Are “Funnels” Unethical or Sleazy?

I got an email this morning at 5:43 a.m. that really made me think…

Did I make a mistake releasing my latest video?

Am I telling people to do something they shouldn’t?

Apparently, my latest video stirred up some strong feelings about “funnels” and whether or not they are “sleazy!”

I figured we better answer this head on and make sure we’re not doing something we shouldn’t.



PS: This post is a little long, but well worth the discussion.

Grab your favorite beverage and give it a read (you may even want to print it out).


Are “Funnels” Unethical or Sleazy?


I got an email from a very valuable customer and friend today in reaction to a video I posted “What is a (product) funnel, really

Here’s what he said…

I thought you did a nice summary of funnels in your latest cuppa coffee video. I took a look at the book and ordered the “free” copy.

I always have mixed feelings with these “funnel” approaches.

I know they work to make money but I wonder if it is worth the loss of value the brand suffers. Perhaps it is because I grew up in the age of Ron Popeil (remember the “in egg scrambler?).

These funnel approaches always leave me feeling that the seller is out to manipulate me and make as much money as possible while delivering as little as possible. Do I really want customers to categorize my stuff with ginsu knives, collapsible hoses and cat back scratchers?

I know many people use funnels, but I personally resist doing repeat business with them because of their approach. I don’t want to be sold “yet something more” every time I turn around. Give me something that solves my “whole problem” from the start an quit upselling me to “more.” Personally, I lose trust in those who use funnels to the extent some of these guys do.

Here’s my response to this excellent email…

I agree with you.

Like anything else, a funnel (especially a front end funnel) can be abused, either on purpose or by default. When it’s set up incorrectly with irrelevant offers it can be extremely annoying and manipulative.

There’s some art to designing a front end funnel as well.

The thing that pisses people off the most while going through it is when you (the customer) are made to feel like you’ve been tricked, that the original purchase won’t do what you were promised without the additional purchases.

That’s the one where people get mad most often.

I also think you’re spot on with the “Give me something that solves my whole problem…” as the objective for the customer. That’s most people’s attitude (mine too).

And I believe that whatever the promise made to make the initial purchase should be fulfilled (and more) by the seller. And if the funnel is set up correctly it should confirm that you (the buyer) made a smart decision to buy.

That’s why I have felt the same way as you about funnels in the past… but I don’t think that using them is manipulative or a disservice to my customers anymore.


I think we all attract the kind of customers who react well to our style… I also think there is a time and place for this type of product funnel, especially on the front end with cold traffic.

Running ads is the way of the future online to build your list if you want to scale up. But it’s expensive and, in some markets, it’s cost prohibitive.

Yes, you can (and should) build up your following using social media, content marketing, webinars, speaking, affiliates, etc., but advertising profitably is the one way to get your business going the fastest.

Also, the “front end” funnel approach makes it possible for low-ticket sellers like book authors to make money online.

You can’t make a lot of money selling books for $20 (let alone a $2.99 Kindle book)… which means you can’t advertise… which means you are dependent on the good will of others to help you sell / promote your book through social media, etc.

Of course, nobody can solve every problem the customer has in one low-priced product or program, even one with high-value information. Also, people don’t want to pony up much money to someone they don’t know, like, or trust yet.

That’s why books are the perfect front end offer BECAUSE they are such a cheap way to get a lot of valuable information. But therein lies the rub. Customers and potential customers WANT cheap info, but you can’t make money off cheap information unless you sell them something else at the checkout counter.

With a front end funnel, an author can cover their advertising cost AND build up their audience so they can do what every successful author already does (or should) which is to work that audience through a “back end” funnel for speaking gigs, home study course sales, coaching /consulting, more books, workshops, webinars, etc.

But if the author can’t make it to the back end because they can’t afford to find new customers, it doesn’t matter if they are the greatest speaker, coach or expert… they won’t sell any books and nobody will find out.

So you have to ease people into it… and you can do that with low-priced products, services and information.

And when it’s done correctly, it can be very profitable and actually provide value to the person going through the funnel.

So the bottom line (for me) is this:

– If the funnel is set up wrong, you’ll piss people off

– If you make people feel manipulated, you’re toast

– If you sell irrelevant offers in your funnel, people will ignore and avoid you in the future

– If the funnel is set up correctly, you can help a lot more people get what they want

– If you do it right, you can make more money to advertise and build your business faster

Like anything else in digital marketing, it’s all in understanding your audience, planning out what you’re going to do, and measuring the results in both sales and goodwill created (or diminished) with customers and potential customers.

russell-book-freeBy the way, if you want to read what I consider to be THE definitive guide on “online funnels” you can get a copy of it free.

Grab Russell Brunson’s NEW book “DotCom Secrets: The Underground Playbook” for just shipping and handling (it’s like 8 bucks).

NOTE: One of the things they will ask you for on the website when you request the free book is your phone number…. and you will get a phone call where I assume they will try to sell you something. To me it doesn’t matter, but if that kind of thing freaks you out, then forewarned is forearmed. 🙂


  • Mark Whyte

    Reply Reply March 28, 2015

    Thank YOU Jim, for your article. Something you said is EXACTLY what I always feel. Here’s what I mean: I’m a trusting guy and like the idea of “teaming up” with the product seller to buy his product and put it into use for myself. I do so BECAUSE he comes off as very knowledgeable, and trustworthy. If he seems sleazy, I am wary to do business with him. The product creator tends to promise that EVERYTHING I will ever need is RIGHT here. Then either in a funnel OR later in an email he is either selling me an upgrade OR one of his buddies products that will do nothing more than distract me from his original product. So, then I wonder, is what he said at first even true? Yeah, I guess that sounds naive, but I’m longing for a world that people actually have integrity and while the product may not be perfect, it is darn good and he stands behind it and my success in using it. I get it that we need to watch out for scams and unscrupulous product creators, and I do….(sigh). Anyway, YES, funnels are a useful tool when used with integrity in a manner that actually helps the buyers succeed. I applaud any product creator who becomes extremely wealthy and has funnels that help him to get there, as long as it makes CLEAR sense to how the upsell/downsell/cross sell ties back to real customer value. For men who are married, we have all heard the phrase: “If momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy” – Well, a marketer who dupes his customers can get rich on their backs for only so long before the word gets out…BUT: “If you create a good customer and he’s happy, he’ll be back, again and again, BUT if he’s not happy…” It all comes back to doing everything possible to do our marketing with integrity. Ups and downs will occur, but at least I will sleep better. Thanks again Jim!

    • BigJim

      Reply Reply March 30, 2015


      Some very thoughtful comments! Thank you 🙂


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