Sales funnel terminology – Why I prefer the term ‘sales funnel’ to ‘marketing funnel’, ‘marketing pipeline’, ‘sales pipeline’, and ‘sales process’

There are a lot of terms for sales funnels. This brief post explains why I prefer the term sales funnel instead of the many other terms that people use to describe the relationship between a potential buyer and potential seller.

When people search online to find information about the relationship between a potential buyer and potential seller, they use some of the following popular terms to find the information that I define as a sales funnel:

  • Marketing funnel
  • Marketing pipeline
  • Sales funnel (plus two common misspellings: sale funnel, sales funnell)
  • Sales pipeline
  • Sales process


Why I prefer sales funnel over marketing funnel or marketing pipeline: Ultimately your business exists to earn money and you do that by making a sale. What actually makes up a sale may be different in your business than it is in other businesses, but it’s the sale that counts in your sales funnel, not the marketing. Marketing is a means to an end. By calling it a sales funnel instead of a marketing funnel, the emphasis is placed on the desired goal.

Why I prefer sales funnel over sales pipeline: In my opinion, sales funnel is a strategic term that describes the relationship you have with various stages of potential buyers – you’re not only building a relationship, you’re also qualifying and filtering. Therefore, the number of people you meet earlier in the relationship is quite high compared to the number who actually buy from you. Sales pipeline (again, in my opinion) is a tactical term. It’s a way sales people describe the group of potential buyers who are somewhere in their sales funnel. I’d say that these terms are relatively interchangeable but I prefer sales funnel over sales pipeline because the relationships you have with your prospective buyers is best represented and planned through a funnel shape.

Why I prefer sales funnel over sales process: You’ll find that I do use the word sales process frequently in my blog. However, when I say sales process, I’m referring to the actual interaction a salesperson has with a potential buyer in the Prospect stage: A sales person will build rapport, fact-find, present a solution, handle objections, and ask for the order. That’s the sales process, in my opinion. The sales funnel is a graphical depiction of the relationship that the buyer and seller have from the earliest stages through the sale itself and well past the sale.

So, if you’re looking for information on marketing funnels, marketing pipelines, sales pipelines, and sales processes you’ll probably find it on this blog. But I call it a sales funnel.

FAQ: What is a sales funnel?

A sales funnel is an intentional, strategically-designed approach to running a business: A sales funnel is the path that your potential customers take as they decide whether or not to buy from you.

A sales funnel charts the flow of contacts from the moment they first hear of your business or become aware of the problem that your business’ products or service solve, all the way through to the point where they decide to become customers. (In fact, a good sales funnel charts the flow of contacts beyond that point, too!)

Every business has a sales funnel whether they realize it or not, because they have contacts who follow a “path” from hearing about the company to purchase. Unfortunately, most companies don’t realize that they have a sales funnel and instead they leave this path up to the customer to decide if and when and how they want to take it. A smart business, on the other hand, knows that they have a sales funnel and that their contacts are on it. And, they intentionally design their sales funnel to efficiently move contacts through so the right ones become customers faster.

Engineering an efficient sales funnel is all about creating and fine-tuning the marketing and sales activities of the business to keep the right contacts moving forward toward a sale.

A sales funnel is sometimes also called a sales pipeline (although “sales pipeline” sometimes has a slightly different definition within a company’s sales department).