The concept of a funnel is invariably used as an explanation of a flow where you start with a large base group of something (usually customers) and end up at the end with a much smaller subset that is the value providing group (for ex. customers that purchase). This image illustrates this point.

enter image description here

Now having personally used a funnel before, I know this to not be true, and it's not just me, Wikipedia seems to agree 'It is used to channel liquid or fine-grained substances into containers with a small opening. Without a funnel, spillage would occur.'. My only remotely reasonable explanation as to why this object is chosen is its shape, which sort of makes sense until you realise they also got that one wrong, as it has a much narrower base, making something like a pyramid much more appropriate (similar to the famous "food group pyramid)

Am I just missing something? Is there a mystical funnel + colander combination out there that pours liquids into a smaller container while also losing various amounts of liquid or is there a more realistic explanation to this usage?

  • 3
    I suspect it's derived from filter funnel and just lost the filter part, even though it's the filter part that seems to be important. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/filter_funnel
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 10:30
  • Sounds plausible enough. I've seen these before, though afaik they're used for filtering out impurities and you would still end up with the same amount of liquid in the end? Feel free to make this an answer as well :) Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 10:33
  • I think it depends on what bit you want to keep - filtering gold out of solution always ends up in disposal of the nasty cyanide solution but retention of the solids. Someone will probably come up with a proper answer possibly including an early use of funnel to mean 'filter' - I'm just guessing really. 'Funnelly' enough - in the UK filter lane is used to mean separate the traffic but motorcyclists also filter between lanes of traffic, which is actually more like seeping.
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 10:45
  • its a coffee filter!
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 15:40
  • I guess I don't read the right magazines, because I don't see this sort of thing very often at all. But one can see that it's an attractive way for advertisers to over-simplify a concept, especially one that has $$$ flowing out the bottom. (Have no idea what this has to do with English, though.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 18:19

2 Answers 2


I think that is just a question of the shape ( like an inverted piramid) which is intuitive and easy to use to convey the idea of different results from a sequence of decreasing quantities, (it also suggest the image that from the end of the funnel you get your final result).

Funnel and Pyramid Charts:

  • Funnel charts are so-called Accumulation charts and they show percentage ratio. Funnel charts are often used to represent stages in a sales process and show the amount of potential revenue for each stage. This type of chart can also be useful in identifying potential problem areas in an organization’s sales processes. A funnel chart is similar to a stacked percent bar chart.

  • You can turn your funnel into Cone or Pyramid you should just set neck_height and min_width to "0" and set mode="circular" - to get Conical shape, or mode="square" - to show Pyramid


Funnels System is Sales Enablement Best Practices designed to integrate Marketing with Sales so as to build quality pipeline consisting of sales opportunities that have the highest probability of closing in the shortest time...

A sales funnel is an inverted pyramid that draws potential customers through a company’s sales process. As the name indicates, it is wide at the top because customers with all level of engagement enter and eventually the strongest leads are channeled to the bottom to be turned into successful sales.

funnel acts as a filter: It helps focus attention on the customers most likely to purchase the product.

  • 9
    I know what all those words mean, but the answer makes no sense...
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 15:34
  • 2
    @OrangeDog - It's marketing. It's not supposed to make sense.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 18:21

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