For anyone who works in a B2B environment, the concept of a ‘sales funnel’ is one you are probably very familiar with. But it’s actually a bit of a misnomer.
In a funnel, everything that gets put in at the top will eventually come out the bottom. However, this isn’t true in sales (if only it was!).
The way the sales process actually works is more like an inverted pyramid. At the top, you start with a broad spread of people. Then from there the numbers get smaller and smaller as you head down through the many stages that come before you finally close the sale.
Nowadays, with the growth of inbound marketing and the way sales is evolving, it’s best to consider the whole process as a series of different pathways, with your ‘pipeline’ simply being a measure of how many people are currently on these various paths.
The ‘sales funnel’ in action
All leads will start at the same place and begin following the same path – which will aim to eventually take them on to a purchase.
As each lead travels down this path, different crossroads will appear. They may notice an ad that interests them, read a blog post, or attend an event. These junctures could be any activity that the marketing department is using to try and grab attention.
If these tactics don’t get a response, then the lead will continue on a path that usually takes them back to the start, where the process may begin again at a later date. But for anyone who followed the new path, they will now notice other crossings and junctures. Each one will give them a choice, whether to continue on that route or not.
For example, they may get an email and choose to ignore it – one path. Or perhaps read the email and click on a link it contains – another path.
These paths will continually cross and intersect with one another, meaning there is no one definite route to a sale. There will be many options and variations, and as the vendor, it is your job to create attractive pathways.
Getting it right
To ensure this network of paths is both attractive and easy to follow, marketing, sales and customer services teams all need to work together. The secret of success lies in this collaboration and joined up thinking. Everyone needs to share their insights and observations to help create a strong marketing plan, and to understand how they fit within that, so the company acts and speaks with one voice.
What is clear is that in reality, the sales process is far more complex than a simple funnel model may suggest. Things may have been far more linear before digital marketing came along, but it’s vital that modern approaches recognize how purchasing habits have changed.
To create an effective sales funnel nowadays takes a lot of work. To help you, here are some ideas for how you can achieve it using digital marketing, when you’re a sales team within a B2B organization.
How big is the ask
When creating your sales funnel, you always need to consider how big the ‘ask’ is. What are you asking of the people who are interacting with you?
For example, encouraging someone to like a post on LinkedIn or Facebook is considerably less taxing than asking someone to commit to a six-month contract.
Many organizations will make the mistake of starting out with too big an ask. They will hit people with the big guns – ‘we have an amazing service and yes it costs, but it could achieve xyz for you!’.
In sales and marketing, it’s best to think of it like dating. If you ask way too much of the other person on a first date, then you’re likely to seriously put them off and may come across as pushy, or too intense. Don’t make that mistake. Instead, lay out a path with little breadcrumbs that encourage them to follow. A little bit here and there, gradually building up and asking more of them.
Two key phases of the sales process
The process starts with marketing. Here, you are trying to attract a targeted crowd, who you can then encourage to follow you along on the path you’ve laid out.
Any activity you undertake should be geared towards attracting the right kind of people, at the right time. There are loads of different things you can do to achieve this and you’ll find stacks of articles, ideas and inspiration on our blog.
It’s important to truly understand the people you are in contact with and to recognize their needs and what you can offer them.
Getting a like on Facebook is just the start and won’t be worth much if there’s no engagement afterwards. It may be a small ask that many people can easily take you up on, but what happens next? In this case, your focus needs to be on getting them to engage with you, ideally via some sort of offer on your website that will convert them into a lead.
Creating an offer
That is the first step in creating your sales funnel. Usually, this “offer” will be some sort of informative content that is available in exchange for an email address.
So, what kind of offer should it be?
The answer to this question will depend on many factors, such as whether your focus is on a particular niche, or you want to cover multiple product groups. It will also be influenced by the type of business – whether you’re a professional service, a consultancy, a manufacturer, a SaaS company, etc. In all cases, it’s best to start in one corner and build out from there.
Top tips for your first offer:
- Offer something of value
Make sure you are offering information that will be of value to the potential leads you are targeting (it shouldn’t be about you or your products)
- Offer quality throughout
The length of the offer is irrelevant, as long as the information is valuable, high quality and relevant throughout
- Keep it simple
Avoid being overly complicated or technical, unless you plan to target a very specific group of scholars who are used to reading long and complicated pieces of content
- Make it easy to get hold of
Have an easy mechanism in place for allowing people to download the content. If you’re using a form, then avoid asking too much. This can be a huge put off. It’s far better to progressive profile a lead, gradually learning more about them over time
- Have a plan for the next steps
Make sure you’ve thought about the next steps and have a nurturing campaign in place. You need to have a plan for what will happen once someone downloads the piece of content. How can you fulfill their need for information, while filling your sales pipeline but never pestering them?
How many offers do you need?
Depending on the size of your target audience, and the setup of your organization and marketing, one download may be all you need. Or you may need to continue building up your content marketing with other offers that sit along the buyer journey.
In long sales cycles, in particular, it is always helpful to outline a path of conversion opportunities for the contacts in your database.
All of this should be designed, not to sell, but to get to know the person behind the email address. The better you can understand them the better you’ll be able to qualify them.
Lead Forensics customers will be at an advantage here, because they can see information about visitors to their website before they even convert on an offer, putting them well ahead of the game.
The second major phase of the process is sales and judging when is the best moment to pass a lead over to sales is a key decision you need to make.
Once you’ve qualified a lead and they have become a potential prospect, the game changes again.
For most B2Bs, the higher the price tag of the product, the longer the sales cycles will be. And the more money a company needs to part, the more decision makers may need to be involved. What this means is that B2B sales and sales funnel creation isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like it to be.
But don’t worry. Basically, all you really need to be doing is breaking it down into manageable chunks. In the case of a SaaS company like ours, offering some kind of demo will be a must before people commit. In other cases, though, it’s not always as easy.
For example, take a consulting company. They won’t have an actual product they can show or demo to prospects. But again, in this case, they need to find a way to break it down.
Hosting a workshop or seminar may be one way to do this before a prospect commits to a formal agreement. This won’t be too much of a commitment on the purchaser’s part and will give them a glimpse of the consultancy in action. Plus, they’d get real value from the seminar itself.
The most successful sales funnels are those that take prospects by the hand and guide them along, offering them small pieces in the beginning and gradually asking for more of a commitment.
Start by sitting down as a team and getting creative. Trial and error is the name of the game. Test your ideas and test again. Find the pieces of the puzzles that will help you close the best potential prospects. Just remember, sometimes it will take a bit more time if there’s going to be a bigger win at the end of it.
Content is king
The secret ingredient of any successful sales funnel is content.
It is your content that will need to attract potential buyers, nurture them, qualify them and then help you keep hold of them once they’re a customer.
Sales will hold a lot of the answers. You will be able to increase the effectiveness and targeting of your content by using what they know and hear. Think about what are the most common questions you’re asked by prospects. What other information do they ask for?
By talking with prospects you’ll also have a better understanding of how much they may be willing to commit to, at any given time.
Nurturing the contacts in your database is key, across all stages of the sales process. Not only to comb through and spot potential clients who may be willing to buy now, but also to highlight those who:
- won’t buy now but are likely to in the future
- have bought before
- are currently customers
- will never buy but love the product/service and talk about it
- actively promote you (partners and affiliates)
- influencers and multipliers, who have their own large audiences and whose word might help nudge prospects along
- anyone else who is in your database and could potentially talk to others
The end goal
Ultimately, your goal here should be to grow your lifetime customer value. Managing to keep hold of customers for life takes real skill and it’s not easy. You’ve got to be on your toes at all time, keeping them happy and engaged.
Learning how to effectively cross sell and upsell is important here. When thinking about your sales funnel, make sure you have incorporated steps for making additional sales at the time of sale and afterwards.
Finally, as with everything you do in sales and marketing, you need to be tracking the important facts and figures. Make sure you keep a close eye on all the analytics available to you; regularly analyse improve and retest what you are doing. Collect as much data as you can and learn from it. The more you analyse, the stronger your sales funnel will become.
At every crossroads on your sales pathways, measure the conversions you’re achieving and test any assumptions. You want to aim to pinpoint the tactics that bring you:
- the most number of leads
- the best qualified leads
- the best suited prospects
- the most clients
- the highest value clients
With digital marketing, all this information will be available if you have the right tools in place. Use them to fine tune your funnel, based on exactly what works and what doesn’t.
Lead Forensics can help you identify anonymous website visitors and turn them into customers. Find out how with a free demo.