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Breaking Down the Marketing Funnel in B2B

In 1898, businessman and psychologist E. St. Elmo had an idea: what if customers moved toward a purchase decision in a funnel rather than a straight line? The first ever marketing funnel was born, and with it a foundation that marketers would follow for more than 100 years. The concept was simple – customers would move through several stages of affiliation with a brand, and gradually come closer to making a final sale.

The funnel isn’t nearly so cut and dry for B2B businesses. Internal decision makers and experts (rather than private customers) are the ultimate targets for B2B marketing. Content that suits a general audience will rarely appease higher-level B2B audiences, and often fails to create conversions or lasting results. As a result, the marketing funnel goes largely underused by business-to-business organizations. Research backs this completely: A whopping 68% of companies have never identified or tried to identify their marketing funnel.

But more than ever, B2B marketing needs a funnel to create awareness, growth, and impact around goods and services. Cutting through the advertising clutter isn’t easy, and in order to remain competitive, business-to-business groups must translate the traditional marketing funnel into an adaptive model.

Thankfully, repositioning the marketing funnel doesn’t have to be complicated. By equipping your B2B to answer the pain points of customers at all levels of awareness, you can easily scale your marketing efforts to address top, middle, and bottom funnel customers.

And it all starts with understanding your audience.

Understanding The B2B Marketing Funnel

Before we get into the particulars, it would be a good idea to reflect on the marketing funnel’s descriptive name. Funnel structures – in weather, cooking, or mathematics – are tubes that are wider at the top and smaller at the bottom. The ultimate goal of a funnel is to direct a large amount of something into a small area.

In business, funnels root out qualified leads and encourage them to move through each level of awareness. The closer they get to the bottom, the closer they get to making a purchase.

The funnel is one of the most powerful yet underutilized tools in the marketer’s arsenal. When used correctly, the average marketing funnel has a conversion rate of 3.1% to 5%, depending on the industry and marketing efforts in question. This is an excellent way to continuously re-engage past clients, and build your brand reputation with customer ambassadors.

In a typical B2C marketing funnel, you will find four major stages:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

Visitors to your site could enter at any stage of the funnel, although they are much more likely to begin at Awareness. This is followed by prospects, or visitors who are genuinely interested (Interest stage) in the products you provide. Prospects may engage with a brand frequently at the Desire stage, followed by a purchase in the Action stage.

As you have likely already suspected, there are some key differences between the B2B and B2C model. This is specifically relevant when it comes to customer retention.

The Typical B2B Marketing Funnel

B2C funnels are much more compact than B2B models, and address a wide breadth of customers at multiple points of need. B2B marketers must adapt this approach to communicate with technical decision makers and C-suite executives under very specific use cases.

There are six stages:

  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Intent
  • Evaluation
  • Purchase
  • Ambassadors

There are many opinions about what each stage of the B2B funnel should be called. Here, we’ve chosen to focus on the purpose and meaning of each section rather than the terms presented.

Each stage of the B2B funnel can be understood as follows:

  • Interest: B2B clients are aware of their pain points well in advance. At the Interest stage, customers will investigate your brand and its offerings at the highest level. They will be particularly interested in content related to your product, what it does, and how it can solve problems.
  • Consideration: Customers who believe your brand may be a good fit have entered the Consideration stage. They will take time to pursue your middle funnel content, including case studies, technical tutorials, and related blogs and articles.
  • Intent: The client has decided that your brand would be a good fit moving forward. They have already narrowed down their list, and are expressly considering you for future use. This is where bottom funnel content becomes more relevant, including use cases, product comparisons, and video courses.
  • Evaluation: This stage is the final step before the purchase process. Depending on the size or scope of your business, it may also be the longest as well. Customers will discuss your product and platform with all internal stakeholders, teams, and leadership groups. They may request additional information related to your brand.
  • Purchase: Exactly as it sounds, the Purchase stage is where customers buy into your product. B2B organizations may rely on subscription-based models, yearly memberships, or other methods of retention to keep clients engaged.
  • Ambassadors: Customers that are happy and satisfied with your products will enter into the Ambassador stage. Not only are they more apt to purchase products from your brand in the future (reducing customer churn), but their excellent social proof will make your brand more attractive to new leads.

Customers that flow into the Ambassador stage are few and far between, but are instrumental in creating a renewable cycle. Great customers become great referrers, and continue to build your brand’s reputation both on and offline. This turns the funnel into a flywheel that continuously uses customer momentum to reach new clients, customers, and leads.

There are three major elements that differ between B2B and B2C funnels. First, B2C funnels are typically much wider than B2Bs. For example, there are probably more people in the world interested in buying a coffee maker than a SaaS platform. This is reflected in the total volume of the funnel, which is why the Awareness stage for B2C caters to a wider audience than B2B’s Interest stage.

Second, B2B funnels must rely on extremely accurate targeting. B2B marketers should know their target audience inside and out, and know exactly what kinds of content will draw interest and attention. This includes customer intent at all levels of the funnel.

Finally, B2B funnels are much slower to complete than B2C funnels. The average B2C customer can move through a purchase decision relatively quickly, but B2B clients with a wide chain of command may take weeks, months, or sometimes years to move forward with sales.

Despite these differences from B2C, it’s clear that B2B funnels are instrumental to the development of a holistic B2B marketing plan, and a sustainable mechanism of value that cuts through the chaos of online marketing clutter. Enough content at every stage of the funnel can create a sustainable system that runs while you sleep.

Practical Applications Of The B2B Marketing Funnel

Using the marketing funnel correctly for your B2B is more than just a nebulous ‘good practice.’ Instead, properly constructing marketing content that reflects different marketing stages can dramatically boost customer traffic, product interest, and of course, your profit margin.

A strong use of the marketing funnel allows you to make the most of your marketing budget. Today, more than a third of all B2B organizations spend less than 5% of their budgets on marketing efforts. A more efficient funnel allocates money more effectively, and protects against wasted ROI. B2B marketing funnels help to identify critical points of improvement, as well as any content that isn’t working as well. For example, 55% of companies find blog posts work better than anything else at moving customers through the funnel. Cut back on less efficient content, and spend your dollars on actionable value that makes a difference. Properly implemented funnels help B2B companies avoid becoming top-heavy with their marketing efforts. Too much content at any level of awareness can unbalance the funnel, and reduce inbound customers as a result. Instead, use a detailed funnel to identify your highest ranking content and its potential considerations.

When used correctly, the practical efficiencies of the B2B marketing funnel can impact all areas of your business. Content teams create more efficient value, marketers nurture more targeted campaigns, and customers at all levels of engagement are encouraged to interact with your brand. When operating at full capacity, your funnel can work in the background to help clients and customers fall in love with what you do.

However, understanding the buyer’s journey in a B2B context is just the first step of the marketing process. There are dozens of other considerations, and if your company is a younger startup or small business, starting off on the right foot is paramount to success.

Curious to learn more about other elements of B2B marketing? Check out some of our most recent marketing resources here.

Meagan Shelley

By Meagan Shelley

Meagan is a professional writer in VA that specializes in content marketing, research, and SEO. If she's not helping people craft their own stories, she's working on some of her own. When she takes time to step away from the laptop, she enjoys hiking, farmer's markets, and occasional thru-hikes.