The Marketing Sales Funnel: What Is It, How It Works, and Why You Need It
February 8, 2019 by Cliff Fontenot
Generating interest in your business, then turning that interest into paying customers is far more challenging today then it’s ever been.
In our current business climate, consumers are savvy, and the choices of where to spend their dollars are practically endless. Pick any business segment, and the landscape will be the same – crowded, hypercompetitive.
Is there a way for you to corral these masses?
To garner interest in what your company is selling and not just generate traffic, but produce the right leads?
And is it possible to sharpen this sales channel – leaving you more time to focus on the needs of current clients instead of spending all of your time chasing unqualified traffic?
The answer is yes – to all of the above. There is a tool to jump-start your lead generation and transform would-be clients into actual, paying customers.
That tool is called a marketing and sales funnel.
What is a Marketing and Sales Funnel?
Before we get into the details on the future of your growing your customer base, lets first make a note about terminology.
We know, boring, but it’s necessary to ensure we are all on the same page.
Yes, we realize that marketing and sales are two different things, and in the past, most companies had two separate departments and two separate teams working on two separate sets of goals.
In more recent times, however, those lines have blurred considerably. Here is an easy way to view this convergence of marketing and sales:
- Marketing or the promotion of your business to generate potential clients –
links directly with
- Sales or the actual transaction between those targets and your company –
often through the process of
- Conversion where the individual you are marketing to decides to become your customer and buys your product or service.
For this article, we’ll utilize marketing going forward. But understand that in almost all instances the terms are interchangeable unless a business has a distinct purpose for separating the two.
See, not so bad. So let’s get back at – the marketing funnel, what is it?
Well, it’s just that – a funnel.
The top of your marketing funnel, much like those found in a kitchen, is wide open, casting a broad net to bring in a large volume of would-be customers.
From there, the funnel narrows.
You weed out those that have little to no desire in your product or service and instead focus your efforts on those that have shown interest in what you have to offer. The funnel continues to taper to the point where the final step is an actual conversion or sale.
There are a ton of variations on the marketing funnel, often attributable to the differences in the way various industries market to and convert their consumers. However, almost every pipeline follows the same basic tenets:
This is where your advertising or marketing campaigns drive traffic and lead into the top of your funnel. Singular in its goal, the objective is to draw in anyone who might possess a need or want to buy what you sell.
Moving down the funnel, the next step is generating interest, where you provide more information about your company and your product to the target client. Sometimes referred to as lead nurturing, it’s at this point where you start building a relationship with the would-be client and qualifying their real level of intent.
Evaluation / Consideration
At this point in the marketing pipeline is where you’ll see a significant variance from funnel to funnel. Due mainly to different evaluation periods in different segments, this phase can be a quick action, rapidly narrowing the funnel towards a sale, or a more drawn out and time-consuming endeavor.
No matter the specific form it takes, evaluation is the second step in the lead nurturing phase of your funnel.
Conversion and Sale
The end and ultimate goal of your marketing funnel – the purchase of your product or service. As with evaluation, your conversion approach may differ from that of others. Regardless, this where your relationship building efforts come to fruition, and you convince the target to commit to a purchase.
As we noted, the marketing pipeline will vary, and some funnels will include several more layers, including those that specifically define multiple steps within the sales process.
The above outline, however, provides a solid foundation from which to start building your marketing funnel. As you work to expand from that baseline, let’s review a few vital points that will help make yours much more dynamic.
Keys to a Successful Marketing Funnel
Beyond the broad strokes of a marketing funnel, what are the critical points to ensure the prospect pipeline you employ is a success?
Four primary factors will help you build an efficient and productive marketing funnel that will not only help you generate new clients but create a repeatable approach to your marketing.
Target the Right Client
A hard truth of marketing funnels is that many companies will fail at their first few attempts in setting them up.
Because the optimistic businessperson in all of us believe that everyone is a potential customer. While rose-colored glasses are fun to wear, the reality of that belief is much different. To create a truly effective funnel, your marketing and advertising need to reflect the realities of consumerism.
Build your campaigns around appealing to individuals who stand to benefit most from what you have to offer.
Create content with images and words that will draw in those most likely to spend their money on your product.
Develop a compelling message for those that may not yet know they need your service, but whose demographics and interests closely align with others you’ve done business with.
What these efforts achieve is a group of pre-screened, highly interested targets. After all, would you instead focus attention on 1000 passive leads or 500 motivated leads who are ready to learn more?
If you’re curious about a great place to start with a targeted advertising campaign, we suggest harnessing the power of Facebook’s ad platform. You can use their wealth of data to target whom you consider your ideal client.
Effectively, with Facebook ads, you can qualify your leads before ever actually qualifying your leads.
Quality Over Quantity
Speaking of qualifying, when you move from creating awareness to deepening interest, your approach naturally becomes more focused.
Now is the time to qualify those 500 motivated leads and separate the real buyers from those that remain on the fence. Although qualifying takes many forms, it most often involves offering some incentive to draw the potential client further into your funnel.
From an ecommerce standpoint, this might involve a free download or online video. An offline approach might require free swag or a take-home demo to draw in physical visits to a store or trade show booth.
In either approach, you aim to develop a relationship and invite the prospect to explore your offerings. Those that take you up on it are whom you’ll want to continue nurturing further down your funnel.
It’s a People Business
Ah yes, we love a good cliche. When you stop and think about though, this particular platitude is very much a fact. No matter what you sell or what industry you sell in, people are who make the decisions of whether or not to buy from you.
For this reason, when you get to the heart of the funnel that is evaluation and intent you should customize the approach to fit your company, your industry, and the needs of your would-be clients.
Do not hesitate to further educate those still showing interest and don’t shy away from laying the groundwork for an eventual sale.
These efforts could include personalizing your interactions, providing content that is more hands-on or depending on how the first two phases of your funnel are set up, reaching out to directly engage the target, answering questions or providing one on one demos.
Certainly, at this point, you want to convert every possible lead. It’s also an excellent opportunity to further qualify where those leads are at – from whose ready to purchase to individuals that require more time and in turn more attention before committing.
From Promising Prospect to Paying Customer
Let’s take account of where we are to this point and look at our marketing funnel checklist:
Identify and appeal to high-value leads – check.
Qualify those high-value leads to determine the most promising prospects – check.
Nurture the relationship with those promising prospects to convince them why they should do business with your brand – check.
Now, all of those prior efforts of your marketing funnel come to fruition with the sale.
Much in the same manner you would customize evaluation, design your conversion and sale approach in a way that best suits the goals of your organization. It might even make sense to blend the two phases so that your last act of lead nurturing transitions seamlessly into your sales pitch.
The critical factor here is don’t be afraid to ask.
Sure, some prospects that make it this far may still carry some doubts, and you’ll need to dedicate additional time to them. The majority though are primed and ready to buy. So don’t let them off the hook with a tepid appeal.
Your business is unlike any other business, and yet if your industry is like most others, yours is a crowded marketplace where standing out is a challenge.
That’s why your efforts in building awareness will genuinely benefit from the marketing and sales funnel.
Advertising campaigns that reach those most likely to do business with you.
A qualifying apparatus that provides you with motivated leads with a desire to know more.
Direct and meaningful engagement that not only creates a prospect but produces a fan.
And, of course, a pool of buyers ready to take the next step, who are simply waiting for you to ask.
Cliff Fontenot has been in the Search Engine Optimization and Marketing industry for over 8 years.
Starting with his own personal natural health site almost a decade ago, he was at first largely self-taught. Before meeting his SEO “Batman” as it were, a veteran from the UK taught him the ways of the Google search engine force (look, two movies references in one sentence). Around that time, Cliff also began to heavily use PosiRank for his own sites and projects. Read More