Exceptional marketing funnels don’t spring into existence overnight. They develop from a unified strategy and fluid communication between your sales and marketing teams. While it takes time and effort, building a marketing funnel is the key to turning prospects into paying customers.
This guide has everything you need to develop a winning marketing funnel for your brand.
What is a Marketing Funnel?
A marketing funnel represents the journey of a customer across several stages, from awareness to conversion. Sometimes called a “sales” or “conversion” funnel, it provides a model for understanding the customer experience so you can better meet the needs of your target audience. It also helps you identify problem areas within the funnel and troubleshoot them so you lose fewer leads along the way.
Some brands have chosen to abandon the model altogether, which usually proves to be a mistake. The funnel represents focus, beginning with a broad range of prospects and ending with a direct and intimate understanding of who your leads really are, what they want to buy, and if they’d be interested in additional purchases in the future. Instead of abandoning the marketing funnel, it’s best to examine how its different stages work together, and then apply individual strategies to get the most out of each one.
Stages of the Marketing Funnel
While the journey through the marketing funnel can vary from customer to customer, the primary focus is ultimately on the singular journey from vague awareness to confirmed sale. The specific stages of the funnel aren’t as important as understanding the broad categories they fall into: top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel.
The top of the funnel is broad and filled with many potential leads. At this stage, the marketing team is chiefly responsible for generating interest and sharing information about a company’s products or services. Marketing tactics include email campaigns, search engine optimization (SEO), and content like blog posts, videos, eBooks, and white papers.
Here are some specific stages that fall within the top of the funnel:
- Name: This is the point at which the individual’s name has entered your database.
- Engaged: This is where the target is moved further down the funnel after taking a specific action, whether it’s clicking a link or opening an email.
- Target: At this stage, you should employ lead scoring to determine if the target is a qualified potential buyer and whether future marketing efforts are necessary.
Once a lead reaches the middle of the funnel, they are considered likely to become a paying customer and marketing should begin preparing for the handoff to sales. A sales rep should reach out personally, but they should also be ready to pass a lead back to marketing for additional nurturing as needed. Most leads aren’t sales-ready at this point, but the personal touch of communicating with a sales rep is still a key part of nurturing the evolving relationship.
The middle of the funnel can be separated into two distinct stages:
- Lead: This is where a target truly becomes a lead with verified interest. After direct interaction with a sales rep, it’s possible to move them to the next stage.
- Sales Lead: A lead only becomes a sales lead if they’re a qualified buyer who’s ready to purchase. If not, it’s best to return the lead to marketing for additional nurturing efforts.
The final portion of the marketing funnel is where you’ll find the most promising leads — those who are ready to purchase or are paying customers you want to retain for future purchases. In either case, the bottom of the funnel involves more direct interaction with the leads. It’s when you extend a trial offer, provide a promo code, or show off a product demo. The sales team should be stepping up at this phase with the necessary content to help leads become buyers — without acting in an aggressive manner that will turn customers off.
You can divide the end of the customer journey into a couple stages:
- Opportunity: When sales leads are ready for further interaction with the sales team and are actively seeking to buy.
- Customer: When a lead is successfully turned into a customer, it is only the beginning of your relationship with them. You should continue to work with and nurture your customers to ensure you retain their business.
Once you know the stages of the funnel and how customers should move through it, you can line up lead generation efforts for each stage.
Marketing Funnel Strategies
You need to figure out the combination of tools and strategy to make your specific funnel work for your company. When you’re ready to build a plan of action, consider the following tips to optimize your marketing funnel.
Use Marketing Automation
Marketing automation helps you efficiently generate viable leads, track user engagement, and nurture future prospects. In addition to automating recurring marketing activities, marketing automation tools allow your marketing team to confidently make data-driven decisions without experiencing information overload. Look for a tool that integrates with your CRM to automatically provide your team with accurate information on customers in real time, lets you personalize each step of the customer journey, and helps you target leads with content they’re likely to appreciate.
Practice Lead Scoring
Once you have leads in the funnel, you need a clear, consistent method for determining which are most likely to convert, in order to maximize ROI from your sales and marketing efforts. This is where it’s important to practice lead scoring — a ranking system that rates the value of each lead. Potential customers are given a numerical score based on the estimated value they represent.
Lead scores should be based on a variety of key factors that combine to create an ideal lead profile.
Demographic factors relate to the individual, giving your company a better idea of the type of person they’re selling to. Relevant characteristics include:
- Purchasing authority
- Years of experience
- Type of email address used
- Social network participation and influence
- Career interests
These factors relate to the organization you’re targeting. B2B marketers will definitely want to pay close attention to these qualities when deciding how to market to relevant decision-makers. Some attributes you may consider are:
- Number of employees
- Company revenue
- Financial viability
These factors are based on actions taken by the lead, which can impact a score positively or negatively. Some positive behaviors include repeatedly visiting a webpage, opening an email link, and subscribing to your company blog. Negative behaviors include unsubscribing from emails, not visiting the website for more than 30 days, and adverse comments on social media.
Produce a Healthy Mix of Content
Different types of leads will be receptive to different forms of content. If you only offer blog posts, you’ll miss out on prospects looking for longer form content such as eBooks and white papers. If you only produce written content, you’ll get ignored by leads who prefer visual offerings like videos and live streams. A good mix of content allows you to appeal to a broader range of potential customers.
When you’re crafting your content, remember that your primary goal should be to engage and inform, not to sell. Few parties will engage with content that’s nothing but a lengthy sales pitch. Instead, include relevant calls-to-action (CTAs) at appropriate places in your content. If a lead is at the interest stage, they will benefit from informative blog posts that mention relevant products or services in passing. Once the prospect becomes familiar with you and trusts your point of view, they’ll be more receptive to your CTAs.
Align to Avoid Handoff Mistakes
The handoff is the critical moment when strong leads are transferred from marketing to sales. Team leaders should host strategy sessions to avoid misalignments. For instance, the marketing team might have a certain picture of what a qualified lead looks like that doesn’t match up with what sales has in mind.
Prevent handoff misalignments through constant communication between marketing and sales. Each side should agree to a mutual definition of what constitutes a “qualified sales lead.” They should also jointly monitor data, looking for behavior patterns that indicate the lead is ready to buy. Encouraging regular interaction between marketing and sales will prevent misunderstandings and strengthen the efforts of each department.
Understand How Customers Move Through Your Funnel
When you map the customer journey, marketing and sales can communicate better than ever. Both teams have a common language, and they can use the same data and strategies to identify when to move a lead down the funnel or if they need to be returned up the funnel for trust-building and nurturing purposes. Each stage of the funnel is made exponentially more impactful when the marketing and sales teams work together.
Mapping the customer journey involves balancing your ideal lead with real-world results. Pay attention to how leads engage with your content and behave during interactions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as former customers or leads who exit the funnel are often forthcoming about what they’re looking for and how the experiences within your funnel impacted their decision-making.
Marketing Funnel Examples: B2B vs. B2C
Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing funnels are similar in purpose, but they’re worlds apart in terms of how leads are moved through the funnel. B2C leads are often marketed to as if they don’t know what they want, while B2B leads know what they’re looking for at every step of the marketing funnel. For instance, B2C marketers rarely provide customers with detailed reports. They’re more likely to use testimonials or attention-grabbing ads and stories that appeal to emotions, and the sales cycle is likely to be shorter. Meanwhile, B2B marketers’ leads tend to be professionals performing detailed research to find products and services that will help improve their company in some way, and the sales cycle tends to be longer.
A B2C lead might begin their journey by clicking a banner ad at the top of a website they visit, then provide an email address through a pop-up on the store page and save products to their “favorites” for future viewing and consideration. After receiving a follow up email, they return the next day to add items in their cart before checking out — making use of a promo code they received in that email.
This simple B2C funnel encourages the lead to visit your store and browse, while also creating a low-pressure scenario that allows the lead to mentally prepare to buy something they like. If they change their mind, they can save an item for later.
In a B2B marketing funnel, a prospect might search for software on Google, find your landing page, and download a free eBook. They later come back to download a report with more details about your product. After performing further research on your software, company, and any competitors, the lead reaches out to request a demo (or your sales rep may reach out proactively). Sales can then present a product package that’s suited to the customer’s needs based on the comprehensive profile that’s already been created with the assistance of CRM and marketing automation tools.
This B2B funnel didn’t involve an appeal to emotions or decisions made on a whim. When B2B sales happen, it’s because B2B prospects have identified a business need, thoroughly researched the options, and come to a conclusion about the best fit for their needs. It’s mostly a matter of getting in front of these leads through digital exposure and establishing the level of trust needed for direct communication.
No matter when a lead exits the funnel, they will leave behind valuable information for B2B and B2C marketers. What’s important is making the best possible use of that information to make sure that fewer leads leave the funnel in the future.
Optimize Your Marketing Funnel with Marketo
Marketing automation is a must-have for reliable, scalable marketing efforts. It not only helps your marketers save time, energy, and resources, but it also lets them avoid human errors that can inhibit lead retention. For these reasons, you should strongly consider making automation part of building your marketing funnel.
Marketo Engage offers lead management tools to help you get the most out of every stage of the marketing funnel. The platform allows you to analyze data about leads and customers, personalize marketing content across channels, and manage marketing budgets, while providing visibility into the entire marketing and sales process. Marketo empowers you to determine which audiences to target and tailor your marketing campaigns to their needs — all at scale.
Take an interactive tour and learn more about how Marketo Engage can strengthen your ability to create marketing funnels that work.