What Is a Marketing Funnel: Purchase Stages for Sales Customer (Digital Website)

on Blog September 03rd, 2020

There are many concepts and definitions that businesses need to keep up with in order to stay cutting edge when building a successful marketing campaign.

Smartphones and other internet-capable devices are changing the way many people search for products and services in their area. In addition to adjusting their strategies, business owners and marketers have to understand the different factors in play and how these can improve the results obtained. The marketing funnel is a great example of new concepts that you have to understand in order to leverage properly.

Funneling marketing is a highly-visual approach that allows companies to identify areas of improvement, resulting in an ultra-efficient overall marketing strategy. But, if you want to successfully develop a marketing funnel plan for your company, you need to have a deep understanding of a variety of elements, including how your customers behave.

The concept behind the marketing funnel was developed decades ago. However, learning about the different steps that your audience members take on the way to becoming customers allows you to develop better materials. And, with 72% of buyers turning to Google multiple times throughout the buying process to make the best decisions, marketing your services online seems like a great place to start.

At Fannit, we’ve been implementing funnels into different parts of our clients’ strategies for years. Our team understands how a solid approach can improve the results obtained without increasing expenses. In this article, we’ll define the marketing funnel, go over the different stages of the buying process, and discuss the different ways you can use this technique to promote your solutions.

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What is the Marketing Funnel?

What is a funnel in the marketing context? In simple terms, the marketing funnel is a representation of the buying process that the average customer takes before purchasing a product or service.

The reason why it’s referred to as a funnel is because this is the shape the process takes in a visual representation. The top of the funnel is wide because the marketing content at this phase is designed to attract large volumes of visitors. As it moves downward, the funnel turns thinner and thinner, which represents the customer journey. Likewise, the marketing content that a company produces follows a similar path. This means that top of the funnel content is more general and bottom of the funnel materials lean towards more specific niches and companies.

Although these may vary slightly, there are well-defined marketing funnel stages that most customers follow before making a purchase. We’ll explore these in detail later in this article, but it’s important to note that the initial funnel stages cover a large group of potential customers by design. As the stages advance, the funnel becomes narrower because some prospects abandon the buying process, with only a percentage of the initial group making it to the purchase stage.

Marketing funnels are usually used for sales and quotes, but the process can be applied to any action you want customers to take. For example, companies that want to monitor and improve the number of newsletter sign-ups can develop a tailored funnel to track this specific part of their marketing plan.

The Stages of the Marketing Funnel

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is the marketing funnel?” it’s time to explore the different stages of this process.

Also known as the purchase funnel, the marketing funnel can have various stages depending on each company, niche, product, or specific application. In order to develop the perfect funnel for your company, you need to evaluate your requirements, assess the resources at your disposal, and understand as much as you can about your client base.

With the above in mind, almost all marketing funnels share a few distinct stages that can be described in general terms.

The names may vary slightly, but these  stages are commonly referred to as the awareness, interest, consideration, commitment, conversion, and delight phase. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss each phase of the funnel in terms of sales, but keep in mind that these can be applied to any customer (as well as internal) process.

Awareness

It’s impossible to find a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, but targeting customers when they are already looking for a solution may be too late already. This is the reason why marketing funnels start with the awareness level, which is the moment customers realize they have a problem that needs fixing.

The awareness phase may last a long time if the problem is not urgent or an instant if the issue is severe. For example, if a customer has a bad scratch on her car that needs a new paint job, that person may not realize it until someone else points it out. On the other hand, if your HVAC stops working at the beginning of winter, you know exactly what to do in a split second. Therefore, you need to look at your product or service and discern the duration of this stage of the funnel.

Interest

The interest stage begins once the problem has been clearly identified. However, keep in mind that not all customers in the interest stage are at the same level. A customer who is just entering this part of the buyer’s journey may not even know about all of the solutions available. The longer potential customers spend in this stage, the more knowledgeable they become, which allows them to make better decisions.

In this stage of the funnel, customers are usually willing to explore different alternatives, so they are open to reading and learning about any solution they find interesting. Furthermore, consumers are extremely engaged, which makes it a crucial time in terms of content delivery.

Consideration

When researching options during the interest stage of the funnel, customers will naturally filter out the solutions they definitely don’t want. However, the consideration stage is where the race to the finish line truly begins. In most cases, this is the last stage before consumers start reaching out to different companies, so customers start narrowing down the options to their top choices.

Customers who are in the consideration stage evaluate the different options they deem as viable. This includes a comparison of features and prices, but your business’ branding and online reputation also play a crucial role in this stage.

Commitment

The commitment stage is the beginning of the end in terms of marketing funnels — but keep in mind that some buyer journeys may skip this stage altogether. Customers in the commitment stage are looking to contact companies in order to get quotes, free trials, or find other ways to test the solution without making a purchase

This phase is referred to as commitment because, if you have the right marketing materials, customers feel as if they are pretty much choosing your business. They just need to test out the solution and get more specific information about how much it will cost to make the final decision.

Conversion

Customers move on to the conversion level once they have evaluated all the different options and have found the right alternative. In a lead generation marketing funnel, the conversion phase is where customers purchase the product. But, remember that in some funnels the conversions may represent newsletter sign ups, form submittals, or quote requests.

It’s important to maintain customers happy throughout the conversion phase, especially if you have the chance to market additional solutions to your audience. That said, you should always give your target audience time to enjoy the first purchase in order to avoid creating a pushy sensation.

Delight

For a handful of industries, the funnel may end with conversions. However, in the vast majority of cases, companies can either up-sell, cross-sell, or get recurring business from old customers. In these cases, the funnel has an additional phase – delight.

As we mentioned in the last section, keeping customers happy is essential in order to get business from your current client base. But, making sure they are satisfied with your level of service can also create a good experience for your clients.

The best part about the delight stage is that clients don’t always expect to receive great treatment after they have bought a product. Most companies don’t focus on pleasing customers after they have made a purchase, so following up and offering additional value can yield a more engaged and satisfied audience.

More helpful reading

How Do Customers Behave in Each Phase of the Funnel?

Creating a marketing sales funnel is a good first-step, but you have to learn how to transform this information into actionable data that helps you create better promotional materials. In order to do this, you have to study how customer behavior changes during each phase and what approach you need to take when developing content for each level of the funnel.

Remember, you need to assess each outcome and learn how to interpret each action that users take in your digital marketing funnel. For example, customers dropping out of the funnel is normal, but if you notice that you lose most leads in one specific step, you can evaluate the materials you’ve created and come up with ways of improving that specific content.

Let’s take a look at how customer behavior can change during each level.

First Stage – Problem Identification

Because they may not even be aware of the issue or how bad it is, customers don’t always opt for the most effective solution to their problem the first time around. For example, many people attempt to research DIY solutions if they don’t understand what’s really causing the setback because they may think it’s an easy fix.

To get the right result, companies have to develop content that helps users identify the problems they’re having. Home repair companies may create marketing resources that tell clients if the mold in their homes is due to poor insulation, ground-level flooding, or a fault with their plumbing system. By using these materials, clients can learn more about their options and start evaluating different alternatives.

Second Stage – Search for Answers

Clients in the interest phase are actively searching for answers, so they start using tools like Google and social networks to assess the different options available. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the price tag on a product, the more time consumers spend researching, so you should design your promotional resources based on this notion.

This is about the time where companies want to start delivering value to clients in the form of actionable information that comes with no strings attached. Instead of simply describing the issue, marketing resources for clients in this phase should contain detailed information about how the product or service in question will help solve the problem.

Third Stage – Comparing Alternatives

After clients have conducted extensive research, they start comparing their findings head-to-head. This process varies depending on the product and industry, so some clients will simply look at costs or convenience while others will take a more detailed approach.

Different clients value distinct features, so this is where the creation of buyer personas comes in handy. By developing fictional descriptions of your ideal clients, you will understand exactly what the different segments of your audience look for. This will help you highlight the right features in order to attract the best type of customer for your company.

Fourth Stage – Try Out the Main Solution (And Move On if It’s Not Good Enough)

Before making the final decision, some clients will want to try out your solution or learn more about what it entails. For SaaS platforms and other software solutions, this can mean providing a free trial, whereas legal advisors and similar businesses can offer a free consultation. This isn’t always an alternative, but you should definitely find a way to give your clients a sneak peek if possible.

If you can’t necessarily offer a preview of your product, you can always find ways to give clients a better feel for what to expect. Businesses that offer physical services or products can provide detailed price quotes, free in-house visits, or create virtual resources like videos that help bring their solutions to life.

Fifth Stage – Completing the Purchase

Customer behavior in this phase is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s you should remember that clients like to feel appreciated. After all, there are many alternatives they could choose, but they decided to do business with your company. To create a positive experience, you can develop resources that make the purchase experience more delightful, like a thank you email that’s sent out once the solution has been bought.

You should also make it convenient for clients to complete the purchase to avoid looking at many prospects in this stage. If you only offer limited payment options, for example, you may deter potential clients from doing business with your company. Instead, offer various alternatives and always invite users to contact you if they encounter any problems.

Sixth Stage – Grading the Solution

Even if they received a free trial with all the features of your solution, clients will start evaluating how well it works as soon as they purchase it. This is important because happy clients result in better up-selling and cross-selling opportunities.

The good news is that the delight phase can be used to ensure that clients are happy with the quality of the service received. You can organize follow-up calls, help clients understand your solution, and show them that you won’t stop working until they are completely satisfied with their purchase.

More helpful reading:

Developing Marketing Materials for Each Stage

So, we now understand the customer funnel and how prospects think in each level, but what type of content do you need to create? Which formats should you choose? And, more importantly, how do you distribute this content across the different parts of the website funnel?

Like the buyer’s journey, the strategy and content you implement can be divided into the different stages within the marketing funnel. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to invest resources into all the options available. To have a more profound effect, look at your customer base and figure out which type of content is more beneficial to them. Once you’re created a set of basic materials, you can work on adding to your resources depending based on the results you get.

Below, we’ve put together examples of some of the types of content you’ll want to produce to boost brand awareness and move prospects down the funnel.

Awareness Stage Materials

The awareness stage is all about identifying the problem, so you should develop materials that allow clients to figure out what the issue is.

From a reader’s perspective, the content should discuss the signs that customers are experiencing. For example, if there are foul or musty odors emanating from the basement or attic, home restoration companies can create content explaining why these are signs of mold and what can be done about them.

In terms of marketing, the keywords and overall content tone should be informative. Instead of using the “correct term” for the problem, companies should target keywords and topics that people search for when trying to solve specific symptoms. So, instead of writing an article about “mold solutions” home restoration professionals should create content about “identifying foul odors at home” instead.

Some of the best techniques and content formats for the awareness phase include:

Articles

Articles can be posted in a company website’s blog page, on other businesses’ websites (guest blogging), and on platforms like Medium. This content format is extremely flexible because it aims to inform customers and send them back to your website, in case the articles are posted on a third-party platform.

It’s easy to scare off prospects in the early parts of the marketing funnel, so the articles you create have to be valuable and contain no mention for your company by name to avoid coming off too strong. You should include strategically placed links to send users back to relevant parts of your site, but focus more on delivering quality than anything else.

Webinars and Podcasts

Depending on the type of issue that your products solve, you may also want to market your solutions through webinars and podcasts. It’s safe to assume that a portion of your audience will attempt a DIY solution. These users usually turn to videos and similar resources to solve the issue, so this segment is more likely to engage with this type of content.

Similarly to articles, the content on webinars and podcasts should be mostly educational, but you can get away with a bit more in terms of brand image. In webinars, you can include branded graphics and provide downloadable materials that have your brand’s logo and color scheme.

Podcasts may be a bit more difficult to personalize. But, you can always reach out to relevant podcasters and organize a potential collaborative project that would allow you to talk about your brand without coming off as pushy.

PPC

Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns are among the most flexible marketing tools because they can help you throughout different phases of your funnels. By employing platforms like Google Ads, choosing the right keywords, and developing relevant ads, companies can send large volumes of engaged users to their websites.

While PPC campaigns do produce immediate results, remember that they also represent an immediate investment. PPC expenses are much higher than SEO and other organic approaches, but paid campaigns can be a great way to drive traffic during the early stages.

Interest Stage Materials

When clients hit the interest phase, they know what the problem is and they want to find long-term solutions at the best price. Therefore, the content you create can be more business-oriented and speak openly about the solution you offer and why they are the best option available.

At this point, prospects are weighing the different options, but they can still be scared off by overly aggressive tactics or negative reviews. Besides producing interesting content for this phase, also make sure that your online reputation is on point.

Some of the types of content that work extremely well in this level of the funnel include:

Blog Posts, Content Marketing, and SEO

The most important thing during the interest phase is to drive people to your site. Instead of creating articles to be posted on external platforms, the content in this level should be published on your site through blog posts, service pages, and similar formats.

As far as strategies go, SEO and content marketing can keep you on the right track. Both of these approaches focus on developing customer-centric content that delivers value. And, you can also implement email marketing funnel automation to move prospects along without having to reach out manually.

Newsletters

In the early days, newsletters were used to publish relevant news about a brand and highlight the best promotions available. When companies take the time to create alluring newsletters and customize different sequences for their funnels, this technique allows them to deliver information at crucial parts of the decision-making process.

Businesses need to create a consistent experience for their customers, so your newsletter and nurturing emails should work in unison. Avoid repeating yourself and always build on what you said in your last email. Instead of bombarding prospects, create a mechanism where each contact is recorded to ensure that you don’t overwhelm clients with too many emails.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is also a good resource for clients in this part of the marketing funnel. Building a good social media presence can give your company a good reputation and increase credibility in the eyes of customers. And, in addition to organic social media techniques, you can also create paid campaigns to reach customers through their favorite channels.

Whether you’re marketing a product or another type of solution, remember that social media users behave differently than people on search engines. Your ad copy and additional content should be friendly and more casual. Plus, your ads should send clients to informative landing pages that encourage them to make a request or contact your company.

Consideration Stage Materials

The consideration level of your marketing funnel contains prospects who are comparing their final options in order to make the right choice. There are two different ways that customers reach this stage: 1) they either enter at the top of the funnel and go through the different phases or 2) they find you while researching solutions on search engines Google. But, this doesn’t affect the content itself, but rather the formats in which it’s presented.

Clients who are comparing options want to know about the features, price, and other characteristics of your service or product. Crafting valuable content is crucial, but you should also have an effective support system that helps potential clients get answers to their questions fast.

eBooks

Consideration-level prospects are just about to make a decision, so they welcome any resource that can help them find the right option. Publishing ebooks that contain valuable information is a great option because this content format gives companies a lot of space to discuss their products and services.

One of the keys for success with ebooks is to always deliver functional data. Whether it’s a checklist, how-to guide, or another type of resource, clients expect to get real solutions from a downloadable piece. Especially when they have to provide phone numbers, email addresses, and other pieces of information to gain access.

Here are several examples.

White Papers

Similarly to ebooks, whitepapers can give you a significant amount of space to promote your product. However, this type of content also needs to be factually accurate and have more of an informational tone. Prospects that download white papers are often interested in reading research study results and comparing data, so you need to provide relatively technical information to keep them happy.

With the above in mind, the last sections of your white paper should discuss potential solutions for the issue at hand. This is the perfect opportunity to discuss your product or solution from a more professional point of view and potentially focus on the features that make it the ideal solution.

Dedicated Landing Pages and Microsites

Dedicated landing pages can be defined as simplified versions of your website that focus user attention on your service or product. These pages are often stripped down, so they don’t contain the usual navigation elements. Instead, users are presented with the page’s main content along with links to the about and contact pages in the simplified navigation. Keep in mind that the content on these pages must be original and discuss a specific product.

Microsites are similar to dedicated landing pages, with the exception that they are an independent platform. While these can be hosted in the same place as your main website, microsites word as supporting acts that boost traffic and generate more leads from your online efforts.

Resource: What Is a Landing Page & How Does It Work With a Website?

Commitment Stage Materials

After narrowing down their options and picking the top company, customers enter the commitment level of the funnel. However, clients need to be sure that your solution will work because the last thing they want is to go back to the drawing board. Giving them examples of how other customers found success is a great option, but you can also provide them with a taste of your product if you have the option.

The types of content that can help move customers down the final parts of the funnel include:

Case Studies

Case studies provide a detailed analysis of a specific scenario that’s relevant to the product that’s being promoted. In most cases, companies choose to analyze how their product has benefited the client, especially if it’s a B2B solution. However, some case studies also analyze the problem customers are facing, for example the average energy efficiency of a building and how to improve it.

Developing a case study is a gradual process and you have to have client consent if you’re using a specific customer as an example. But, if you take the time to develop a great case study for each one of your best customers, these can become one of the most important tools for your sales team.

Here are several case study examples.

Testimonials

Becoming one of the top companies in your industry isn’t just about delivering great service. The best business ambassadors are happy customers that gladly share their experiences with other prospects. Having testimonials on your page can shine a positive light on your product and give potential clients an idea of what to expect from your solutions.

Keep in mind that testimonials should not only appear on strategic places across your website. You should have a dedicated page where potential clients can browse through the different stories your customers have left. And, also remember to encourage customers to leave reviews on Yelp and other listings sites.

Live Demos

Offering live demos is a great way of boosting sales for businesses that provide SaaS solutions and similar products. As long as the product works as intended, giving customers a free trial or temporary demo will cement their decision and help your sales team close more deals.

There are different approaches you can take to live demos. Companies that offer low-cost apps can create a free version with limited features, which allows them to build a large base of customers. Then, the sales team can focus on up-selling and cross-selling additional solutions.

For more comprehensive platforms, like business intelligence solutions, businesses can choose to provide a 3 to 10-day trial so that clients have time to implement and evaluate the software.

Conversion Stage Materials

Just because customers complete a purchase during the conversion phase it doesn’t mean that they don’t expect to receive valuable content. As a matter of fact, part of creating a good experience during the purchase process is to furnish new clients with all the resources they will need to get the most from your solutions.

The content in the conversion phase can vary greatly, especially between companies that offer physical products and organizations that provide intangible services. That said, both the types of content listed below can be used for either case.

Knowledge Base Content and Data Sheets

A knowledge base is a platform that works as the first point of contact whenever customers have an issue. Instead of contacting support right away, customers can use a knowledge base to see solutions to common problems and attempt to solve setbacks on their own.

The best knowledge bases allow readers to ask questions directly through the platform, which are answered by the support team. However, these resources need to be updated on a regular basis in order to be effective.

In simple terms, a data sheet is a document that contains technical information about a product and its performance. Not to be confused with the instructions manual, data sheets often talk about the technology and give users insights on how the new tool works, significantly shortening the product learning curve.

Delight Stage Materials

There’s a huge variety of industries that generate a significant amount of revenue from recurring clients. This is one of the reasons why some funnels also contain a delight phase, which companies use to ensure that clients are satisfied with their purchase.

Whether you’re a handyman or a software provider, having a solid plan for the delight level can also increase your odds of getting referrals from happy clients.

To ensure your client base is happy, you can create resources like:

Follow-Up Sequences

Besides a thank you email, you should create a follow-up sequence that encourages clients to share their experience with your company. In case they are having issues, you can also encourage them to reach out to the support team in order to solve the problem.

Once you know for sure that each customer is satisfied, you can send each one of them a link to your profiles on review sites and ask them to leave feedback for your company.

Remarketing Materials

Businesses that focus on creating remarketing materials exponentially increase their chances of getting more business from their existing clients. These are designed to promote additional solutions that benefit clients, but they need to have a friendly tone rather than sounding too promotional.

How to Qualify Leads in Your Funnel

After you know what your funnel looks like, how clients behave in it, and which pieces you need to create there are only a couple of steps left before you’re ready to implement this strategy.

The first of those two steps is to determine when and how the leads will be qualified. It doesn’t matter if a company is working with an inbound marketing funnel, affiliate marketing sales funnel, full funnel marketing, b2b marketing funnel, or another approach. The main goal in this step is to determine when your leads will be passed from the marketing to the sales team.

In most cases, leads cane be qualified as:

  • Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs): A marketing qualified lead or MQL is a prospect that has shown some potential for becoming a customer. In these cases, individuals require more grooming by the marketing department, so they are not ready to speak to the sales team. After the lead has been through a few stages in the funnel and the marketing team members know that it has real potential, it moves onto the next step.
  • Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs): Sales qualified leads or SQLs are prospects who are ready to speak to the sales team because they have entered the final stages of the funnel. But, one of the most important aspects that companies tend to fumble is the handoff or transition from marketing to sales.

If the sales team doesn’t request enough information or if the lead isn’t at the right level, the prospect will likely reject any interaction from the sales team. Having a customer management system (CMS) can create a seamless transition, but you need to know how to implement this tool and create the right workflows is imperative. A seasoned search marketing firm can provide support during the CMS set up process as well as other parts of your promotion strategy.

Tracking the Right Metrics

As with other areas of your online marketing plan, there are many different metrics you need to track to monitor the success of your funnel. And, in addition to giving you a detailed analysis of its performance, you’ll also be able to identify areas of your funnel marketing approach that need improvement.

Some of the key metrics you want to track include:

  • Conversion Rate: The conversion rate measures how many prospects register a sale, form submit, or other type of conversion. This metric is commonly found in PPC campaigns as well as other approaches but it serves the same purpose, which is to measure the success of the technique.
  • Lead Source: Not all platforms that send traffic to your site are the same, so it’s important to understand where leads come from. The lead source allows you to see where each prospect comes from, so you can identify the channels that provide higher-quality traffic and focus on these in the future.
  • Time Spent on Each Stage: The time spent on each page allows you to measure how effective your content is at every stage. Keep in mind that the buyer’s journey has different lengths depending on your industry, so you need to figure out the specifics for your company before making any assessments.
  • Content Engagement Rate: Content engagement rate is another marker for how well the marketing materials are performing at each stage. Poor content engagement rates may be a sign that the materials need to be adjusted or completely redesigned.

Develop a Tailored Marketing Funnel for Your Company Today

Developing a robust marketing funnel is a great way to organize your strategy and make improvements that have a positive impact on your efforts.

At Fannit, we specialize in creating funnels and developing promotional strategies for companies in all industries. If you want to learn more about funnel marketing or how our team of experts can help, contact us today and our team will be glad to assist you.

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