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The Leaky Funnel

The sales process is most often referred to as a funnel. The idea is that lots of leads get put into the top of the funnel and only the good opportunities come out the bottom. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software adds steps to the process of moving from the top to the bottom such as qualified lead, contact, opportunity, convert, account, target customer, referral source, and more. For some businesses or approaches, it is all about putting more and more into the top of the funnel so that more can trickle out at the bottom.
I have a problem with this analogy to the sales process. If you pour more and more into the top of the funnel, it will soon overflow and you will lose leads. The funnel cannot support an unlimited amount going into the top. What happens to that lead that is not ready right now, but may be after multiple exchanges of phone calls, emails, and trials? What do you do with the unqualified leads? How do you get them out of the funnel when everything that goes into the top of a funnel has to come out the bottom of the funnel?
I now prefer an image of a “leaky” funnel. Things can spill out the top of the funnel as it overflows. Referral sources can come out the extra spout on the right and be put into a special container for follow up activity. The unqualified leads can leak out the spout on the left and go into some sort of waste disposal system. Those that are not ready can stay in the bowl of the funnel and be nurtured along the way by stirring and constantly touching the lead. The cracks in the spout at the bottom are where some leads or opportunities are lost to competitors. The other crack is for the leads lost to inattention to the account. Finally, the money to your business comes out the bottom funnel.