May 18, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Marketing professionals are tasked with introducing people to a brand and guiding them toward buying the company’s product or service. Each time they convert a curious browser into a paying customer, they’ve achieved their goal. One of the tools marketing teams use to understand why some leads are successful and others aren’t is a marketing funnel. If you want insight into what makes your target audience tick, you should create a marketing funnel. You can use this tool to create more effective marketing strategies based on your customers’ behaviors and, as a result, increase sales.
A marketing funnel, sometimes called a purchase, sales, or conversion funnel, is a visual tool that helps you understand the path your ideal customer takes on their way to purchasing your product. It illustrates what’s known as “the customer journey,” from awareness to conversion.
Most marketing funnels are shaped, as the name implies, like a funnel, narrowing with each stage of the customer’s journey. You’ll start with a broad audience, comprising everyone who has discovered your brand. A percentage of your audience engages with your brand to learn more and decide if they like your product. A narrower percentage of that group decides to buy. The more people that learn about your brand or visit your website, the wider your funnel.
Image via Flickr by Paula Piccard
Most marketing funnels include three to five stages of the buyer journey. By visualizing the journey, marketing teams can understand what content they need to create and which stage they need to point it toward. The desired result, of course, is to increase the number of people who convert from visitors to customers.
Any business that sells a product or a service can benefit from incorporating funnels into their marketing strategy. Marketing funnels can streamline any campaign and give any type of organization the opportunity to increase its sales. If you want to grow your brand and business, build a marketing funnel.
You can create a marketing funnel for nearly any product or project that has a clear goal. The end result doesn’t necessarily have to be a sale. For example, if you want to track and increase webinar sign-ups on your website, you can create a funnel for it that might look something like:
Visit homepage —> Navigate to webinar sign-up page —> View webinar sign-up form —> Submit sign-up form —> Attend webinar.
Once you determine your team’s goals, you can create a marketing funnel that fits. Some of the various types of funnels you can use are:
All of these funnels do the same thing: lead your target customer to perform a desired action.
Marketing funnels are particularly useful when you’re trying to grow your brand awareness or scale your business. If you have products that have become stagnant or services that are losing subscribers, create a marketing funnel that reengages your audience and gets them excited. Marketing funnels can help you identify areas where you’re losing leads and make changes to your content to get your audience to the stage of the customer journey that fits your needs.
Marketing funnels provide you with crucial information about your target audience’s behavior when making buying decisions. If you know the steps your customers typically take before making a purchase, you can create more effective marketing campaigns that encourage them to take that next step based on their unique needs and desires.
Marketing funnels also allow you to identify what types of content you’re lacking and where your marketing strategies need improvement. With this information, you can focus your team’s time, money, and energy on creating content that will result in conversions rather than simply guessing at what might work.
By analyzing your marketing funnel and the data within, you can pinpoint at what stage you typically lose potential customers. You can target that “leaky” part of the funnel with engaging marketing content that keeps each customer moving along their journey.
If you use a marketing funnel effectively, you have the potential to grow your brand, build your customer base, and produce more valuable content. Ideally, you’ll end up with a more efficient marketing strategy and increased profits. Marketing funnels follow a common series of stages in the customer journey, and it’s important to know what these stages are if you want to create a marketing funnel that will help you meet your goals.
Depending on your goal, you might not need to include all five stages in your funnel. Here’s an example of a four-stage marketing funnel for an online retailer:
While the buyer might take several other steps between each stage, these four are the only ones that lead to a conversion and, therefore, they’re the ones you need to ensure are a part of your marketing funnel. Each stage is equally important to the customer’s journey, so make sure you invest comparable time and effort into creating all stages.
To build a marketing funnel, you need to first do some research to gather information about your audience and their behaviors. You want to address the following questions for each stage:
Let’s look at how you can create a strong and effective marketing funnel, stage by stage:
While prospective customers can enter your marketing funnel at any stage, most start with awareness. They recognize they have a need to meet or a problem to solve, and you want them to realize your company has the solution. At this stage, your goal is simply to create content that attracts lots of people to your funnel. Focus on marketing methods that drive traffic to your website or establish your brand as an expert or a thought leader in the industry.
Once customers enter the funnel, they have just discovered your brand and don’t know much, if anything, about it.
Customers in the interest stage are not ready to take action or make a purchase because they don’t yet know what you can offer them. Your responsibility at this stage of their journey is to start building a relationship with the buyer, so you can earn their trust. Provide them with materials that are educational rather than promotional. Target their unique pain points — specific problems or frustrations they’re experiencing — to show you understand.
Prove to potential customers your brand or product’s value by offering them free informational content such as blog posts, eBooks, and webinars. A fitness brand selling virtual workout subscriptions, for example, demonstrates its value by offering a free one-week trial of its program. Individuals who sign up receive a PDF guide with workout tips and photos of proper form during common exercises.
Other examples of how you might target customers during the interest stage include:
Remember that your customers are looking for content related to their perceived need or problem. Webinars and blog posts, for instance, should appeal to their pain points. If you’re marketing the fitness subscription, write and share a blog post titled “10 Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle Can Shorten Your Life Span.”
To establish your brand as an industry expert, create useful content you know will appeal to your audience. Do keyword research to learn what topics they search for frequently, and focus your efforts on those.
At this stage, most customers have identified that they need a product or service like yours. Now, your job is to convince them that your offering is the best choice. Create content that shows why your product is superior to your competitors’ and perfect for your prospective customer. Demonstrate its benefits to the buyer using marketing methods such as:
For example, a food delivery service can send interested individuals promo codes for a discount on their first month’s meals if they sign up within a certain period. This tactic creates a sense of urgency that can push the customer to take action.
You know customers are in the conversion stage when they purchase your product. They identified their problem, researched their options, determined your product is the best, and they’ve hit the buy button. Your task at this stage of the marketing funnel is to confirm the customer has made the right decision. Develop content that makes them feel confident in their purchase, such as:
If you target the buyer with a case study, send them one that relates to their industry, region, or other aspect of their customer profile. For example, if you sell industrial fans to large manufacturers, showcase a company that uses your fans in its warehouse and employee productivity increased by 30%. If you sell a residential version of your fan, share a case study about a homeowner whose utility bills decreased after the fan’s installation.
If a customer gets all the way to the conversion stage, and then abandons their journey — they placed your product in their online cart but didn’t purchase — do some investigating to find out why. Track abandonment rates, set up automated emails reminding individuals they have items waiting in their cart, or send inquiry emails to determine the reason the customer didn’t make a purchase. You might discover a pattern among potential leads that you can take steps to correct.
Don’t forget about leads after they’ve become paying customers. You need to develop a strategy for customer loyalty and retention. You’ve spent the resources to acquire the customer and nurture them through their journey — you don’t want to let that go to waste. Create content that encourages brand loyalty, such as:
Customers who feel like they get a personalized experience and useful resources with your brand are more likely to buy from you again. They might also leave positive customer reviews and endorse your products to other potential leads.
Advocacy is a valuable stage of the marketing funnel that customers enter when they transition from being more than repeat customers; they become fans of and ambassadors for your brand. Leverage their referral marketing to grow your company and spread the word about your products. Target your biggest fans with content such as:
This is the segment of your audience you want providing you with reviews and feedback. By engaging with them through the methods above, you can find ways to improve and encourage them to refer your brand to others.
Many marketing teams break their funnel content down into three categories, depending on what part of the funnel they’re targeting. This allows them to quickly and effectively select the right content for every stage of the customer journey. Take a look at the categories and types of content that belong in each section:
At the top of the funnel is the awareness phase. The purpose of TOFU content is to create brand awareness, gain leads, and encourage customer engagement from people who are just discovering your products and services. This content should address the customer’s needs or problems and pique their interest. Make them want to know more. Don’t pressure them to buy something at this stage, or you’ll likely turn them off on your brand. Examples of TOFU content include:
This content is interesting, easy to digest, and helps establish your brand as a thought leader in its sector.
The consideration phase takes up the middle of the marketing funnel. Here, you want to present a product or service that can address the customer’s pain point without pushing or promoting it too heavily. Provide content that educates the customer about your brand and offerings and guides them toward making the right buying decision. Examples of MOFU content include:
You want to come across as a friendly, knowledgeable market leader who can help solve a problem with your product or service.
The bottom of the funnel represents the decision or conversion stage. BOFU content should help convince the customer to buy the product or confirm their decision. Offer content that shows how your product can add value to their life or business. At this point in the funnel, your content should be more advisory than emotional. Examples of BOFU content include:
Here’s where you can take more of a consultative approach with your content. You’ve convinced the customer to buy, and now you want to validate their purchase so they feel good about their decision and, ideally, return to buy again.
A useful way to differentiate each of these content pools is to remember that TOFU identifies the customer’s problem, MOFU offers a solution to the problem, and BOFU explains why your product or service is the best solution.
Create a list of all your marketing content and strategies, and determine where in the funnel each part belongs. Note that some might fit into more than one segment. Then identify any holes where you need to create new content. Make sure that you release new and existing content over time so you don’t flood your customers with it all at once. Fresh content needs to constantly be coming down the pipeline.
One of the best ways to understand how marketing funnels work is to see them in action. Every company’s needs are different depending on their industry, size, and audience. However, you can use the following examples of viable marketing funnels to guide you in developing yours:
A small software company has built a marketing funnel to convert more leads into sales using less manpower because they have a small sales team. They use eye-catching ads and marketing pieces that lead curious visitors to click on various landing pages on the company’s website. Once on the site, potential customers can learn about the company and its products through informational videos, blog posts, and infographics.
Customers who connect with the brand and realize the company’s product is the solution they need become interested in knowing more. Each website landing page has a link to a form they can fill out to request a free online demonstration of the product. At this point, the company’s two salespeople get involved, following up with each lead to provide a demo. These leads get added to the company’s email campaigns so they can engage with them further.
As a result, the sales team’s success rate getting conversions increases by 40% over cold calling the lead lists, as they’re only interacting with leads who are already interested in the product and considering buying it.
An e-commerce business that sells personalized sports decor is trying to grow its brand and sales. They launch a robust social media ad campaign targeting their ideal buyer: men between the ages of 25 and 45. The ads direct traffic to a landing page on the company’s website that prompts visitors to sign up for an email list and receive a free item. The company builds an email subscriber list that it can send informational content to, such as interior design inspiration using sports decor, how-tos for hanging memorabilia, and photo-filled testimonials.
After educating its leads for a few weeks, the company sends an email with a coupon for 15% off their first order. They start getting conversions. Customers get added to a new email list that sends post-purchase content, such as gift ideas, instructions for caring for their items, and how to throw great sports-themed parties. Satisfied customers recommend the brand to friends and family or return to buy more.
An expert in her field has a membership program where subscribers pay to receive trusted advice about starting their own business. She launches a social media advertising campaign targeting demographics similar to her existing subscribers. Ads direct leads to a landing page offering them a free eBook on how to take the leap into small business ownership. Visitors fill out a form to receive the eBook and also begin receiving automated emails with smart business tips.
After sending leads several informational emails, she sends them an upsell offer to subscribe to her membership program. A link in the email sends visitors to her sales page describing all the benefits of the program. Using an exit form, she can track which leads purchase a subscription and which ones don’t. She can use the data to further refine her marketing funnel and who she targets in the future.
You’ll find that you typically have two types of leads that you need to approach differently if you want to get conversions: marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs). MQLs are customers who have shown enough interest and engagement to indicate they’re likely to buy your product. They’re the members of your audience who fill out forms requesting a free trial of your service or sign up for your next webinar. SQLs, on the other hand, are leads who still need to be convinced to buy your product or service but are interested.
Analyze MQL and SQL behaviors and progression through the marketing funnel to determine how likely they are to convert and, thus, how much effort you should spend on them. To accomplish this, marketing teams often place leads in one of four categories:
The latter two leads are the most likely to become customers and are the ones worth pursuing. Follow them through their customer journey, and use your marketing funnel to dictate what content you offer.
After you’ve created your marketing funnel, you need to monitor how people interact with it to determine which marketing strategies are working and which aren’t. You can track and analyze a variety of metrics to maximize your marketing efforts. Important metrics to consider include:
You can find a variety of tools to help you measure and monitor this data, ranging from the free and easy-to-use Google Analytics to more complex paid programs.
Rather than overwhelming your team with data, choose a couple of metrics to focus on at first. Select the ones that will provide you with the data you need to improve your marketing funnel. Armed with this information, you can continually adjust and refine your funnel to gain more conversions.
Marketing teams have been perfecting the sales funnel for years and have learned what works and what doesn’t. Use these tips and best practices to maximize your funnel’s success:
You’re not going to get conversions on your organic dog food line if you’re targeting cat owners. Before putting a lot of time and energy into developing your marketing funnel, identify the buyer type that’s most likely to convert. An effective way to define your ideal customer is with a buyer persona. A buyer persona is an in-depth description of your target audience member that includes their demographics, profession, goals, problems, interests, and behaviors.
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Once you identify your best potential customers, narrow your advertising and marketing focus to just that population via social media and Google ads. Create content that speaks to that group’s age, interests, and challenges and uses a tone and style they identify with.
If you notice that some buyer types or demographics visit your site, and then exit the funnel, you should either remove them from your target audience or adjust your content to better address their needs and answer their questions.
A landing page — a page on your website designed specifically to convert visitors into leads — is often your first connection with someone. It’s your opportunity to make a strong first impression on a potential customer.
To stand out from the competition, make sure your landing page is visually appealing and provides the visitor with the answers they’re seeking. You don’t want to provide them with insufficient information that causes them to search elsewhere for their answers, but you also don’t want to overwhelm them with text, data, and promotions. An effective landing page often includes:
It’s worth investing the time and money into developing an impactful landing page to kick-start your customer’s journey through the marketing funnel.
Make sure the marketing content you produce is optimized to look nice and function on all devices, from desktop computers to tablets and smartphones. Assess your website, landing pages, infographics, emails, and more, and work with an informational technology professional, if necessary, to optimize items that aren’t working correctly. Otherwise, if an interested lead tries to click through to a landing page on their smartphone and it doesn’t perform properly, that lead is likely to leave the funnel.
Lead magnets are free items or rewards you give potential customers as incentive to take an action, such as signing up for a newsletter or writing a product review. In exchange, you gain their contact information which you can use in your marketing efforts to move them further down the funnel. A lead magnet can be anything your target audience desires, including:
Depending on your customer, however, some lead magnets are more effective than others. Test various content types to determine which ones appeal to which buyer types, and then entice different demographics with the appropriate lead magnets.
The customer journey through the marketing funnel isn’t always a speedy process. It often takes time to nurture your relationship with a lead and guide them down the path to conversion. Therefore, don’t make the mistake of asking for a purchase or pushing a product right away. Earn your customers’ trust by providing them with the right type of content at the right stage of their journey.
Make sure you’re tracking actionable metrics that provide you with information related to your marketing objectives. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and effort. For example, measure how many people clicked on an upsell offer rather than how many people opened the upsell email. Determine what you’re trying to achieve, and focus on the metrics that measure your rate of success in that area. They should be figures you can influence by adjusting your marketing strategies.
You might have to do testing to determine which strategies have the most impact on your conversion rates. If you have several ways to reach your audience, do A/B testing to figure out which one performs best. A/B testing can be useful for selecting:
To A/B test effectively, send a segment of your audience one variation of your content and another segment of your audience the other variation. Track which ones produce the best results or most conversions or if one performs best with a specific demographic.
Marketing funnels are designed to give marketing and sales teams direction and guidance when creating content and campaigns. They allow you to develop effective marketing strategies based on your customers’ needs, desires, and behaviors. Use this tool to assess your marketing efforts, streamline processes, identify areas for improvement, and, ultimately, close more deals.
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