How often have we heard sales managers complain that they are generating lots of selling opportunities, but the Sales team just doesn’t seem to be able to close them fast enough? Certainly not fast enough to achieve sales budgets.

Out with the pipeline, in with the funnel
One approach to this problem can be to do away with the sales pipeline.
Clients often talk to us about what’s in the pipeline and what’s coming down the pipeline. But, in a sales pipeline, all opportunities within the pipeline are more or less the same. Let me explain why we prefer the funnel as a model…

Unlike the pipeline, the funnel captures the transition of buyers through the buying process, and the reality of leakage along the way. Buyers at the top of the funnel have a lower closing probability, as they are only just beginning their journey.

As these opportunities move down the funnel, the probability of closing those deals increases.

Knowing where the opportunity sits in the funnel
The biggest advantage of a funnel over a pipeline is the sense that the position of an opportunity in the funnel is a direct expression of its maturity. This means we know where that customer is in their decision-making process.

The stages of the process are:

  1. Becoming troubled about a particular problem;
  2. Defining what that problem is and thinking through what their options are to fix that problem; and
  3. When they’ve decided what type of solution they’re looking for, find a particular vendor and engage.

It therefore follows that we are able to organise our opportunities by thinking about what stage the prospect is at in that decision-making journey.

Using the funnel to sell
So, a funnel allows the seller to preempt their next move by mapping opportunities:

  • Top of the funnel: the prospect is still defining the problem
  • Middle of the funnel: the prospect is deciding where they’ll source their solution from
  • Bottom of the funnel: the prospect has decided what type of solution they want and is selecting a vendor for that particular solution

This thinking allows the seller to align their selling to the buyer’s journey.

For instance, if the opportunity is at the top of the funnel where the client is still defining what the problem is, the seller needs to assist the prospect with identifying their problem.

Of course, this means that the seller can shape that problem so it ends up looking like a problem they can solve.
In the middle of the funnel, the seller needs to help the buyer explore the various options available to fix the problem, helping the client create a solution type that, of course, favours the seller’s solution type.

Finally, if the opportunity is at the bottom of the funnel, the seller needs to influence the buyer to ensure that their particular solution is the one selected.

What sets the funnel apart from the pipeline is that it captures the notion of the buyer’s journey. This thinking allows sellers to structure their selling in a way that progresses buyers to the next stage in the funnel – and, crucially, progresses (and closes) them faster.

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Eddie Smith is the Founder of Sales Schematics Australia, and an accredited Funnel Coach. To read more of his insights, go to the SSA Technical – Sales Insights blog.