What is a B2B sales funnel and why do I need one?
The sales funnel explained.
The sales funnel is your B2B marketing and sales process. It’s how you market and sell your B2B solution.
We did some desk research about sales funnels to see what the rest of the marketing and sales world thinks but gave up after the 27th definition. Not all these definitions agree with the one we’ve given above. But having created and successfully implemented hundreds of them, marketing and sales process, with marketing first and an emphasis on process, marketing and sales process sums it up.
To achieve your business and marketing objectives, and your sales and revenue targets, you’ll need a marketing and sales process. That means understanding your sales funnel.
Why a sales funnel?
The sales funnel is a visualisation of your marketing and sales process and where your potential customers, or target personas, are in that process. That understanding informs the type of messaging and channels you use to move your target personas along the process.
In our blog, why goal translation is key to developing a B2B marketing strategy, we used an example where we needed 2,500 leads to start with for 50 of them to become buying customers. The process of generating 2,500 leads to end up with 50 sales is where the funnel description comes from.
You’re engaging with 2,500 individual decision-makers and key influencers and eventually you need to whittle these down to 50 people who say ‘yes, I want what you offer’, or enter into a more consultative sales process with your sales colleagues.
As well as visualising the transition of 2,500 into 50, it helps you map out what activities you need to do to get people from the top of the funnel to the bottom of the funnel, where they become a customer. ‘People’ is the key word here. Remember, our overarching objective as marketers is to influence how people feel, using a range of strategies, tools and tactics from the marketing toolbox.
The B2B marketing and sales process
Marketing is used at the top of the funnel because it generates and delivers a marketing qualified lead or opportunity. This places a decision-maker with a specific need and budget into the hands of a sales colleague. The sales colleague engages in a consultative sales process with the potential customer to fully understand their needs and scope out the right solution. Ideally, the potential customer then decides to buy the solution that has been created to meet their needs.
But to get to this stage, we need to engage with potential customers, and we start right at the top of the funnel, with marketing.
Sales funnel stages in B2B
Although the 27 sales funnel definitions disagree over the detail, most agree on the various stages in the sales funnel. Though these stages are often given different names, they tend to be split into the following stages:
1. Awareness / engagement / top of funnel / TOFU – prospects
2. Interest / consideration / evaluation / middle of funnel / MOFU – leads
3. Decision / conversion / purchase / bottom of funnel / BOFU - opportunities
Understanding the stages of the funnel informs marketers of the target personas, strategy, messaging, technology platform, channels, media and content required to take a prospect or lead at the top into becoming a paying customer or client at the bottom.
At this stage, we assume you know your proposition and the benefits it delivers and understand who the decision-makers and key influencers (target personas) are.
Top of funnel: awareness and engagement
As the name suggests, the objective here is to make prospects aware that your brand exists. Your messaging at this stage won’t be too specific, as you don’t yet know what your prospects want. It will emphasise your brand elements, so prospects become aware of what you’re about and how you present yourself.
You can generate this awareness using many channels - media relations and events, broadcast advertising, print and digital advertising, search, display, blogging/content and social media all enable you to put a generalised message in front of people. The message should still be highly relevant, but it may not be designed to sell at this stage, just engage.
Let’s say you sell a B2B solution such as an innovative fastening solution for steel pipes in nuclear power stations that’s twice the price but lasts three times as long as current solutions. You might want to create content about the risks and hidden costs of too frequent maintenance intervals.
This is not selling fastening solutions, as your potential customer might not know that’s what they need. What keeps them awake at night is costs and risks associated with maintenance planning – so you’re helping them become ‘problem aware’.
You may attract some prospects who find this of interest but will never be customers. But you should, assuming your choice of channel and media targets the right persona, get your messaging in front of the personas whose pain can be eased by your solution. You can also start making prospects ‘solution aware’ by talking about what can take that pain away and positioning your brand.
Ideally, you should try and capture a prospect’s contact details at this point, for example scanning a visitor’s badge at an event or asking for a name and email to access gated content as part of a marketing automation-driven content marketing campaign or sponsored / paid social media activity. Calls to actions (CTAs), landing pages and forms, frequently asked questions (FAQs) to answer common sales questions and initial ‘objection handling’ would be the sort of content you publish.
By the end of the awareness stage, your prospect has transitioned into a lead with an interest in what you have to offer. This is probably because they have a need, although they could still be ‘tyre kickers’, looking for freebies or doing research for other reasons and just need access to your gated content.
Middle of funnel: interest and consideration
At this stage, your leads know about the challenge or problem they face and that your brand offers a possible solution. If you haven’t already, now is the time to explain how you can help the person overcome their challenge, so they can evaluate, or consider, your solution.
Providing more product and service information and ongoing engagement is the focus of this stage, using a variety of channels depending on your solution and the persona’s preferences and need. For example, ongoing content such as blogs and downloadable resources help to answer questions and explains more about your solution.
You also want to maintain engagement, so events, webinars, surveys and polls, social engagement via platforms such as LinkedIn and FAQs facilitate interaction. Whitepapers and brochures provide in-depth insight for genuinely engaged and interested leads. Depending on your proposition, you could consider promotions and offers or loyalty schemes to maintain and enhance engagement.
Lead scoring using a marketing automation platform and integrated CRM can help you identify the personas that are more engaged. You can then focus your outbound activities on converting these leads.
Bottom of funnel: decision and conversion
This is where marketing’s job comes to an end. At the bottom of the funnel there will be fewer leads, but those leads will be more interested in either taking a decision and purchasing or engaging directly with your brand’s consultative sales process. Your job is to ensure these marketing qualified leads become sales qualified leads, or opportunities with a need and a budget, and are safely handed over to your sales colleagues.
These opportunities are problem and solution aware, with many of their questions answered and objections handled. They are the decision-makers, and they have a defined need and a budget. The messaging, channels and media you will use at this stage include personalised CTAs and tools like email and social media, blogging and content.
A deeper understanding of the sales funnel and what persona behaviours you are encouraging through your marketing activities at each stage enables you to design campaigns that deliver marketing qualified leads, or opportunities, to your sales colleagues.
Our next blog will focus on developing a deeper understanding of persona journeys through the sales funnel. We'll answer the questions you never ask during sales conferences and define the words we use all the time, including prospect, lead, marketing qualified lead, sales qualified lead, and opportunity.
In the meantime, if you need help to design your unique marketing and sales process, get in touch today.