When I was at the MarTech conference a few weeks ago, I had some really amazing conversations with fellow B2B marketers that led me to a startling realization: in all of my time as a marketer, I’ve been thinking about the sales funnel all wrong.

I know, I know — you’ve heard the schpiel about the sales funnel being dead. You already know that your buyers are controlling their own paths through the funnel, bouncing from channel to channel as they continually research and re-evaluate products.

What I’m suggesting is more than that: I want you to flip the sales funnel on its head.

A Sales...Cone?

With the traditional funnel, you start by targeting a number of channels that your buyers may or may not use (hopefully you’ve done some research so that you know where they’re active), and you start running campaigns to bring in leads on those channels. This semi-targeted approach helps fill the top of your funnel with tons of leads, which is fine if your goal is to spread awareness.

However, as you begin to move through the sales funnel, leads start falling out. Only a small percentage of the leads collected at the top of the funnel will make it all the way to purchase at the bottom, which is why the traditional sales funnel looks like an upside down triangle. All those channels at the top, and your customers pop out the bottom.

But what if we flip this so that your customers are at the top, and the channels you’re targeting come second? Instead of asking yourself which technologies and channels you should use to target your buyers, you should be asking, “which customers?”

By identifying your best-fit customers first (or, say your target accounts), you’re also identifying the leads that are going to be a good fit for your product or service. Then, you can dive deeper to reach additional key stakeholders and decision makers. It may take some additional research up front, but in the long run, you’re looking at fewer leads lost throughout the course of the sales cycle. That’s because the leads who weren’t truly interested in your product — or weren’t going to be a good fit for your business regardless of their interest — get weeded out before the sales process even begins. Thus, instead of an upside down triangle, or funnel, you get more of a...party hat. Or a cone. Either way, it’s a good thing.

Why Does This Matter?

Good question. We can argue over cones all day long, but that won’t get our businesses any closer to bringing in new customers. The reason that this struck me as so revolutionary is because it’s so closely tied to the idea of account-based marketing, which involves identifying your target accounts up front and then using their IP addresses to target them on the channels you know they’re actively using, like mobile, social, video, and display. (In fact, if you’re a Salesforce user, account-based marketing can really fire up your existing marketing and selling strategies by letting you focus in on those hard-to-target accounts.)

With this method, you start with your customers first, then identify the channels and messaging that you would like to use to target second. Right off the bat, you’re creating a more personalized buying experience, and as study after study has proven, greater personalization leads to increased conversion rates and increased sales.

Businesses that personalize web experiences see an increase in sales of 19% on average. (Econsultancy)

Who knew that when we started targeting our marketing and advertising by accounts, we’d be changing the structure of the sales funnel as we know it today — and for the better.