Is Your Sales Funnel Inverted?

By Neil Smith

In a typical sales funnel, leads are placed into the broad top and percolate down through the various stages of a sale to new customers and revenues. It looks like a distilling process and thus the number of companies in each successive stage are gradually fewer and better fit than those above. Sales planning starts at the bottom of the funnel using a reverse engineering process.

The distance between the top and the bottom of a sales funnel is the length of time it takes to close a sale from beginning to end. These sales cycle times have increased manifold as customers’ cash flows became tight during the recession. Any attempt to shorten the sales cycle times is often an exercise in futility. So, the only other approach has been to generate more leads, opportunities and proposals. However for this to work the opening at the top of the funnel needs to be wide open and full of leads.

 Now consider a scenario when we use the funnel to measure the hours spent on the various stages of a sale.  This becomes an interesting exercise if you must be both a “hunter,” bringing in new customers, and a “farmer,” an account executive servicing existing clients. The result would be a “sales hours funnel” and you may be a little surprised with what you see. Is it inverted? Are things like lead generation, fact-finding and lead qualification at the top because you’re spending fewer hours on them? While things like servicing existing clients, administrative stuff and proposals are at the bottom because they take up the most hours?

Some sales are “progressive sales.” In these cases sales executives act as account representatives and, while they must still prospect a bit to generate new leads, a large chunk of their revenue comes from follow-on sales to existing clients. Few companies are uncomfortable handing off new accounts generated by outside sales executives because of the importance of the relationship established by the sales executive. This could be due to ineffective hand-off procedures. One solution often employed is commissions for hunters and performance bonuses for farmers.

Lead generation may form a narrow opening for several reasons. Maybe your firm’s advertising and marketing efforts aren’t working well enough or maybe other tasks have crowded out the time required for prospecting. Finally it could be because the company as a collective doesn’t like to prospect or cold call.

A quick fix way to rectify this is to reduce the hours spent on tasks that distract you from prospecting and schedule weekly time blocks wherein the only thing the team does is to prospect.

Stuffed funnels are often full of numbers of unqualified prospects and expectations. A sales funnel with strict qualification criterion looks like a glass of martini, broad at the top, with lots of leads, and rapidly narrowing thereafter, representing smaller number of highly qualified prospects with greater odds of closing.

Sometimes proposal generation can also become a time sink especially when a high degree of customization is required. This is true for organizations where managers and sales reps are closely involved with the proposal drafting process. For such organizations it often makes sense to hire a professional proposal designer to free up sales reps time. As a general rule administrative stuff almost never increases sales. Thus these activities shouldn’t take up more than a certain degree of your time (around 10%) in a typical week. If they do then a great degree of fine tuning might be required to turn your sales funnel around.

Feel free to share your views with us via comments below.


  1. Once again another great entry. I actually have a few things to ask you, would be have some time to answer them?

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