Marketing Funnels And Buyer Journeys: What Are We Arguing About?

Think the marketing and sales funnel is obsolete? Think again. Columnist Scott Vaughan explains why the funnel as a measuring tool will help ensure your marketing efforts stay on track.

Chat with MarTechBot


All marketers by now understand that customer experience should be a business’s main priority. This isn’t anything new. And this sentiment is largely the reason we continue to hear time and time again that the marketing and sales funnels are dead.

I understand the argument: Customers aren’t cookie-cutter replicas of one another, and they certainly don’t all experience the same path to purchase, so why should we rely on an outdated model that implies they do?

In fact, most marketers today insist that we should map out a complex buyer journey to anticipate, and properly cater to, the numerous ways customers consume our content and engage with our companies.

And with the rapidly growing interest in account-based marketing, some marketers are even claiming that the funnel has flipped — and that instead of blasting out content and communications en masse, we must start with each customer and determine a unique strategy for that individual.

These are all great points. Who wouldn’t agree that targeted approaches provide more customer value and result in greater success?

However, the value of targeted engagement has nothing to do with the value of marketing funnels. Mapping the customer journey to provide prospects with a helpful, enjoyable experience has an entirely different purpose from developing a marketing funnel to measure, analyze and predict the achievements of marketing initiatives.

An Argument Against Funnel Abandonment

Now that we’ve established that the customer/buying journey is separate from the funnel, I’d like to explain why the marketing funnel shouldn’t be abandoned.

First, it provides a holistic view of marketing efforts’ results. Measuring successes across individual buyer experiences would create an unintelligible mess of data.

Organizations need to have line of sight into how their concerted efforts (including the manner in which they’ve mapped the buyer journey) have moved customers from awareness through consideration and into purchase. Synthesizing all the performance data to measure prospect data sources, content, personas, media partners, and so on, against one another is pivotal.

The funnel offers the best way to consolidate all this information and measure such performance. Additionally, knowing the various levels of the funnel helps marketers tie varying KPIs (key performance indicators) to each stage of the buyer’s journey throughout the process.

While the buyer journey is nonlinear and can be complex to measure, the funnel simplifies this measurement process. For instance, things like website visitors, leads generated and customer retention rate can have hard KPIs that are mapped back to specific levels of the funnel, determining which areas need improvement or are proving to be successful.

But Funnel Challenges Do Exist

The marketing funnel may have received such a negative reputation because of the challenges marketers face when following it. While I don’t think we can toss the funnel out the window for the reasons already noted, I also recognize that it isn’t perfect.

A few challenges to reaping value from the funnel model include:

• Dirty Data. If the main value of the funnel is measurement, then the data it contains need to be accurate and easily accessed. However, this isn’t always the case.

Marketers’ funnels are often clouded with inaccurate, outdated or duplicate data that undermine the funnel’s transparency and usefulness.

• Disconnected Systems. Marketers struggle to connect their front-end processes with back-end operations because of disjointed systems, data silos and manual tasks.

To move from the top of the funnel to the bottom, marketers need their data (once clean and accurate) to be connected. Otherwise, they’re moving through a funnel without a true view of their performance.

• Misinformed Measurement. Marketers don’t have an effective way to acquire the data needed to properly inform the funnel as a measuring tool. Setting KPIs and measuring them in real time is great, but do marketers have a way to do this accurately?

Oftentimes, they lack the proper tools, are measuring in a delayed fashion or don’t have an accurate read on performance, which completely skews the results.

At the end of the day, no matter how forward-thinking a marketer may be, he or she cannot be successful without setting basic performance benchmarks. This is what funnels allow marketers to do.

Mapping a customer journey to ensure superior experiences should certainly be an objective for organizations. The funnel as a measuring tool, however, isn’t going anywhere — it’s needed to track KPIs and ensure that businesses’ customer engagement, acquisition and revenue objectives remain on track.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Scott Vaughan
Scott Vaughan is a B2B CMO and go-to-market leader. After several CMO and business leadership roles, Scott is now an active advisor and consultant working with CMO, CXOs, Founders, and investors on business, marketing, product, and GTM strategies. He thrives in the B2B SaaS, tech, marketing, and revenue world. His passion is fueled by working in-market to create new levels of business and customer value for B2B organizations. His approach is influenced and driven by his diverse experience as a marketing leader, revenue driver, executive, market evangelist, speaker, and writer on all things marketing, technology, and business. He is drawn to disruptive solutions and to dynamic companies that need to transform.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.