Marketing Automation Renovation — Why Your Funnel is Leaky and What It’s Costing Your Business

We’ve all seen the funnel diagram. It’s a beautiful progressive graphic that seems to pull prospects down the rabbit hole, closer and closer to big money in all of our pockets.  It’s a nice visual, and it’s even fairly easy to setup in a marketing automation platform.  Leads exhibit certain behaviors and as sales representatives communicate with them, they eventually move down to the point where they decide to buy or not buy… right?  I guess in the most general sense that is correct.  But haven’t you ever doubted a buying decision? Your buyers shift their opinions, needs, and ideas every day and this can change the “funnel” on a dime. Before you know it, your funnel has ceased to be a beautifully crafted graphic, and started to look more like a leaky sieve. Organizations of all sizes and sales models are familiar with this.  Some marketers call it “fall-off,” or “attrition” or “churn” or “whoops.”  Regardless of what you call it… those are holes. And they’re leaking dollar bills. The biggest leaks are at the very top, and the very bottom.


One of the easiest ways to pre-empt holes in the funnel is to fine-tune the lead scoring process.

What happens when marketing passes a lead to sales and the buyer never responds?  Dead, right?  Maybe not. So, why didn’t the lead engage?  In a large portion of cases, the lead was probably passed to sales prematurely or shouldn’t have been passed along at all.  Lead scoring isn’t perfect — it’s a path. It’s a path to better leads and a way for organizations to collaborate on lead quality in a very tangible way.  Getting back to this lead that never called back, what do we do with it?  Most sales reps would probably schedule a follow up in six months or forget about it completely, or, complain to someone in marketing and THEN forget about it completely.  All very bleak outcomes, and nothing seems to point to this lead becoming an eventual customer.  That’s lost revenue.

Good marketing automation software is designed to help with this process but is seldom used. Many companies are so engulfed in the process of getting leads into the funnel that they completely skip over the lead scoring step – an important first step. Take it. You’ll see your funnel retain a lot more than you did without it. 

Try a Smaller Funnel

If you’ve taken the step of appropriately scoring your leads, you’ve probably noticed something that makes your stomach drop. Your funnel is now a lot smaller. This is not a bad thing. Think about this in very literal terms. If you had a huge funnel, with the widest part at the top holding a mass amount of liquid, pressing down on the narrow opening at the bottom, you’re bound to spring leaks.  The funnel just can’t take that kind of pressure, and neither can your business. This is a fundamental shift in what we know about the concept of the funnel, but it’s an important one.

I’m not saying don’t use your marketing automation technology to attract more leads. That would be ridiculous. But be cognizant of which leads are making it into the funnel and when. It’s okay to keep a lead on the sidelines and let it ripen before tossing it to sales. It’s okay to pass on certain leads altogether. Why have your company waste time on leads that most likely won’t convert? Don’t be afraid to shrink your funnel. Your marketing automation system will make sure the leads keep coming, so you can make sure the right ones make it through, at the right time.

Push Marketing Shouldn’t Replace Personalized Marketing

Marketing automation allows us to do a lot of mass push marketing, so marketers really latch on to email blasting for quick acquisitions. This is seen as an opportunity to gain a quick spike in sales, but it’s also an occasion to lose many long-term customers.  Today’s marketing automation systems are built for personalization and lead nurturing for every kind of campaign. If you are doing acquisition-based campaigning, perhaps to a partner user base or tradeshow list (we’ve all done it), you shouldn’t see this as your one chance to build a “wow” factor.  Even with acquisition campaigns, marketers still need to learn as much about their prospects as possible and get them into the funnel based upon their preferences.  Acquisition campaigns are one of the few times that multi-CTA (calls to action) messaging is appropriate.  This allows the buyer to set their own preferences and will help you align with your target buyer personas.

This is the middle section of the funnel where leaks can happen. Once a response is received translate that knowledge immediately into next step messaging, then get them into the most relevant content nurturing track. Never think of acquisition campaigns as a “one and done” type offer, it should be an opportunity to learn and react accordingly.

The Biggest Lead Loss – Your Customers

Finally, address the holes that develop at the very bottom of your funnel, after the sale is complete. Many organizations do a poor job of marketing to their most attentive and valuable prospects – their existing customers. For organizations with a transactional model or varied product line this is the kiss of death.  On the whole, less than 12 percent of organizations are nurturing beyond the sale. Those that do often don’t tap into their clients’ current usage or product data.

Lead scoring doesn’t stop after the sale is made. You have to monitor lead score after the buyer makes a purchase for as long as they are a customer. Even if your organization doesn’t have a subscription model, and the first widget you sell is the only opportunity you have to make revenue – wouldn’t you want to know which customers are most likely to buy the newest version so you could market accordingly? For this reason it’s the hole at the very bottom of the funnel that causes the greatest amount of leakage. Marketers need to keep engaging customers after the sale and continue with right-time, right message marketing.

So the question always falls to how we can fix these problems? The only way to successfully fix a leaky funnel is to start with a new, stronger funnel. This is a hard proposition to get buy-in around as it could set you back, and is seen as non-revenue generating.  I’ve got news for you: on the whole, marketing for that last 20 years has been non-revenue generating.  When you try to plug in a fix midstream, it fails.  The excuse for a leaky funnel for a long time has been lack of visibility and lack of repeatability. You have to concede that a process that hasn’t been possible before probably hasn’t been planned for.  And that’s why we have to start over with a new view of the funnel and what makes it stay in tact.  If starting over isn’t an option, then focus on the top and the bottom of your funnel, and work inward from there.

Justin Gray is the CEO and chief marketing evangelist at LeadMD. The company helps businesses generate and manage leads better through marketing automation processes and technologies. He can be reached at

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