In today’s fast-paced world, adaptable marketing strategies can lead to fulfillment of ever-expanding sales opportunities. Using data analytics of customer behavior and feedback, you can implement, execute, and modify plans for optimized results. Integral to this effort is a well-developed, closely managed marketing funnel that drives sales and delivers a high return on investment (ROI).
The marketing funnel—which identifies various stages in converting potential customers into buyers—is a powerful, customer-focused tool. It has evolved over time, but the core elements remain the same. Our marketing funnel guide defines the funnel and explains what marketing initiatives best align with each phase.
What is a marketing funnel?
A marketing funnel defines the buyer journey from product or service and brand awareness to purchase completion. With the use of funnels, you can follow leads as they develop into prospects and customers.
The funnel may also show you where and how leads and prospects get lost from “leaks in the funnel.” During the process, you can analyze ROI, shorten the buyer journey, and design a more tailored customer experience. In the end, this increases revenue, strengthens brand loyalty, and allows you to gradually improve your marketing strategy.
In the past, new customers predictably passed through the marketing funnel one stage at a time, top to bottom, wide to narrow. In our digital age, the buyer’s journey is more complex, taking twists and turns.
For example, buyers today conduct more research before purchasing a product or service because they have more information at their fingertips. After they learn about a product, they usually check out online product reviews. Shoppers who like what they read move down the funnel to the next stage.
Then, they might see a competitor’s blog post or product comparison that makes them take a step back or even exit your funnel. At some point, they may reenter it at a different stage for various reasons, including digital remarketing efforts.
What are the benefits of marketing funnels?
The marketing funnel plays a crucial role, helping you understand how customers interact with your brand and how and why you need to nurture them at every stage of the funnel.
Many marketing teams use a martech stack and marketing automation tools to analyze the impact of marketing efforts along the funnel and adjust them as needed.
Why marketing funnels are important to businesses
Funnels are like the best friend who always has your back. They help you track your progress and provide guidance every step of the way. That essential business support can help you:
- Fine-tune your marketing strategy. The funnel narrows your focus on what matters most at each stage. It helps you determine how to enhance the customer journey, leading to a higher conversion rate. It can also identify which touchpoints are the biggest influencers or detractors, so you can make adjustments and apply tools like A/B testing to fine-tune content and messaging across different marketing channels.
- Better relate to your customers. You can learn about buyers’ pain points and how to address them when you watch them traverse the funnel. Today’s consumers expect brands to know and understand them. A well-managed funnel offering the right assistance and information helps you demonstrate this.
- Generate more sales. The funnel’s primary intent is to drive sales. Accomplish this by building a closer relationship with potential customers and enhancing the buying process at every funnel stage.
- Stay competitive. Analyzing the buyer’s journey, identifying where leads or prospects exit the funnel and are lost to the competition, and making changes to stop funnel leaks keep your marketing campaign fresh and competitive.
Marketing funnel vs. sales funnel
While marketing and sales funnels both aim to convert leads into customers, they differ in focus, scope, and purpose.
A marketing funnel focuses on the entire customer journey—from creating brand awareness to generating interest to influencing a purchase. The marketing funnel is broader in scope and typically managed by the marketing team. They might use content marketing, social media campaigns, and search engine optimization (SEO) to attract, nurture, and engage leads throughout the buyer’s journey.
A sales funnel is a narrower process targeting specific prospects with clear purchase intent. It’s typically managed by the sales team and includes sales-specific activities (e.g., presentations, product demos, negotiations, and closing deals).
Imagine a software company promoting a new project management tool. The marketing team might create blog posts, social media content, and email campaigns to generate awareness and interest in the brand and product range.
As potential customers progress through the marketing funnel and show buying intent, the sales team takes over to provide personalized demos, answer questions, and make the sale. This involves a series of interactions between people regarding a specific product.
In other words, the marketing funnel attracts, nurtures, and engages leads, while the sales funnel focuses on turning interested prospects into paying customers. The two funnels are part of a successful sales and marketing strategy and should work together for optimal results.
Stages of the marketing funnel
Modern marketing funnels are usually nonlinear, flexible models that can adapt to digital technology changes, advances in data analytics, and fluctuations in consumer buying habits and behaviors. Customers go through six classic stages of the marketing funnel regardless of the actual funnel shape—which likely includes loopbacks and reentries—and progress to an advocacy stage.
Marketing funnel stages:
1. Awareness (upper funnel)
The first stage in the upper funnel—awareness—fuels lead generation. This awareness stage is all about creating brand visibility and capturing potential customers’ attention. You might use brand positioning tactics like SEO, social media, digital ads, media coverage, blog posts, direct mail, events, and pop-ups to create buzz and make your brand known to your target audience.
For example, a fitness app might create engaging blog content on exercise routines and healthy recipes, run targeted social media ads, and collaborate with influencers in the fitness industry to increase brand awareness.
2. Interest (upper funnel)
In the interest stage, you’ll begin creating a relationship with a lead, positioning your product or service and brand as the solution to their problem or need and applying marketing tactics that make them want to learn more.
This second upper-funnel stage is where you start nurturing leads through personalized content, email marketing, newsletters, and links to downloadable content (like ebooks).
For instance, an e-commerce store selling eco-friendly products could send newsletters with tips on living sustainably, feature customer success stories, and offer informative resources, like ebooks or infographics.
3. Consideration (middle funnel)
Leads that move into the consideration stage become qualified prospects who are actively considering their options.
At this point, you’ll want to demonstrate a deep understanding of their needs through targeted content and messaging. Offer webinars, white papers, and original research reports to help your prospects make informed decisions. Remarketing tactics can also help reengage prospects who may have left your funnel earlier.
For example, a digital marketing agency might offer a free webinar on improving website SEO, provide a case study showcasing client successes, and use targeted ads to retarget prospects who have visited their website but haven’t requested a consultation.
4. Intent (middle funnel)
In the intent stage, prospects show a clear desire to buy. This is the perfect time for your sales team to step in and provide sales-level content. Your marketing efforts should showcase your product or service as the best fit for the prospect’s needs. Offer case studies, additional product information, and competitor comparison charts to help them understand why your solution stands out.
For instance, a business-to-business (B2B) software company might provide a detailed product comparison, highlighting the unique features and benefits that set their software apart from the competition. They could also offer testimonials and case studies from satisfied clients to reinforce the value of their solution.
5. Evaluation (lower funnel)
Prospects that slide into the bottom of the lower funnel are close to making a final buying decision. During the evaluation stage, they’re comparing their options and weighing the pros and cons of each.
Your marketing and sales teams should work closely to address any lingering concerns, answer questions, and provide additional information as needed. Besides the relationship-building and hand-holding sales efforts, marketing can support sales by providing additional targeted content that helps the prospect stay focused on your brand.
For example, a real estate agency might offer personalized consultations to help potential buyers evaluate properties, address financial concerns, and discuss specific needs or preferences.
6. Purchase (lower funnel)
The purchase stage is the final step in the marketing funnel, where prospects decide to buy and become your customers. Your sales team will take the lead, closing deals and finalizing transactions. However, the marketing team can still play a supportive role to ensure a smooth and positive buying experience.
For instance, the marketing function of an online clothing retailer could take the lead in offering a seamless checkout process, multiple payment options, and responsive customer support through online chat to make the purchase as convenient as possible.
7. Post-purchase behavior (advocacy)
A positive buyer journey (assuming customers are happy with the purchased product or service) generates leads through referrals that fill the funnel at the awareness stage.
Although not technically part of the marketing funnel, the advocacy stage is vital for maintaining customer relationships and encouraging repeat business. This stage involves continuing to engage and delight existing customers, providing ongoing support, and encouraging them to become brand advocates.
For example, a subscription-based meal delivery service might offer exclusive promotions, personalized recommendations, add-on options, and responsive customer support to keep subscribers happy and encourage them to refer friends and family.
Upper funnel versus lower funnel marketing
Upper-funnel marketing tactics and goals are different from lower-funnel marketing efforts and objectives. You might think all marketing funnel stages are equally important, but this isn’t always the case.
Let’s say you have decent brand and product awareness, but you need more customers. Focusing your marketing efforts on the lower funnel to drive conversions is paramount. If your company is launching or entering a new market, you may concentrate more on the upper funnel.
B2C vs. B2B marketing funnel differences
Business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing funnels primarily focus on engaging and converting target consumer segments, while B2B marketing funnels target organizations and decision-makers.
B2C marketing funnels typically have a shorter sales cycle, as consumer purchasing decisions are often impulsive and emotionally driven. In contrast, B2B marketing funnels usually have a longer sales cycle, as business decisions involve multiple stakeholders and require a more thorough evaluation of options.
For example, a B2C e-commerce store might use social media advertising, influencer partnerships, and personalized email campaigns to build awareness and drive conversions. On the other hand, a B2B software provider may rely on content marketing, webinars, and targeted emails to educate prospects and guide them through the decision-making process.
How to develop a marketing funnel
The marketing funnel is a valuable roadmap for guiding prospects through the buyer’s journey—from initial awareness to eventual conversion. Understanding your audience’s needs and pain points helps you create targeted content and use tactics that resonate with them at each stage of the funnel.
The next section outlines how to create an effective marketing funnel, with real-world examples to illustrate each step.
Marketing funnel steps:
- Define your target audience
- Establish goals and objectives
- Develop content and tactics for each funnel stage
- Implement your marketing funnel strategy
- Monitor, analyze, and optimize
1. Define your target audience
Understand who your target audience is before creating a marketing funnel. Conduct market research, create buyer personas, and identify your ideal customers’ key demographics, interests, and pain points.
For example, a fitness apparel brand might target active, health-conscious individuals between ages 18 and 35 who are interested in high-quality, fashionable workout gear.
2. Establish goals and objectives
Determine the primary goals and objectives for your marketing funnel. This could include increasing brand awareness, generating leads, or supporting cross-selling.
Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals to guide your strategy. For example, a small online bookstore may aim to increase its email subscriber list by 25% within six months.
3. Develop content and tactics for each funnel stage
Create content and tactics tailored to each stage of the marketing funnel. This content should address the needs, pain points, and questions of your target audience and guide them through the buyer’s journey.
For example, a marketing agency might use blog posts and infographics for awareness, whitepapers and webinars for consideration, and case studies and free consultations for the purchase stage.
4. Implement your marketing funnel strategy
Put your marketing funnel plan into action by creating and distributing content, running targeted advertising campaigns, and implementing other tactics that align with your goals and objectives.
For example, a home renovation company may launch a social media campaign featuring before-and-after photos, host a series of workshops on popular renovation topics, and offer free in-home consultations to potential clients.
5. Monitor, analyze, and optimize
Regularly monitor and analyze the performance of your marketing funnel, using key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to gauge success. Based on this data, make adjustments and optimizations to your funnel strategy to improve results.
For example, an e-commerce store may notice a declining email open rate. This might prompt the store to test different subject lines and email content to improve engagement.
An example of a marketing funnel for business
Imagine a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company looking to grow its user base. The company could build a comprehensive marketing funnel:
- Top of the funnel (ToFu). Focus on content marketing, such as blog posts and videos, to increase brand awareness and generate organic traffic. The company could also use social media posts and influencer marketing to reach a wider audience.
- Middle of the funnel (MoFu). Use email marketing, targeted ads, and webinars to engage and nurture leads, providing information on product features and benefits while addressing potential objections.
- Bottom of the funnel (BoFu). Offer lead magnets—like free trials, case studies, and personalized demos—to help potential customers make informed decisions and convert them into paying users.
Measuring the success of your marketing funnel
You might track a variety of key performance metrics to measure the success of a marketing funnel, such as:
Given the complexity of today’s customer purchase paths, attribution models are often used to determine which elements of the funnel have contributed to leading customers to the purchase decision. This type of analysis can help you better understand how to leverage or shore up tactics and decide where to allocate resources for maximum impact.
Unlock your marketing funnel’s potential
In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, a robust marketing funnel can be the driving force for turning prospective customers into loyal customers.
By mastering the art of the conversion funnel, you can effectively guide potential customers through their buyer journey and transform qualified leads into long-lasting relationships. From top-of-funnel marketing activities that increase brand awareness to lower-funnel tactics that promote customer retention, a well-executed strategy can propel your business to new heights.
You can harness the power of search engines and other digital channels to gather and analyze data and then create tailored content that resonates with your target audience at each stage of the funnel. As you build your marketing plan, remain agile and adapt to your customers’ (and the market’s) ever-changing needs.
Developing, managing, and optimizing your marketing funnel may require a diverse set of skills and expertise. If your current team lacks the necessary resources or experience, consider staff augmentation to bridge the gap. Upwork offers a network of top independent professionals, allowing you to access top talent and elevate your marketing efforts.
When you partner with the world’s largest work marketplace, you can confidently build your dream team and drive your business forward.
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