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B2B prospects spend around 27% of their time conducting independent research online before making a purchase. This shift away from tradition means less reliance on sales people and more focus on high-quality content that increases discoverability and credibility. In fact, by 2025, Gartner predicts an astounding 80% of B2B sales interactions will take place online. That means sales and marketing teams will need to work closer than ever, building customized marketing sales funnels to attract, nurture, wow, and retain potential customers.

Don’t worry if you’re a bit lost thinking about all these funnels and how they fit into the sales process. We’re here to demystify what separates marketing and sales funnels, and provide examples of the various ways to visualize them. Plus, we explore how strategic marketing campaigns tie in with buyer’s journeys, customer experience, and retention.

What Is a Marketing Funnel?

A marketing funnel is a visual representation of the process of converting a large pool of qualified leads into a more refined group of paying customers. Using this methodology can increase conversion rate and help you nurture prospects more effectively.

Consumers no longer solely make purchases based on comparing items in-store or calling a sales team to ask questions. And, while this makes the buyer journey more complex for marketers to map out, it delivers a wealth of opportunities for reaching and impressing your target audience.

First, let’s look at a traditional four-stage funnel.

1. Awareness Stage

Brand awareness is the holy grail for businesses. Whether you’re dreaming big and aiming to become an internationally recognized company, or simply want to be a star in your hometown, consistent branding and marketing are vital. For prospects to recognize your company and associate it with your industry, your name, tone, messaging, imagery, values, and culture should be clear and recognizable.

That doesn’t mean creating a brand that appeals to you and your employees. To master the first stage of the funnel, you need to know your prospective customers inside out. Then, get your brand in front of them by deploying marketing efforts at relevant touchpoints along the path to purchase.

2. Consideration Stage

Now you’ve captured your audience’s attention, you have a chance to show them why your brand beats your competitors. Brands need to have a clear idea of how they add value to consumers’ lives and must know how to make their USP irresistible to their target market.

Whether it’s by highlighting a standout feature, answering a common question, or addressing a tricky pain point—your brand messaging should clearly communicate how your brand meets your audience’s needs. Social proof is key at this stage of the game, so be sure to bolster your efforts of gathering reviews, testimonials, and case studies.

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3. Conversion Stage

The conversion stage can also be called the purchase or decision-making stage because it marks the jump from thinking to acting. As anyone who owns an e-commerce website knows, tons of customers make it through the first two stages, but far fewer make it to purchase — hence the funnel shape of this marketing tool.

Influencing buying decisions requires instilling trust, confidence, and certainty in the people interacting with your marketing materials. Exceptional customer service and a website that’s optimized to make buying as intuitive and convenient as possible are critical at this stage.

4. Loyalty Stage

Long-term business success rests on a few pillars. Keeping up with industry trends, maintaining fresh branding, continually reassessing your target audience—and inspiring loyalty. Every thriving company has a core of brand advocates who don’t just continue to make purchases, but tell everyone they know about you, too.

Some excellent ways to bolster loyalty include:

  • Ensuring pricing is aligned with quality
  • Sending a follow-up post-purchase
  • Using email marketing
  • Offering a referral scheme
  • Keeping track of existing customers using a CRM
  • Introducing marketing automation to give your people more time to schmooze

The Digital Marketing Funnel

Another way to conceptualize how to turn new leads into new customers involves using the digital marketing funnel. As people rely increasingly on digital channels for making purchasing decisions, the customer journey gets more complex.

Each different stage of the marketing funnel captures the complexity of marketing in the modern marketplace and takes into account the ever-growing insights we have into what drives consumer behavior.

Pre-purchase:

  1. Engagement: Having a strong online presence that perfectly captures your brand’s personality and values promotes brand awareness.
  2. Education: Using content to add value to customers’ lives, leave a lasting impression, and guide prospects to your website is a win-win situation for you and them.
  3. Research: Mastering the research stage requires that your marketing team knows your competitors’ marketing efforts inside out and goes over and above to offer prospects more.
  4. Evaluation: Building trust is the secret to making sure customers measuring up whether to buy from you or a competitor go ahead and choose you. Competitive pricing free demos and trials, and webinars are great for this phase.
  5. Justification: Choosing you sometimes isn’t enough. Conjuring up a healthy dose of FOMO, using time-sensitive deals, and retargeting ads are just a few ways to convince prospects to convert before they get distracted.
  6. Purchase: Thinking that nurturing a lead to the checkout stage is the end of the marketing funnel is a rookie mistake. Transparency about shipping costs is just as essential as making the checkout process as quick and intuitive as possible.

Post-purchase:

  1. Adoption: A mistake others have made so you don’t have to is neglecting aftercare. Your sales team can be the slickest in the game, but lackluster post-sales care risks sending customers into the arms of your competitors for their next purchase.
  2. Retention: How your team approaches troubleshooting and complaint handing are two of the biggest indicators of how many buyers you convert into loyal customers.
  3. Expansion: Another way to maximize revenue across the marketing funnel is by taking steps to cross or upsell to customers who see your brand as an authority.
  4. Advocacy: Last but by no means least comes advocacy. Loyal customers will share their experiences with friends and family, post UGC, and write reviews. Word of mouth is still just as pivotal for a business to thrive, but the internet offers a whole bunch of new formats for those conversations to take place.

Customer Experience, Customer Journeys and the Marketing Sales Funnel

The days of silos between sales and marketing teams are (hopefully) long behind business leaders in today’s economy. In fact, decision-makers should aim to connect every department and strategy to ensure prospects have a cohesive and consistent customer experience. One effective way of doing this is through optimization of the marketing funnel with buyer personas and maps in mind.

Here are some ideas:

  • Segment leads into marketing qualified leads (undecided but likely to convert) and sales qualified leads (poised to convert and ready for a conversation)
  • Personalize the customer experience at each touchpoint of the marketing sales funnel
  • Ensure the user experience is slick, user friendly and intuitive
  • Use targeted messaging and targeted messaging to nurture hot leads
  • Deploy customer feedback strategies to learn about your strengths and weaknesses
  • Refine each stage of the funnel using data analytics

Real-World Example of a Marketing Funnel

As of 2023, Netflix has almost 231 million paid subscribers around the world and is one of the most successful companies in modern history. Its marketing funnel is exceptionally effective, thanks in part to the company’s reputation for excellence.

Here’s Netflix’s four-stage funnel:

  1. Simple, striking branding with an instantly recognizable logo and color scheme — and a simple website that changes according to current trends.
  2. Ad retargeting recaptures the attention of prospects who visited the website but dropped off without making it to the next stage.
  3. A single, large call-to-action button encourages site visitors to try Netflix’s free one-month trial without obligation—there are no other potential actions to distract potential customers.
  4. Unless the prospect actively cancels their subscription, they’ll automatically become a paying customer once the trial ends.

The Importance and Benefits of a Marketing Funnel

Visualizing the customer journey using a variety of different tools is one of the best ways to ensure you never miss an opportunity to convert leads into loyal customers. Other reasons to implement a sales marketing funnel include being able to:

  • Understand the areas of your customer journey that deliver and convert—and locate where prospects drop off
  • Track prospects as they move through the buyer journey and convert to see which marketing efforts bear the most fruit
  • See a birds-eye-view of how prospects behave at each stage of the funnel, and gather data about the characteristics of those who convert and those who don’t
  • Optimize customer experience by personalizing messaging at each stage for different customer segments
  • Measure and quantify the ROI of every marketing activity you engage in

Types of Marketing Funnels

Some operators opt to use a marketing and sales funnel, while others drill down further and break each down funnel into its respective marketing activity.

Email Funnels

Email is one of the channels that practically any business can harness the power of. The steps of an email marketing funnel are:

  • Find a way to gather the email addresses of potential customers. For instance, by putting an e-book or white paper behind a submission form
  • Provide information and education via a nurturing email campaign
  • Use CTAs and promotions to encourage leads to convert

Webinar Funnels

Webinars are effective because they’re a great way to gather contact details and extol the virtue of your brand by adding value to prospects’ lives. A simple webinar funnel has:

  • A registration point to collect names, phone numbers, and email addresses
  • An engaging and informative webinar that delivers on its promises
  • Reminders the day before and on the day of the webinar to maximize attendance
  • An exclusive special offer for attendees to redeem
  • Follow-up communication

Video Funnels

Video content is the most popular form of content online. Depending on your target audience, you might post video content on YouTube, TikTok, or IG. Here’s how video funnels work:

  • Capture attention with simple, on-brand content that appeals to your audience on social media
  • Customize video content according to each stage of the funnel
  • Include strong CTAs and links to bring prospects to your website

Marketing Funnel vs. Sales Funnel

So, what exactly is the difference between the sales and marketing funnels? It’s actually easier than you might think after reading all the conflicting information available online. While a marketing funnel details the interactions prospects have with your brand’s content, the sales funnel outlines how potential customers interact with your company’s people. In other words, they’re visualizations of the same journey through different lenses.

Marketing Strategy Tips Delivered to Your Inbox

Now you’re fully versed in the what, why, and how of sales and marketing funnels, hopefully it’s clear why we think you can benefit from them.

Viewing the customer journey from every perspective helps to ensure you never lose a hot lead to a competitor and are able to pivot and upgrade your marketing efforts. Instead of using guess work to figure out why and where customers drop off, you can make future decisions based on real-world insights into customer behavior at each touchpoint.

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Phil Gray
By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.