Funnel Chart – A Complete Guide

Overview

A funnel chart can be categorized as a specialized chart type in Tableau, used for demonstrating a business or a sales process, a distinction between few groups, to track some metrics related to certain stages in a process such as conversion, etc. The funnel chart, as obvious as it is – takes its name from its shape, since it looks like a funnel. Broad at the beginning, which we usually call the head, and narrow at the end, which we usually call the neck. The head should represent the biggest category, or if the funnel chart is representing a flow or a process, it should represent the first step of the process. As we go down, smaller categories should take place or the following stages in a process where fewer people enter than the first one. 

In this article, we will drill-down into the functionality of funnel chart, in which cases it is mostly used and how to create one in Tableau. Also, at the end of the article, we will mention a few things you should have in mind while creating one or things you should definitely avoid – for better performance or visualization. Let’s dive in!

What is Funnel Chart?

The best way to describe the functionality of a funnel chart is to go through an example – one theoretical that will describe a certain process and a practical one that we will go step-by-step later in this article. We will discuss an example of an email campaign regarding a specific service offer. As we said, the head of the funnel chart is ‘reserved’ for the first stages of the process, in this case – sending the email. Let’s say that we sent an email to 1000 people. Of course, not all people would be interested in our service or maybe they would be interesting but not at that time, so only 70% of the people opened it – that means 700 people entered the next stage. Every email designed as a sales email has an introduction regarding the service offer and a click-to-action (CTA) button that should take the user to a specific landing page where he can take some action – purchasing. This is the category where we usually have the largest gap.

Only 30% of the people are willing to take the process further after they read the email. That means only 210 people entered the third phase. And the final goal of this campaign was actually purchasing the service. Even though 210 people were redirected to a page where they can purchase the product, not all of them will actually purchase the product after all. Let’s say that only half of them do that – 105 people. So stating the numbers was with a clear aim – as you can see less and fewer people enter each following phase. That means as we go down, the stages are becoming more narrow and more narrow. That is why the funnel chart is a perfect fit for this case. 

When You Should Consider Using Funnel Chart?

When there is a sequential process or a flow and moves through at least 4 stages

The most common use of funnel charts is in business or sales context, where a certain process or flow needs to be monitored as well, its progressive parts. A funnel chart is a great visualization to spot at which point your users started dropping out of a process or flow. That is why we used numbers in the example that we explained above. By visualizing the number of users that enter each stage of the process, a business can easily gain knowledge where are the significant drops and try to improve the user experience on these stages. Of course, a funnel chart can not give you the reason for the drop, but it is a good way to start. 

Calculating and tracking conversion and retention rates

Tightly connected to the previous use of the funnel chart, with the help of your funnel chart you can easily spot the drop-down between stages. Roughly said, the sharper the sideline of the next part in the funnel chart, the bigger the dropdown. But also, you can actually calculate the drop-down in numbers. You can actually calculate how many people convert to the next phase. This is called conversion rate. Or you can also calculate how many of the people stayed in the cycle till the end, and calculate the retention rate.

Comparing categories of the same value where the value in the category on the top is expected to be greater than the number in the final stage

A funnel chart is also a great visualization to use when comparing few categories that have significant differences between them. You can easily achieve an efficient comparison also by using a bar chart, bubble chart, or pie chart, but all these charts are missing one thing that the funnel chart emphasizes – hierarchy. Funnel chart offers you an opportunity to sort the categories from the one with the higher number of ‘items’ or biggest value at the top of the funnel, and the one which is considered as ‘the smallest’ at the bottom of the funnel.

Now that we gained an understanding of what is funnel chart, how we should use it, we can go to the interesting part – How to create one in Tableau.

How to Create a Simple Tableau Funnel Chart?

Now, follow the steps that we will be explaining on how to create a funnel chart in Tableau. Since in the example above, we explained the funnel chart as a visualization tool for a process or a flow, in Tableau we will create one that should compare four different regions by sales, ordering them from the biggest one to the smallest one.

Step 1: Add the Measure for the Funnel Chart to the Rows Shelf

In our case, the relevant measure will be Sales. So, we drag the Sales measure to the Rows shelf. As an aggregation, we select SUM. 

Step 2: Drag the Relevant Dimension in the Marks Section 

Next, we choose the dimension that we want to make the distinction between the categories. In our case that dimension is Region. We drag Region from the list of Dimensions to the Colors cars in the Marks section. So, actually, once you place a Dimension on the Colors card you are telling Tableau to split the visualization you have, by the distinct members of the Dimension that you’ve placed, by a different color. As an outcome in our case, the vertical bar that was representing the total sales would now divide into four different colors, each of them representing a different region. 

Since we want to emphasize the size of each of the regions so we can achieve our funnel chart, we need to place the SUM(Sales) into the Size box, which is also in the Marks section. So with this step, not only that each category is divided from the others with its color, but also the size of each of them gives a sneak peek of which region has the most sales when compared to others. Finally, we need to sort our regions to get the first brief of a funnel chart before we get into details. We select the icon for ‘Sort Region descending by Sales’. This will arrange the categories on the bar in descending order, meaning the biggest one at the top and sequentially, all the others.

Step 3: Convert the View from Standard to Entire

By default, Tableau sets the view type to Standard. That is why the chart appears only in the left part of the view. In order to stretch out the whole funnel chart on the view, we need to change it to Entire View. Now, our funnel chart will cover the full view and looks more like a descent funnel chart.

Step 4: Create Labels

Again in the Marks Section. This time, to add labels. As we said above, stating the numbers of each stage or distinct category is really important since the user can see the actual drop from category to category and can calculate its relevant key performance indicators. In this step, we should just drag the Region and SUM(Sales) fields into the Label card in the Marks section. This way, we will have the name of the Region and its relevant total sale. 

Step 5: Final Details

In this step, we just take care of the final details that make this visualization look ‘clean’. Since the chart is self-explanatory by itself and the labels are doing their thing, there is no need to keep the axis on the side. The numbers for the total Sales are written by under each category. Just go to the axis, right-click on it and select Show Header. We enjoy having the funnel chart in one color, but different shades. This way we get unity in the stages or the categories that we represent, while the shades represent the flow or the distinction. You can go to the Region legend on the right, click on the arrow, and choose Edit Colors. Here you can choose the color you prefer. 

So, following the steps we have created a funnel chart that represent the total sales for each region. Each of the four boxes in the funnel chart represents a different region. Now, of course, this is a simple or stepped funnel chart. We are ready to explore and find out how to create a more advanced funnel chart in Tableau. 

How to Create an Advanced Funnel Chart?

Now, we going to step our game. We will create a funnel chart in Tableau that may be a little bit more complex than the other one. Nothing scary. This advanced funnel chart is more insightful and more representable than the simple funnel chart.

Step 1: Add the Relevant Dimensions and Measures

For this example, we will use different measures and dimensions so we can get an even better understanding of how to create this chart by using different data. Regarding the dimension, we choose Ship Mode as a relevant one and Sales as a relevant measure. We drag the Shop Mode to the Columns shelf, and afterward, we drag the Profit into the Rows section, where we choose SUM as an aggregation.

Step 2: Convert Bars from Vertical to Horizontal

For our visualization, we need the bars to be horizontal, not vertical. That is why we need to change the perspective on how we see the bars. Click on the icon above the Data view, which is marked with a red square on the screenshot below. This will change the perspective without any additional actions. 

After we make sure to convert the bars to horizontal, we need to apply a nested sort to the visualization. Regarding the nested sort, we will choose to descend by SUM(Profit). This will order the bars by total profit, where the ship mode with the highest profit will appear on the top and the one with the lowest profit will appear at the bottom of the funnel. 

Right now, as a mark type on our visualization, we have bars which is the default option by Tableau. We don’t need bars, we need Area. We can make this change by opening the mark type drop-down list and selecting Area instead of Bars. Selecting Area means creating a continuous area that will cover the whole area that the horizontal bars were occupying from the view. Pretty awesome, right?

Again, since by default, Tableau sets the view type to Standard, we need to change it to Entire View. 

Step 3: Create a Calculated Field

Till now, we have created just one half of the funnel chart, literally. We need the other half that will help this chart to look like a funnel. In this case, we need to make the ‘opposite twin’ field from the field Profit, so we can achieve the other half. In simple words – we need to reflect this half to the other half as well, so we will get the whole that looks like a funnel chart. We right-click on the measure Profit and click Create, and then Calculated Field… When the calculated field dialog appears, we enter the formula –[Profit]. This way we have created the reflection of Profit, from a negative aspect. We can name this field Negative profit. 

To apply the formula, we need to click Apply and then OK.

Step 4: Drag the Negative Profit to the Column Shelf

Once we create the calculation, it will appear on the Measures list on the left. We take the newly created calculated field and drag it to the Columns section. As a result, the profit will be reflected, and the chart will get its funnel shape. 

Step 5: Add Ship Mode Dimensions

We go back to the Marks section, to the Label card in it. Now we got our funnel chart, but we need to give it some value. That is why we drag the dimension Ship Mode to the Label card on the Negative profit part. The text label will appear on the left of the chart. This will serve as an indicator for which category the number on the right is relevant for. For the Profit part, we drag the SUM(Profit) measure to the Label card so we can preview the numbers relevant for each Ship Mode. Also, we give a distinct color to the left half of our funnel chart. 

As for better transparency, we would like to add extra information for the user of the report. That is why we drag the measure Sales or SUM(Sales) to the Tooltip card in the Marks section. This will create an action – every time the user hovers over an area, a box will display which will indicate the total sales.  We can also remove the Profit and the Negative Profit from the Tooltip since the relevant numbers are already previewed. 

Step 6: Final Details

Similar to this step in the example above, we just take care of the final details that make this visualization look ‘clean’. Again, we can hide the axis since all the relevant numbers are already available to the visualization. Voila!

What Are the Common Issues While Creating Funnel Charts?

Due to its specialized case of usage and its unique shape, the funnel chart brings a lot of issues that need to be respected while creating one. That means that there are some things that we need to have in mind while creating a funnel chart if we want our chart to be insightful, clean, and clear. For example, adding labels to the different parts of the funnel chart is something that some people consider critical since a funnel chart is all about calculating the percentage of people that dropped or making a distinction. But, if you are not interested in the numbers, you just want to present things briefly, this is something that you may not think of. But now, we will go through some stuff that describes the very base of the funnel chart and these issues need to be taken into account. 

Maintain an Equal Spacing Between Segments

Due to the similarity, a clear triangle is one possible way of creating a funnel chart. On the triangle, the different segments are labeled and divided with a different color, and the widths match the proportion of users that belong to that specific stage and category. This can misrepresent, however, how big or meaningful each stage is.

By dividing the triangle into different stages and categories, it can be tricky to identify the values of each stage or category with areas, instead of identifying the widths of each region with the values. That means, in an accurate funnel chart all the segments have the same area, they consist of a consistent spacing between. The only thing that changes from one region to another is the sides and their sharpness and as a result the width of the segment. The sharper the sideline of an area and the smaller the width of a segment, the bigger the drop. See the screenshot below, where the red arrow is we have a bigger drop, that is why the side is sharper. Where the green arrow is, we have a more slight drop. But in a triangle case, since all the sides are evenly sharped, we need to find a way how to indicate if the drop is big or not. That is why we use the areas and cannot maintain consistent spacing. This can be really inconvenient for the users.

Include At Least Three Stages/Categories

You should have at least three levels in order to create a funnel chart. We only have a single ratio to calculate when there are only two steps in a process or just two categories compared. This won’t give you any powerful insights. In this case, a simplified part-to-whole representation, such as a pie chart or single stacked bar, would work better. 

Use the Funnel Chart only For Significant Difference Between Categories or Data with Big Drops

Creating a funnel chart for comparing categories that don’t differ much one from another, or using it to represent a process where there is no significant drop between stages is not efficient. The great advantage of the funnel chart is that you are able to spot these big difference when you are looking at it. For example, using categories where the difference is not big will transform the funnel chart into one big vertical bar, and that is not what we want, right? 

Summary

In this article, we learned what a funnel chart is and where its usage is most convenient. We covered a step-by-step tutorial on how to create a simple and advanced funnel chart in Tableau. And at the end, we point out some things that you should be taken into consideration when creating a funnel chart in general. Now, you can easily create your funnel chart in Tableau!

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