Everything Wrong With the 5 B2B Sales Funnel Stages

12 min read
Mar 22, 2022

B2B sales funnels are the definition of, “Just because everybody else is doing something doesn’t mean that you should do it too!

Traditional sales funnel models are nothing short of a useless sales tool that does anything but help you close more deals in less time.

In many cases, funnels set the stage for negative sales growth.

Now, before you go off and say, “But every B2B company uses a funnel, so it must work!”, keep in mind that if funnels were effective, then most sales teams wouldn’t struggle so hard to close a single deal.

That said, we’re sharing everything wrong with the 5 stages of B2B sales funnels! More specifically, we’re sharing:

  1. Why each stage of the sales funnel brings you closer to losing the prospect;
  2. What B2B buyers really want out of their buying process; and
  3. What to do instead of using a funnel to build out your sales process.

Furthermore, here’s how each stage of the funnel brings you one step closer to a flat-out “No!

 

What is a B2B sales funnel?

 

1. Awareness Stage: Puts B2B Leads In Control

 

Don’t you despise the feeling of being completely out of control during the selling process? Do you hate the feeling of being at the constant mercy of your potential customers?

If you despise that feeling, the truth is that you’re putting yourself in a position to be taken control and advantage of. How so? You’re using a sales funnel!

Yes, your funnel is the culprit-  the awareness stage in particular.

The awareness stage of the customer journey coincides with the lead generation phase of the selling process. It’s the period in which potential customers first become aware of your business through:

  1. Inbound marketing campaigns - Digital marketing, social media, SEO, etc.
  2. Outbound outreach

For most B2B companies, the vast majority of leads come through outbound outreach by the means of cold calling and email marketing.

The ultimate goal of the awareness stage is to siphon leads into the sales pipeline. In theory, after this first contact with leads, they move further down the pipeline so that salespeople can assess whether or not they’re a totally qualified lead.

While this all sounds great in theory, the problem is that the awareness stage hands control of the sales process over to leads on a silver platter!  As a result, the entire rest of the selling process gets set up to fail.

 

90% of Leads Don’t Know They Have a Problem

 

So what exactly is it about the awareness phase that hands all the control over to customers?

The key problem with the awareness stage is that it assumes prospects understand what their pain point is and what it’ll take to fix it! However, the hard truth is that at least 90% of leads, particularly those from cold outreach, know absolutely nothing about their pain point.

And, assuming that prospects know the ins-and-outs of their pain point is the equivalent of handing control over on a silver platter!

Instead of you taking control by saying, “Here’s the problem and what we can do to fix it”, the situation flips by the prospect saying, “Here’s the problem and I want you to do this, this, and this to fix it!”.

Moreover, asking sales leads what their problems are is like asking a three-year-old what they need to have a successful life... they literally don’t know! Asking a three-year-old what they need sets them up to fail and makes you a slave to their unjustified demands.

Bottom line: The awareness stage puts all the power into the prospect’s hands because it assumes that leads know what their problems are. Not only is that not the case, but believing so sets everyone up for failure.

Instead of approaching the awareness stage as if you’re making prospects aware of you so that you can fix a problem they already know they have, approach awareness as if you’re making the prospect aware of a problem you know they have that could wreak havoc on their business. By doing so, they’ll feel compelled to listen and you’ll have total control!

 

90% of Leads Don’t Care About Your Business

 

Not only do leads not know what their pain points are, but they also likely don’t care about you or your business. Ignorantly assuming that prospects care about you right off the bat crushes your power reserves.

Moreover, what’s the point of making prospects aware of you if they literally don’t care about you? To be honest…there is no point!

The hard truth about life is that we are all consumed with our own problems. The last thing that most people think about at night is usually themselves and their issues.

Therefore, assuming that prospects will go out of their way to care about you simply because they’re aware of you and your business is totally illogical.

That said, your job during the awareness phase is less about making prospects aware of your business and more about making them aware of their own faults. When you turn the tables back on them, they’ll all of a sudden start caring about talking to you more.

Bottom line: Customers don’t care about you, but they do care about themselves! Therefore, instead of making customers aware of you, make them aware of their flaws.

 

2. Consideration Stage: Turns You Into a Vendor

 

Have you ever had a potential customer refer to you as a vendor?

Didn’t it upset you because, while they might not realize it, you’re an expert sales professional and not a disposable vendor?

If so, the truth is that by following a traditional sales funnel, you’re setting yourself up to be referred to as a vendor! The consideration phase of the funnel is the particular phase in which you really downgrade yourself from expert to vendor.

How?

So, let’s say that by the grace of God, your awareness phase siphoned some leads further into the pipeline to the consideration stage. During the consideration phase, prospects have a look at all you have to offer and consider your deliverable for their company.

Also known as the interest stage, the consideration phase coincides with the lead qualification stage of the traditional selling process, in which sales reps determine whether or not the lead is truly qualified.

Here’s the problem though: By showcasing all YOU have to offer prospects, not only do they control the narrative, but they start to see you as a vendor! Despite the fact that they know nothing about their pain point, they put you in the hot seat to answer their questions.

Instead of you being questioned, you should be the one asking questions!

By doing so, you:

  1. Control the narrative; and
  2. Reinforce yourself as an expert.

Unless you start asking questions to understand the prospect, they’ll question you. When you’re being questioned, you become a vendor, not an expert! Because they ultimately see you as a disposable vendor, prospects will ditch you.

 

Potential Customers Window Shop You

 

The whole premise of the consideration phase is wrong. When prospects don’t even know what their problems are, why should they be the ones considering you and your offerings? Shouldn’t you be the one considering how you can help them?

That’s like saying a nine-year-old in a grocery store should be the one picking the food to eat even though they have zero idea what’s healthy for them. In the end, they’ll pick out junk food that hurts your wallet and crushes their own health.

Instead of the prospect considering all you have to offer them, what should be happening is you questioning the prospect.

Why?

Because experts ask questions to understand prospects on a deeper level. Then, they use their insights to close the sale and effectively help the prospect.

Let’s say that your primary care doctor refers you to a back surgeon because you’re experiencing some back pain. When you get to the appointment, the doctor asks you plenty of follow-up questions, looks at your scans, and then listens attentively. Then, they offer a diagnosis and potential solutions. At no point do they turn the table on the patient and say, “So, what do you think the problem is and how can we fix it?

If you don’t want to be a window shop worthy vendor, then turn the tables on prospects by questioning them. By doing so, they’ll see you as an expert who knows what they need.

 

You Give Out Free Value With Zero Return

 

Isn’t it terrible that it’s common and normal practice for sales teams to give out extensive, in-depth, free proposals without getting any guaranteed return from prospects?

It is terrible!

Just because the practice of giving out free initial proposals is normal consideration phase practice doesn’t mean that it helps anyone.

In reality, handing out free proposals like candy further solidifies your place as a vendor who is simply window shopping. While you’re going HAM to create an amazing proposal, they’re out considering your competition over you!

Although it’s normal practice to hand them out, free proposals usually never get the prospect any closer to a solution.

From now on, instead of wasting time handing out proposals, use your time to ask prospects more questions! For example, when a prospect asks you for a free proposal, say to them, “A proposal? I barely know you yet! Why don’t we set up a meeting for tomorrow so I can learn more about you and really get to the heart of the problem?

Would an expert surgeon give out free surgery without getting paid first? Of course not!

Likewise, you shouldn’t give out free value unless you want to get window shopped.

 

What are the 5 stages of the sales funnel?

 

3. Interest Stage: Drags on Forever

 

According to traditional sales funnels, potential customers should be intending on making a purchase by this point in their buyer’s journey. In theory, they’ve assessed their options and are intending on picking the right vendor to solve the problem that they’ve defined.

The intent stage usually coincides with the final sales pitch of the selling process.

Once again though, this is simply all based on bad theory!

In reality, what’s really happening is that prospects still don’t have a clue what their pain point is or how to solve it, and they’ve reduced the sales professionals who are trying to help them into vendors.

However, this is none of the prospect’s fault! The truth is, that if sales pros would have taken control and not allowed themselves to be reduced to vendors, then this wouldn't be happening.

What actually ends up happening is that the sales team gives their final pitch, and then prospects slide back into their hole where they might spend months on end trying to make a purchasing decision.

Meanwhile, sales teams are biting their nails just hoping that they’ll be chosen.

Sound familiar?

Instead of sitting around waiting for prospects to supposedlyset the intention” to make a purchasing decision, you should be hyping up urgency so that they immediately make a purchase in your favor.

 

Prospects Control Timing

 

You need to lay the deal down on the table the moment your final sales pitch ends!

When emotions are reaching their peak during the pitch, you need to put the deal on the table. Thanks to your fantastic sales techniques, the B2B customer should be ready to sign off then and there!

If prospects say that they need to connect with decision-makers before signing off, then it should be no more than one week before they give you the thumbs up!

While that’s what should happen, what usually ends up happening is the prospects:

  1. Decision-making processes lasts for months on end;
  2. Motivation to buy decreases; and
  3. You eventually get hit with a ‘Thanks, but no thanks”.

Because prospects are in control and see you as a vendor, they have no problem spending weeks if not months coming to a decision. In fact, it takes an average of 4 months for B2B businesses to close deals with customers!

Thanks to your sales funnel, you’re now hanging by a thread, unsure of whether or not all your hard work was for nothing.

 

Prospects Control the Messaging

 

While you’re hanging by a thread unsure of whether or not your supposedly high-quality lead is ghosting you or simply taking a while to make a buying decision, they’re off in la-la land! You’re hanging out in the abyss, and they’re off:

  1. Checking out your competitors;
  2. Coming up with reasons to not buy from you; and
  3. Leaving you totally out of the loop.

You might feel like the victim in this situation, but it would have been a completely avoidable circumstance had you gotten your act together at the top of the funnel.

Before you know it, the sales cycle has dragged on for months and you’re at the total mercy of prospects. Now, there’s nothing to do except pray for a response.

 

4. Purchase Stage: Extremely Low Conversion Rates

 

After weeks of waiting at the bottom of the funnel, the potential buyer is finally ready to make a purchasing decision. Typically, one of three things happens:

  1. They purchase from you;
  2. They purchase from somebody else and hit you with a “No thanks”; or
  3. They simply “ghost” you by never responding.

If they do purchase from you, you’re likely rejoicing! After waiting so long for them, realizing that they’re going to purchase from you feels like Christmas.

But then, reality sets in. You’re looking at your metrics and realize that your conversion rates are seriously low. When you consider all of the time, effort, and stress that went into converting leads into new customers, you’re baffled! Especially because you consider yourself an industry expert.

In the end, you’ve got the new customer in your hand, but you’re left wondering why your overall performance is still so low.

 

b2b sales funnel stages

 

5. Retention Stage: Good Luck Retaining Paying Customers!

 

It’s over now, right? You’ve successfully converted the lead into a paying customer, so now there’s nothing to worry about, right?

WRONG.

After all the hard work you put in only to have seriously low conversion rates, there’s still a lot at stake. By that, we mean that the customers who you have successfully converted need to be actively retained.

The retention stage of the sales funnel is associated with the execution phase of the selling process. And, contrary to what many sales reps believe, it’s just as important of a stage as any other stage in the selling journey and buyer’s journey.

Why?

Because execution is when:

  1. The supplier-customer relationship solidifies;
  2. The customer’s needs are met; and
  3. Your needs are met.

Unfortunately though, if you’ve followed a traditional funnel up to this point, accomplishing these three feats will prove nearly impossible!

When you consider the fact that 80% of a B2B company’s future revenue only come from 20% of their existing customers, it’s clear that something is going wrong…

If you can believe it, it’s the previous sales funnel stages that set the stage for an imploding execution stage. In little to no time, the customer will be heading for the door, and you’ll be back to prospecting.

 

Nobody’s Needs Aren’t Met

 

Have you ever had a customer come to you and say, “Hey, this isn’t what we asked for”, or “We thought that you were going to do X, not Y”, or worst of all, “We thought we were going to get results sooner”?

If so, then you only have yourself to thank!

The reason why the execution stage folds in on itself is that, during the first four stages of the funnel, you allowed the prospect to:

  1. Hold the control by telling you what their problems are
  2. Treat you as a vendor
  3. Put you on their watch
  4. Choose you to solve their problem with little to no conviction

As a result, you’re:

  1. Supposed to solve a pain point that the prospect is still defining
  2. Being seen as replaceable
  3. Doing things on their time, not yours
  4. Still hanging by a thread because they’re not that excited about you

Doesn’t this all seem a little backward?

Furthermore, the execution phase should be about YOU doing what YOU know it takes to help the prospect, not you bowing to them and treating them as if they’re the expert!

Not only is this all backwards, but ultimately nobody gets their needs met. By that, we mean that the prospect doesn’t get their actual pain point solved, and you don’t get the chance to make the positive impact that you wanted to make.

 

Goodbye Customer Relationship

 

Nobody’s needs are being met. On top of that, everybody is frustrated to say the least... What could possibly go wrong?

In little to no time, the customer relationship starts going in the toilet, and it’s all thanks to your sales funnel.

Never forget that customer relationships are exactly like everyday relationships: When neither party feels like their needs are being met, tension starts brewing. If things don’t change, then the relationship usually ends.

Just like how a friend will ditch you if their needs aren’t being met, so will your prospects.

You’ll miss out on all the great benefits that come with having awesome customer relationships, including:

  1. Referrals for already qualified leads
  2. Subject for case studies and other content marketing material
  3. Insights into your target audience

Before you know it, you’ll be back at square one and the prospect won’t have their problem solved. Thanks a lot, funnel!

 

Final Thoughts on What’s Wrong With the 5 Sales Funnel Stages

 

The 5 different stages of funnels lead you directly to flat-out and unchangeable ‘No’s’ from prospects. So unless you’re trying to set yourself up for failure, then it’s probably a good idea to throw your funnel in the trash.

A funnel is a silly thing to let stand in your way of success. Getting back on track to sales success is a simple matter of not using the 5 sales funnel stages as a roadmap for success!

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