Digital Marketing Funnel: Is The Traditional Funnel Still Valid?

  • Date: 29 July 2019
  • reading time: 5 Minutes
  • Blogger: Francisca Zimmermann


Marketing and sales strategies are in constant development. New technologies pop up all the time, trends and purchase methods change, and marketing experts are continuously trying to stay up to speed with their strategies.

The sales funnel, as an essential part of a sales and marketing strategy, is one of the things that has been changing over time. As buyer habits evolve, the funnel needs to change too.


group of friends coffee

In this blog, we will take a closer look at the sales funnel. We will define what exactly a funnel is, we will look at the history of the funnel and will explain what you should pay attention to while working on your own funnel.

What is a sales funnel?

As we explained in our recent blog, a sales funnel is a ‘planned route that marketers want potential customers to take, from the first time they hear a company's name until the moment they turn into loyal fans.’

In a sales funnel, you can pre-plan the way a potential customer hears about your business, builds trust in your product or service, and finally decides to purchase your product.

The history of the sales funnel

The sales funnel has been around for a long time. In 1898 already, Elias St. Elmo Lewis developed the first version of the marketing funnel. His funnel consisted of four stages: The awareness stage, the interest stage, the desired stage, and the action stage.

sales funnel

At that time, his invention was revolutionary and got picked up widely. And, although it’s been a while since his stages started to get as well known as they are now, Lewis' work still forms the basis of the sales funnels nowadays.

Over time, however, it turned out that not every business is the same, and not every customer takes the same route towards a purchase. Therefore, people started to experiment with the traditional funnel and create all different kinds of shapes, directions, and stages.

Forrester’s 'Maze' is an excellent example of this. Forrester argued that a real customer journey is way more complicated than just four, lined up, stages. Unfortunately for Forrester, his maze-like system was too complicated for most marketers to really become commonly used.

funnel marketing

In 2019, we have noticed that many experts have been ‘flipping the funnel’. This means they start with the traditional sales funnel and follow the steps Lewis proposed (or similar to that). However, instead of ending the funnel at the purchase - or action stage, four new stages are added. An adoption stage, a retention stage, an expansion stage, and an advocacy stage. These four extra stages focus on following up with customers, making sure their product functions well, possibly upsell and making sure these customers turn into passionate advocates of a brand.

funnel marketing

The sales funnel in 2019: Is the traditional funnel still valid?

We think that, in 2019, the shape of a sales funnel is strongly linked to three factors: Industry, target market, and time.

To start with, every sector is different. While businesses in some industries need to work hard to get a customer’s attention, this is not always the case. Restaurants, hairdressers, wellness services or products with lower prices, for instance, often do business with people who have never heard the name of the company before.

This is relatively new and mostly caused by the increased use of smartphones over the past years. As Google explains with their concept ‘micro-moments’, customers become more impatient nowadays and often skip the awareness stage. A quick search on ‘where can I find a hairdresser nearby’ replaces the long process of getting to know a brand. This shows the importance of the time aspect. We currently live in a time where people depend a lot on their smartphones, and (in some cases) prefer speed and comfort over trust and loyalty to a brand.

However, this is not the case in every industry. Mostly businesses who offer more expensive services still need to work hard to gain a customer’s trust. Apple’s target market, for instance, won’t buy a new phone by just Googling ‘where can I buy a phone nearby.’ They prefer to buy from a brand they know and trust.

The same goes for the possible stages after the ‘purchase’ stage. ‘Flipping the funnel’ makes sense, but the stages that will follow after purchase depends on the product and target market. In case an expensive software package was sold, support after purchase will be needed. Did a customer purchase a piece of clothing? Then a retention or advocacy stage could be implemented, but much support after the purchase won’t be necessary.

Our conclusion

We think that the traditional sales funnel is still relevant, as a guideline. The four steps are easy to apply for most companies, but will usually need some adjustment. You may need to add a few extra stages, skip a stage, or give your funnel a slightly different shape.

sales funnel

There are many tools available that help you build a funnel that specifically applies to your business and wishes. At Social Media Gids, we like to use Kartra. Kartra allows its users to build a funnel with a simple sequence builder. A sequence simply means the order and design of the stages, which are automatically performed by the tool. This allows for a lot of freedom in setting up the funnel that is perfectly shaped for any type of business.

Need help?

We have many years of experience designing sales funnels in many shapes and forms. Do you need help designing yours? Feel free to contact us for a FREE strategy call, or join the conversation in our Social Media Gids community.

For those interested in giving Kartra a try, you can sign up for a Free Trial of the tool here. This gives you the opportunity to experiment and work on your funnel for free, before deciding if it’s right for you.

Want to post a comment? Join the conversation in our community.

  • Blogger: Francisca Zimmermann
  • E-mail: [email protected]
  • Social media manager & content creator at Social Media Gids
  • Francisca Zimmermann is a social media expert with a background in research and a love for learning new things. She travels the world looking for beautiful places and interesting cultures, while she dives into the world of her clients to be able to write about them and their interests as a real 'insider'.
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