Everything Wrong With B2B Marketing: The Funnel Is Dead

Traditional B2B marketing’s lead generation and funnel approach is outdated; a new strategy focuses on brand building, content, intent-based outreach, and availability, aligning better with customer readiness and preference.

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The Marketing Funnel is dead

(Photo: The Marketing Funnel is Dead)

Since the beginning of time… since the first B2B marketer ever existed… there has been an obsession… with leads.

But I’ll make the bold statement today, that it’s wrong.

B2B marketers have been obsessed with lead generation, but there seems to be a misalignment with the true business objectives. The goal is to grow a business, which is done through a known brand and sales. So why has the obsession been to collect data on people who might not even be in the market yet, and to try and force feed them a sales pitch?

Imagine being in a library, reading a book about ice cream, and a salesperson comes over to you and starts trying to sell you cones and flakes. That’s the current B2B marketing approach. Gate something or run a webinar, and then let the salespeople attack. If you’ve read Professor John Dawes’ study from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, you’ll know about the 95:5 rule. 95% of your category are not in the market to buy todayonly 5% are. So why are B2B marketers trying to push people down a funnel, from research directly to purchase, when they aren’t ready? We need to think upstream.

There are two explorers walking through a jungle and they hear a rustle in the leaves. They hear a roar. They spot a tiger. One of the explorers gets down and starts putting on some running trainers. The other explorer says: “You’re mad if you think you can outrun a tiger.” And the other explorer replies: “I don’t need to outrun the tiger. I just need to outrun you.” 

Getting upstream of a situation or problem is not a new theory, but it seems to get overlooked by B2B marketers. The situation/problem is that you need to sell a product by making the right people aware of it. So why spend all your effort on digital lead-generation marketing to random segments that may only include a handful of people who are ready to purchase? 

If a brand can get upstream of their competition, they don’t need to fight them. If you can win through mental availability, and come to mind at category entry points, you don’t need to battle for conversion at the bottom. You get upstream of the bidding conflict. Adidas accidentally turned off their Paid Search campaigns once and realised that it made absolutely no difference to their results at all. This was because they were reliant on the incredible brand they’d built, not just hoovering up people in the market. Paid Search was a fail-safe, and their brand-building efforts meant that consumers were already heading to their website, instead of a competitor, no matter who appeared at the top of the SERP. 

Part of the reason we’ve got into this lead-generation obsessed state is that we measure marketing incorrectly. A funnel isn’t sufficient. A funnel shows two awareness metrics at the top, and then instantly goes to a conversion metric. That’s not a funnel – that’s marketers trying to fit two separate activities into a streamlined format so that other business stakeholders can understand it. It’s a good opportunity to say: “we’ve got lots of users stuck at the engagement stage, so we need to run more lead-generation activity”, or: “the top of the funnel isn’t very full, so we need to do more brand building to eventually get more leads.” 

Rather than a funnel, there should be two separate goals, measured across multiple metrics. The first is brand and it should be measured with awareness (i.e. how many people in the target category know about your brand and products), and with engagement (i.e. how many people in the target category are showing an interest in your brand and products). The more awareness and engagement you have, the more likely someone is to think about you at the category entry points. The second goal is sales, and that should be measured with… you’ve guessed it, the number of qualified hand raisers that ultimately purchase. 

Someone doesn’t view an ad, then engage with that brand on organic social, then buy one of its products. It just doesn’t work like that. By looking at marketing through a funnel lens, B2B marketers and business leadership teams believe that a funnel is an accurate representation of a journey. 

Once B2B marketers understand that pushing people down a funnel and then grabbing their details at the bottom for a salesperson to swoop in and attack isn’t the right approach, we’ll be in a better position. 

So, we need to start reporting on and measuring marketing like this:

Awareness & Engagement

  • Category Reach
  • Unique Impressions
  • Engagements/Clicks
  • Content Views/Downloads


  • Qualified Hand Raiser Form Fills
  • Meetings with Salespeople

Two sets of metrics tracked separatelywith no funnel 

Next is how we approach B2B marketing as a whole. I won’t go too in-depth into buying committees, and H2H (human to human) marketing, or the importance of building a known brand – because then this blog will be the length of The Hobbit. This new four-pronged marketing approach will drive better customer retention, more consistent growth, and help marketers prove the ROI of their efforts. 

I split it out into four key areas: always-on brand building, content library, intent-based outreach, and always-on availability. 

Always-on brand building

  • Invest in mass media and wide-reach digital advertising to the entire category
  • Present a distinctive clear value proposition & brand
  • Effectively, shout loud about the brand to the right people

This is all about reaching the maximum obtainable market, grabbing their attention, and having memorable high-level messaging. 

Brand-building advertising drives long-term growth, and makes shorter-term activation campaigning efforts, and the work your sales teams are doing, more effective. 

If this element is executed accurately, the full obtainable market then knows about your brand, and remembers you at category entry points. 

Always-on availability

This is all about being available when the 5% of the market is ready to buy from you. You need to have the right BoFu channels covered to collect in-the-market consumers when they are in ‘buying mode’. 

Having a website doesn’t cut it. Having an optimised website, that ranks organically and is boosted with paid search, is the minimum requirement for availability. But think wider than digital. Where else should your brand be present and available? 

Think intelligently about how to be available. Think creatively about when to appear. How can you make yourself present or remembered at a category entry point? Your other marketing and advertising efforts make you memorable and position you to take advantage of these moments. This is simply the final capture of the in-the-market prospects. The goal is to become an Adidas – and lower your budget for this prong, while you spend your effort being organically available. 

Exhaustive ungated content library

  • Create free, ungated content across every research channel and your website
  • Produce non-commercial content that is informative and educational
  • Have a presence on each content channel – YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, PR and forums

How do you grab attention and improve mental availability? Incredible content.

Many B2B marketers create eBooks and solution sheets and think that this type of content helps them in their marketing efforts. Truthfully though, this type of content only helps to secure customers who are already ready to buy – and a short overview video with a shareable pricing document for the wider buying committee could do this job better. 

Content is more than sales. It’s for reach, consumer trust, and education. Create branded content that is informative to get your brand in front of the right people. But don’t commit the cardinal sin of turning it into an elevator pitch. You don’t need to end blogs with a paragraph about your products or services. Produce excellent content, connected to your memorable and distinctive brand. Then, the right people will come, when they are ready. 

Additionally, content helps to fuel your brand-building activity. You need something to promote, you need somewhere to send people, and you need a way of positioning yourself as a thought leader in the space to drive perceived market share. Don’t chase people up after they read the content – make it excellent and they’ll convert of their own accord when they are ready. 

A variety of content means you can be available on more channels when consumers are researching. Video content opens avenues for organic social, YouTube search, and forums. 

Intent-fuelled outreach & nurture

  • Use tools (like Bombora and ) to collate lists of high intent accounts
  • Use this data to determine sales outreach & create segmented ABMM lists for nurtured, more specific brand building activity
  • Use this data to generate retargeting ABM audiences for BoFu availability activity and potentially even category expansion for the brand building layer
  • Architect nudges for these accounts

Gone are the days of cold calling someone who downloaded an eBook. It’s an outdated methodology.

We can now measure intent, and drive consumers through the freedom gate with nudging and nurturerather than pushing them through a gate before they are ready with a salesperson surprise attack. 

Tools like Zoominfo and Bombora can accurately measure whether people in your target locations are ‘in the market’ and researching at buying stage. If this is the case, you need to move quickly with an email from your salesperson and some ABM air cover advertising. Salespeople should contact these individuals with intent, creatively. No more quick phone calls or automated LinkedIn DMs. How can we nudge people through the gate?

Don’t default to digital – think physical too. Can you contact target accounts that have hit an intent threshold with handwritten letters and parcels? Can you find their commute to work and buy a bus stop ad? Don’t just think about easiness and efficiency, think about effectiveness. 

Salespeople should still have a key role to play in prospect engagement, but they should only be speaking to the high-intent and ‘in the market’ individuals and hand raisers. 

This new four-pronged approach covers all the desired areas and gives prospects the choice to engage and convert when they are ready. No need to push people anywhere. They make their own way. And human psychology studies tell us that humans who make their own choices are more content with their subsequent situation. So, retention will be easier, as the individual and their wider company will have opted to buy – unforced. 

Easier for marketers.

Easier for salespeople.

Easier and more pleasant for customers.

Better for businesses.

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