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The Sales Funnel is F*cked

Last week, I remembered a poem I love by William Butler Yeats. “The Second Coming” is a work of dark genius. Here is the first verse of the poem:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Most folks tend to linger on the surface of this poem. That shouldn’t surprise anyone — the title and content of the poem seem pretty literal. The world is falling apart and the shit is about to hit the fan. Do we really need to dig any deeper?


But there is an underlying meaning to the poem that can only be understood within the context of Mr. Yeats’ belief system. He conveyed a belief through his writings that attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs change in predictable patterns over great spans of time. He imagined the defining character of an age as a spiral (or gyre). Think tornado. As any age progresses, the spiral becomes wider, more difficult to control, and less predictable (like the falcon spiraling away from the falconer).

But now try to imagine an upside-down spiral inside that spiral. At the widest point at the top of the first tornado is the most concentrated point of this second tornado. This point of the second spiral represents the genesis of a new age that is defined in contrast to the previous age. And so I believe “The Second Coming” is as much a poem about disruptive, transformative change as it is a harbinger of the apocalypse.

So what does any of this have to do with the concept of a sales funnel? Not much, really. I just wanted to write about this poem because I think it’s cool as f*ck.

However, there is a point to be made about sales and marketing. We live in one of these moments when one age is giving way to the next. Our old-school world of sales funnels and demand-gen metrics is spiraling out of control. The best of us know that the models we have built our careers on are breaking down, but we’re afraid to say it out loud, much less do anything about it. Meanwhile, the worst of us become ever more recalcitrant and bombastic in our defense of pipeline fundamentals. “It’s a numbers game.”

No. It really isn’t.

What we used to call sales and marketing is insignificant compared with what’s happening out there. In the great digital exhaust of conversations between complete strangers lies the destiny of our brand and our business. People who buy shit don’t care about our sales process or our lead-nurturing program. They care about the experience they have with our brand. And if you’re waiting until someone lands in your pipeline before you start to shape their experience, you are on a collision course with obsolescence.

Everything interesting in marketing happens before a human becomes a “lead” and after they become a “deal.” The new frontier for sales and marketing is not in your pipeline. It’s in the cloud. In the future, other people will do all of your sales and marketing for you. In the meantime, we must learn how to shape their experience without our usual bag of tricks and tools.

The next decade is going to be crazy. But it’s going to be fun. See you on the other side.