Failsafe marketing: Episode III – Revenge of the sales funnel!

What does the sales funnel look like and how do you use it?

The series so far recap…

Episode 3 - recap

In this episode:

  • What is a sales funnel?
  • What does a sales funnel look like?
  • How to use a sales funnel?

The Customer Journey:

Whilst every business is different, there are a number of universal truths that help to simplify things, and can form a framework around which to build your marketing and sales efforts.

Customer journey diagrams have been around for as long as marketing – but as marketplaces, channels and technologies have evolved, so too has the way we think about those journeys, and the key long-term role existing customers should play.


Simply put: a sales funnel is a marketing term for the journey your potential customers go through on their way to making a purchase.

It visualises how the number of contacts reduces as they move through the buying process.

The funnel itself is often broken down into distinct sections: top of the funnel (TOFU), middle of the funnel (MOFU), and bottom of the funnel… (yup, BOFU!).  Often (and unfortunately, more on that later) each section is the responsibility of a separate team.

What does a SALES FUNNEL look like?

Good question young padawan! A traditional sales funnel is just that – funnel shaped and focussed on 4 areas, collectively known as ‘AIDA’.


The AIDA model breaks down as follows:

Awareness – The consumer becomes aware of your product or service

Interest – The consumer realises your product or service may be suitable for them, and investigates further

Desire – The consumer recognises the value of your product or service, and starts to proactively engage with you or your content.

Action – The consumer is ready to take the next concrete step, whether that’s booking a meeting or making a purchase.

BUT: Whilst the traditional AIDA model is a useful starting point, things have moved on since its inception – as an industry we no longer consider our job done once a contact has become a customer!

The Hourglass

The hourglass is essentially an extension of the funnel – it continues through the point of sale and follows contacts as they progress from new to established customers and, if we’ve all done our jobs properly, become passionate advocates of your product or service.

Incorporating our classic marketing training – the Customer Loyalty Ladder – expands the AIDA funnel into an hourglass shape that now includes the likes of Consideration, Evaluation, Adoption, Expansion and Advocacy.

marketing funnel challenge

The Flywheel

The latest evolution of the customer journey diagram ditches the funnel approach completely!  

Marketing best practice tells us to put the customer at the heart of everything we do. They are, after all, what this is all about – most successful businesses don’t just provide a great product, they provide a great experience… at the end of the day it’s your customers who define the difference between success and failure!

Fly Wheel

There is a lot written about the flywheel, with the analogies covering everything from how the shape represents frictionless movement, and how the speed at which it spins represents the speed of business growth, to the way in which the balance of elements distorts the spin, requiring constant monitoring and adjustment…  all very clever, but does any of it stand up?

One of the key ideas behind the flywheel is continuous momentum – no more A-to-Z progression before regrouping and starting back at A – it’s now all about building on success to breed more success, none of which we can argue with.

We still see remnants of AIDA but our hourglass has been on a crash diet and slimmed down to the basics, because people’s decision processes are different today. They ask their networks for advice, they search for mentions of your company on social media, and you bet they’re reading third-party review sites…  so any model that doesn’t reflect that is clearly not fit for purpose!

It is hard to let go of the trusty millennium falcon of a diagram that is the funnel – Harvard Business Review wrote back in late 2018:

“I’ve been using the sales funnel for 28 years, my whole career. This year, I retired the funnel — threw it a party, gave it a gold watch, and congratulated it on its move to a condo in Florida.

It was the right thing to do.”

Whilst we see the value in the flywheel, and understand the underlying principles, there’s a lot of truth still in the funnel approach… not to mention that it’s much more instinctively understandable!

Here at Challenge we still use the hourglass in most of our outward facing presentations (with a lot of emphasis being placed upon the post-sales section)but often refer to the flywheel internally. Until adoption is greater, I can’t see that changing too soon.

Let the creatives loose!

Of course, you can go completely off-piste and visualise the journey in much more creative ways. We have seen mountains, roads, races, icebergs… make it something applicable to your prospects and customers and their interests and you’re really on to a winner!

How to use your SALES FUNNEL?


Use a funnel or wheel approach to understand and visualise your customer journeys.  It’s a great way to identify the different stages of the buying cycle (and beyond), each of which require a carefully-tailored approach.  Whether it’s the channels you’re using, the assets you’re creating or just the messaging you’re deploying, every profile at every point will need something different to drive engagement and progression.

It also helps to overcome the sense that sales and marketing are 2 separate entities – we’re all a part of the same process, with customers needing constant input from both teams – a single end-to-end diagram makes that truth inescapable!

To get the ball rolling, start with a basic AIDA model and a single, known customer type (known as a buyer persona). You almost certainly have lots of different buyer personas to consider, but start with a simple, single customer type.

Think about these areas at each AIDA stage:

  • What are they thinking? What do they need?
  • What are they feeling? Why are they feeling it?
  • What are they doing?  
  • What questions are they asking? Where are they looking for answers?

Don’t embrace the dark side and ignore what the sales funnel can teach you.

Once you have this information, document it and discuss short-comings and address them. You may need to do some more research to fill knowledge gaps. Have a look at Episode I and Episode II if you have jumped from hyper-space straight here. There are tips there too.

Join us for the next Episode in – ‘Failsafe Marketing: Episode IV: Some New Ideas’

Share it