The marketing funnel is a hotly debated topic in terms of its ownership by sales or marketing, as well as whether it still holds relevance to the consumer-buying process today.
How The Marketing Funnel Works
This article is meant to explain the concept of a marketing funnel.
It will also delve into the recent alterations and newfound challenges for marketers.
It will also delineate the B2B and the B2C funnel uses, distinguish between sales and marketing ownership, address how flipping the funnel can yield more leads, as well as exploring some non-linear funnel approaches.
But before diving into all that, first thing’s first: let’s clarify what a marketing funnel actually is.
The Marketing Funnel
The marketing funnel is a marketer’s perspective of transforming leads into paying customers.
At its core, the marketing funnel is the idea of casting a broad net to retain as many leads as possible, then to guide and nurture them through the process of natural customer process guiding them through various stages of the funnel through purchasing decisions.
In an ideal world, every marketing funnel would be a cylinder in which every customer who enters it, gets retained in the sales process, and becomes a customer.
Of course, this is not a realistic course of business.
No one ever retains every client they work with, but a marketer’s goal is to always turn as many leads into customers, so the funnel model typically holds a cylindrical shape.
Of course, that is not to say that every funnel is the same, nor is there just one universally agreed-upon version of the funnel. Some funnels have only a few stages, some have numerous.
The funnel ‘stages’ or ‘levels’ may also be classified differently depending on the business and the consumer involved in each one.
The below model indicates a type of combination of all of the collective models, including many common funnel stages, actions, and terms, to make it cross-compatible for a wide array of marketers.
Funnel Stages And Conversions
Let’s work through the funnel one stage at a time in order to more fully explain how the funnel methodology functions:
The uppermost stage of the marketing funnel is awareness.
Marketing campaigns, consumer research, and discovery draw the widest range of prospective buyers to this stage, with thought leadership and trust of products built up through advertising, social media, media mentions, events, trade shows, webinars, online content, viral campaigns, and direct mailings.
The primary goal of this stage is a collection of leads, as the collected information about interested parties is harnessed in order to nurture them further down the funnel.
Once a lead has been established, we move through to the interest stage of the marketing funnel where the potential customer, now aware of the product, begins to learn more about the company, its offerings and looks into any helpful information about both.
This is the point at which brands can develop a relationship with people in their database, introducing positioning.
Marketers can continue to nurture their leads by providing content more tightly targeted around the brands and industry in general distributed through emails, newsletters, etc.
At the consideration stage of the funnel, the interesting leads have transformed into prospective customers.
Marketers can now confidently send them more product information, including offers through automated email campaigns, further drawing the leads in through interesting case studies, targeted content, free trials, etc.
In order to qualify for the next marketing funnel stage, the intent stage, prospective customers must demonstrate a genuine interest in purchasing the brand’s product.
This qualification is achieved through taking in a product demonstration, filling out a survey, or placing the product in an e-commerce platform’s shopping cart.
This stage is the marketer’s best chance to prove to the buyer that the product they selected is the right choice for them.
During the evaluation stage, the buyer makes the final decision about whether they will purchase the brand’s product/service, or not.
Sales and marketing must work closely together to nurture the buyer’s decision and convince the purchasing part that the purchase of a particular product choice is their best option for their needs.
The final stage of the funnel is the one that materializes into a fruitful purchase.
In this stage the customers have decided to buy the product or service and make the purchase, finalizing the process.
Sales take care of the transaction, ensuring a positive experience. This positive experience can then result in recommendations to other potential leads, as their journey through the marketing funnel begins all over again.
B2C and B2B Brands: How Does The Marketing Funnel Differ?
For a better understanding of the differences be the marketing funnels between B2B and B2C brands, consider the following visual aid:
The main differences between the B2B and the B2C funnels are:
● B2C consumers tend to work their way through the funnel on their own, or alongside a few trusted parties (family and friends). B2B consumers typically navigate the funnel with a purchasing group that spans several departments, with an average of 5.4 people involved in the process.
● B2B consumers regularly interact with sales reps when they reach the lower funnel stages, while B2C consumers hardly ever engage in any interaction with a company rep.
Many marketers argue that the funnel model is no longer relevant as the buying process is hardly ever linear anymore.
Leads arrive into the funnel at varying stages. Sometimes consumers already know they want to purchase the product, so they bypass the stages right into the intent stage.
Consumers also might have already researched the product on their own, so they may just jump to the interest stage.
The internet has helped to push technological advances ahead and has contributed to easing access to information.
Customers are doing their own research more frequently and using digital content they find to inform them about the product.
Actually, B2B customers traverse 57% of the funnel on their own before ever iterating with a sales representative according to CEB reports.
McKinsey’s consumer decision (source) progression is an alternative marketing journey model.
This one is circular, and it shows the buying process serving as its own fuel, with highlighted touchpoints or pivots.
Mark Bonchek and Cara France doubt this model however, according to their thesis in the Harvard Law Review arguing that while brands may view the decision making as the center of the funnel journey, their customers do not necessarily do that.
At this time, a universally applicable model does not exist, so since both the marketing funnel and the customers’ decision process still contribute to the process, marketers find both models to be perpetually relevant.
Sales Vs Marketing: Who Owns The Funnel?
So who exactly has ownership of the funnel: marketing or sales?
The debate is quite contentious with sales arguing that consumers are much more self-reliant in terms of research of digital content to inform their purchasing decisions, while marketers feel they engage in the funnel’s nurturing process to get consumers down as the decision-making progresses.
The following diagram illustrates how the ownership for both sides has changed over time.
Some actually believe that both sales and marketing co-own the full-funnel, arguing that sales staff engage in thought-leadership increasingly to drive consumer awareness by outbound outreach.
In such a scenario, both marketing and sales are nurturing leads all the way down from the awareness phase to the purchase.
The Inverted Funnel: Marketing And The Customer Experience
One school of thought that is becoming increasingly common is the idea of flipping the funnel by sales, marketing, experience managers, and customer service.
The flipping of the funnel turns it into a customer experience funnel instead and it lays out the process of turning consumers into brand advocates.
This action, in turn, refuels the funnel from the top by increasing awareness and generating additional leads. Consider this diagram:
Explaining The Customer Experience Funnel
Here is how the customer experience funnel breaks down:
Once a lead turns into a paying customer, the goal becomes to get them to remain a repeat customer, which entails retention efforts and nurturing them to make bigger purchases in the future.
Marketers continue their efforts to promote repeat purchase actions by the consumers after the initial success.
When a customer enjoys the product they purchased, they are likely to purchase again.
The more they purchase, if they stay satisfied, the more they believe in the power of the brand, developing brand loyalty.
At this point, the engagement on behalf of marketers is essential to establish a personal connection to the brand. This can be done in the form of community development, outreach, and engagement.
A customer who is loyal to a brand will likely recommend the brand to others who will begin the process of engaging the brand’s products as well.
The ultimate evolutionary stage of nurturing a customer is to turn them into advocates on behalf of the brand.
This comes in the form of reviewing products, posting about products on social media platforms, and other activities to generate new leads for the funnel.
A brand promoting itself can be powerful but carries nowhere near the power of an external entity speaking positively on its behalf.
This can wield great influence on the brand’s prospects.
Marketers can develop better support systems for their advocates, asking them to participate in case studies, or involving them in consumer-generated content on social media.
I hope you found How The Marketing Funnel Works helpful and valuable. The marketing funnel is a fundamental tool in online marketing.
That said, Clickfunnels is software that can help you setup a funnel with relative ease.
They also offer a FREE 30-day Bootcamp for learning how to best utilize this strategy.
You can try it out here.