Funnels: The One Big Mental Model from Sales & Marketing

Neil Kakkar
9 min readAug 31, 2021
Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

The traditional funnel is a measurement device for, say, number of people converting in your product.

But funnels are a lot more universal, and you can use them to answer tough questions in Physics and Chemistry, not just for human behaviour. This post shows you how to use funnels more often, what are the general principles behind funnels, and finally, why this flexibility makes funnels the one big mental model from sales and marketing.

We’ll start with 4 weird examples of funnels in the wild.

Then, we’ll use the examples to decipher the general principles. We investigate what are the similarities and differences between the examples to come up with a general model for Funnels.

Overall, we’ll answer what exactly are funnels, why they’re cool, and where to apply them. Let’s dig in.

Crude Oil Distillation

To dissolve all connotations with existing usage of funnels, let’s start with something more arcane. Let’s go to Chemistry & fractional distillation.

Why do you think crude oil is called black gold? It’s not just because it produces petrol. It’s because it produces several kinds of fuels: gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, jet fuel, petrochemical feedstocks, waxes, lubricating oils, and asphalt. Crude oil starts with a mixture of these, and goes through several rounds of processing which spits these fuels out one by one.

At every round of processing, depending on the temperature, you get one product out of crude oil. So, for example, if you first set the temperature at 100 degrees, you get petrol/gasoline out of crude oil. Then, at 150 degrees, you get kerosene out of crude oil. And now the mixture has diesel oil, lubricating oil, and jet fuel left inside. You keep going through these steps, until you only have jet fuel left.

This is a funnel. You have a lot of “things” which are processed over different steps, such that you lose some, until you’re left with one thing.

Three more examples, and then we’re ready to draw the pattern out from it.

ETL Pipeline

Neil Kakkar

I write about Code and Life philosophies. Sometimes both. | | Engineer @PostHog | Write (Code). Create. Recurse.