The sales funnel is a concept that companies use to illustrate the specific steps a buyer takes toward purchasing their product or service.
Prospective customers begin the buying process at the wide end of the sales funnel and move closer to a purchase decision through nurturing from sales and marketing efforts. The funnel starts to narrow as some prospects decide not to buy and get stuck in the top-of-funnel stages, or drop out of it completely.
This concept has been around for over 100 years. Despite what some might say, the sales funnel isn’t going away anytime soon.
As many B2B companies shift toward account-based strategies (targeting specific companies instead of a broader demographic), it’s increasingly important to know which steps customers of their particular product take to convert.
Truthfully, every company should understand how their buyers travel through the funnel and have a plan for addressing customers at each stage.
You can create your own sales funnel with our free template below. Continue reading to learn more about the best tactics to use in every stage.
Stages of the B2B sales funnel
Stage #1: Awareness stage
What your customers do in the awareness stage
In the awareness stage, buyers become aware of the problem—the pain that your solution could help treat.
For instance, if your product is a project management platform, your customer’s pain point might be that their team has an unorganized workflow.
As the buyer becomes aware of their problem, they begin searching for more information about how to solve it.
Many times they have not yet heard about your company or product. And many times they haven’t even thought about making a purchase to solve the problem.
What you should do in the awareness stage
Your goal in the awareness stage of the sales funnel is to provide the problem-solving information people are looking for, as well as introduce your offering as a potential solution.
First, in order to know what types of buyers are relevant for your product or service and what information they’re looking for, you need to define your unique B2B buyer persona.
Once you understand which companies you should be targeting, which specific roles in those companies, their priorities, and what drives them to purchase, it’s time to decide which tactics will be effective for capturing their attention in this early stage.
Tactics for reaching buyers in the awareness stage
The best approach for B2B is an allbound strategy, a strategy that uses both inbound marketing tactics (persuading leads to contact you) and outbound sales tactics (reaching out to leads first).
Inbound and outbound tactics for the awareness stage of the B2B sales funnel include:
- Blogging: Posting free educational blog content that answers the specific questions of your persona
- Gated content: Offering valuable content downloads (like comprehensive guides) in exchange for the visitor’s contact information, collected through a web form
- SEO: Optimizing your website content to rank high on search engines, for relevant searches, by using SEO best practices
- Paid ads: Directing leads to your product pages and content download landing pages with sponsored ads on Google and social media (LinkedIn provides the best targeting for B2B)
- MQL follow-up: Sales development reps (SDRs) call on marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) who have contacted your company or downloaded your content, with the goal of scheduling a sales appointment or demo
- Cold calling: SDRs call on cold leads at target accounts in your database, with the goal of scheduling a sales appointment or demo
Stage #2: Consideration
What your customers do in the consideration stage
The consideration stage of the B2B sales funnel is where buyers assess their options for solving the problem at hand.
In this stage, they’re learning more about the different methods they might use to fix the problem and considering whether each possible solution would be a good fit for their organizational situation.
What you should do in the consideration stage
To minimize the opportunities lost, it’s time to kick things into gear and show prospects why your solution is the best option for solving their individual pain points.
If you performed adequate research on your buyer persona, you’ll know about the challenges they’re facing and what their biggest priorities are. Convince prospects that your solution is valuable and can meet their needs by addressing their most relevant pain points.
Use these pain points to develop the main value propositions you’ll use when speaking to prospects.
For example, if you provide outsourced business services, one of your value propositions may be that your services cost less per year than hiring for the role internally. This messaging might entice B2B buyers who face expensive costs of hiring and training for those departments.
Tactics for getting buyers to consider your solution
In the consideration stage, it’s important that every touchpoint in your allbound strategy gives prospects insight into your value and is tailored to their individual needs. Some tactics include:
- Blogging: Again, this content should be educational and answer specific questions, but in the consideration stage, blogs should be more focused on solutions like yours and comparing relevant alternatives (such as this blog post, for example)
- Retargeting ads: A portion of your ad budget may go toward retargeting ads, which target prospects who have already visited your site or specific web pages
- Email marketing: Nurturing prospects through automated email campaigns using a platform like Pardot, which lets you set up complex drip programs that send leads relevant content at just the right time (based on their persona and buying stage)
- Sales collateral: Sending leads branded documents that address their questions and concerns, such as product one-pagers, FAQs, and case studies, developed jointly by marketing and sales
- Prospect discovery: As SDRs follow up with prospects who have yet to set a meeting and as salespeople have their first meetings with prospects, reps should ask purposeful discovery questions to get information that can be leveraged throughout nurturing
- Lead rating: As prospects move through the sales funnel, using a consistent system for rating leads in your CRM or automation platform helps track prospects’ interest and intent to buy
Stage #3: Decision
What your customers do in the decision stage
The decision stage is the narrowest point of the sales funnel. A fraction of your prospects make it here, but they are inherently the most rewarding.
These prospects are at the point where they’re convinced a solution like yours could meet their needs and are ready to negotiate a deal.
In this stage, they’re weighing the pros and cons of your offering, competitors’ offerings, alternative solutions (besides buying something), or and maybe even taking no action at all.
For B2B deals, this often involves winning over a full buying committee, which might require confirmation from high-level decision makers in the prospect’s company, contract approval from the legal department, etc.
What you should do in the decision stage
Your goal in the decision stage is to address and eliminate any remaining concerns or barriers to purchase. This is when you must convince prospects of the business value you provide.
Assist buyers through the funnel by helping them get past their organizational obstacles. For example, you may help them budget the spend, develop an implementation timeline, or make a convincing case for the purchase to their internal stakeholders.
Getting the customer’s entire buying committee to reach an agreement can be a lengthy process, so it’s a good idea to involve each person who has a say in the decision early on in the nurturing process.
This is also why it’s important to research your buyer personas for each role on the committee and understand the nuances of their pain points and priorities. For instance, managers may care more about the technical aspects of your product, while directors and VPs often prioritize the business impact of using it.
Tactics for helping buyers finalize the deal
Some tactics that are useful in the decision stage of the sales funnel include:
- Case studies: Customer success stories are effective for demonstrating the specific ways your product could benefit a prospect, especially when providing an example from the customer’s own vertical
- CRM notation: You should be doing this in all stages, but using your CRM to notate every interaction with each prospect on the buying committee is especially useful for tracking incremental progress in the decision stage
- Outside sales: While many companies now focus on the inside sales model exclusively, an in-person sales presentation or demo may be the final push a buying committee needs to agree on a purchase
- Negotiation: When feasible, negotiating discounts or trial periods can be a deciding factor of whether the buyer will take a chance on your solution (but remember to keep an eye on your own bottom line when making these offers)
Stage #4: Growth
What your customers do in the growth stage
In the growth stage, buyers have purchased your product or service and are beginning the process of adopting and implementing it.
With proper guidance during onboarding, customers are more likely to actually use the product and more likely to purchase again. Otherwise, there’s a possibility that they may never get full utility of your solution, and as a result, decide there’s no need to spend more money on it.
What you should do in the growth stage
This stage happens after the sale, but the modern sales funnel recognizes that there are opportunities to increase customer lifetime value in the post-sale stages. After all, it costs 5x less to retain a customer than to acquire a new one.
The objective in the growth stage is to reduce customer churn by giving your buyers a satisfying experience from the start of the business relationship, so that the relationship can continue to grow.
Another opportunity in this stage is to present your customers with options to customize and supplement their existing product or service, through upselling and cross-selling techniques
Tactics for growing customer accounts
Tactics that can help you satisfy and retain customers in the growth stage include:
- Onboarding documentation: Providing new customers onboarding documents with simple steps they can follow to implement your product successfully
- Customer knowledge base: Organizing all educational resources, instructions, and answers that your new customers might need in a self-service portal on your website
- Customer success management: Having a dedicated representative who works directly with new clients and collaborates through the configuration and implementation process
- Training programs: Offering initial and ongoing training to customers to ensure they continually get the most out of your tool, and are informed about additional features or products they can purchase to increase functionality
Stage #5: Delight
What your customers do in the delight stage
Customers in the delight stage of the sales funnel are continuing their use of your solution.
They expect your company to continue meeting their needs by providing excellent support. These customers won’t hesitate to switch to your competitors if they’re not satisfied.
The delight stage is a crucial part of the buyer’s journey where customers potentially develop loyalty for your brand, and often more importantly, recommend your product or service to their colleagues.
What you should do in the delight stage
Your goal in the delight stage is to foster that customer loyalty and advocacy, by encouraging and incentivizing renewals and referrals.
Looking to thriving companies like Amazon and Netflix as examples, it becomes apparent that today’s companies have to put existing customer relationships first if they have ambitions of long-term growth.
This can be accomplished by making sure your customers are not only satisfied but absolutely delighted by your product and the support you provide for it. Buyers become loyal advocates when they feel that a brand genuinely cares about maintaining and strengthening relationships with their customers.
Delighting customers is no longer just a top-down initiative or the responsibility of sales teams only. Every employee in your company is responsible for cultivating strong customer relationships.
Once your customers start considering their renewal or once they refer a friend, the sales funnel process begins again.
Tactics for delighting and retaining customers
Some of the best tactics for the delight stage of the sales funnel include:
- Regular health checks: Customer service reps (CSRs) or success managers regularly check in with customers via phone or email to confirm that your solution is still working properly for them and/or suggest ways to improve utility
- Request feedback: Show customers you value their input by requesting direct feedback or reviews on relevant platforms (Google, G2 Crowd, and Clutch.co, to name a few)
- Exclusive offers: Express appreciation for your customers by offering discounts for their loyalty, especially as an incentive for referring new customers
- Email lists: Share new product and company updates with customers on an email subscriber list to ensure your customers always feel in the loop and connected to your brand
- Multi-channel support: Stay competitive by providing comprehensive customer support that’s accessible through all of your buyers’ favorite channels (phone, email, web chat, social media, etc.)
How to measure & optimize your sales funnel
Companies should routinely measure, analyze, and optimize their sales funnel.
This is important for ensuring your customer journeys are properly mapped and that you’re not missing any opportunities to lead buyers closer to a purchase. We have a couple of tips for measuring and optimizing your funnel.
- Measure each stage of the sales funnel:
Track and measure how many prospects and buyers are in each stage of your sales funnel, as well as how many are successfully transitioning between stages. A healthy sales pipeline reveals consistent downward movement of prospects through the funnel. If you have an experienced CRM administrator, they’ll be able to configure custom reports so all stakeholders can stay informed on this progress. It’s normal to see fewer prospects as the funnel narrows. But if you’re losing a substantial number of leads in the consideration and decision stages, consider new tactics or reconsider your current ones.
- Test every tactic:
Are the customers who complete your onboarding training program more likely to renew their purchase? You may have prospects clicking the links in your emails, but do they proceed to download your marketing offering? Through the use of a sophisticated email marketing automation platform, you can easily track activity like this. Know how effective each tactic is, continue doing what works, and revise those that don’t work to avoid wasting more time or money on them.
Continuous optimization is key to creating a high-performing sales funnel. If you have any questions about how your sales funnel might be improved, don’t hesitate to contact the Specialists at EBQ.