Prospects are rarely ready to buy when they first encounter your product or solution. In many instances, and especially in B2B, marketers will aim to generate leads which are added to the top of a marketing funnel. What is a marketing funnel? Why do you need one? Here is our introduction to marketing funnels.
In B2B markets it can take many weeks if not months to make a sale. When driving traffic to your website or landing pages, asking visitors to make a big commitment such as a purchase too early can drive the visitor away and damage our marketing ROI. Would you buy a product from a vendor that you’ve never heard of? Rather than pushing for an immediate sale, we want to turn that visitor into a known prospect and add them to our marketing funnel.
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What is a marketing funnel?
A marketing funnel is a model for the journey that prospects go through on their way from initial awareness through to becoming customers or better yet advocates. For a prospect to buy they need to believe that your product solves their needs or wants. The role of the marketing funnel is to convince the prospect that your product solves their challenge.
Digital marketers who understand and adopt the concept of marketing funnels can afford to spend more on ads and deliver greater ROI. Without a funnel, a visitor could arrive on your page, fail to understand your product and leave. With a marketing funnel, a prospect can arrive on your page and give you an opportunity to nurture and educate, long after they hit the back button.
The job of the marketing funnel is two-fold:
- the funnel should nurture prospects, moving them towards purchase.
- the funnel should filter out prospects who will never buy from you.
A marketing funnel is so-called because more prospects enter at the top of the funnel than result in sales at the bottom of the funnel. Some prospects drop out of the funnel naturally because they lose interest or find an alternative, others might be filtered out intentionally based on their activity.
A marketing funnel helps businesses support the customer journey
In its simplest terms, a funnel is a journey. Your customer becomes aware of a challenge or opportunity, and this triggers a series of steps which may ultimately result in a purchase. As marketers, our job is to ensure our products are in consideration for as long as possible, towards the ultimate goal of a sale.
Why do you need a marketing funnel?
In digital marketing, our aim is to capture the attention of potential customers (awareness), support their decision-making process (consideration) and get the prospect to a point where they are ready to make a purchase (demand).
The marketing funnel approach allows us to put in place relevant marketing tactics that will nurture prospects through the funnel until they are ready to buy. The funnel model helps us to build consistent and cohesive strategies that nurture prospects.
Whether or not we put an explicit funnel in place, our prospects will go on a decision making journey. Having a funnel means that we’re more likely to be supporting that journey, rather than leaving the prospect to wander away after we’ve done the expensive job of getting their attention.
Marketers who use funnels can spend more on ads
Most marketers who run ads drive traffic to a landing page. If the visitor converts you’ve instantly turned that click into ROI. In this simple model the more you spend the more leads you’ll generate. BUT, it rarely works like that. In fact, most visitors won’t convert on their first visit at all. You’ve paid for the click and let the visitor leave.
With a funnel approach, your aim is not to sell the visitor at the first stage, but offer something so compelling that the prospect will give up their email address for it (or any other direct contact method). Then the marketing funnel kicks in and nurtures the prospect over time towards the purchase.
Marketers who use marketing funnels rather than individual landing pages can spend more on marketing because they’re less reliant on the first touchpoint to make the sale.
What are the different stages of the marketing funnel?
Prospects go on a decision-making journey from initial awareness through to taking action. For every prospect the journey is unique and marketing automation and personalisation allow us to cater to different needs of our buyers in a scalable and programmatic way.
The typical phases are:
The buying journey isn’t linear nor is it the same for every business. We think about the buyer journey at a high level and then break it down further through a process of testing and learning.
The stages of the marketing funnel can be classified as:
- Top of funnel activities – We build awareness and fill our funnel
- Middle of the funnel activities – We build relationships with the buyer and a desire for our product
- Bottom of the funnel activities – We transition desire to action and win the business
Top of marketing funnel activities
Top of funnel activities build awareness. We need to help the prospect recognise that there is a challenge to solve. Buying decisions in B2B are all about making money or saving money. Making money is often about new opportunities and saving money is about increasing efficiencies. Quite often in the B2B sale, prospects aren’t immediately aware of the challenge, they need to be educated. It’s all about helping the prospect recognize something needs to be done.
Middle of the funnel marketing activities
Your business could be relevant to thousands of prospects, but having a market of thousands of prospects is meaningless unless we can get those prospects to signal that they are a potential customer. To move from the top of the funnel to the middle of the funnel prospects need to take action which identifies them as a lead.
Middle of the funnel is about helping prospects see your business as the solution. Initially, this phase is all about building relationships. People buy from other people they know like and trust.
Bottom of the funnel marketing activities
At the bottom of the funnel, buyers are ready to make a purchasing decision and they need to be persuaded that your solution is the best available. If the middle of the funnel marketing has done its job then at this point the prospect should be ready and eager to buy.
An example of a very simple marketing funnel
Below I’ve mapped out a very simple marketing funnel that captures a prospect and drives them to a sale.
- We generate awareness off-site using ads.
- This traffic is sent to an opt-in page where we capture an email address.
- An email address is captured in return for a high-value asset.
- The asset is delivered through email and the prospect is sent to a download page. The delivery of the asset through email validates that the email address is correct.
- After downloading the prospect is sent to a sales page with a sales video.
- From the sales video, the prospect is taken to an order page. In a B2B scenario where the transaction can’t be completed online, the final step could be to book an appointment with a consultant or download a product trial.
To take this funnel a step further we could add down sells, for example, if the prospect exits on the sales video page we could send a follow-up email with a lower priced item.
We might also want to score prospect activity at different stages. Lead scoring allows us to highlight prospects that might be ready to buy to sales who can proactively engage them.
Marketing funnels in B2B markets
The marketing funnel model applies to consumer and business to business marketing. The length of the B2B buyer journey and the considered purchase make the need for a marketing funnel in B2B industries much greater. Here are a few things you need to think about when creating your B2B marketing funnel.
- In a successful demand generation funnel, strategy and planning are crucial. Know your audience, their challenges and the messages that will appeal to them before you do anything else.
- When running ads cost per click is usually much greater in B2B. Include organic channels (SEO/Social) to increase awareness and to build an audience and reduce your cost per lead.
- Use tactics such as remarketing to follow up with website visitors who don’t convert.
- Your ideal customers may already be well on the way to making a decision. Have a broad range of marketing assets and messages that include more advanced buyers.
- Educating prospects about a need could be more expensive than targeting prospects who are already aware of the need. Target followers of competitor products on social media and competitor terms in search engine results.
- Test, test and test. A funnel can always be improved and you need to test your ads, landing pages and emails throughout the campaign.
Tools that will help you build your marketing funnel
If you’re new to building marketing funnels we recommend giving ClickFunnels a go. It comes with a 14-day trial and it’s designed from the ground up to help businesses build funnels.
Read our ClickFunnels Review
Next steps in creating your automated marketing funnel
This article is part of our guide to building an automated marketing funnel.
Read part 2 demand generation market research