The marketing funnel is a model for describing how your customers engage with you.
Marketing funnels map the customer journey, from when a prospective customer first learns about your business, all the way through to when they make a purchase.
There are many ways of defining the various buyer stages, but the most common model breaks them down into three categories:
Top of funnel (TOFU) – “Hey, look over here!” – where the buyer understands he/ she has a problem and is interested in hearing about relevant solutions that can help.
Middle of funnel (MOFU) – “Look how great this is.” – where that person has noticed that you have a potential solution to his/ her problem and is interested in learning more about it.
Bottom of funnel (BOFU) – “See how this is best for you!” – where your prospective customer decides to buy a solution like yours, and wants answers on details, perhaps to weigh up your product or service against a competitor’s.
Ideally, the customer will then “convert” – probably acting on a sales close, known as a “call to action” – and buy your product.
An alternative version of TOFU/ MOFU/ BOFU is the AIDA model, tracking:
Awareness, where the prospective customer becomes aware of their problem and that you have a solution.
Interest, where he/ she takes a closer interest in your product or service.
Desire, where you’ve managed to build some excitement and become one of his/ her preferred options.
Action, where the person buys your product and becomes a customer.
These are just two of the most common ways of defining the sales funnel. In fact, you can think of it any way you like, perhaps in response to your own organization. The key points are that there is an initial stage where prospective customers have a need and don’t know about you. And then there is a final stage where you make a sale. How you define what happens in between those two stages is up to you.
The Purpose And Importance Of A Marketing Funnel
There are two reasons why you need to think about marketing funnels.
First, it enables you to target your marketing messaging at clearly-defined segments. For instance, how you approach someone that’s just heard of your company will, of course, be very different to how you speak to someone that’s close to buying. They each need different information about your product or service to move them towards converting.
So you need to think of all the different buyer stages for all the different potential uses for your product or service. And you also need to think of all the different reasons people might have for buying. From that, you can create a matrix that defines your ‘buyer personas’ – who will buy, why they’ll buy, and what they need to know at each stage of the marketing funnel.
So, for TOFU, what should you write in your advertisement or infographic, for example, that will connect with someone who’s never heard of your business? Infographics, advertisements, emails, social posts and short video clips are all examples of common TOFU marketing assets.
For MOFU, where you now have a captive audience, how do you differentiate your product or service against its competitors? Examples of MOFU assets include brochures, datasheets, white papers, case studies and more detailed videos.
And then finally for BOFU, it might be an obscure technical advantage or strategic market trend that wins you the sale, so what kind of communications piece can you provide that supports your argument? This could be anything from third party industry reports, to the prospect attending an advanced webinar, through to him/ her actually meeting the people that will be responsible for the delivery of your product.
The second role of the marketing funnel is to provide a mechanism by which you can track the progress of potential buyers. You can use it to follow sales prospects through the various buying stages. Your automated marketing systems can be used to feed the most relevant information to them, at the right time via the best means.
That could be any kind of information, any time, or in any number of ways. So you might send an email overnight, or it might just be your employee greeting a prospect walking into your store. All the different, so-called “touch-points” track your prospective customers journey towards conversion. If you know where they are, you can improve your service and increase sales.
How To Build A Marketing Funnel
The overall objective of your marketing funnel is to win customers.
Your first step is to define what channels you’ll be using. As referred to here, channels are where any touch-point with a customer can happen. This will vary greatly and depend on the nature of your business. You probably have a website, right? What about a sales force? How about a contact center? Or retail stores? Do you have a mailing list? Resellers? What else? Think about all the different ways that your business reaches out to potential customers. You will need to define your marketing funnel through all of them.
Next, for each of these channels you need to understand your buyer personas. So this is a combination of your product and service offerings, their different potential applications, and the different people that influence their purchase. Again, this will vary wildly depending on your business.
Perhaps you only sell fertilizer to carrot farmers via a simple website. There’s only one channel (the website), one product (fertilizer), one application (carrot growth) and one kind of buyer (the farmer).
In that case, your marketing funnel can be as simple as advertisements for carrot fertilizer (TOFU), case studies with testimonials (MOFU), some scientific research into the effectiveness of your fertilizer (BOFU) and a website that accepts orders.
But, on the other hand, perhaps you sell accounting software to large corporate organizations. In terms of channels, you have a website, strong social media presence, multiple large email lists, and numerous contact centers that all field different kinds of calls. Your product range might split out into three different cloud-based accounting services – gold, silver and bronze. And these solutions might all be targeted at businesses engaged in multiple sectors. Then finally, you might typically have to talk to the Chief Finance Officer and Chief Information Officer at prospective customers.
In this case, your TOFU alone might include website content on your latest product updates; blog articles posted in relevant channels on LinkedIn; out-bound emails to contacts in the space industry, and so on.
MOFU content might include case studies showing how your solution slashed the costs of a far-flung hydro-electric dam; brochures that demonstrate your superior financial analytics capabilities, and so on.
Then your BOFU content might include in-depth research that demonstrates why market trends favour your software solution.
The key point is that, for each of the stages of your marketing funnel, you must have a strategy. For every person involved in buying your product, at whatever stage he/ she is at in the sales process, you have to be able to make them nod their head in agreement at every touch point.
Tools For Funnel Marketing
There are a wide range of tools available for funnel marketing, and it’s way beyond the scope of any one article to try and address them all. But here are some of the highlights:
First, the centerpiece of any marketing automation effort is a customer relationship marketing (CRM) platform. These act as hubs, containing information about all customer contact. They probably don’t hold all the information – billing data would be held by the finance systems, for example – but they know where to find it. HubSpot and Salesforce are two great examples of widely used CRM systems.
Also, advanced analytics are becoming more and more important. As ever-more CRM tasks become automated – sending out timely promotional emails for example – analytics software can dramatically improve performance. For example, based on a customer’s past behavior, and comparing that with all your customer’s past behavior, it’s often possible to draw conclusions about how someone might react. Every individual might not behave as expected, but – if your database is large – then enough will respond to your marketing to enable you to make predictions. Hotjar and Google Analytics are both worth a look.
Webinars are becoming more and more useful. Especially as we’re all unable to meet up due to COVID-19, the seamless ability to meet and engage with each other online is hugely important. Webinars are great as both a top-of-funnel activity, to evangelise your product or service, or – especially with more technical sales – as a bottom-of-funnel activity to explain complex detail.