Ask just about anyone to give a rough definition of a customer journey, and they’ll be able to give a pretty good answer along the lines of “the route someone takes from being unfamiliar with a brand/business/product to becoming a customer”.
But such a simple definition would never do for us marketers, geniuses that we are! We have to make things complicated and call it a marketing funnel, a funnel that has different stages which can be different depending on the types of marketing.
Now we’ve stoked your egos, we’re going to go back to basics with the classic B2B marketing funnel, before we look at some other funnels for B2B marketing.
The basics: the classic B2B marketing funnel
First things first, why a funnel of all things? Sadly, it’s not because it’s a cool shape or you can do cute things like putting the “FUN” back in “B2B marketing FUNnel”. It’s based on pragmatism: at every stage of the customer journey, you’re going to have people drop out, so the number of people following the journey gets smaller.
What’s wide at the top and narrow at the bottom?
A funnel, that’s what.
In an ideal world it would be a straight up tube, but marketing strategies that have a 100% conversion rate are pretty gosh darn rare to achieve.
So what are the stages of your classic B2B marketing funnel?
Stage 1: Awareness
At the top of the funnel is awareness. This is literally everyone in your target market who knows about your company and the products and services you offer. Whether they’ve come across it through your marketing, a Google search, word of mouth or anything else. So of course, this is the broadest stage of the B2B marketing funnel.
That said, it doesn’t need to be ridiculously broad. The whole world doesn’t necessarily need to know about your company when it comes to B2B, rather you want the right people in the right industries to know who you are.
This stage is also often referred to as lead generation.
Awareness building tactics/content:
- Social media (both paid and organic)
- Content (e.g. blogs and videos) that your target market are likely to search for related to your products/services
- Trade shows
- Word of mouth/ambassadorship (we’ll get to this later)
- Print (trade magazines, posters)
- Television (not super common in B2B marketing but you still see it from time to time)
Stage 2: Interest
Now your target market knows who you are, it’s time to pique their interest. While not everyone in the awareness stage is going to have moved here, it’s still a fairly broad stage if you’ve targeted your awareness-building tactics appropriately.
This is when buyers begin exploring the products and services that might be of use to their business.
They’ll take a look at what you offer, maybe check a few reviews to suss out whether you’ve got what they need.
There’s some debate about whether this fits in the lead generation or lead nurturing sections of the marketing funnel, but really it sort of straddles both.
Interest building tactics/content:
- Landing pages (e.g. Company “About us”)
- Product pages and descriptions
- Product demo videos
- Customer reviews and testimonials
- Case studies
Stage 3: Consideration
Now you’ve got a selection of people and businesses interested in your products, it’s time to start convincing them to become your customers. They’ll start looking at your products and brand in depth, compare you to similar companies and start working out how you would fit into their business process.
An aspect of this stage that’s unique to the B2B marketing funnel, as opposed to B2C, is that the person who has been in the funnel so far will usually have to gather materials to show the stakeholders, and it’s up to you to provide all that for them.
Often at this stage they will have become Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), where they’ve agreed to more direct forms of marketing. They might have created an account on your site, agreed to be sent emails, or had their first interactions with a member of your marketing or sales team (either digitally or otherwise).
This is where you really get the ball rolling on lead nurturing.
- Case studies and testimonials
- Thought Leadership building content (blogs, whitepapers, videos, etc.)
- In-depth product demos
- Free trials
- Direct marketing (live chats, email marketing, telemarketing)
Stage 4: Intent
This deep into the B2B marketing funnel, you might think you’ve got them in the bag, especially at this stage, where your prospects may have literally said that they’re interested in buying from you, but there’s still plenty of opportunities for them to drop out of the funnel if you don’t handle it properly.
Traditionally, this is where the sales team moves in, but the lines between sales and marketing are often blurred (and the marketing department will often be involved in the production of materials for this stage anyway). This is where you pull out all the stops with top-level product demos and sales pitches, trials of your product/service and really highlighting the benefits you offer.
This is peak lead nurturing time with a bit of lead conversion.
- In-depth product demos
- Free trials
- Your sales team
Stage 5: Review
You’ve laid everything on the table, now it’s time for the decision-makers of the company to go through and evaluate the products and services you’ve been marketing.
This doesn’t mean it’s time to take a break, the marketing and sales teams need to be like the dynamic duo to ensure the decision goes the right way (as we’re the B2B Marketing Alliance we’ll claim marketing is Batman, and sales is Robin, but you’d get a different answer from someone in sales).
You’ll need to be able to answer any questions the prospects might have and provide any materials they might need promptly.
Time for sales to do their thing with some lead conversion.
- Order summaries
- Product/solution integration summaries
Stage 6: Purchase
Sale made, job done, right? Don’t go cracking open the champagne just yet, there’s still some important marketing materials at this stage in the funnel if you want to avoid buyers remorse and churn (that’s subscribers dropping out).
Sales definitely take the lead, but marketing will likely be involved to provide and produce materials. This is just as important a stage as any of the others, as you’ll see below.
- Welcome emails/messaging
- Upselling emails/messaging
* You might have noticed we put “Website” at every stage. This is because it's absolutely essential to have a functioning, attractive website. Nothing makes customers more likely to drop out of any stage of the marketing funnel than an ugly, difficult to navigate, or bug-filled website.
The intermediate: the customer retention funnel
One of the most well-known facts of business is that the cost of acquiring new customers far outweighs retaining customers (up to five times the amount according to this source). But with some clever marketing you can make it so your customers aren’t just continuing to purchase from you but they actually generate more business. This is why we in the B2B biz have a funnel for customers and their experiences.
Stage 1: Customers
You’ve got your customers who have made a purchase or subscribed to one of your services. What you want them to be doing is buying more of your products. You can do this with upselling messaging and marketing that highlights your other services. It’s relatively simple to target digital marketing directly towards them with tailored emails and targeted social media (if you can convince your sales team to offer discounts for existing customers, all the better).
Stage 2: Repeat customers
These are customers who are buying regularly from you, whether it’s the same purchase over and over, or new products and services. These customers are more likely to respond well to upselling marketing materials, especially if they’re rewarded or benefitting from repeating their custom with you.
Stage 3: Loyal
At this level, customers will choose you over any rivals, you are their preferred brand for what you do. They’ll respond well to your upselling marketing, will engage with the communities you might provide and probably attend events you might hold. Your marketing should be all about building as personal a connection as is possible in the B2B marketing world.
Stage 4: Ambassadorship
While loyal customers are good, what you really want them to be is so happy with you that they’ll be singing your praises and referring you to other businesses. This can be as simple as sharing your social media posts on their own channels or giving a positive customer review, to more in-depth pieces of content like case studies or partnerships/sponsored content. They like your brand so much, they’re willing to stake their own reputations on your success.
Navigating a customer along this funnel can be tricky in the B2B marketing world, and will largely depend on many factors such as your product, customer service, and sales team.
One thing marketers in some brands can do is to make their brand and marketing fun. Businesses are built around people, and people are more likely to repeat and share experiences they have enjoyed. For a quick guide on making B2B marketing fun, have a look here.
The advanced: custom B2B marketing funnels
Now both the models we’ve provided above are by no means one-size-fits-all. The way your company is structured can change the stages and how quickly you consider a prospect to have moved between them. For example, you might have the sales team become a part of the marketing funnel at an earlier stage. You might have different marketing funnels for different customer segments and/or personas. You might use different tactics to be more fruitful. You might...you get the gist.
A particularly effective way of levelling up your B2B marketing funnel is to have different funnels for different forms of marketing. Below are some examples of B2B marketing funnels for different marketing forms.
B2B email marketing funnel
Stage 1: Awareness
Build an email list. This can be done with paid-for external lists or a campaign to encourage sign-ups through your social media or website.
Stage 2: Subscribers
Once you have subscribers, you will need to give them a reason to stay subscribed. This can be in the form of special offers and exclusive content. One thing you will need to fine-tune at this stage is the rate of the emails. Too few, people will forget about you and unsubscribe, too many and you’ll annoy people and they’ll unsubscribe, even if the emails are valuable to them and their business.
Stage 3: Conversion
You provide an email that generates a positive response, whether it’s an agreement to an event invitation, a sales conversion, or a share of content on social media. These people should be considered to be more likely to respond well to further email marketing and you should tailor your future emails towards them.
Stage 4: Acknowledgement
Acknowledge the conversion with a thank you email.
Stage 5: Follow-up
After a certain amount of time has passed, check in with the customer via email to see if they are happy with the product/service/event/etc. This can be a great opportunity for upselling if they are still happy with things, or it can be a time to resolve any issues if they aren’t.
Content marketing funnel
Stage 1: Awareness
You create content tailored towards attracting your target market to your site. Identify some common issues in your target market’s industry and create content which addresses them. With proper SEO they’ll find you when they search for solutions to the issues.
Stage 2: Educate and inform
You’re providing a useful resource to educate them, you can guide them through your content to the solutions and products you provide.
Stage 3: Lead generation
Once they’re on pages related to your products and solutions, you can develop them into leads. Suggest signing up to a newsletter or see if they would want to get in touch with sales people directly.
--- Break for the sales team or direct marketing team to do their thing to allow people to become customers ---
Stage 4: Advise and foster loyalty
Provide content which allows your new customers to make the most of their new purchase or solution. Examples could be how-to-videos. If the product is valuable enough and they are making the most of the products you get to…
Stage 5: Advocates
Customers who have benefited the most from your product and supporting content can form the basis of testimonials and case studies, which can be used as content in other parts of the funnel.
Tailoring your marketing funnels to different marketing channels and content allows you to measure how successful it is at each stage in a more sophisticated way.
What are your experiences with B2B marketing funnels? Maybe your organization has a particularly cool one you’d like to share. Let us know!