First off, what is a funnel?

As companies evaluate our go to market motions, we see the different paths customers experience and we try to optimize for the ones that result in an ideal outcome: paying customers, renewals, upsells, etc. Customer journeys start at different points for each company- some is a visit to your website, others is a LinkedIn message or cold email from a salesperson. But mapping out that path, with all the twists and turns it may take, is where we start to derive our “funnel”.

To me, a funnel represents the steps a company takes to intentionally manufacture the ideal result from a customer journey. Looking at the result as anything less than the sum of all the interactions (intentional or not) a customer has with your company would be missing the full picture. When I was at Wix, this journey included a combination of users navigating through a brilliant PLG (product lead growth) path and a series of interactions with our sellers. At many companies, the interactions are likely a combination of sales-lead conversations and consuming content from your website.

At the center of mapping these interactions, is RevOps. From my experience, when done right, RevOps brings all teams with customer-facing interactions (marketing, sales, customer success, etc) together, maps the entire customer journey, and creates alignment on what a company’s ideal customer journey looks like. The result is your team’s funnels (remember, I said there’s more than you think?)

In the rest of this post, I want to explore what we normally identify, what we may be missing, and what to do about it.

Sounds nice, but why is it important?

I doubt I’ll get any objections if I say companies want to optimize for delighting customers and capitalizing on revenue opportunities. But, too often we see negative reviews from customers or LinkedIn posts citing frustration around sales and customer success having two totally different agendas. Or, customers saying they were let down by a product after romanticizing what it could do based on the website. Internally, we might hear sales complaining their deals are thrown off by poorly-timed automated emails from marketing.

If we accept my definition of a funnel as the customer journey that leads to ideal outcomes, a solution to the above scenarios can start with getting a better understanding of the path our customers travel down.

Then we have the topic of creating predictable revenue- again, a practice I doubt any GTM/Growth leader would say they don’t aspire to do. But, if that’s the case, why are so many companies forecasting on and using homogeneous processes that don’t account for the nuances they know exist amongst their customers? Why do so many companies meticulously map out their new business funnel but then magically expect renewals to happen without the same attention paid to the post-sale process? All of these breakdowns represent blind spots for companies when it comes to predicting and capitalizing on revenue.

The symptom of poor retention doesn’t always mean your customer success team stinks just like the symptom of inaccurate forecasting doesn’t mean sales leadership doesn’t know what they’re doing. The reason identifying and understanding your funnels is important is the remedies to these serious symptoms may reside in a simple conversation with RevOps to map the customer journey and create alignment on the ideal paths your customers travel down- aka your funnels.

We’re not missing everything, are we?

That’s right! Most companies we talk to put a lot of thought and intention into their new business funnel. They understand where the funnel begins- inbound, outbound, PLG, ABM, etc and they map out each step of the process, complete with definitions of what conditions are required to classify a customer as at a certain stage and what type of interaction they intend to take place to move the customer to the next stage. They’re assigning forecasting predictions based on a combination of historical data and which stage a customer is currently at; companies with the best RevOps are even automating as much of the process as possible (notifications when teammates have action items, updating close dates, etc) to help. For these reasons, when we think of a funnel, we usually associate it with the journey from a lead to a paying customer. But, there’s more…

What are we missing?

If you want to get philosophical, everything is a funnel- stages of completing a POC, approval processes, I could go on and on. But, let’s focus on the two biggest holes we see that are hurting companies' ability to create predictable revenue.

1- Having only one sales funnel: sure, if you’re selling a one-size-fits-all solution to SMBs, maybe every customer journey is nearly the same. But, most companies sell (or aspire to sell) to more than one segment of the market and typically, different tactics are required based on the segment you’re selling to. I wouldn’t expect to close an enterprise deal with the same process my teammate uses to sell to government or education customers. There is a different type of commitment I’m asking for, different stakeholders who will be impacted by the decision to buy or not buy, and likely more departments (hi, procurement) that represent different hoops to jump through and different timelines on decision making. Looking at these funnels as the same can easily result in a bad customer experience (being pushed through a process that doesn’t fit them) and make accurate forecasting nearly impossible. Most of your leads may originate from the same place but an internal discussion to identify where customer journeys may branch off in multiple paths, is the best way to make sure all the paths reconvene at “Closed Won” at the end.

2- Everything post-sale: I touched on this earlier but I can’t count how many companies we speak with that have the team responsible for retention and creating renewals/ upsells flying by the seat of their pants. Some work in different systems (outside of the CRM) and others are wholly reactive- putting out fires and hoping the rest of the customer experience is positive enough that the customer doesn’t churn. The notion of “every customer is unique so we customize their success path each time” is for the ill-prepared. Even when every customer is unique, identifying the renewal milestones your team drives them towards can (and should) be looked at as its own funnel. Doing so will result in better visibility on customer health and better identification of revenue opportunities.

What should I do about it?

I spoke recently with a great company that shared they had a wide variance in length sales cycles which was resulting in difficulties forecasting; they close some deals from a typical inbound selling motion and other deals as a result of winning RFP submissions. The issue was that all of these deals were being tracked along the same funnel. However, in an RFP process, you’re typically required to submit a proposal before you even get selected to give a demo. Projected close dates in their inbound sales process is a function of their potential customers’ buying cycle (many variables) whereas an RFP usually comes with a predetermined decision date.

Their solution here was splitting their new business funnel into two branches- one for inbound sales and the other for RFP submissions. They can now represent their two distinct customer journeys with steps in the appropriate order which allows them to assign proper forecasting models for each type of deal. Furthermore, internally they can now automate notifications to internal resources and their post-sale teams when they have action items based on which type of deal is being worked on/ closed.

I’m sharing this anecdote as an example of where any company can start. Looking at a visualization of your end-to-end customer journey and sitting with marketing, sales, and customer success to make sure a cohesive ideal path is defined (and accounting for how to look at and track variances) is a great first step to identifying all your funnels and in turn, creating delighted customers and predictable revenue.

Here’s the checklist I would use to get started:
  • Consult with all customer facing teams (marketing, sales, customer success, etc) to create a visual representation of your customer journey
  • Map out all entry points, re-engagement points, alternative paths towards “paying customer”, and post-sale. Include all high-touch and low-touch (aka sales and product marketing) interactions you expect customers to have along the way
  • Step back, put yourselves in the shoes of your customers. Is each step preceded and followed by interactions that make sense? Think of it like a conversation between two parties
  • Create a visualization/ get documentation of your CRM processes and compare to the customer journey
  • Get to work optimizing your CRM to exactly mimic your customer journey and align on what to measure at each stage
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