It was almost 20 years ago when I first learned about the sales funnel, thanks to Miller Heiman and Strategic Selling®.

The principles of the funnel are etched in sales lore:

  • X number of prospects enter at the top of funnel; Y customers come out at the bottom.
  • Prospects go through distinct stages of the funnel, and each stage can be tracked and monitored.
  • By factoring in deal size, probability of closing and time-to-close, you can produce a revenue forecast with a few clicks inside almost any CRM.

Sounds great in theory, right?.  But in reality, the sales funnel is usually one big hot mess.

The Surprising Genesis of the Sales Funnel

Few people know that the concept of the sales funnel dates back to 1898 and a man named Elias St. Elmo Lewis.  Still fewer understand the reason why Lewis created the funnel in the first place. His mission was to explain the process of selling…(wait for it),,, life insurance!

So if you sell life insurance (and you have confidence in a 120-year-old business model), you’re all set.  However, if you sell complex, consultative solutions that involve multiple buying influencers and long cycle times, your sales process probably looks more like this:

funnel maze simmons

Seriously, how are you going to turn something like that into a meaningful and realistic view of your pipeline?  That’s why the traditional sales funnel is flawed:

It was never intended to represent the business-to-business complex sale in the first place!

However, there’s a much simpler way to view your funnel, so it actually does model the complex sale.

The Smart Way to Look at Your Sales Funnel

Originally, the funnel was developed to describe the series of steps that a consumer goes through before making a buying decision:

Attention (or Awareness) -> Interest -> Desire -> Action

However, in the business-to-business world, the purchasing process is far more complex.  The path from first contact through purchase order involves more people, more steps and more time.

Thus, instead of having one big funnel for all your prospects, opportunities and customers, think of having a series of “mini” sales funnels that are linked together into a sequence guiding customers down the purchasing journey.

Here’s my illustration:

mini sales funnels simmons

(Click for an enlarged view)

By breaking your sales funnel into its smallest building blocks, what was once complicated becomes simple.

7 Benefits of Mini Sales Funnels

 #1. Mini funnels enable customers to take action.

Simply put, a mini funnel is a distinct series of steps – such as a webinar or a demo – that customers go through before making a purchase.

The “Action” step at the bottom of each funnel is the next step you want the customer to take, whatever that step happens to be.

#2. Mini funnels can be measured.

A mini funnel has inputs and outputs that can be easily managed, measured and improved.

#3. A mini funnel has a specific goal.

The goal of a mini funnel is to lead customers to the next stage in the purchasing process — a meeting, a trial, a purchase order, a referral, etc.

#4. Mini funnels can be mapped.

A mini funnel is a small-scale sales process that can be mapped out and illustrated on a single sheet of paper.

#5. Mini funnels can be implemented quickly.

A mini funnel is a specific order of work activities (typically 3 – 5) that can be planned, organized and implemented in a matter of days — not weeks or months.

#6. Mini funnels create value.

The output of a mini funnel is more valuable than the inputs.  In other words, prospects who emerge at the bottom of a funnel are worth more than those who enter at the top.

#7. Mini funnels are assets.

You won’t find sales funnels on a balance sheet.  But make no mistake, a mini funnel is intellectual property which generates value for your organization in the form of revenue.

The 3 Main Types of Mini Funnels

There are dozens of different mini funnels, but just three main types:

  1.  Lead Generation Funnels

Lead generation funnels are for attracting attract high-quality leads. For example, inbound marketing funnels, social selling funnels, cold email funnels.

  1.  Sales Conversion Funnels

Conversion funnels are for converting leads into sales opportunities and paying customers. Includes sales call funnels, demo funnels, proposal funnels.

  1.  Customer Success Funnels

Success funnels are for maximizing lifetime customer value (e.g., referral funnels, loyalty funnels and advocacy funnels).

simmons mini library illus

New Library of Funnels

If you want to tap into the power of mini funnels, I’ve taken on the task of building a library with a collection of the top sales funnels for B2B sales and marketing — all tested and proven to convert. You can join the library here. It’s free.

Image Credit: Sales Funnel Chart