Unpack Your Sales Funnel

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Sales has come a long way from the Glengarry Glen Ross days of high pressure and aggressive  tactics. Especially in the last five years, sales and marketing roles have shifted and this impacts the way the funnel breaks down as well. Mr. Stacy Gentile and I delivered a webinar, “Unpacking the Sales Funnel,” on this very topic, which I invite you to watch. I’ll cover some of the key points here.

Sales is hard

There’s a lot of pressure on sales people to make their numbers. If you don’t, you’re in trouble. If you do, the bar is always set higher. Too often execs look for a silver bullet that will lift the entire team to a new level; the only silver bullet Stacy or I are aware of is sweat equity. Sales today is about the long haul. To be successful, the sales focus must now be on discovering what your prospective customer wants to accomplish, and how you can best help them get there.


The economy is still tough. Buyers have adjusted by becoming more frugal. They’re frugal with their time and their money, and they’ve gotten really skilled at doing their own research. It’s a don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you mentality, and they often don’t get involved directly with sales until 70 percent of the decision-making has already been done. Given this new reality and given new technologies such as marketing automation, the sales funnel has changed as well.

Before the funnel

Before we can talk about the funnel, we need to talk about the conversations that salespeople and prospects have. Too often, neither asks the other the right questions, or even enough questions.  We all avoid the necessary hard topics. The goal is to seek out what we call “truthful conversations,” in which the white elephants come out and are dealt with.

Let’s look at the structure that should be in place. You need:

  • A good product or service, and good people on your team
  • Sales infrastructure. You must have a CRM and marketing automation, and it’s really helpful to have content marketing in place
  • A defined market. This means that you know who you’re selling to, and  how you can help them
  • A clearly defined sales and marketing process
  • Key performance indicators for both sales and marketing

The key: Sales and marketing need to be very closely aligned and able to work together. The closer they are to becoming one department (think of it as the “Revenue Department”), the better.

The changing funnel

On any given day, probably only about 3 percent of your potential market is actively buying. 7 percent might be willing to listen, 60 percent are indifferent, and 30 percent don’t want anything to do with you…at this very moment. But the funnel is incredibly fluid. Someone who’s not interested in the morning may get a new assignment at noon that sends them off in search of a solution like yours by the close of day. This is one of the places where technology helps; you can get some visibility (such as website visitor tracking) into where a lead is in a cycle (lead scoring is a great indicator), and have an idea about how to address them based on their interests.

In the funnel below, notice that there are actually two funnels. To go back to our Glengarry Glen Ross model, salespeople used to work only through the bottom funnel. For today’s sales, the top part of the funnel is your bread and butter. You need to have the right names in your lists, and they need to be in your target market. If this part isn’t right, the rest of the funnel can’t be made right.

The two-part sales funnel diagram

The top funnel


You need to generate a lot of activity at that early stage, to help qualify who’s real and who’s not – who’s “marketing-qualified.” The “W”, “N”, and “A” on the right side stand for weak, normal, and aggressive. Most of the prospects that become marketing-qualified will be normal. Some are weak; maybe they look good but are a long way off from being ready to buy. Aggressive ones are the ones that could be game-changers for you. Once you have these figured out, you can choose how you spend your marketing budget on them.


Lots of companies use BANT– budget, authority, need, timeline, to determine whether a lead is sales-qualified, but you can simplify this into two criteria: genuine interest, and genuine timeline. If the lead doesn’t have those, then you don’t want to let them go further into the funnel; your salespeople would be wasting their time with such leads.

Once a lead is sales-accepted it moves into the bottom half of the funnel.

The bottom funnel

Here’s a big shift sales people need to make: From the typical four-stage selling cycle to the three-stage (and up to nine-step) buying cycle. The larger the purchase, the longer the cycle and the more steps that will be involved.

Selling vs Buying diagram

It really gets interesting around the “decide” step, in which the lead makes a commitment to choosing a solution, but hasn’t picked that solution yet. From here on, the sales rep is working hard to help the prospect see how their solution meets the needs, justifying the cost, and differentiating themselves from the competition. We come back to where we began, now, with a focus on having those “truthful conversations.” You can’t have the answers if you haven’t asked the questions, and you can’t help the customer make the right decision unless you know what they truly need and want.

The funnel death autopsy

The webinar also discusses the funnel autopsy, in which you analyze lost deals, discover where your gaps are, and what areas you may be lacking in. If you discover, for example, that people show little faith in your ability to deliver, you can beef up your content with case studies and testimonials. Use the autopsy to determine why you lose deals. After all…if you could stop losing deals, you’d have the biggest improvement you could get.


Want to learn more about the two-part funnel and how to have the right conversations?  Watch the entire “Unpacking the Sales Funnel” webinar.