By Katie Gutwein

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Let’s talk about today’s buyer. It’s no secret that he or she is more informed than ever. In fact, according to Acquity Group’s State of B2B Procurement Study, a whopping 94 percent of B2B buyers report that they conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product.

When explaining the sales funnel, I encourage my clients to think about their own behaviors: Do you search online when you have a problem? Do you look at reviews before making a purchase decision? Do you ask trusted colleagues if they’ve had a good experience with XYZ Company?

Chances are, you’ve answered “yes” to at least one of those questions. If you really think about it, it’s likely that you’re in some company’s funnel right now.


What Is a Sales Funnel?

While the idea of a sales funnel isn’t new, the way we approach the funnel has changed significantly over the years. With today’s savvy buyer, it’s our responsibility, as sales and marketing professionals, to educate and provide relevant information at each step of the buyer’s journey.

And once your buyer enters the sales funnel—the buying process that will bring him or her from lead to customer—it’s critically important to qualify and nurture him or her along the way.

Let’s break down the sales funnel. While the details of the funnel can (and should) be different for every organization, this basic framework will lay the foundation for marketing and sales success within your organization.


Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

At this stage in the funnel, you probably have a significant amount of leads. And, frankly, a majority of those leads aren’t going to buy from you. They know they have a potential problem, but they’re not quite sure how to solve it, so they’re doing their research.

Much like you wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, you don’t want to move too quickly with leads at the TOFU. What I mean by that is, if you come on too strong by trying to sell or inundate with too much information, the lead will become annoyed. At this point, the lead is still trying to educate him or herself and might not even know what your company does (and that’s OK). Building trust with quality content in order to educate and inform will help keep him or her around for the long haul.

You’ll want to work to qualify (and disqualify) leads so that you can focus on those who will turn into customers.

In terms of content for these leads, you’ll want to offer pieces like:

  • Blog posts
  • Research reports
  • Ebooks
  • White papers

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

Once your leads reach the middle of the funnel, they know they have a problem, and it’s one that’s clearly defined. If you have a well-functioning sales funnel, you’ve disqualified a decent amount of leads in the move from TOFU to MOFU.

Leads at this stage in the sales funnel aren’t quite ready to evaluate vendors, but they are focused on researching all the ways they can solve their problem. You’re still working on building trust with these leads, so again, don’t go in for the sale or come on too strongly. Continue to nurture them until they’re ready to move to the next stage, which is BOFU.

In MOFU, you’ll want to offer pieces like:

  • Comparison guides—be sure not to compare vendors at this point; instead, you’ll want to compare solutions
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars

Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

Leads in BOFU are highly qualified and should be ready to purchase. They have done a significant amount of research, have defined their solution, and have probably identified several vendors that they’re comparing.

They know who you are, what you do, and what you provide, and it’s likely they have the same information about your competitors.

At this point, the lead should be ready to talk to you. This isn’t an excuse to come at him or her with a hard sell, because—let’s be honest—selling like that just doesn’t work anymore. A consultative approach of helping him or her come to his or her decision will ensure that you seal the deal.

BOFU content offer ideas include:

  • Case studies
  • Vendor comparisons
  • Case studies
  • Live demo
  • Trial
  • Consultation

TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU in Action

Let’s say you’re a marketer. Your leads have been declining over the last six months, but you’re not exactly sure why. Are they leads from your website? Sales-generated leads? You determine that you need to do some research. While your team is pulling some internal numbers, you start doing research online. Your online searches bring you to the blog post 25 Resources for Increasing Conversions. The post is helpful and gives you some great ideas to take back to your team. You also read the different sources linked within the post. Again, all helpful and all a part of your research, or the TOFU stage of the sales funnel.

Through your research online, and your team’s internal research, you have determined that the source of the problem is lead generation on your website—it’s just not driving leads like it used to. You’re now in the MOFU stage of the sales funnel, because you have clearly given a name to your problem, and you’re committed to understanding how to solve that problem. Upon further research, you find The Busy Marketer's Guide to Generating More Leads Online. It’s just what you were looking for at this stage of the sales funnel. You download the ebook and read it cover to cover. You now feel like you have a good handle on what needs to be done.

At this point, you’re entering the BOFU stage of the sales funnel, because you have defined your solution—you know you need to execute an inbound marketing strategy. While you don’t have all the internal resources in order to make this happen, you’re looking at several inbound marketing agencies that can act as an extension of your team. You’ve narrowed it down to three agencies, and you start doing your homework: You read their case studies and testimonials and schedule a marketing consultation with each. You’re just steps away from making a decision.

This approach is wildly different from the traditional way of selling, which included cold-calling, pressuring, and “limited-time offers” to close a deal. The bottom line? We can’t sell and market like we used to—today’s buyer won’t stand for it. Educate and inform at each and every stage of the sales funnel and truly trust the process. It’ll result in a better experience for all of us.

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Katie Gutwein

About the author

Katie Gutwein is a Senior Consultant at SmartBug Media. With nearly a decade of marketing experience on both the client and agency side, Katie helps clients grow leads, conversions and revenue through inbound marketing. Read more articles by Katie Gutwein.

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