Sales Funnel | How to Create the Ultimate Marketing Funnel

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If you want your business’ sales process to run as efficiently as possible sales funnel should be considered first; you absolutely must get your marketing sales funnel – the process of converting a visitor or browser into a paying customer – right. Some business owners are moving away from the term “marketing funnel” because they think it’s too mechanical or simplistic to describe the lead nurturing sequence by which customers move from awareness to purchase.

I think it’s still a useful way to describe a complex process and it’s a good visual to imagine the entire process from start to finish.

Read on for a comprehensive break down of what a marketing funnel is and how to create a successful one – plus we include several templates to help you out.

What Is a Marketing Sales Funnel?

A marketing funnel is a way of breaking down the customer journey all the way from the “awareness” stage (when they first learn about your business) to the “purchase” stage (when they’re ready to buy your product or service).

Often funnels can also include post-purchase follow-ups which increase retention as well as cross- and up-sells.

The first step is, of course, getting traffic to your site. You can do this by creating SEO-friendly content, publishing white papers and getting backlinks. As leads progress through your funnel, your outreach methods will get more and more personalized (sometimes involving a product demo or a phone call) until the sale takes place.

Stages in the Sales Funnel

No matter what kind of purchase we’re making or how much we intend to spend, all of us follow a relatively similar path when it comes to deciding what to buy.

This buying process, or stages, was first introduced by John Dewey in 1910, but even now — more than 100 years later — it’s still the foundation of understanding buyer behavior and marketing funnel creation.

Here are the five stages of the marketing funnel.

Stage #1 – Problem/Need Recognition (TOFU)

Understandably, if a person doesn’t recognize that she has a need that must be filled, she’s not going to make a purchase. That said, these needs can range from easily solved problems to issues without clear solutions.

Suppose your furnace goes out in the middle of winter. Your problem is obvious: you need a new furnace. And the solution is easy — you need to call HVAC providers in your area for quotes. But say you need a new car.

Should you look for an SUV, a compact car or a mid-size sedan? Even vaguer still, if you’re frustrated with how much your accountant is charging you to do your business’ taxes, you might not even be familiar with all the different solutions, like cloud-based accounting services.

For different types of businesses, buyer needs at the problem/need recognition stage – top of  the funnel (TOFU) – are different.

If you’re running a consulting business, for example, then your clients already realize that they’re having certain problems around your service area – like a high cost per lead (if you’re in marketing) or disorganized spending (if you’re in accounting).

Stage #2 – Information Search (MOFU)

Recognizing a problem or need that you have is the step that triggers a search for more information.

The strategies used to gather information tend to vary based on the size and scope of the purchase. Recognizing that you’re hungry, for example, might result in a quick Yelp search for restaurants in your area.

Deciding which provider to use to install a new in-ground pool at your home, on the other hand, will involve calling around, reading company reviews, visiting showrooms, and talking with salespeople.

According to Pardot, 70% of buyers turn to Google at least 2-3 times during their search to find out more about their problems, potential solutions, relevant businesses, etc. Many people also turn to social media and forums for recommendations.

At this point, they aren’t looking for promotional content; they’re looking to learn more about potential solutions for their need.

Here’s where you can position yourself as the helpful industry expert with content that helps them, no strings attached. Let’s say you’re a marketing platform or agency.

You could create content around link building, SEO, Facebook advertising, or any other strategy that your customers would be searching for.

If you’re an accounting software company, you might create content around helping solopreneurs figure out their finances for the first time.

Do some keyword research to figure out what types of content you should be creating for the middle of the funnel (MOFU) — you can find out which search terms in your niche get high volumes of traffic and create content that matches those queries.

Stage #3 – Evaluation of Alternatives (MOFU)

Following their information search — or sometimes running concurrently with this process — potential customers start comparing the alternatives that your article has discussed.

Again, the time spent in this stage will vary based on the type of purchase being contemplated. Choosing a restaurant might be as simple as deciding, “Well, I feel like Chinese food, not Mexican, tonight.”

However, say the customer is evaluating marketing automation programs to help improve the sales funnel they created. Because these programs can require investments of $1,500 a month, they’re likely to undergo a much more careful and thorough evaluation process.

They might request free trials of the different systems they’re considering, have online demonstrations with each company’s representatives or view training videos to get a feel for how each system will perform.

If you’re running an accounting business, at this stage your customers would be evaluating different potential service providers.

They might need resources like pricing guides (so they know what ballpark rates are), how to evaluate the landscape of accounting services (i.e. whether to hire a solo accountant, an agency, etc.), or how to choose an accountant.

If you’re running a marketing services business, you might create content about: effective sales funnel how to choose a marketing agency, pricing guides, whether a company should go contract or hire in-house, etc.

The above examples are non-promotional, educational content resources we’ve created for our readers who are considering hiring marketing agencies – i.e. in the middle of the funnel (MOFU).

Stage #4 – Purchase Decision (BOFU)

The purchase decision is the natural conclusion of the preceding three stages. The potential customer has determined that they have a problem, investigated their options, decided which one is best for then… and now they’re getting ready to pull out their wallets.

At this stage, bottom of funnel (BOFU) content can help your potential customers feel confident in their decision to purchase your good/service.

Case study content, showcasing the success of a previous or current customer, is very effective, especially when the case studies are relevant to, and reflect, the lead.

Create case studies with customers that reflect different customer profiles, verticals, business sizes, etc.

For instance, if you’re selling marketing automation software to a startup, showcase a startup that 10X-ed their leads.  If you’re selling the enterprise version of that marketing software, share a case study from another enterprise company. 

The enterprise case study is too inspirational for the startup, and the startup case study doesn’t work in front of a huge global marketing team.

You Must Also Not Ignore This

Now for the bad news. There are two major factors that can hinder purchases at this stage: negative feedback from fellow customers and the prospect’s motivation to accept this feedback.

So you’re into cycling and you’ve decided to purchase Trek’s latest Emonda line road bike. You read a few less-than-positive reviews online, but brush them off on the understanding that all Internet comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

After all, people only review products and services that they absolutely love or absolutely hate – but most customers fall somewhere in between.

But then a fellow cyclist whom you respect tells you that he didn’t love the bike. Where you were less inclined to let anonymous reviewers’ feedback affect your buying decision, you are much more motivated by the advice of somebody you know personally.

As a side note, while getting negative feedback rarely feels good, I want to encourage you to view feedback the way I do: as a priceless opportunity to improve and grow your business.

Complaints and criticisms revealed to you by your sales funnel give you important signals that you need to make changes or else risk losing business from frustrated customers. Read this article to learn more: What Should You Do When People Complain About Your Product or Service?

Stage #5 – Post-Purchase Behavior (BOFU)

The sales process isn’t done just because a purchase has been made. What happens after the sale is just as important as the sales itself, and a proper sales funnel helps you find out what went on behind the scene.

If your new customers are greeted by a thoughtful onboarding process, personal attention and all the resources they need to use your product successfully, they’re more likely to confirm to themselves that they made the right choice.

And when they’re confident, they’re more likely to pass on their satisfaction to others in the form of recommendations and product endorsements.

If your new customers experience disappointment after their purchase, they’re more likely to request refunds, write negative reviews and recommend that others in their social circles purchase from your competitors.

There’s not much content you can create to help facilitate a good post-purchase experience — apart from just creating a great product. If you have a great product that solves a problem, post-purchase behavior will take care of itself.

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