What is a marketing funnel?
In marketing, funnels help visualise the user journey, placing alongside it the actions a company takes, the pipelines it creates, showcasing the journey from their first touch through to conversion – and, more often than not, retention and advocacy.
As the name suggests, the basic marketing funnel looks like that:
The top of the funnel will represent the anonymous mass of users the company hasn’t been in touch with (yet). Generally requiring awareness based actions to move to the next stage.
The middle of the funnel represents users known by the company. They probably know the type of products it sells and its name. Commonly requiring educational actions to tell them why the product/service the company sells is the best in the market and the one they need.
The bottom of the funnel represents users who are well acquainted with the products/services of the company and are primed to make a purchase decision. Largely requiring sales lead actions to raise their fear of missing out/sense of urgency and get to the most-important purchase action.
The last level of the funnel represents existing customers and clients, and focuses on how to increase their lifetime value (LTV) and/or build on their appreciation of the company to leverage their advocacy. This level requires different degrees of customer satisfaction, community or advocacy management. This stage becomes more and more important and tends to get more and more detailed as the subscription model grows in importance in the market.
To the core, marketing funnels are a great visualisation tool. Just like a pie chart, a histogram or a box and whisker, they are built using data – even if taken in its wider meaning referring to the information you know as facts – and looked at under the lens of a specific context. A funnel helps you grasp more comprehensively the way your company interacts with your audience. This is the good of marketing funnels: they provide an intuitive and comprehensive view of the user journey.
There are no two identical marketing funnels, each and every company will have its own twist on it. If some knowledge can be transposable from one iteration to the other, it would be immensely risky for an organisation to try and reproduce the marketing funnels of a competitor, or worse, a business from another industry.
Building these marketing funnels is an exciting task as it allows you to envision the best of what your company can be. Laying down the best-case scenario and seeing it unfold in front of you, inevitably leading to a conversion.
It requires a sound understanding of the company: what are the products or services it sells? What are its values? What is the message it wants to convey? And a great understanding of its targets: where can you reach them? What are the tools are your disposal to reach out to them? What are their centres of interest?
Gathering this knowledge is generally the work of surveys and interviews with key stakeholders, making sure the company is aligned on who it is talking to and what it wants to do.
You will probably have noticed that I haven’t mentioned conversion points yet. As I didn’t get in the details of each stage. This is because when delving into the details each funnel becomes unique, and that’s where things can go bad.
It is now time. You have a good understanding of your organisation and the behaviour of your target, and you are now looking at how to visualise, as comprehensively as possible, your marketing funnels.
The first step will often be to list the various conversion points your company owns. They can include, a form where users can download a guide or a whitepaper /eBook, a trial to download a demo version of your software or maybe another form to create an account on your website. Wait, technically, if you want to be sure to track users at the awareness stage and guide them efficiently down the funnel shouldn’t you also take into consideration touch points on Social? This user has clicked on your ad on LinkedIn, you can retarget and guide them from there. You also shouldn’t forget events and tradeshows either. More than 500 visitors left their business card in this competition your event team organised to win a powerful computer or a license of your software, they technically are in your funnels now…
And this is just a beginning. The list above represents, at best, a fraction of the various touch points you will have to take into consideration when building your marketing funnels, not even mentioning the specificities of each variation based on its target audience and stakeholder group or person in your organisation.
You will need to look at how each unit in your company is involved, how it supports the ultimate goal. PR can help generate awareness or push more direct messages during an important event you organise. Social will help with capturing cold users and nurturing them to Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs); the closer your activity lends itself to B2C and offers online conversion paths the further down the funnel social can take you. Sales will obviously play its part in the conversion stage, but they can also bring in new leads and opportunities depending on the situation.
Getting an exhaustive, accurate, meaningful picture of your funnels is a time-consuming, energy-consuming task. Even more when done in a fast-moving environment where the map you lay down could be outdated just a few weeks later.
It’s easy to get dragged down the funnel madness. It is key for you and your team to take a step back and make sure you are using this tool for what it is: visualisation, not mapping. The crossover is easy, and genuine to a certain extent, but make sure to keep in mind what the ultimate practical goal is: generate revenue. Keep an exterior, objective look on how you build your funnel. And remember that the last 20% of the process will take 80% of your effort.
The beauty of this? Most users will not even follow the path you lay down so carefully for them, jumping in at a conversion stage already, or getting back to the top of the funnel after going through so many of the education pieces you have carefully put in their journey. There is little to do about it and it just comes back to what users are at the end of the day: unique individuals. That’s not to discount the value of the path you lay down however, as within a big enough group, the mass of unique behaviours can be guided towards the goals you’ve laid down for them. Then, once you have this comprehensive view of your funnel, this is when it becomes really interesting, when this beautiful journey you’ve visualised becomes ugly.
As mentioned before: marketing funnels are a tool. Once we’ve prepared the tool, it is time to get to work and apply this theoretical ideal to your practical organisation.
How can this platform talk to your Client Relationship Management (CRM) system? How can we integrate the event leads in the social nurture program? How do we get the sales team to easily feedback on the status of a lead? What about retargeting? Can we get our Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns to easily take into account the grading of a lead in your funnel to deliver them with the most relevant content for the stage they are at?
There we are, the ugly part of untangling each wire and unifying the various tools and systems the teams at your company use. Getting there requires a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience, from placing the various pixels and tags to track your activity from social platform to custom built forms to track the behaviour of a user from your website to your CRM, and then reconcile it with their journey on social or offline events. This can sound overwhelming, but I believe this where the most exciting part of the work resides.
Getting the dirty work done, going through this ugly phase of marketing funnels, presents a great opportunity to unify the values, message and direction your team are going for. Further than an optimisation process, it often becomes a team building exercise.
It is by no mean easy, and out of these three stages, it certainly is the one that will require the most time and energy from you, your team and your partners, but it also is where the magic operates.
We have a good picture – the funnel you’ve drawn – we know not to do the bad thing and keep in mind the ultimate goal – generate revenue – and we are ready to take on the ugly part of the work – linking the various pieces in the most relevant way – that will ultimately bring your organisation together and help you maximise your Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPAs) and LTVs.
The remaining part is the doing. All the cogs are working together, and it needs to be fuelled. That’s where all the talented people at your company can get thinking on how to leverage their skills and knowledge in the best way to deliver the message at the top of the funnel, guide your prospects in their research and understanding of their needs, drive your leads to convert and support your customers in their use of your product of services.
Should you have any questions about this article or marketing funnels in general, please feel free to get in touch using the contact us form and mention this article. I would be very happy to discuss with you!