In sales and in marketing, we imagine this magical funnel, where once a prospect enters your company's ecosystem (through social media or a blog post, for example) they'll eventually be spit out as a paying customer.
The funny part about this metaphor is it rarely works out that way, because we're humans.
What Is A Funnel?
The "funnel" is different depending on who you talk to, but it generally looks like this:
That breaks the funnel down into 3-4 parts, depending on who you ask. I like to break it down this way:
- Top of Funnel (Awareness): These activities drive traffic to our website. All the blog posts, social media promotion, research/ebooks, events that show the world you exist and what you do. This part of the funnel sets the foundation of trust before asking for money.
- Middle of Funnel (Consideration): Once you receive an email address, you can enter the second part of the funnel, sometimes also known as engagement. After they know you and love you, they start to think about buying from you. (This is generally the point where sales may take over, depending on what type of customers you have and the industry you're in.)
- Bottom of Funnel (Conversion): This is the golden step, because it's when that email address becomes a paying customer.
- Bonus (Loyalty-Advocacy): I call this bonus, but others visualize the funnel opening back up. It's when you can upsell to those conversions, retain them year over year, and build a community of customers who love your product so much that they're willing to provide social proof or word of mouth for you naturally.
It's More Like A Wishing Well Funnel
As much as we'd love to see it as a straight line—a ton of potential customers go to the website, and then some give you your email address, and then only a few become customers—it's really more like the wishing wells you see at science museums.
You've seen them: you put a penny or a ball in at the top, and it goes around...and around...and around...and around the top of the funnel for what seems like forever. As a kid these would mesmerize me to watch, especially because as the penny got closer to the bottom of the funnel, it would speed up.
Related: It's Not About You
This is much closer to how our business funnels work than what we imagine. Potential customers spin around and around and around the top of the funnel, reading a blog post there, retweeting something else here, for years if need be. It might be that your content is so good that they don't realize you've got a service, or it might be that they don't have the budget to purchase what you're offering, or a boss that doesn't believe they need it.
Once they break that top-of-funnel cycle, though, it starts to speed up. Once they make that decision to buy (somewhere in between giving you their email address and making the purchase) they may need time to mull it over, or in the B2B world, get it approved.
As marketers, you need to mix content that will serve customers no matter where they are in the stage of their decision.
A B2C Example
I have a weakness for Boden clothing. I love their clothes, but they're definitely wardrobe investments—they're expensive, but always worth it. Because of this, I often will put something in my cart, waffle, and then come back to it in a few days and buy.
What speeds this up for me? A friendly reminder from Boden:
I purchased it only hours after I left it there to think it over. That's the power of marketing (especially email marketing!) Look at your marketing activities by what your customer needs, and when they need it.
A few questions to ask yourself:
- What kind of content are we providing at each stage in the funnel?
- Do we know where our current prospects are in the funnel?
- Is there a standard journey that prospects follow to become customers?
- How can we make that journey smoother? Where are the friction points?
- What content can we provide that will speed up the funnel?
There's no magic answer, no formula—because it depends on your audience, your product, and your ecosystem.