Introduction – What is a marketing funnel?
A marketing funnel is a model of the customer journey which is broken down into segments from awareness through purchase. The segments of the funnel (and specifics around them) may vary depending on what you’re selling and who your target audience is.
Funnels help align sales and marketing teams which is shown to speed revenue growth by 24%. B2B Funnels are unique from B2C funnels because, among other things, there’s generally a longer sales cycle for B2B products and services. B2B funnels also tend to rely on a salesperson to help move the sale along.
Since nearly 70% of a B2B buyer’s journey is now done digitally, we plan to focus on the basic layers of the B2B digital marketing funnel – from digital outbound tactics such as PPC, SEM and inbound tactics such as SEO writing and content marketing which help move buyers through the various segments of the funnel.
The typical B2B funnel
There’s really nothing typical about a B2B sales funnel, particularly since there are now multiple digital touchpoints that people can access prior to making the first contact with a company. In 2012, Forrester Research published a mind-boggling illustration of the “typical” B2B buyer’s journey that looked decidedly un-funnel-like.
Image Source: Forrester
Rather than demonstrating a straight path from awareness to purchase, the Forrester funnel demonstrates how a buyer’s actual decision-making process might look. The main body of the funnel twists and turns, often doubling back on itself or branching off into new paths as different elements along the consideration phase are presented to the buyer.
Don’t worry – we aim to simplify. We’re going to focus on the 3 phases of the buying funnel, plus one more segment—retention. For each segment, we’ll add in tactics that influence buyers, all of which contribute to moving your buyers down the funnel toward purchase (and beyond!)
The B2B buying funnel (take 2)
As you can see, the typical B2B buying funnel doesn’t need to be complicated – at least, at first glance.
We broke the funnel into 4 segments: awareness, consideration, purchase, and retention. Retention is important because the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is somewhere between 70 to 80 percent versus 5 to 20 percent for a new one. In fact, the average B2B company gets about 30% of revenue from existing customers. Having a solid customer retention strategy should be something baked into all your sales and marketing goals.
Now let’s take a look at the above segments and simplify things a bit.
The B2B buying funnel (take 3)
Each segment of the funnel now has some digital marketing tactics associated with it. Each tactic or approach can be leveraged to move your prospects lower down the funnel towards purchase – and beyond, into customer retention.
Awareness (The Top Of the Funnel)
At the highest level of the funnel, you’ll find awareness. At this stage – the very top – prospects are still in the initial discovery phase of their research. They have just begun looking for information, but may not be aware of your specific company or product.
Awareness Tactics: Forrester’s research revealed that B2B buyers review 3 pieces of content about a vendor for every one piece of marketing you publish. Buyers find this information in a variety of ways including email (or other means) shared by their peers, from ads, social media, and search engines. That’s why it’s crucial to include your messaging at every touchpoint possible. Here are some examples of paid and organic tactics that help generate awareness:
- Paid Media – Paid search, paid social, programmatic display, email sponsorship and video ads are some examples of paid tactics that help generate awareness and get people past the top tier of the funnel and to your website where you can turn them into leads.
- Organic Media – Search engine optimization, content marketing, organic social (e.g., profiles on social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook), outreach (including user-generated content that’s shareable and potentially viral), combined with your company website, are a few organic resources that help drive top-of-funnel awareness.
- Peers – Your buyers’ peers are important and should be considered at every stage of the buying funnel, including the very top.
Once buyers become aware of you or your product, they enter the consideration segment of the funnel.
Your sales team will play a big role in getting people further down the funnel once they hit this segment. Inbound marketing strategies that draw customers to your website, great content (e.g., whitepapers) and social media are all very effective during this phase of the buying cycle.
Consideration Tactics: In addition to (and in support of) your sales team, there are several different tactics you can leverage to facilitate the consideration process. Many of them overlap with awareness tactics, and all of them should work together to nurture leads and motivate buyers to become customers. Here are some examples:
- Email outreach – 72% of B2B buyers will share useful content via email, so make sure you have a plan in place to build an internal email list and a sound content strategy so you can push relevant information to your prospects. ]
- Sales – Once a prospect becomes a lead, your sales team is your best resource for pushing them further along the funnel and turning them into a customer. In fact, purchases from sales-nurtured leads are almost 50% larger than non-nurtured leads proving that a strong sales team can significantly impact your bottom line.
- Digital Events – Events such as industry conferences have long been a staple of B2B marketing. Events have gone digital in the form of webinars, live streams, and online demos. For example, Google makes use of this strategy frequently by posting live stream footage from conferences and events which users can pre-register for or access after the fact on YouTube. Digital events can be repackaged as content and promoted using email, social media, and search.
Screenshot of a Google Live Stream Posted on YouTube
Many of the tactics employed during the awareness and consideration phases of the buying cycle come together during the purchase phase. But there are some key obstacles you’ll need to overcome first. These include a poorly designed website, slow response time to prospect requests, and not enough available information for a prospect to make a well-educated decision.
Understanding these obstacles and educating your sales team about them will go a long way towards helping you push people through the final leg of the funnel. Here’s a breakdown of some sales tactics that can be used to reel your prospects in.
- Sales – Above all, your sales team plays the most crucial role in converting prospects to customers. They’ll need to be persistent and prepared. In B2B sales, over 60% of prospects are lost because of perceived indifference or apathy. Additionally, today’s sales process takes 22% longer than it did five years ago,
- Company Website – Think of your website as an extension of your sales force. Your website should be extremely relevant to your target consumer. If you have multiple products and consumer types, then you should create content that speaks to all of them. Over 70% of B2B consumers get frustrated when website content doesn’t match their interest (e.g., they click on an ad they’re interested in and the content doesn’t match).
- Other influencers – We’ve listed a few other tactics in the Purchase segment including events, web, social media and peers – but this list is potentially much larger. Nearly all B2B buyers say that online content has a moderate to major effect on their ultimate decision to buy, so make every piece of content you create count.
Customer retention is an oft-overlooked opportunity as it relates to the total marketing funnel. The long sales cycle and high acquisition costs of most B2B campaigns make retention an essential strategy for long-term growth and profitability. We’ve added one tactic to this segment of the funnel – Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
- CRM – Customer retention begins at the top of the funnel by responding to prospects quickly and making sure you’re delivering relevant information based on their interests. After a sale is made, CRM can manifest in a variety of ways including via the use of CRM tools like Salesforce which help streamline customer information, speed up response time to requests and help your sales team make data-driven decisions that can assist with cross-selling and upselling.
Remember, there’s more than one way to create a funnel! Our aim was to demonstrate how taking a funnel-based approach to reaching B2B buyers can help make your total marketing strategy more cohesive and effective.
We encourage every business to approach its own funnel in a unique and creative way that makes sense within the larger picture of your business strategy and goals.