Last week at an otherwise amazing marketing conference, one of the keynote speakers proudly proclaimed that he hated funnels.  He even said he hated people in the audience who liked them.

The idea that the “funnel is dead” or that the “funnel is irrelevant today” has become increasingly popular in marketing circles.  It is used to justify a greater focus on buyer sensitivity, buyer control, social selling, inbound-only marketing strategies and more.

None of these are mutually exclusive, of course.  And I agree with funnel-haters in that few if any buyers are going to follow a linear process when faced with so many research and decision-making tools on their own.

But I refuse to let go of the idea that I still need to organize and be proactive at engaging with my prospects.  The buyer may have more control, but I cannot lose control of my pipeline or my quota by letting buyers simply do what they want, when they want.

It may be popular in keynotes and blog posts to say the funnel is dead, that buyers are in control, that we’re not selling but helping now.

But I have yet to hear these words come from someone who actively owns a quota, who’s paid on commission, who is responsible for setting and achieving a forecasted level of sales.

Admitting to and managing a funnel can be completely consistent with the idea that buyers are in more control, that the funnel isn’t perfect or linear, that prospects can’t be pushed into demos and trials and purchase decisions too quickly.

Successful salespeople are doing far more than helping their customers buy.  They’re finding prospects who have problems they can solve.  They’re finding buyers whose lives they can change, businesses they can improve.

They aren’t waiting for someone to find their blog post or tweet.  They’re not waiting for the phone to ring.  They’re being proactive, knowing that there’s a consistent set of stages that motivated, qualified buyers will go through to understand, prioritize, evaluate and choose a solution.

That, my friends, is a funnel.  It can be completely buyer driven and still managed proactively (even aggressively) by sales.

The traditional funnel may be dead (if it ever truly existed).  But long live the funnel!