Sunday, May 26, 2024

It’s a Funnel, Not a Juicer

Every now again I become aware that I am being marketed to. I mean more than the usual assault of terrible pop-ups while I’m trying to play Scrabble. I mean I’m in someone’s funnel and the walls are closing in.

Lately, I’ve been trying really, really hard to get out of the sales funnel of a recruiting firm flogging its creative people. I’m sure they’re great folks, I just don’t happen to need anyone.

I don’t even recall jumping into that particular funnel. I have no memory of having been to their site, downloaded their content, dropped my card in their fishbowl or any of the countless other perfectly innocent things people do to land in the funnel of a B2B company.

I’m sure I did something and I’m not the least bit unhappy to be splashing about in a funnel but I kind of resent feeling as if I’m being forced too quickly through a small opening with a grinder at the other end. At some point in the past couple of weeks I became a marketing qualified lead (MQL). I may or may not be a sales qualified lead (SQL). The person stalking me sounds like a sales squirrel but I’m avoiding an actual conversation, so it could just be the intern wanting to check some boxes.

It matters not. What matters is how we manage the top of the funnel. That’s marketing’s world. Once prospects start to swirl at the bottom of the bowl, they move into the murky land of sales follow ups and so on. But the top of the funnel, the big, wide, open top is where the fun is, and it’s up to us marketers to manage this fun just right.

If we think of the top of the funnel as the cocktail hour before the big dinner, we can see that some careful management is in order.

On the one hand, we want our guests to come on in, kick off their shoes, grab a lovely white paper or a podcast and get to know us a little.  Later, they’ll do the business equivalent of using the loo and having a good snoop in the cabinet to see what might be ailing us – that would be checking out the comments on blogs and review sites.

Then they’ll come back to party, help themselves to a few warmed up things that might or might not have mushrooms and brie in them – like a nice video or a free ebook and then they’ll want to coast for a while. No need to ruin dinner with too many crab puffs. They have people to meet, closets to inspect and the babysitter to check up on.

If I’ve lost you, this is the part where B2B buyers have to do their actual jobs, which, I remind you, is not buying your stuff. Buying your stuff is some tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of one percent of their time. There is no such thing as a person with a pile of money and nothing better to do than read your thought leadership content. Ok. Maybe Drake, but nobody else.

This is where a good host knows to back the heck off. You don’t want a sloppy drunk at your dinner table, do you? Nor do you want someone who has lost their appetite. You especially don’t want someone who is so offended by your overbearing insistence that they look at the ice sculpture that they sneak out through the carport.

Pay attention, this is subtle: even when they sit at your table, nom your food, tell you it’s the best thing ever, even then, my friends, they must be allowed to stay at the top of the funnel.

You do not get to put your nasty little biting dog in their lap and ask them to be nice to it.

You do not get to sell them an Amway product.

You do not get to go through their purse.

You get to do what good hosts do and send them sober into the night while you get the curry stain out of the guest towel.

That is the job of marketing at the top of the funnel. The guests who were only there for catering will move on to other parties and other ice sculptures. The guests who kind of liked you, curry stained towel and all, will send you a thank you note, or otherwise signal their pleasure about their visit. It could be they retweet something. Perhaps they share your infographic. Maybe they turn up at your presentation or register for your webinar.

Even now, we don’t touch the power switch and grab the pusher. We invite them back. We give them more cocktails and more tapas and clean towels. And we do that over and over and over again, each time sending a few out into other sales funnels and slowly letting a few drop further down into ours.

Too many marketers succumb to the pressure to send anyone who can fog a mirror down the funnel. Your sales team doesn’t want low quality leads whose only reason for being there is that they once coughed up their email address in exchange for a webinar. They want people who can’t imaging missing the next dinner party. Are there a lot of them? No. That’s why it’s shaped like a funnel and not like a storm sewer. The idea is to be selective.

Right. Lots of metaphors. Let’s close with this: the top of the funnel is for marketers. Keep the persistent sales people, the daily emails and the relentless webinar invitations out. Spend your marketing calories watching your top-of-funnel guests like a hawk.

Remove the drunks and very, very slowly and respectfully, start introducing your sales team to the guests who actually want to be at all of your parties.

If you treat your funnel guests like some kind of overripe fruit and cram them into a machine, you’ll get a bit of juice and a bunch of pulp and a sticky mess to clean up. Oh, and no revenue and a crappy brand.


Originally published November 7th, on


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Elizabeth Williams
Elizabeth Williams
Elizabeth Williams is the President of Candler Chase Inc., a consulting firm specializing in employee communications and branding. She is a survivor of more than 20 years in the telecom, financial services and technology sectors, and can often be found blogging about brands and speaking at conferences. She keeps meaning to write a book.