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After last week's FUNNEL B2B marketing event at The Emirates in London, we arranged a discussion with three of the speakers about who should own the funnel. 

The speakers were Lisa Hutt, VP EMEA Marketing at Concur Technologies, Bob Apollo, Managing Partner at Inflexion Point and Jurgen Heyman, Director at SPI Sales. 

I've added a transcript of the panel discussion from FUNNEL, or you can simply head for the video at the bottom of the post and watch the debate... 

Who wants to own the funnel?

Lisa Hutt: I think that's a good question. Quite often marketing is owned the top end of the funnel and sales is owned the bottom end of the funnel. There's a big debate as to what point you hand over from one to the other. 

Bob Apollo: I'd put another point in here and I'll suggest that the customer owns the funnel. In other words the way we ought to be measuring progress through the funnel is not what sales or marketing do but what we observe the customer doing.

Jurgen Heyman: I couldn't agree more with that because quite frankly it's a buyer align process that you have to proceed and you have to go through and anything else you do is sort of like you know just aligning with that, that mimicking you know what your organisation needs to do to accommodate that buying process that the customer is going through.

BA: So if you think about that buying process, it typically isn't linear. The prospect might stop completely, exit the process, they might stay for a long time considering their position, or they might even reassess some of the decisions they made earlier.  

So actually the funnel can flow upwards, it can leak, it can get recycled and so if you think about who's responsible for what, I think it's entirely possible, and probable, and useful that the responsibility might change from marketing to sales, maybe back to marketing again, to nurture a prospect who is not yet ready to move forward in their buying decision process.

LH: The other thing which is quite an interesting aspect is that a lot of organisations lack the resources all the way through the funnel and may outsource some part of that funnel to an external agency as well which makes that all the more difficult in terms of ownership. 

JH: That brings us also to the question because, as Bob said, it's not linear and you know customers can retract and they can reiterate but I think that at the moment in time, you also have to decide what stays in the funnel and what gets kicked out of the funnel. 

BA: And when I look at healthy funnels, actually they end up kicking out or recycling deals relatively early in the process if it becomes apparent that those opportunities are not going to close in the current, you know, frame of reference.

Funnels that have a large number of opportunities all clustered at the bottom of the process tend to be very inefficient, because a large proportion of those opportunities don't close so a funnel shape like this is a much healthier funnel.

JH: Yeah but I think a lot of that is because organisations have always have an objective measure or yard stick to go and determine where a specific opportunity should be in the funnel, and you know sales people are from nature very optimistic, they tend to believe that they can still progress the opportunity,  whereas maybe in reality you know the customer is long gone.  

BA: The more the funnel is based around internal activities rather than an accurate assessment of where the customer is, the more scope for confusion you've got.

I actually had one client, and I'm actually going to reference it this afternoon, who had a classic situation where less than 50% of their forecasted opportunities where closing as planned, and that's about average actually, so they put in a customer aligned funnel, they rigorously re-qualified the deals according to where the customer was the following month.

They closed 13 out of the 14 forecasted opportunities and the one that didn't close was the one that had the least value.

Now I'm not suggesting that will happen every quarter, but it's an indication of the increased precision with which organisations can manage their funnels if they measure them and structure them in the right way.

What was the main differentiating factor between one quarter and the other? 

BA: We ended up with about the same number of pipeline stages but we defined them into terms of where the prospect was and their consideration and we insisted on evidence of milestones being met.

We excluded actually a stage which they used before which was proposal delivered, because frankly it's meaningless. It doesn't matter when you deliver a proposal, what matters is the customer's reaction in terms of whether or not they've decided to go ahead with the project, or to select you as the option.

JH: You know that is something that we call verifiable outcomes, where people, you know the customer confirms actually the understanding of what they think they want to do as the next step, which really make it a joint step-by-step evolution of the whole process.  

I think if it isn't buyer aligned, nothing's going to happen or the chances are that nothing is going to happen, you know, in the first place. 

LH:  I think the common problem in the funnel is that particularly in Europe here, we are dealing with a lot of wider markets, newer markets, where their brand awareness might be lower or whatever and the balance that marketing has to make between delivering to a longer term goal versus a short-term one that sales need.  

So they're looking to hit next quarter or the quarter after and marketing need to support that, but also think longer term as well. Some of that investment that they're making isn't going directly into the top of the funnel yet.

BA: The other thing I see is a growing role for marketing in what I would call sales enablement and that's where even if sales have taken a primary responsibility for a given opportunity, marketing still has some really important contributions to make in terms of equipping and facilitating the sales process and supporting the buying decision.

So their influence is properly felt right the way throughout the funnel. 

LH: I think that's a really good point because sales often feel very ill-equip to handle a lead once its been handed over from marketing. They don't have materials to hand, and they don't have a budget like the marketing team do, they're basically a long ranger working with that customer alone.

JH: Yeah I think it's not just that, I think there is a very big gap between the way that marketing communicates and sales people communicate with their customers.

Often sales people are very critical business issues centred and around that where marketing very much is still product and offer oriented and therefore there is a very big discrepancy between what marketing is producing on one hand, and what sales people are needing.

LH: And the message, exactly, that's going to the customer and quite often marketing are a step away from where they should be in terms of the customer’s business issues.

So I think marketing has got a long way to move to get nearer to the customer. I think working with the sales team closer is going to be paramount going forward. 

JH: I think it's also a matter of extending the common approach over the boundary between marketing and sales. 

I think we should have a common vocabulary between marketing and sales, we should make sure we can feed back information that we get from our customers back into marketing so that they can revamp the messaging and address it addressing to references and case studies as opposed to just operating messages.

BA: There are three important areas:

  • What does an ideal customer look like? Not just demographics, situational, behavioural, structural factors.
  • Who are the key stakeholders who typically get involved in buying decisions - what do we believe their motivations and concerns are?
  • What are the issues that will cause the prospect to take action?

I think you have to have sales and marketing form a consensus about those things if you're to expect to create campaigns that generate the right sort of leads, equip sales people so they have the right sort of conversations with those prospects once you've started to engage with them.

Is that a dream, or is that really achievable? 

BA: It's imminently achievable. It's easier in smaller organisations than it is with global corporates

LH: Earlier today one of the questions was, "that works in theory, but in a huge organisation where you have massive silos, maybe even in different buildings or across different territories, that can be really difficult. 

BA: Acknowledged - that it's a lot harder in big companies. 

Any final tips?

LH: The plan is put together from the customer’s perspective. What does the journey look like from the customer’s perspective, not from sales and marketing.

BA: Have clear definitions for the key stages in that journey and how you'll identify where the prospect is in that consideration.

JH: To find a common vocabulary such that you can hand over the successes you have within sales back to marketing that it can be revamping massaging that is appropriate to what are the critical business issues that customers are trying to accomplish. 

LH: Remove the hard line in the funnel where marketing hands over to sales. It's a joint effort all the way through the funnel. 

Graham Charlton

Published 20 November, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (1)

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Nick Stamoulis

"the funnel can flow upwards, it can leak, it can get recycled "

I think they make a great point. The funnel isn't linear because customers choose when to come and when to go. Someone could get 90% of the way to buy but then back out last minute. 3 months from now they might want to jump right back in where they left off.

about 4 years ago

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