondering about Levels 3 and 4 and would love to know your thoughts on how far apart these levels are and whether they can be inter-changeable i.e. does it always matter which one comes first, so long as they are separate rather than bundling in “sign up for newsletter and get a free gift?” – which is what I’ve seen a lot of – and don’t like!

    I’ve understood the free gift in your model of a graceful funnel to be a stand-alone; if someone asks for it, they’ll receive the gift and then be thanked and perhaps have one small piece of follow-up? Which resonates with me – because it’s all still nurturing – checking in whether someone liked the gift and if they’d like to experience anything else. If they don’t reply at all or say no, do you recommend not contacting them further, other than sending out newsletters if they’ve subscribed?

    Love to know if you have a chance. The Gracefull Funnel sounds exciting – I’m new to sales and marketing as I launch new ventures and it feels so much better to be growing clients / customers than it does to be counting leads / prospects and measuring conversions!

    Best wishes

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