Marketing Sales Funnel Explained: What You Need to Know

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Hands around a sales funnel with people going into it

There are so many acronyms and jargon being thrown around in business. As marketers, we are especially guilty of this.

And when you start talking about the stages behind the glorious customer journey that we call the marketing sales funnel, it’s understandable for confusion and panic to set in. No worries, though. You’re not going stark-raving mad. 

Yes. We know. Some of the words in the sales funnel lead generation process seem like they belong on a restaurant menu and not necessarily as part of your business strategy. But they need to be. 

The marketing sales funnel is critical to making your inbound marketing strategies work, so settle in for a bit while we break things down for you. 

What is a Marketing Sales Funnel?

Think back to your college days. You’ve probably seen a funnel or two. If you can remember, try and picture what that looked like. 

Or if that time of your life was a little blurry, here you go:

As you can see, the funnel starts super wide at the top and tapers down at the bottom. 

Now think about how you capture leads, whether it’s on a website or in a brick-and-mortar establishment. You may start with quite a few interested parties, but as they go through the customer journey – through which you will be nurturing your prospective customer –  some may decide your product isn’t for them. 

OR! The lead may decide that you have exactly what they need and they want to know more and more about what you’re selling.

Certain strategies are deployed at each stage of the customer journey to help attract and nurture prospective clients. These stages are broken into three groups —the top, middle and bottom of the funnel. 

The types of content and information will change as your prospect goes through the stages. 

Shall we explore? 

Top of the Funnel (ToFu)

At the top of the funnel stage, or ToFu if you’re short on time, a significant number of leads are looking for information or ways to solve a problem. They are curious about whether you are the right company to solve it for them. 

This is the “Discovery Stage” so a purchase isn’t likely quite yet. But, this potential client has a problem your business may be able to solve and they are on a research mission to find out if you’re just the company to do it for them. The ToFu stage will have the most leads. 

Now, it’s always exciting when you get a lead, but this isn’t a proposal for marriage. No long-term commitment has been established. Nobody has put a ring on it.

Relax. 

This is not the time to bombard potential clients with sales messages, but rather to gently ease into an informative relationship. At this stage, you just want to let them know about your company, your services and share some expertise.

Content: Top of the Funnel

These content pieces should be curated and optimized to demonstrate how you can solve a potential clients problem (but don’t give them the total solution. Then what would they need you for?)  

So provide information about your company, the services you offer, and what you can do for your lead. The content should be friendly and helpful. 

To help keep a lead’s interest, and hopefully move them on down to the middle of the sales funnel, offer optimized content pieces.

Examples of content you might find at the Top of the Sales Funnel includes: 

  • Informative Blog Posts
  • Webinars
  • Emails
  • Texts
  • Videos
  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Social Media Ads and Posts
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Influencers

This is also a good time to qualify leads that will actually be a good fit for your company so that nobody is wasting anyone’s time…. like that one person you dated for six months only to find out they liked your dog more than you and that was really the only reason they were just sticking around. 

Bye. 

Qualifying leads lets you focus on the folks who have the highest potential to turn into customers.

Middle of the Funnel (MoFu)

So you’ve managed to keep the interest of your prospective client. Your helpful wooing methods at the top of the marketing funnel have piqued their interest. They want to know more about what you can do for them.

This is the consideration stage. 

Only the qualified leads make the move from ToFu to MoFu, so you might see a decent amount of leads drop out at the top of the funnel. It’s also a good time to evaluate what you can do to keep leads engaged and determine what you can do to improve your ToFu approach for future leads. 

You haven’t sealed the deal quite yet. Leads in the middle of the funnel are still researching all the possible ways to solve their problem. They are getting closer to making a purchase. So now’s a good time to work on building their trust rather than moving in for the sale. Be patient. Continue to inform and engage them. 

Content: Middle of the Funnel

So at the top of the sales funnel, you’ve spent time getting your leads in the door. Now’s the time to further educate them.

It’s like when someone goes from window shopping to actually walking into a store. Their curiosity about what you can do for them has grown and they want to know more. 

Some content you’ll see at the MoFu stage of the sales funnel might include:

  • Fact Sheets
  • Demo Videos
  • White Papers
  • eBooks
  • Webinars
  • Service/product pages

Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu)

Get excited (but stay calm). The light at the end of the funnel is getting closer. Your lead has done some substantial research and they’ve been with you through a large part of the customer journey. 

At this point, your lead is highly qualified. They have defined their solution and have moved from the middle to the bottom of the sales funnel (BoFu TIME!). 

This is the conversion stage. 

They have probably vetted several vendors at this point and have enough information about your business (and your competitors). Their arrival to this stage is the result of extensive research. They are highly motivated and should be just about ready to buy from you.

But even in the BoFu stage, it’s still not time to ambush your prospect with hard sales.

A consultative approach would do wonders to help you seal the deal.

Content: Bottom of the Funnel

Good bottom of the funnel content ideas include the following:

  • Vendor comparisons — how does the competition fair against you?
  • Live demos of the product in use
  • Free or reduced-price trials/courses
  • Consultation
  • Brochures
  • Success Stories/Testimonials/Case Studies from real customers
  • User generated content – reviews, social media posts, etc. 

Your goal at this stage is to convert your lead into a customer. Show them why you are better than the competition and solidify your relationship by giving them the confidence they need to sign on the dotted line. 

Since the audience you are working with at this stage of the funnel has narrowed significantly, you can be specific with the leads about why your product or service is the best fit for their needs. Get persuasive. Create unique messaging. Be direct. 

Leveraging the Sales Funnel Process 

The sales funnel concept is vital to the success of your inbound marketing strategies. 

Understanding how to engage with your prospect at each stage of the journey, and having the right content in place to make it happen, will increase your chances of turning leads into loyal, lifelong customers.

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