Hot Takes

The Marketing Funnel Is Dead with Paul Fairbrother


We like to think that our prospects interact with our marketing activities linearly: awareness, engagement, MQL, SQL, demo, and finally, the sale.

With so many marketing channels these days, our prospects tend to jump around between different funnel stages at different times in unpredictable ways, and we need to update our goals and KPIs to reflect that.

Paul Fairbrother, founder, and CEO of the Fairbrother Agency, discusses:

  • How to take a more holistic view of your marketing funnel;
  • Setting realistic KPIs for your marketing channels;
  • What platforms to focus on for the year ahead.

[Transcript] The Marketing Funnel is Dead

Gary Amaral

Looking around, we have Paul Fairbrother, founder and CEO of the Fairbrother Agency, and in complete transparency, the social ads guru that helped promote this event and get us to the success that it is today.

For those that are not aware, we have over 2,000 registrants to this event, several hundred people participating across our four stages, and we are so thankful for Paul’s support in that effort.

Without further ado, Paul, please tell us why the marketing funnel is dead. 

Paul Fairbrother

Thanks, Gary. Yes. It’s been a busy couple of weeks promoting Hot Takes Live, but it’s worked really well there. So yes, the issue with marketing funnels. I used to work for AdEspresso and Hootsuite doing social media advertising. So mainly Facebook, Instagram, and some LinkedIn ads.

And I worked with a number of clients, both SMBs and then large enterprises, and they expect this really linear progression of a typical marketing funnel; we’ve all seen the diagrams where you go from a marketing-qualified lead at the top of the funnel to a sales-qualified lead, and then trial to purchase.

And that’s just not the reality. To give you a quick example, when I joined AdEspresso before that, I used to be a customer. So when I joined, I logged onto HubSpot and then looked at my interactions as a customer. There are 80 touch points, and what you’ve seen is that it’d gone from being like maybe a lead sign-up, got like a lead magnet, signed up for a webinar, took a trial, but then I didn’t go and become a customer straight away then.

Took out more lead magnets and more blog posts. Another webinar, and I took out another trial before I eventually purchased. It’s that you jump around different stages of the sales funnel. You don’t just have this very linear progression. And then a real bugbear of mine is what’s called squeeze pages, which is really one of the marketing terms that I hate.

The idea is that you, with a marketing funnel, can just squeeze people through the different stages of the funnel, and that’s just not what happens.

An example: at the weekend, I was looking for my business, a sales proposal software. And so you look on Google, you put in like proposal software for agencies. Click on the link that you find and go through to these pages, and these pages are literally designed just to squeeze you to take out a trial.

But what they do is because they’re so obsessed with forcing you through this funnel, they don’t give you the information that you need. So one of the pieces of information that you need is what is the pricing?

Some of the proposals for software are literally $10 a month, and they’re designed for small agencies, and some are enterprise level where you need at least 10 seats, and it’s more like $500 a month. You really need to know just the basics. Not all the details, but the basics on that landing page, but they wouldn’t do that.

They’re just trying to squeeze you through there as though they can just force you through that funnel there. So you need to give the people the information that they need.

And then another issue that I see is people are just not using content marketing. So you think they can just rely on this funnel that people just aren’t gonna bounce around and look outside?

So I had one Facebook ads client a couple of years ago. They were spending $10,000 a month on ads. But they put zero organic content out there. So people would look at the ads, and then they would go and, you know, click around like, hey, this is an app download, before I download this app, put it on my phone, is it trustworthy?

And they couldn’t find out because they’d go onto the Facebook page, and it’d be crickets. There’s no organic content at all there. Yeah, they were spending 10K on the ads. They could have spent a little bit of money on the content there. So that gives you some real-life examples there of the issues that we see with marketing funnels.

So what is the solution?

Unique content marketing and, like Gary was saying, this is something that’s done a lot at Breadcrumbs as part of the overall marketing; there are a lot of playbooks. There are a lot of regular blog posts and a lot of useful LinkedIn posts being put out there.

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Hot Takes Live


Catch the replay of Hot Takes Live, where 30 of the top SaaS leaders across Marketing, Sales, and RevOps revealed some of their most unpopular opinions about their niche.

These leaders shared what lessons they learned and how they disrupted their industry by going against the grain (and achieved better results in the process).

So content marketing is really important. As it says there, you can’t just do it once; it’s like showering or brushing your teeth. You’ve gotta be doing it regularly to be effective. Of course, you can repurpose and refresh content. You don’t need to start from scratch every time.

You need to make any prospects see that you’re actually like a live viable company. You know, one of the most basic checks they do is just look at your social feeds. Hey, is this company alive?

The second thing is that the customer is in control. You’ve gotta be thinking in the mind of the customer. You might have your goals. You might think, okay, my KPIs for this month are to get X number of MQLs or Y number of SQLs. But, really, you need to be thinking, what does the customer need at this stage of the journey?

As I said on the previous slide, these squeeze pages don’t give enough information. So maybe the customer doesn’t want like to jump on a webinar yet. It might be that that’s your KPI. But you’ve gotta think of what the customer wants.

Another example was about two days ago somebody on LinkedIn approached me. They sent me an inMail, and they’re like, hey Paul, we’ve got some systems that can help agencies get more leads. If you’re interested, jump on this 90-minute webinar. It’s like, hey, I’m actually interested in what you’ve got to offer; you’ve got lots of credibility. But I declined them because I don’t want to attend a 90-minute webinar. I don’t know enough about them.

So it’s really important that you think about what the customer needs at that stage of the lifecycle there.

Next thing. Think about your sales cycles. They’re probably gonna be longer than you think they are. Of course, we all need to generate revenue. We want to pack in sales as quickly as possible, but just chill and be prepared. They’re gonna take longer, especially at the moment in the tech industry.

I used to work for a company, and I went through some layoffs, and believe me, once a company has some layoffs for the next three months, nothing really happens.

They’re still interested in buying products and thinking about the future, building out their roadmap and their goals for the next year. But things are gonna take a lot longer. They, you know, especially at the moment in the tech industry.

So if you’re finding that your leads aren’t converting at the moment, don’t give up; keep nurturing those people. Don’t just abandon those. Maybe they need some more information, or they’re just not ready yet.

I’ve been setting up a fairly new company, and, you know, there’s things that I trialed like maybe a year ago, just put them in my kind of pipeline for later on. So sales cycles can take longer.

And the real key message is, because the sales funnel is dead, we replace it with the sales web instead of having this just linear funnel where people just get squeezed along and go a linear progression from lead to trial to purchase.

Instead, think about it as a web. It’s that people are gonna be jumping along there.

Yeah, so I think I skipped around some slides here, but it’s really important why that sales funnel is dead here. So the first day, you might be thinking, what does it mean by it not being 2006 anymore?

That was actually the year when Internet Explorer, which at the time was the biggest browser, introduced tab browsing. So before that, it was very, very difficult. If you were browsing for products to kind of like open up load windows and look at competitor products and look at reviews and things.

Now it’s very easy. With every phone and every major browser, it’s very easy to open up several windows and look at different reviews. Like if I’m booking a hotel, if I see an ad, I don’t just go and click on the ad and book. I will look at their Trip Advisor ratings. I will go onto their Instagram and look at pictures of their rooms, their cocktail menu, their food menu, and things like that.

Here’s a really interesting study, and this was actually from about 2006, so things have got even more complex since then. Google did a study on car buying habits, and they found that there are actually about 900 touch points.

So again, people don’t just like see a TV ad for a car and then download a brochure and then go into the dealership and take a test drive and then go and purchase. They look at all your competitors; they’re gonna be looking at like YouTube videos and looking at kind of like detailed walkthroughs of your car, the driving experience. They might be looking at magazines. They’re gonna be really bouncing around different things, looking at what people are saying about you on social media there.

And then, finally, with the why things are too simplistic is that tracking and attribution are not precise, especially this has gotten a lot worse since 2020, when Apple brought in their privacy policies. So it’s been a part of a progression. We’ve seen things like GDPR in Europe and Californian privacy policies, there are quite strict privacy policies in Canada.

Cambridge Analytica. That scandal brought in more privacy policies. Apple. Google is gonna be removing cookies in the future. So, you know, we can’t just go and track this linear, like we can’t track all our leads, all our sales qualified leads, all our trials.

We have to take a more holistic view, and that’s why the web is a much better concept of thinking about it instead of the marketing funnel. So leave you with one quote here from Robert Craven, who runs a company called GYDA, which stands for Grow Your Digital Agencies.

He works with many different marketing and digital marketing agencies out there. And this quote from him says:

The Marketing Funnel Is Dead With Paul Fairbrother

That’s why we need to think about the web there rather than this kind of linear marketing funnel. So hopefully, that gives you some ideas not to rely on the marketing funnel too much.