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The marketing funnel, that venerable icon of converting prospects to customers, may not be a funnel at all. It may be more like an hourglass.

With some help from best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta called for a reinvention of the customer success movement at the Pulse2014 conference in San Francisco. The funnel, he said, "sucks" and represents an "old economy" business model.

His comments confirmed exactly what David Diamond told CMSWire readers yesterday: That it is time to do away with the antiquated notion of stuffing a sales funnel.

In Mehta's illustration of the funnel, the broad top of the funnel was marketing, the middle was sales and the narrow bottom was customer retention. He said that makes it look easy to retain those customers at the bottom, "like you should just outsource it," but that's far from what smart companies should be doing.

Grow - Faster

"The best companies drive the most revenue from their existing customers," Mehta said. "If your company is just growing by adding customers and avoiding churn, you'll grow reasonably fast. If you're growing by adding customers and then those customers grow by spending more and buying more products, and telling other people to buy your products, that's how you become an awesome company.

"That's how you grow fast," he added. "That's how you go public."

Mehta said the symbol should be an hourglass, and that customer support leaders need to make it clear to their CEOs that their department is a revenue-generation unit, not just a cost center that puts out fires.

"If your job is to run into the fiery building to save the kids and come out, you can never help build the building, build the product, build the customers. You can never be about creation," Mehta said. "If you define your job as a leaky bucket, and you're plugging the holes, you're never the person filling the bucket."

This isn't the first time the funnel has come under attack. In January 2013, Forrester Research urged marketers to "ditch the funnel." More recently Svetla Yankova, product marketing manager for Telerik Sitefinity CMS, wrote "we've got it all wrong."

Transforming Customer Success

Mehta's call for a reinvention of the customer success segment was backed up by a call from Gladwell. The "Tipping Point" author gave a keynote speech on the nature of transforming industries, touching on major moments of "reframing" the business in media, shipping and medicine.

"What does it mean to reinvent a business, which is what all of your are doing? You're basically starting over. You're re-imagining what it means to have a relationship with customers," he said. He noted how Malcolm McLaren did that with containerized shipping in the 1950s, bringing the cost of shipping down to 15 cents a ton from $5.58 a ton.

"When you look at almost any kind of transformation, any reinvention of any industry, you will invariably find at the beginning of that process of reinvention, this act of reframing, a moment when the issue or the problem facing the customer is re-conceptualized, put into a form that allows them to re-imagine and re-understand their relationship to the person who is trying to sell them a product," said Gladwell.

Title image by Tito Wong / Shutterstock.