Laura Wardropper
Lucie Heseltine

By Laura W and Lucie H


What the sales funnel actually looks like in 2022: introducing the ‘messy hexagon’

With the evolution of digital and the role it plays in the way consumers shop, we reckon the traditional sales funnel process no longer represents an authentic path to purchase. So, our team of marketers came together to redefine what it looks like in 2022.

What the sales funnel actually looks like in 2022: introducing the ‘messy hexagon’

Thought you knew what the sales funnel looks like? Think again.

In 2022, we’re not even sure it’s a funnel anymore. The digital landscape has, and continues, to change the way we shop. With information at our fingertips, and a progressive wave of e-commerce opportunities, sales can simply be a swipe away or may be a result of exhaustive research.

Despite being a cornerstone of marketing strategies for well over a century, our path to purchase doesn’t look the same as it did when the sales funnel was first introduced way back in 1898.

Our team of experts have taken a look at the traditional sales funnel, its alternatives, and drawn their own conclusions on what a 2022 model would look like.

First let’s take a closer look at the sales funnel, more formally known as the AIDA Model, and its principles.

What is the sales funnel (AIDA model)?

Marketers are near-constantly talking about Awareness, Consideration and Conversion. The AIDA Model - or as it’s better known, the sales funnel - is a key part of our lives; it’s like we can’t live without it. It’s a logical way to illustrate starting with a large cross-section of consumers, and refining them down to those all-important customers.

A diagram showing the AIDA structure, highlighting the traditional paths to purchase through Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

Arguably, this underpins our whole lives as marketers and provides the basis for many other concepts, including the Marketing Mix. It’s easy to follow and apply to a diverse range of business models and industries. It boils down to "I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it." (who knew Ariana Grande’s 7 rings was about the marketing industry?).

But it’s important to note that this concept is over 100 years old! It predates the internet and even television. Why are marketers still using the sales funnel concept?

Over the past year, especially with recent (and upcoming!) changes to privacy and cookies impacting measurement, Team Extreme have been asking ourselves the same question. Does the customer journey need a rethink, and are we actually communicating to clients the true impact of digital marketing?

We often use the sales funnel analogy at Extreme, and, while it’s helpful for planning, it’s a little too simplistic and doesn’t quite reflect the reality of consumer behaviour. So we’re shifting our mindsets to a different way of thinking.

Alternatives to the AIDA sales funnel model

Looking for an alternative to the Sales Funnel can be a little bit overwhelming. It’s understandable if you find yourself reluctant to change, especially considering that the AIDA Model is a tried and tested theory that’s easy to apply to a multitude of clients.

We’ve watched other agencies add their concepts into the ring, and spent hours discussing trigger points, micro-moments and even the Marketing Eye. We concluded that we’re fans of Google’s “The Messy Middle” and the Hankins Hexagon. Both address the issues modern marketers face when navigating shoppers’ more complex path to purchase, looking at how a multitude of touchpoints interact with each other to help customers make decisions. Both have pros and cons when it comes to application, and so we decided a hybrid approach does the job best.

And thus, Extreme’s own take was born.

Modelling a new sales funnel template & its stages: introducing the Messy Hexagon

A diagram showing the messy hexagon structure, highlighting various paths to purchase

We took elements from our two favourite concepts to provide an analogy tailored to our clients and our team’s way of thinking. Meet The Messy-Hexagon.

Prospective customers bounce between different stages of the buyer journey based on individual needs and interactions with your brand. They will interface with your marketing strategy via different platforms and devices at rapid speed, often out of the ‘traditional’ order we would expect them to follow and sometimes, hitting more than one touchpoint at a time.

Each customer will be different; some will go straight from trigger to purchase, while others may take their time to “get to know” your product or service. Some may interact with the brand when they don’t need the products, but remember it when they do and purchase at a later date when the occasion arises.

For this reason, it’s important not to analyse a channel or campaign’s results in silo, or as a direct return for the month your activity took place. For example a campaign launched in January, could go on to influence sales many months later, or a ROAS that only factors in the initial purchase and not the LTV of that customer. Marketers should always be looking at the bigger picture, analysing how digital marketing activities as a whole and how it has contributed to sales and leads. From an agency perspective, it makes sense to work together across disciplines to showcase how different aspects of your strategy work together, rather than singling out individual departments without wider context.

While this isn’t a linear journey like we see in the Sales Funnel, it more accurately represents a modern, digital marketing strategy, and accounts for customer individuality.

New sales funnel model examples: how does the Messy Hexagon work in practice?

Designing a model is one thing, but applying it to real-life scenarios helps us to understand the role of each touch point, and where various marketing activities and strategies work best to result in a sale.

So, here are a couple of examples of how the Messy Hexagon works.

Booking a holiday - the customer journey

When booking a holiday, there can be many different trigger points to help you start the booking process, impacted by things like whether you’ve decided on when or where you want to go.

Customer A may interact with a “Cold” social media ad for a location they’ve never visited before, meaning that they interact with multiple points in The Messy Hexagon as they decide whether this destination or holiday company is the right fit for their needs. They might not even have the annual leave booked yet, meaning they need to go away and return when they have dates in mind. Which we know from our privacy blog, could mean that if they’re an iPhone user, social media loses the attribution for their booking!

Whereas if Customer B has decided “this year I want to go to Cornwall”, their journey through The Messy Hexagon could be entirely different. They Google “Holidays in Cornwall”, enter through a PPC search result, look at dates and accommodation, and book. And, while this customer journey would be considered a great win for the Paid Media team, the Cost per Acquisition (CPA) of Customer A method shouldn’t be discredited.

A giphy showing the path to purchase in action, with a customer passing between various touchpoints before making the sale.

If you were working as a travel agent in the more traditional sense, spending 20 minutes with Customer A and 10 minutes with Customer B may result in the same outcome, both would be considered a success from either angle. It’s only because we’ve been spoiled with detailed reporting and analytics in digital marketing that we’ve developed a strong attachment to individual CPAs. If anything, putting more time into nurturing a sale can help increase the likelihood of a repeat booking - as long as they enjoyed their holiday to Cornwall, that is!

Although most of us wish we were booking holidays regularly, they’re more likely to be few and far between, and so we also wanted to explore how The Messy Hexagon would be applied in a more regular transactional sense.

How The Messy Hexagon works with FMCG and eCommerce businesses

A laptop screen showing jewellery, with a person making a payment for some on their credit card.

In the FMCG world, the type of product on offer and type of trigger can impact how quickly a consumer travels through the hexagon. The speed of their path to purchase depends on how imminent their need is.

If a customer is buying a piece of technology, for example, they may spend longer lingering in the right-hand side of the Hexagon, as they research the product in more detail. Whereas in fashion e-commerce, a customer will likely have a prior understanding of their needs and style preferences, so product research will likely only take the form of “how much is it?” and “do they stock my size?”.

With this in mind, Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) is becoming increasingly important for brands marketing their goods and services online. Digital marketing techniques such as Paid Media can bring quantifiable traffic to your website, but if there are barriers to conversion on your site, then you could be missing out on revenue.

This is again why a holistic approach is important; rather than singling out an element of your marketing or funnel and saying “it’s not working”, or even eliminating it altogether, ask yourself “Why?”. Having a thorough understanding of your audience, of your website’s analytics, and your Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) can help you understand if a dip in results is an anomaly or if it requires a bigger strategy rethink.

What role does consumer trust play in the Messy Hexagon?

Ultimately, your customer’s path to purchase is heavily impacted by the level of trust they have with the brand. You can segment their journey into pre and post-trust, applying different marketing tactics to each, helping to shape and streamline their experience and drive sales.

Traditionally, converting existing customers and community members is much easier than converting ‘cold’ leads. However this is set to become more difficult due to the recent changes in consumer privacy. Your ability to track users on your website, social media, emails, and the third party websites they visit has eroded over recent years due to updated privacy legislation from national governments and economic bodies, alongside more voluntary changes from corporations like Apple.

This means tracking individuals’ behaviour online in the very personal way we’ve been used to for so long is going away, and is never to return. As such, connecting directly with your customers and allowing them to feel comfortable sharing some of their personal information with you is more important than ever. We explore this topic further and how you can utilise other forms of data in our blog on navigating privacy changes.

With these changes, and continuing evolution of the digital world, applying different tactics at various points on the Messy Hexagon is paramount to driving sales.

Need some help developing a marketing strategy suited to these new ways of working? Drop a message to our team - experts when it comes to connecting you with your customers!

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Post by


Paid Social Strategist

Laura joined Team Extreme in 2017 and through the years has refined her social media skills to become our Paid Social Strategist. She works with our social clients to plan and execute content across a broad range of sectors and channels, helping clients maximise their results and ROI.

Post by


Paid Media Lead

Lucie is our lead on all paid media activity, overseeing our talented paid media team and managing the strategy and implementation of all paid search campaigns across multiple platforms. Fully Google qualified and working directly at Google prior to joining Extreme, there's not much Lucie doesn't know about PPC!

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