Introduction

Let’s talk about our own buying behavior first. Had you started with a price comparison of two or more possible choices? It’s safe to say that a lot of buyers (you and I included) began the cycle long before we get to the final step — we ‘re always looking, talking to friends and colleagues, reading feedback, and one or two blog posts (or five or 10).

Leads and traffic don’t just come to our content to purchase something — they come to understand, to inform themselves, to educate themselves. For this purpose having a good marketing funnel is essential for your company.

A good marketing funnel is the shortest route to the best RoI for your content. And what marketer doesn’t want a great bang for their marketing bucks!

Before we delve deep into the topic, let’s first understand the basics. Shall we?

What is a B2B marketing funnel?

A marketing funnel is a framework that brings new leads through various types of relevant and targeted content. Such leads are then transformed into potential customers by “funneling” them gradually through even more content forms.

So in its essence, a B2B marketing funnel is a consumer experience model divided into segments from awareness to the final purchase. The funnel segments and their specifics(which we will study in this post) can vary depending on what you sell and who your target market is.

A B2B marketing funnel is fundamentally different from B2C funnels. B2C marketing in most of the cases is brand driven that is aimed at a large target audience. The purchase is emotionally driven, unlike the B2B marketing which relies on careful rational decisions made by the business leaders. And they have to, we are talking about hundreds and thousands of $$ at stake here. Not just that, one misstep could be disastrous for the company.

What is a customer journey map? Is it different from a marketing funnel?

A customer journey map and a marketing funnel are 2 sides of the same coin. Have a look at this image below. This is a typical B2B customer journey map (it looks more like a maze to me). There are so many digital touchpoints available nowadays and your customers and prospects will be quite possibly getting exposed by all of those touchpoints.

Let’s consider this scenario: a reader comes across an interesting thought-provoking guest post by one of your business leaders on a leading news publication. The next month he passes by your company’s booth in a trade show. It strikes him that he read that content piece by this company. He then looks it up on Google and then lands on the company’s Linkedin page and further decides to follow the page. In the coming weeks, looking at an interesting post by the company in his Linkedin feed makes him click on it and he finally decides to subscribe to the company newsletter. Over time, he gets impressed by the quality of research and content the company creates. This person would eventually consider the company for a substantial project.

Instead of displaying a straight path to purchase, we see how a buyer’s actual decision-making process could look. It twists and turns, branching off into new directions as various elements are introduced to the buyer during the consideration phase.

The customer journey is basically a map of the route that a customer takes from the first time they come across your brand to the time they make a purchase. Unlike the more static, linear marketing funnel, the consumer path can be meandering and maze like (and typically is). The longer the selling period, the more likely it would be to move the average customer.

Customer journey maps and the marketing funnel are related tools of the same framework and can be used in complementary ways.

Why do you build a marketing funnel?

Content marketing produces 3x more leads per dollar spent when compared to paid search. The best type of SEO you can do is content marketing (especially creating blog content for your website).

Content marketing leads to more indexed websites, more backlinks and more opportunities for spreading the word about your brand. It is like leaving hundreds of little breadcrumbs throughout the internet to direct you to potential customers.

A marketing funnel as we saw earlier is a mechanism of offering the right answers at every stage of the consumer journey. It is designed on purpose to suit the overall business model. The more it keeps track of consumer data and the more structured it is, the more it will be effective in driving outcomes.

It keeps track of outcomes, automates the process and lowers the amount of time you have to spend in the process yourself. A marketing funnel helps you know exactly where every single person in your database is at every point in time of the customer’s journey. All you need to do now is tailor your marketing messages accordingly, craft convincing copying and you’ll get the results you ‘re getting.

What are the stages of a marketing funnel?

Let’s dive right into all the stages that a marketing funnel comprises of.

We believe a modern effective B2B marketing funnel doesn’t actually look like a funnel anymore. It’s starting to look more like the image below. Meaning, a prospect can move either way across this funnel 2.0 and not necessarily from top to bottom.

Awareness

This stage is all about building brand awareness and site traffic. Sometimes also referred to as the top of the funnel(ToFU).

At this point, your prospects are still in their research’s initial discovery process. They’ve just started seeking information but might not be aware of your particular company or product.

Forrester’s research found that for every single piece of marketing you post, B2B buyers review 3 pieces of content about a vendor. Buyers find this knowledge primarily from advertising, social media, search engines and email sent by their colleagues. Which is why placement of your message at any possible touchpoint is essential.

Consideration

Consideration phase also referred to as Middle of the funnel or MoFU is about converting site visitors into leads for sales. When you’ve been introduced to people and earned some degree of value, it’s time to turn them into genuine leads.

The sales department plays a major part in sending customers down the pipeline until they reach this stage. Inbound marketing strategies attracting customers to your website, great content and social media are all very effective during this phase.

Close/Conversion

After you’ve nurtured your leads, it’s time to turn them into real customers which is what you do in this Bottom of the funnel or conversion phase.

During this closing phase, many of the strategies utilized during the awareness and consideration phases of the buying cycle come together. Yet there are certain challenges that you will need to address first. These include a poorly designed site, slow response time to requests for prospects and insufficient information available for a prospect to make an intelligent choice.

Retain/Loyalty

Typically this stage is not something that gets featured in a B2B marketing funnel. But this is a critical one. Retaining a customer is as important as acquiring one, if not more. It’s far easier to upsell or cross-sell an existing customer than starting from scratch and putting in all your efforts, resources and money.

Delight/Advocacy

Advocacy happens when customers become more than customers: they become fans. Not only did they buy from you before, they probably bought again or continue to pay for your services. They love you now. They tell their mates about you and compliment you on social media.

Bringing subscribers to this marketing funnel level is highly important.

Why?

Because referral marketing is the best marketing. If your buddy tells you about an amazing product, you ‘re much more likely to buy the product because you trust your buddy.

What kind of content to create for each of those stages?

The most important section of the post.

Awareness Stage Content

Paid search, programmatic display ads, social, email promotion and video advertisement are some examples of paid strategies that help to raise visibility and bring people through the funnel and to your website where you can turn them into leads.

SEO, content marketing, social engagement on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, PR outreach combined with user-generated content are some organic ways that help drive awareness.

Let’s assume our hypothetical B2B company has launched a new Sales CRM tool for a specific industry. Let’s get down to it.

Stakeholders or searchers at this stage we’d like to target:

CEOs, CXOs, Sales leaders, VPs and Directors of Sales

Top Influences:

Peers & colleagues, service providers, vendors, industry analysts, industry events, business media etc

Top Questions At This Stage:

What are the best CRM software in the market?

What are the best CRM for our industry?

Content That Can Answer The Questions

Top CRM Software

Best CRM Software CRM for [industry]

Popular CRM for [industry] Why do you need a CRM?

What is a CRM, how is it useful?

Content Formats:

Research, Blog posts, Landing pages, Videos, Podcasts

Consideration Stage Content

Besides the help from your sales team, you can use many different strategies to facilitate the consideration stage. Many of them overlap with awareness strategies, so they will work together to generate leads and motivate people to become paying customers.

Email — Just about all of the B2B customers exchange information by email, so make sure you have a process in place to create an email list and strong content strategy so that you can send them relevant information.

When a prospect turns into a lead, it’s the job of the sales team to move them down the funnel to make them a customer. The chances of closing a sales-nurtured lead are approximately 50 percent higher than non-nurtured leads, showing that a good sales department will greatly affect the outcome.

Events like tradeshows, conferences etc have long been a tradition for B2B marketing. Events have now taken the internet route giving way to live streaming, webinars and online demonstrations. Google regularly employs this technique by uploading live stream from conferences that users can pre-register or view after the event on YouTube. Online events may be repurposed and marketed using email, social media, and google.

Continuing the same hypothetical B2B company we created earlier, let's build our user personas and decide on the content types:

Stakeholders or searchers:

Sales leaders, Sales Managers

Top Influences:

Service providers, Peers & colleagues, Vendors, Review sites

Top Questions At This Stage:

What results can we get from Product X?

How will product X help me?

What results can we get from Product X?

How does Product X compare to the rest of the competitors?

Content That Can Answer The Questions

Reviews of Product X

Alternatives to Product Y

Product X clients?

How to [outcome] using Product X?

Content Formats: Industry reports, blog posts, influencer posts, research, industry review sites, landing pages

Conversion Stage Content

Sales — The sales department plays a critical role in transforming opportunities into customers. They must be proactive and organized. In B2B sales, over 60% of opportunities are lost due to perceived indifference. Additionally, today ‘s selling cycle takes 22% longer than five years ago.

Official site — Think of the website as your sales force extension. Your site should be meaningful to your target customer. If you have numerous product offerings and customer types, you can create content that appeals to all. More than 70% of B2B users are disappointed when website content doesn’t suit their interests. For instance, they click on an ad they’re interested in and content doesn’t fit, it will definitely lead to a lost customer.

Stakeholders or searchers

Sales leaders, sales managers

Top Influences:

Vendor’s clients, vendor’s sales team, Peers & colleagues

Top Questions At This Stage:

Where can you buy Product X?

How does Product X work?

How much does it cost for Product X?

How do you setup Product X?

Content That Can Answer The Questions

Case studies for Product X

Pricing for Product X

Demo for Product X

How to order Product X

Where to buy Product X

Content Formats:

Sales product pages, Case studies, YouTube videos, landing pages

Loyalty Stage Content

In the loyalty stage, consumers establish a brand identity and start engaging with it. This is where engagement is critical. Through community interaction and outreach, B2B marketers can cultivate this personal connection to a brand. When a consumer is committed to a company, business references are more likely to be given.

The key to success in this stage is to ensure that your customers take full advantage of their new purchase.

Stakeholders or searchers:

Sales team

Top Influences:

Vendor sales team, vendor’s customer success team, peers and colleagues, business media, social media

Top Questions At This Stage:

What’s the best way to use Product X?

How do you use product X?

How to [outcome] using Product X?

Content That Can Answer The Questions

How [Brand ABC] achieved xxx using Product X?

5 underutilized features in Product X?

How to get started with Product X?

Content Formats:

Email marketing, white papers, blog posts, social media posts, videos, podcasts

Advocacy Stage Content

Making your customers advocates of your brand is the perfect progression of the customer journey. Evangelism by writing product reviews, sharing on social media will help generate more new leads. A non-branded external recommendation strongly influences prospects. Marketers should work to build their audiences to better help advocates, invite them to participate in case studies, or engage them around user-generated social media content.

Stakeholders or searchers: Sales team

Top Influences:

Email marketing, vendor sales team, vendor’s customer success team, business media, social media

Top Questions At This Stage:

How do we increase sales?

How can we win more deals?

How can I be a better salesperson?

Should we keep using Product X?

How can I reach my quota fast?

Content That Can Answer The Questions

How the best sales team always wins?

Common mistakes your sales team might be committing

10 awesome podcasts for sales teams

Find the subject lines that help you close deals

How to improve your reply rates?

Content Formats:

Community engagement, Youtube videos, email marketing, social media posts, podcasts, white papers

Conclusion

Ultimately it all boils down to identifying the audiences and their pain points in each stage of the funnel they are in. And how do you achieve that? By talking to them, by getting to know them really well. Ask them questions. Conduct interviews, surveys. Do whatever it takes to fill in the details of your target customers.

Ask these fundamental questions and genuinely take efforts to get the answers:

What issues they say they are facing that your business can address?
What inquiries do they have that your business can answer?
How can you make their lives simpler every day?