Why I’m Ditching the “Sales Funnel” and going Old-School … in 6-Steps

It started as a nuisance, but lately, it’s grown into an all-out assault on my resolve to remain a discerning coach. Halfway into watching my 7th webinar of the week, promising tips on creating your “brand” and then predictably fading into a sales pitch for additional products, seminars or training, I found myself doubting my viability as an entrepreneur. No matter what I click on, no matter which up-and-coming guru makes a podcast, a webinar or meme, it seems to insist that You, Me, We — all need a Sales Funnel to be churning in the background, at all times, on all social media channels, while you are awake, while you sleep — to get every customer, every view, every click and every dollar that can possibly be yours. The sales funnel concept is often mentioned with search engine optimization, content conversion, etc. These aren’t new concepts, but one year into running my own business, it seems as if the chant to use these methods is at its loudest.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve created a sales funnel, and it wasn’t my first. I created one for the nonprofit I led for three years to attract/retain/serve clients, donors and volunteers. I am not naïve to the fact that funnels make your day-to-day work, along with setting and keeping track of your SMART goals, a lot easier. Still, I prefer to concentrate on the content and the foundation of my services — not on constantly shining the spotlight on my business and “growing my distro list.”

I recently asked a mentor of mine if it was possible to be successful if you simply did great work and relied on word of mouth recommendations. You can’t be best in class if no one knows about you,” he said. There’s a huge distance between no one and everyone … and I was disappointed with his answer. I have no desire to be a household name. Do you?

In the first 45 days of 2017, while building my sales funnel and lamenting my self-imposed goal of “getting in front of” 300 people per month, a strange thing happened. I received more bookings for my services than I did in all of 2016, not having to lure people to my website (which isn’t fantastic), creating podcasts, videos, or speaking in front of hundreds of strangers pitching my wares. Before you call me arrogant, I will caveat that I didn’t just fall off of the turnip truck and I don’t think these “hacks” would work for everyone. If you just graduated from college or high-school, or are returning from a couple of years in the military or being overseas, I don’t think you can skip the “get to know me” tour … and it may take some time to be known as an expert of anything. Historical performance is not on your side. If, however, you’ve been around, working, using your grit, producing results … even if it’s in another industry, I believe that you have options other than using the incessant Sales Funnel.

6 Steps for Ditching the Sales Funnel (or at least making it very, very narrow and laser-focused).

1) Be honest. I mean be honest with yourself. Know your strengths, your weaknesses and your triggers for disengagement and misery. In other words, be self-aware. People can tell when you are self-aware. When you are self-aware, you can see through other people’s B.S. better and avoid endless loops of “courting” potential clients, just because someone is being polite. Know what you do (or provide), why and for whom. Be crystal clear on this. Your product or service is either a fit, or it’s not. Don’t cheapen it by moving further and further away from your vision, to the point that you resent doing the work.

2) Uncouple your relevance from your income. Sometimes, when the money and the contracts are not coming in at a pace that pegs your success meter (or pays your bills), it’s easy to get down on yourself and begin taking on work that you don’t want, don’t enjoy, that drains you. It’s likely that this type of work will not bring out the best in you. Thinking, “At least I can get a testimonial,” is not a good enough reason to stray from your mission. This type of work is a distraction, a procrastination … from being creative, from pursuing work that brings you energy. Staying busy to be busy is a self-soother, just like a drug. Fulfilling in the moment, but regretful in the end. Not every dollar is your dollar. See #1, above.

3) Get “out there” — but not everywhere. I’m honored when I am asked to speak at my local Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce, Women in Business gatherings or various veteran events and usually say yes. The difference, though, is that I don’t cold-call. I am an active part of these networks. I’m there because I care about the venue’s attendees and care about the activity or mission. What I am going to stop doing, though, is attending networking events just to collect random business cards. Disclosure: I don’t do anything with the business cards that I collect at these events, unless I make a personal connection with the person. I’ve met a few very intriguing and successful folks this way, but I have also been subscribed to so much nonsense, it’s maddening. That said, time is money and my energy depletes quickly when I have to be “game-on” for 30 strangers, in a speed networking contest. Here’s the filter I use to select my few networking events:

a. If there is a speaker — are they legitimate, do they have a relevant message from which I can learn?

b. Is it likely that I will meet like-minded people, who will bring me energy?

c. Is there a good chance that the attendees could benefit from and pay for my coaching, not just sample or trade?

d. Is it a group for whom I am willing to do short engagement — that could lead to bigger engagements?

4) Form trust-based partnerships with other providers: I am best at coaching folks in a direct, accountable, no excuses, forward-looking manner. I strive to be collaborative, well-read, well-lived and selfless when it comes to helping others succeed. If that’s not what you are looking for, I feel certain that I can connect you to someone that can help you. I have a fantastic network of advisors that provide marketing, social media, well-being coaching, personal training, fundraising, accounting, virtual assistants, etc., services. Why? Because I never want to turn someone away without helping them, nor do I want to delve into providing services that drain my energy or stray from my purpose. Most of my paid business engagements have come from these partners. Having these relationships also makes a solopreneur’s day a lot more engaging and fun. This is a part of my “tribe” and together, we form masterminds and temporary ventures. These relationships are reciprocal and I nurture them regularly, over coffee or lunch.

5) Be present with each client: The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet, and your emails, texts, Facebook, Instagram, etc., can wait. When I’m with a client, I listen to everything, I watch body language, I read between the lines. Don’t hurt your business by being distracted, by not following up, by not hearing opportunities. Be curious. Care.

6) Lastly … Delight the customer, every time. Unless your customer is a bona fide coupon-chaser, what brings them to you and what keeps them with you is exceptional service. Promise what you CAN deliver, do it with a smile and throw in a little more. Keep learning your trade. Offer solutions. Understand your client’s true challenges, not just the ones they voice out loud in your initial conversation.

If you enjoy the thrill of generating, converting and selling to leads, I applaud you. I, with “Relator” and “Individualization” as my top-2 strengths need deeper relationships, deeper meaning. I need to know that I can offer a unique solution to those with whom I interact. The thought of a drive-by, found-you-on-Google lead makes me cringe. So, I have to do things differently, dare I say, old-school? I am honest with myself. I don’t take on work that isn’t a fit, that I can’t deliver on brilliantly. I network, but I am intentional about it. When I am with my clients or in front of an audience — I am present, 100%. And, lastly, I bring my A-game to every interaction. I know the clients for whom I can provide the most value and I know what I can deliver.

So, no, I am not going to be in front of 300 people this month, or next. You will never see me on a teaser video, selling my wares. That said, I sure wish I had done a video like this parody of life coaching. Enjoy! View video.

How honest are you about the value that you provide?


Cindi Basenspiler provides leadership and success coaching to individuals and teams facing their biggest challenges. Customized programs hold clients accountable for forming strong systems, processes and habits. Are you considering hiring a coach to help you navigate a challenge, to become a better you? To get more information, visit my website.