How many touchpoints does it take to deliver a qualified sales lead? You’ll see numbers ranging from five to 20+ cited as reasonable benchmarks, depending on the sector. Whatever the baseline, customers need to be led on a journey toward a purchase, and that calls for a digital marketing funnel. Intertwined with both marketing and sales, the funnel turns leads into customers and browsers into buyers. Numbers will decrease the deeper that leads descend into the funnel — from TOFU (top of funnel) through MOFU (middle of funnel) to BOFU (bottom of funnel) — that’s the nature of lead nurturing. The goal, however, is to deliver engaged, empowered customers at checkout who will go on to become advocates for your brand. Here’s how.
Why the Digital Marketing Funnel Matters
Your marketing budget goes further when you refine your target audience, nurture their interest, and learn about them with each interaction. There’s a sequence to that journey, and it’s best practice for digital marketers to follow it. No customer is ever won easily. After all, 79% of marketing leads never convert. With a clearly defined digital marketing funnel, at least sales and marketing teams can take ownership of the journey and mitigate losses from lead to loyalty.
What Are the Various Stages?
Different models apply, but most are minor variations on the same theme. Typically, the digital marketing funnel has three distinct phases:
TOFU — Top of Funnel
The purpose here is to capture leads in the awareness stage when a customer has a problem or need but has yet to identify a solution. From the eCommerce-store perspective, these prospects may be a perfect match for the buyer persona or a poor fit for the products or services on offer. The priority for now, however, is just to get them in the door in order to find out more.
Do: Stand out from the crowd. Entertain and engage.
Don’t: Sell. It’s way too early.
MOFU — Middle of Funnel
This stage nurtures and qualifies leads through the interest and consideration phase. The customer is aware of the brand or solution and is ready to learn more. Here is the opportunity for marketing teams to segment leads and tailor messaging or offers accordingly so that sales teams can close the deal more efficiently.
Do: Keep engaging your customers actively. Encourage them to click and interact.
Don’t: Forget to keep listening and learning about your customers, even though it’s tempting to dive into the sales pitch.
BOFU — Bottom of Funnel
It’s closing time. In the final (more on that later) phase, the customer is actively evaluating the options, comparing them, and looking for testimonials before reaching a decision. This isn’t the only phase in which sales teams need to be actively involved, but it’s where their skills are most effective.
Do: Ask for the sale! Make a time-sensitive offer with a clear call to action.
Don’t: Second-guess your offer. If the funnel so far has done its job and delivered accurate behavioral insight, your sales team should know what the customer needs. Don’t distract and paralyze your buyer at the last hurdle with an increasing range of options.
Which Channels Are Best Suited for Each Stage?
Again, there may be some crossover between stages, but certain channels and content work hardest when they are introduced at a specific moment:
A coherent content marketing strategy will match the most relevant content to each step of the customer journey, targeting the most effective channels at each touchpoint. With an inbound approach, brands lure in customers with engaging content that triggers interest.
Awareness nurturing often starts with a lead magnet, such as a free eBook, in exchange for the customer’s email address. Presenting a value exchange at the top of the funnel primes the customer for conversion at the bottom, and allows for greater control over subsequent content delivery. That can make the budget go further compared to spending on ads alone, and it’s why (according to HubSpot) 60% of marketers identify content as essential to their overall strategy.
The holy grail is content marketing that goes viral, whether it’s a short video clip or a thumb-stopping social media post. When the audience itself distributes content, advertising is not only free but also comes with the extra allure of social proof.
Digital marketers can also support their content marketing efforts with pay-per-click campaigns on social media or Google that target key audiences rather than unengaged passersby. Not all ad formats are created equal, however, and it’s important to know which ones work best for building brand awareness.
Over half of marketers cite webinars as a leading source of the highest-quality top-of-funnel leads. A customer who has made the effort to sign up to and follow a webinar is clearly invested in finding a solution.
For those who aren’t ready to commit to a webinar, however, marketers will have to put some serious ad spend behind creative paid campaigns that get noticed.
Nurture and Consideration Channels
As soon as a prospect engages, the priority must be to guide them through the funnel and serve them increasingly focused content according to their needs. Email marketing is outstanding in this respect; you’ve likely seen the statistic that email marketing’s ROI is $42 for every $1 spent.
The ideal channels during this stage are those that feel like a personalized conversation (and build trust in the process). Drip-feed a steady diet of educational and entertaining content that fills in gaps in the customer’s knowledge. That means video content, tool kits, checklists, how-to tutorials, and infographics. Toward the latter stage, where leads are qualified, spur consideration with case studies, free demos, and longer-form ebooks. Your own website is the hardest-working channel during consideration, and it should allow customers to serve themselves all the content they need.
Evaluation and Purchase Channels
Let your sales teams jump in with personalized offers that invite a decision. Email, Messenger, and SMS are all direct and personal, as are one-to-one consultation calls and demos. Marketing teams can support their efforts with last-minute deal-clinchers, such as testimonials, product sheets, and white papers.
So far, we’ve limited discussion to purchase as the ultimate goal, but in truth, the funnel goes beyond that. Recently converted customers can become powerful advocates for your brand, so encourage them to leave testimonials, subscribe, provide referrals, and make repeat purchases with retargeting and postpurchase flows on email, SMS, and Messenger.
What KPIs Should You Track at Each Stage?
Tracking KPIs keeps the campaign on budget and supports the constant testing and tweaking that you should be doing at each stage.
Who’s paying attention? You’ll find the answers on your Google Analytics dashboard in the form of new visitors, traffic sources, and organic impressions. That’s because 49% of consumers start their search with Google, which is why SEO is so important across all search engines. Look also at your click-through rate, bounce rate, and even cost-per-click to manage your budget prudently and measure brand awareness.
On social media, your shares, likes, and comments will indicate whether customers are engaged, but metrics such as time on site and returning-visitor numbers will show whether your content is hitting the mark — as will email open rates.
It’s tempting to look at no-nonsense metrics like downloads, consultations booked, and sales, but look also at the cost of customer acquisition, return on ad spend, and cart abandonment rate to fine-tune your funnel.
The Difference Between B2B and B2C
Is there a separate funnel for business-to-business marketing? Not exactly. B2B and B2C are often similar at the awareness stage, in that prospects for both are simply looking for information to solve a problem. During the information-gathering stage, B2C buyers typically have a broader pool of options to consider, whereas B2B prospects will narrow their search faster. When it comes to weighing the options, B2C consumers will check customer reviews and ratings — in fact, almost 90% of customers do so before making a purchase. B2B customers, on the other hand, are more likely to require objective technical research, spec sheets, and case studies.
There’s a notable difference at the purchase stage. Whereas B2C buyers will interact independently with the store, the procurement process for B2B means more stakeholders are involved. As a result, there’s a closer interaction with sales teams, and a longer sales process to incorporate demos, purchase orders, and invoicing.
Other Variations on the Funnel
In our omnichannel digital world, there are some who argue that a linear TOFU-to-BOFU funnel no longer applies. They point out that some 81% of digitally-empowered customers will do their own research online first, or might enter the funnel “warm” from a referral.
Others, like McKinsey, argue that there is no slow process of seduction between prospect and brand through the funnel. Instead, customers keep a fully-stocked shortlist of options right up to decision time, meaning marketers have to work equally hard during postpurchase to retain them. Under this view, customers are not brand-obsessed or even particularly loyal, and success in one stage of the funnel by no means guarantees success in the next.
An alternative funnel tracks the journey from customer to post-purchase advocate. This is the customer experience funnel, and it’s the cornerstone of retention rather than conversion marketing. Given that the most expensive customer a brand will acquire is a new one (it’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than retain one), brands should not underestimate the value of investing in existing customers and drilling down on customer lifetime value through loyalty rewards and subscriptions.
Keep an Eye on Micro-Conversions
One final thought concerns micro-conversions, the small and incremental steps that lead up to a conversion. Even once a customer reaches a landing page, there could be 10 or more micro-conversions before purchase — selecting size or color, entering card details, choosing a payment method, and so on.
Each is an opportunity for them to abandon, which is why conversion rate optimization is so important. Google Analytics and heat-map tools will show where customers are getting stuck or hesitating, which is your cue to remove, rename, or reposition the elements that are causing friction. There’s a rough spot in every sales funnel, whether it’s the shopping checkout experience, product descriptions, or shipping fees. Each micro-conversion should be tested relentlessly to maximize user experience and conversions.
And there, like a well-crafted digital marketing funnel, we’ve delivered you successfully from introduction to conclusion. Now it’s time to get started!
McKinsey— The Consumer Decision Journey
Search Engine Journal — Content KPIs to Define Success at Every Stage of the Funnel
Smart Insights — Define Effective Digital Marketing KPIs to Achieve Your Goals