Ever wonder what it might sound like if Canadian songwriting legend Leonard Cohen narrated digital marketing in his heyday?

I mean, probably not, because who besides me would? But I bet you’re trying to picture it now – and guess what? You don’t have to.

On this episode of Above the Fold, Jeff Baker is accompanied by the soporific stylings of Canadian entrepreneur, marketer, co-founder of Kula Partners, host of the Kula Ring podcast and semi-sonic doppelganger of the late, great Leonard Cohen.

The discourse du jour: Reimagining the shape of the sales and marketing funnel.

‘Niche down’

Pirie’s agency is focused on helping manufacturers digitally transform sales and marketing functions.

Weirdly specific?

Maybe, but there’s a case to be made that homing in on a niche market can give agencies an edge – and Pirie made that case.

For one, all your marketing more or less becomes account-based marketing since your audience is more refined. But more importantly, being niche entrenches your sales and marketing people in the nuances of a specific vertical. And that gives you an edge over the generalists when it comes to talking the talk.

Which leads well into the bigger discussion in this podcast: B2B customers increasingly expect sales to deliver value before their traditional stage of “the funnel.”

Rather than a hard handoff between marketing and sales, the line between value-added content marketing and value-added sales processes is becoming blurred.

Pirie and Baker’s attempt to figure out what this means is easily one of the most intriguing conversations yet on the podcast about reshaping the sales funnel.

‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us’

Churchill’s famous quote about democracy doubles as an explanation for what happens when you allow the sales and marketing funnel to distort your true objectives.

And it’s not pretty.

Firstly, marketing starts focusing on “vanity metrics” that create dissonance between marketing qualified leads and sales qualified leads.

Sales doesn’t give a hoot about much time lead X spent on your site, and how much content they downloaded. They just want to know if this person has buying authority, and if they’re ready to use it. It’s a “same bed, different dreams” type of scenario we talked about in episode 3:1.

The other problem with blind conformance to the classic inbound marketing funnel is that it basically leaves sales out of about 80% of the buyer journey.

So what?

Well as Pirie articulated – and Baker eventually agreed with – sales can no longer just come in to “grab and grin and press the flesh and seal the deal” – especially not in highly niche verticals with 18- or 24-month sales cycles.

Rather, buyers want to see sales people come to the table with something for them other than a big contract to sign. They want competitor scorecards. They want to meet the people providing the service. And they want a sales person who has already – at some stage in the funnel – demonstrated talent and expertise.

And this makes a world of sense. In marketing, we have so many layers in the funnel. “It takes time” we say, to get leads to a place where we perceive them as being “ready” for sales. But hey: it also takes time for that lead to be “ready” to buy once they get to sales.

Wouldn’t it take a little less time if sales were involved earlier in the funnel?

Probably, but what would that look like? What kind of “shape” would the funnel take?

You’ll just have to listen to the podcast to maybe (but most likely not) find out.

A few things Pirie wants you to check out

Context-free quote of episode

“Good thing this isn’t a popular podcast, Jeff, otherwise we’d be screwed.”

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.