How To Identify Sales Funnel Problems

If you ever decide to busy yourself in the majestic art of making sausages in the artisan way, you have two ways.

You grab a large funnel, pull the casing on the narrow end, stuff the meat into the wide end and start squeezing it through the funnel into the casing.

It’s a rather tedious task and your sausages will be full of humps and bumps.

The other option is to have a motorized sausage stuffer, so your sausages will be dead even. They don’t merely taste great but look amazing too.

This is roughly the difference between haphazard selling and selling through a sales funnel.

But merely having a funnel is not without problems. It has to set up correctly.

The problem often starts with the…

Incorrect Naming of Funnel Stages

When you look at most companies’ sales funnels, you can instantly see that the funnel stages are named after sales stages not buying stages.

For instance, when you look at the funnel below, you find it’s labelled from the seller’s perspective, so no matter what the buyer does, the seller’s job is to elbow his way to the next stage all the way to submitting the proposal and wait, hope, pray and pay the price of his mistake.

Is it surprising that those companies lose most of their opportunities?

What we can see is that the buyer and her actions during the sales process are not even considered. It’s like the guy who goes on a date and starts by saying, “Hi, let me tell you about me and the steps I follow with every new date.”

I’m not exactly a relationship expert, but even I know that this not a good start.

Now let’s see the same funnel model but with different stages, labelled from the buyer’s perspective.

Let’s start with…

Awareness: Houston, we have a problem…

It all starts with the stage of awareness. Before everything else, you must raise buyer’s awareness to your products/services. This is the first step to having people pay attention to your marketing.

If you have an effective inbound marketing program in place with a broad range of communication channels, it means you can communicate with buyers easily.

It allows you to out-market your competition while spending much less on marketing.

Look at sales and marketing as the two sides of a seesaw. While the competition is engaged in forceful selling to save on marketing, you can do powerful marketing with much better results.

At this stage, keep your content focused on prospects’ biggest problems. The kind of problems that your offer can address down the road.

At this stage, buyers appreciate “how to” information, like…

  • White papers
  • E-books
  • Time sheets
  • Templates
  • Check lists
  • Educational webinars
  • “How to” videos

Remember, buyers’ first thought is how they can solve their problems in-house without spending money on experts or expensive products.

Later, you can introduce brand-focused content, but don’t do it yet. It can trigger prospects to compare your brand to other brands and that can diminish your chances of making the sale when the time comes.

After awareness, we go to the next stage…

Consideration: Where research is done…

Now that prospects are aware of your products/services, in the consideration stage, you communicate to them what makes your offers better than your competitors’ offers. This is the education stage.

In the B2B world, your prospects are likely to have advanced degrees both in business and your subject matter area, so your content must be credible and different from the widely available content on the Internet.

And while you can’t distort facts, this is where you can put your unique thumb print on your content. Readers want to be both informed and entertained, so it’s vital that you inject your unique style into your materials.

For educating prospects, you can use…

  • Your newsletter
  • Social media platforms
  • Various how-to guides
  • Checklists
  • Templates and website.

But with your website, stay always focus on driving prospects to specific web pages not to your generic home page.

In the first part of the consideration stage, you’ve demonstrated that you understand prospects’ biggest problems, so they can start paying attention to you.

In the second part of the consideration stage, you can start deepening their conviction that you have the best solution.

The appropriate content for this stage is…

  • Product-based webinars
  • Case studies
  • Data sheets
  • FAQs
  • Demo videos

Now you can bring out white paper, case studies, software trials and demos. These are pieces that need higher level of attention than previous pieces did.

By this time, prospects have received quite a bit of content from you, so you can give them some breathing room by easing up on content. Let them digest and ponder on the content that they’ve already received.

And then we arrive to the stage of…

Decision: To be or not to be, that is the question…

After weighing the pros and cons of various offers, buyers have arrived at the decision stage.

They know what they want and now want to select the best provider of that offer.

Since not every decision becomes a sale, we can divide this section into two sub-sections: Intent to buy and buy.

The big difference from the seller’s perspective is that intent can’t be cashed while a sale can.

The “intent to buy” part deals with selecting the seller and the “buy” section is everything about the sale, including price, terms, guarantees, warranties, etc.

By the time prospects reach this stage, they’re ready to buy, so, sellers should offer them such content that presents the kind of reassurance that buyers need to pull the trigger and buy.

The appropriate content pieces for this stage are…

  • Free trial
  • Live demos
  • Consultation
  • Testimonials
  • Comparison sheets

But be careful with comparison sheets because many of them are produced by the very companies whose products are compared.

Just think about how hard the breakfast cereal industry has been working to lionize low fat diet, while supressing the condemning information on the real culprit of the North American diet disaster: Sugar. Of course, breakfast cereals contain 35 or even higher percentage of sugar.

So, get your comparison charts from credible third-party sources. If they’re not available, then drop them. In house comparison charts can cause more damage than no comparison charts.

Be generous with your free trials, so users can get addicted to your product. Also, if it’s all possible, offer the full-blown version of your offer on a trial basis, so users can experience all the benefits of your product.

The other option is that you offer no trial but a solid money back guarantee.

Unlike B2C shoppers, B2B buyers are not shopping around as a hobby, but are looking for the right solutions to their problems, and once they’ve found them, they buy them.

In this funnel, the stages follow the buyer’s thinking and actions.

When the funnel stages are labelled according to the seller’s process, it’s highly likely that the seller tries to dictate an unfamiliar process to the buyer, which almost always end up in scaring prospects away.

And now, for the next funnel illness let’s start with…

Looking at The Shape of The Funnel

Since the funnel is a visual representation of your sales process, you can learn a lot by looking at its shape. Certain areas are supposed to be fat and some areas are supposed to be skinny.

A good inbound funnel should be fat at the top where new visitors enter and start their journeys to decision-making.

Then it gradually gets skinnier, and at the end, where new customers pop out, it’s quite skinny.

But some funnels look like a pregnant elephant, and you know no more about what’s happening inside the funnel than you know about the dark side of the moon.

Why is the shape so important?

It can help you to decide which part of the funnel to pay more attention to and what sort of “repair” that section needs.

As the saying goes, small hinges can open big doors, and your funnel is one of those small hinges that can make a huge difference.

So, let’s start inspecting the funnel with some diagnostic questions…

  1. How many unique visitors does your website have a month?
  2. What percentage become sales leads?
  3. How many leads do you have in your database right now?
  4. What percentage can you expect to become sales prospects (sales opportunities)?
  5. What percentage of prospects can you expect to become paying customers?

Armed with this information, now you can anticipate the shape of the funnel, and if you see a pregnant elephant-like funnel, then you know something is seriously off kilter.

And now we can look at…

The Four Biggest Funnel-Misshaping Problems

Bloated Midsection – Too Many Leads

If the mid-section of your funnel is bloated relative to the other sections, it means your funnel is constipated at this stage.

From the top of the funnel, contacts are moving on at a healthy pace and become leads, but this is where they get stuck and start piling up, making the funnel’s mid-section fatter and fatter.

It also means that you run short on qualified prospects (sales opportunities) and paying clients.

And that leads to a hand-to-mouth business.

What you need here is funnel optimization, so leads can start flowing freely from the leads stage to the opportunities stage and then to the purchase stage.

To maintain the flow, pay attention to five important factors…

  1. Have a specific buyer persona.
  2. Make your content relevant to that persona.
  3. Use multiple channels for your marketing to increase open rates.
  4. Follow up promptly. the time difference can cause significant bottom line differences.
  5. Score your leads, so you can strategically plan your follow-up strategy.

Skinny Midsection – Lead Starvation

This is another constipation problem, but here website visitors get stuck in the top section of the funnel.

They come into your funnel because something is of interest to them, but then they lose interest and stay in the visitor section forever.

It also shows that your practice of generating web visitors works like a charm, but there is a problem with taking visitors to the next level.

Fortunately, there are some good remedies here.

First, revisit your buyer persona to make sure that your message and persona are in perfect alignment. If you try to sell running shoes to quadriplegics, then no matter how good your shoes are and no matter how much you know about your market’s buying habits, there is a misalignment between the market and the message, and it can’t end up in anything good.

Also, change your call to action (CTA). There are eight different CTA types, so you can choose the best for your situation.

  1. Bottom-of-the-post smart CTA
  2. Connect with us in Social media CTA
  3. Tweet this CTA
  4. Subscribe to blog CTA
  5. Comment below CTA
  6. Slide in CTA
  7. Inline CTA
  8. Sidebar CTA

Different CTAs may need different pages, so while it’s a bit of extra work, it exponentially improves your chances to restart the flow of visitors into the leads section.

Small End Section – Real Starvation

It really means that there are no sales, so someone in the business is going to starve.

Second mortgage anyone?

Yes, we know that the bottom of the funnel is the smallest by nature, but it shouldn’t be infinitesimal.

You see, size sometimes matters.

And as we know from process engineering, very often the place where you experience the problem is not the real place. The real place is just before the suspected place.

So, look at your funnel’s midsection, and you’re likely to find the culprit there.

Possible problems can be…

  • Marketing handed lead to sales too soon.
  • The lead’s handover from marketing to sales is not seamless.
  • Flawed sales process – if you sell high-ticket items, use proper consultative selling not low-priced “peddler” type selling.
  • Look into the process that the lead went through before landing in the salesperson’s lap. Is the lead properly prepared – pre-sold. Hint: Every one of the late Steve Job’s presentations was a pre-selling session.

Sales Tube – Not Sales Funnel

If your funnel looks like a tube that is more or less of the same width from start to finish, then you most probably have a shortage of visitors.

Since we can’t squeeze buyers out of an empty funnel any more than we can squeeze water from a rock, we have to full up the funnel with visitors.

Some people may say that you go back and write more content. But I bet you already have content up to the wazoo, so quantity is not a solution.

Re-visit your content and tighten up your keywords and calls to action. Check your key meta pieces: title tag, description tag and heading tags.

We know from systems theory that systems are some 80% operational, and for the sake of the troubled 20%, there is no point in blowing up the operating 80%.

That’s so Microsoft Windows-ish…

“If the problem persists (a small Windows or Office problem), wipe your hard drive clean and re-install Windows.”


At a COMDEX computer expo many moons ago, Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the car industry and stated…

“If General Motors had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

In “If Microsoft Were Making Cars” General Motors responded…

“Occasionally, executing a manoeuvre such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.”

No, it’s not the content of your articles that fail to get visitors. It’s the “attraction pieces” inside the articles.

On Summary

As you can see, regardless of whether you want to make sausages or want to sell, the funnel can make a huge difference.

But just as any systems, the funnel can also bring in error sources. But once you’ve ironed your funnel out and worked out the kinks, it can make your life easier. It acts as an accurate dashboard to keep you up to date with all forms of incoming inquiries to your company.

And once you’ve troubleshot your funnel, raise a celebratory glass of something nice, and then focus your “excited” brain cells on getting seriously into inbound marketing and attract your perfect clients.

Picture of Todd Mumford

Todd Mumford