Funnels: Funnel Traps to Avoid

This is part 5 of our series on Funnels, previous segments are available in our archives.

As simple as funnels are as a concept, it’s amazing how much complexity they hide underneath! We’ve already covered some of the complexity, such as optimization and forking, but there are many traps and challenges hidden in your funnels that you need to understand to use them effectively.

Complexity 1: Time Delays

In many businesses, different steps in the funnel may happen at different times, on different days or even weeks apart. The farther apart the actions in your funnel the harder it becomes to tie them together into a single funnel analysis and hence to perform optimization. Worse, it can take a long time to test optimizations since conversions take so long to measure!

Your best hope in these cases is to try and predict the probability of conversion from one step to the next based on other information you have available, so that you have an estimate of funnel conversion at all times. The estimates will introduce error and bias into your results, but they are better than waiting months to run a conversion test.

Complexity 2: Changing Funnels

If your customer experience changes rapidly (a few times a week), as is common with software products, your funnels will change right along with it. With such rapid change it might be hard to benchmark performance and really optimize your funnels. By the time you create a new test the funnel actions you are optimizing might no longer exist!

It is critical to work with the rest of your company to ensure that customers have a consistent experience long enough for you to measure, test and optimize conversions. There are many technologies available today, including Feature Flagging, which allow you to control product changes by customer segment, and in doing so neither sacrifice speed nor funnel analysis.

Complexity 3: Missing Steps

Not all businesses have visibility into all the steps of their funnels. For example, if you sell fitness trackers online you will know when you ship a tracker to a customer, but have no idea what happens next until they connect their tracker to the internet to sync with your service. In that period, the customer may have trouble setting it up, get frustrated and return the device without you ever knowing that sequence of actions.

In these cases it’s important to build benchmarks around how long it takes customers to complete certain steps so that you know when and if a customer is having trouble. This can become a segmentation dimension for your customers so that you don’t blend conversion rates for normal customers with ones that had unique problems. Just like with estimating success, creating time windows can introduce error and bias but can also improve the quality of your funnel data if used appropriately.

The Final Word: Funnels will be one of your best tools in using data to improve business performance. Once you start using them, you’ll start seeing them everywhere! Everything from sales to recruiting can be thought of as a funnel that needs to be optimized.


Quote of the Day: I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes