A Guide to B2B Marketing Funnels
We overview the stages in a B2B marketing funnel and how to create one.
A marketing funnel is a top-level visualization of the stages people go through in their journey from being leads to becoming paying customers. It’s shaped like a funnel because your target audience narrows down at each stage.
Funnels are useful for helping marketers map out marketing strategies that meet the audience’s problems, level of receptiveness, and potential for conversion.
The difference between B2B and B2C marketing funnels
The stages of the marketing funnel actually don’t differ whether you’re targeting consumers or businesses. But B2B customers tend to take a longer time to go through each stage, as the B2B sales cycle is longer than B2C.
In B2B marketing, the target persona might differ as you go down the funnel, especially if the target business is an enterprise. For example, C-level executives aren’t always active in the early stages of the funnel (unless they’re the target user of the product or service), but they get involved the closer the business moves to a purchase decision. You don’t deal with this in B2C funnels, as the customer is the same from the start to the end of the funnel.
3 stages in a B2B marketing funnel
B2B marketing funnels have at least three stages representing the beginning, middle, and end of the customer’s journey toward making a purchase. Many marketing and sales teams add more stages to reflect their longer sales cycles. They may also extend the funnel to boost engagement, retention, and lifetime value among existing customers.
Top of the Funnel (ToFu): Awareness
At the awareness stage, the potential customer discovers their problem and seeks to analyze it. The target persona is the end-user of your product or service.
Let’s take, for example, a startup that offers employee mentorship programs. The startup needs to engage employees who need guidance, as well as managers who want to improve their team members’ growth and morale. These two personas have different pain points and goals, so the startup creates different marketing campaigns for them.
Target persona: End-users, managers
Marketing materials: SEO-driven blog posts, media features, checklists, ads
Relevant KPIs: Page scrolls, sign-ups for content, ad clicks, leads generated
Middle of the Funnel (MoFu): Consideration
At the consideration stage, a potential customer weighs solutions to their problem (this is when they'll compare your business offering with one of your competitors).
Continuing our example, employees and managers have become aware of the fact that an employee mentorship program could solve their pain points. But they have concerns, and even objections, to the idea. The mentorship startup needs to help each persona overcome these objections through tailored messaging about specific strategies and mindsets relevant to the program.
Target persona: End-users, managers, decision-makers
Marketing materials: In-depth guides, ebooks, newsletters, webinars, ads
Relevant KPIs: Downloads, click-throughs, ad clicks, qualified leads generated
Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu): Decision
At the decision stage, the potential customer evaluates your product or service as a solution to their problem.
Let’s say a company’s decision-makers are now convinced that they must roll out an employee mentorship program. But which program should they adopt? Which service provider should they work with? The startup’s job at this stage is to convince decision-makers to choose their program.
Target persona: Decision makers (e.g., manager, C-level executive, finance chief)
Marketing materials: Case studies, white papers, demos, testimonials, product and pricing comparisons, ads
Relevant KPIs: Deals closed, contract value
How to create a B2B marketing funnel
Creating a B2B marketing or sales funnel is a data-driven process. You need to learn how and why people move through the customer journey, as well as what makes other people drop off the funnel. Marketing teams also analyze the funnel to identify ways to boost conversions.
Tie each stage to specific channels or touchpoints
By mapping B2B buyers’ touchpoints to different parts of the funnel, you can identify the most appropriate and effective marketing channels for each stage. You might see that customers typically discover your company through your blog posts and that those who eventually become customers show early signs of interest by signing up for your newsletter.
You’ll need to have a customer journey map – a visualization of your customer interactions – to be able to tie touchpoints to funnel stages. For more on this, check out our Guide to how B2B customer journeys are evolving.
Examples of touchpoints include:
LinkedIn ad clicked
Signed up for the online academy
Started a free trial
Identify and measure metrics of customer engagement at different stages
Metrics help you analyze your marketing funnel so you can improve customer engagement and conversion at each stage.
Conversion rate is a useful metric from the top to the bottom of the funnel. From awareness to consideration, you’d track conversions by monitoring how many leads filled out your newsletter sign-up form or downloaded an ebook from a landing page. From consideration to decision, you’d look at conversion for ads, free trials, sales calls, and account upgrade offers.
You’d also apply conversion rate across the entire journey, from awareness to decision. Say that 900 people start their customer journey by viewing your website. In the end, 50 of those people become new customers. That’s a conversion rate of 5.5%.
To know whether that number is good or bad, compare it with your competitors, industry benchmarks, your historical performance, and your business goals. In a study of 44,000 landing pages and more than 33 million conversions, Unbounce found that the median conversion for real estate companies was 2.6% in the year 2020, while for food caterers and restaurants, the median was 9.8%. Unbounce also reported the median conversion rates for 14 other industries.
Other relevant metrics include bounce rate for blog posts (awareness stage) and abandonment rate (decision stage). To learn more about these metrics, read our ebook on 11 customer engagement metrics you should be tracking.
Create lead generation & nurture campaigns that target customers at each stage
To keep people moving along your funnel, you need to capture their data so you can continue engaging them. This means having a strategy for collecting first-party data, such as by asking website visitors for their email addresses in exchange for something useful – think blog updates, templates, discounts, or access to an informal course.
From there – and with the customer’s consent – you can analyze each person’s behavior to learn what types of content resonate the most with them, which channels they prefer for interacting with your business, and which CTAs they either respond to or ignore.
Use this knowledge to personalize your lead nurturing campaigns. For instance, you might engage one lead more often through email marketing and another through social media campaigns.
The above image shows customer actions along a five-stage funnel. At the consideration stage, you might show the customer another version of the product page to see if that convinces them to add items to a cart. At the intent stage, you want to launch a retargeting or re-engagement campaign to get the customer to return to their cart and complete checkout. (While adding to cart is typically a B2C experience, many B2B companies, especially SaaS firms, have adopted a self-serve sales process so that customers can easily sign up and pay for subscriptions without talking to a sales rep.)
Reduce or eliminate the biggest points of friction throughout the funnel
When you track customer touchpoints and metrics along your marketing funnel, you learn which marketing activities are effective in engaging and converting customers and which ones aren’t.
You can then conduct experiments to optimize your funnel and improve conversion at each stage.
The graph above shows five conversion events and the number of people who make it to the next stage. The largest drop occurs between “Viewed Homepage” and “Signed Up,” which tells you that you need to redesign the steps involved in that part of the journey.
You can then use heatmapping and behavioral analytics tools, such as FullStory and Hotjar, to learn which specific steps or challenges cause website visitors to drop out of the funnel. As you tweak your homepage, use A/B testing software like Apptimize and VWO to measure how each change affects customer actions and sign-ups.
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