Funnel Chart — Suggested Alternatives

Nir Smilga
3 min readAug 4, 2022

Similar to pie charts, funnel charts are another type of data visualization to be used with caution.
This article will discuss funnel charts, its issues, and my suggested alternatives, as well as quick videos on how to do it in my favorite data visualization tool- Tableau.

Funnel Chart Overview

Funnel chart (also called a funnel graph or funnel diagram) shows a flow of progressive reduction of a variable value along subsequent stages. Most often, it is used to visualize sales processes.

Funnel chart combines flow and part-to-whole chart types (the upper stage is always 100% and the following stages will be parts of it).

It has 2 main goals:
1. Visualize the quantitative size of the different stages and allow the user to see which Stage is bigger (and by how much)
2. Visualize the process as a whole-
the shape of the funnel conveys the health of the process it’s tracking.

Classic Funnel

Funnel chart gets its name from its shape, which starts wide at the top and narrows at the bottom. In each stage, the width and/or thickness represent the number of subjects.

While some may say that it is visually appealing, it does not provide users maximum insight at a minimum of effort/time.

Why? It is difficult for our brains to distinguish between the sizes of different diagonal area shapes. Try to determine, based on the chart below, what percentage is the 3rd funnel stage (Qualified) out of the first funnel stage (Total leads)?

All examples were generated in Tableau and can be explored\ downloaded here

Most BI tools suggest the following out-of-the-box version, which is better, but it is still challenging for our minds to compare the sizes as they start from different points, resulting with unnecessary distraction:

All examples were generated in Tableau and can be explored\ downloaded here

Moreover, it is less appealing visually (IMO), which is important but not as important as visualizing data effectively, so I find this chart a lose-lose.

Suggested Alternatives

We will start with the example which delivers maximum insight with minimum effort, and it is based on a simple bar chart with part to a whole addition:

All examples were generated in Tableau and can be explored\ downloaded here

This one makes it much easier for our brain to compare the stages since they begin at the same point. The diagram also shows the basic structure of the entire process and conveys its health.

Here is a quick video of how to make that in Tableau:

All examples were generated in Tableau and can be explored\ downloaded here

However, this funnel is sometimes hard to sell as it might seem “less sexy” to some customers and marketing focal points (based on my experience, not judging).

This brilliant meme can’t illustrate it more :-)

Credit: Xaquín G.V.I ,#DistractedBoyfriend

So after many iterations, my go-to alternative which satisfies both ends is this one:

All examples were generated in Tableau and can be explored\ downloaded here

Here is a quick video of how to make that in Tableau:

All examples were generated in Tableau and can be explored\ downloaded here

To wrap this up:

All examples were generated in Tableau and can be explored\ downloaded here

Thanks for reading, share your thoughts!

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Nir Smilga

Passionate about data, insights and visualizations, Tableau featured author