Market through the funnel — what you need to know to get better results

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Almost every business uses some form of sales funnel to market and sell its goods. A sales funnel represents the different stages a customer goes through before buying a product.

If you understand the sales funnel, you will also understand which type of content your users need at each stage. This knowledge will help you present the right information at the right time and shepherd your audience towards buying your products.

What is a marketing funnel?

As we said at the start, a marketing funnel represents the customer journey. Funnels generally start with awareness and move down towards an action like purchasing or, in some cases, advocacy.

Marketing funnels are flexible. They mean different things to marketing teams, and each business can adapt them to suit their business model. 

Funnels are not a one-size-fits-all strategy because consumers buy goods in unique ways.

So, let’s look at some different ways people think about marketing funnels, and then we can examine what content to produce at particular points to get better results.

The three-stage funnel

A three-stage funnel is perhaps the most straightforward representation of the marketing funnel. It has three broad stages:

  • Awareness – top of the funnel
  • Consideration – middle of the funnel
  • Conversion – bottom of the funnel

Let’s dive into each stage and explore what’s happening at these phases of the funnel.

Stage 1) Awareness

Awareness, aka the top of the funnel, is the point where customers don’t know much about your brand. They are just beginning to engage with your product or services.

What type of content is best for awareness?

Short, punchy content is best for awareness. People don’t know who your brand is, so they are less likely to give you too much of their time. So get straight to the point and tell them what you do and how your product will help them.

What are the best channels for the top of the funnel?

Paid search: Paid search is a good way to reach new audiences. These users will be entering keywords your ads will target, e.g., PPC ads like Google Search. Display Ads

Content marketing: Content marketing and other organic SEO efforts are also a good top-of-funnel strategy. Again, the idea here is that you are connecting with users who are looking for solutions or products you provide.

Landing pages: Landing pages are a good strategy for the awareness stage. You can link to these pages from paid ads or SEO.

Social media: If you have sufficient followers on social media, you can share links that show your products, i.e., Facebook, Instagram, etc. The idea here is that you can broaden your reach by appealing to your existing audience’s network.

Stage 2) Consideration

Your prospects enter into the middle of the funnel or considerations stage once they’ve had some meaningful interaction with your product. For example, a user is searching for a 50-inch TV. They Google “50-inch TVs,” and they see a Google Ad with your product.

They click the link; it takes them to your landing page. From here, perhaps they subscribe to your newsletter that promises them access to good deals or more information on your product.

What type of content is good for the middle of the funnel?

Middle funnel content is about research and evaluation. In effect, you want to support your customers in their pursuit of a solution to their problem or pain point.

What are the best channels for middle-of-the-funnel content?

Your prospect has engaged with you. Now they might:

  • Follow you on social media
  • Be part of your email list
  • Engage with your blog

Some of your options here are:

Re-targeting

If you have their email list, you can use Google, Microsoft, or Facebook Ads to serve users advertisements to keep your product at the top of their minds. 

Content marketing

Content marketing is good in this spot too. However, unlike the awareness stage, you can use a deeper type of content, like:

  • Long-form articles
  • Webinars
  • Whitepapers
  • Case studies
  • Product comparisons
  • In-depth videos 
  • and so on.

One way to look at the consideration phase is that the prospect evaluates your business alongside other options. It’s time to cement their trust by answering questions, dealing with objections, and showing the benefits of your product.

Customers who know a bit about your solution are far more likely to press play on a 1hr video. 

Stage 3) Conversion

Conversion, or the bottom of the funnel, is where prospects turn into paying customers — and hopefully regular, returning customers.

By now, you should have established your authority, won their trust, and convinced them that your product is the solution to their needs.

What type of content is best for conversion?

For eCommerce businesses, a few different types of content work well here.

  • Social proof like testimonials and customer reviews
  • Comparison charts that display prices, features, etc
  • How-to guides
  • Content that deals with any potential objections
  • Email marketing

What channels are best for bottom-of-funnel content?

  1. Remarketing PPC
  2. Display ads
  3. Promotional codes via email or social media

More complex funnels

OK, so now that we’ve established a high-level view of funnels, you’ll be able to understand the various forms that people use. 

One of the more common types is called the Pirate Funnel because the acronym it uses is AAARRR.

It’s short for:

  • Awareness
  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Referral 
  • Revenue

We’ll quickly go through each one.

Awareness: This stage is about reaching people and letting them know about your product or service

Acquisition: Acquisition stands for the first moment that your prospect takes a positive step toward your business, i.e., clicks an ad, goes to your website, connects on social media, etc.

Activation: When a prospect becomes a customer by buying their first item.

Retention: How many people come back for a 2nd or 3rd time?

Referral: How many of these users become an advocate for your business?

Revenue: What money is left after you subtract your customer acquisition costs (CAC)

Pros and cons of the sales funnel

Not everyone loves the sales funnel. Like any system, it has its limits and imperfections. 

The main reason why sales funnels are good is that they allow the business to break down each section of the customer journey.

When each part is looked at in isolation, you can see where your funnel is inefficient and where it needs work. It can be an excellent way to find your weaknesses and solve them.

 

In the graphic above, you can see a simple way to measure where the bottlenecks in your sales funnel are occurring. In this example, Retention is only 10%. That’s a business killer. 

That’s why funnels are a useful tool. They break down your process into manageable bites so you can work on making each one efficient.

However, some of the common issues people have with funnels are:

1. Funnels are too linear

If you want to boost your growth, you need more people at the top of your funnel. More people equals more marketing spend. However, if you want your business to scale, you need to do more with less, which leads us to….

2. Excessively focused on lead generation

Any funnel needs people, so some organizations become too focused on the top-of-funnel activities like awareness and lead generation. These stages are important, but making the most of each prospect is crucial because…

3. Customer acquisition costs are getting higher by the day

The costs of acquiring customers are rising. Increased competition means ads are more expensive, while data privacy laws have lowered the once surgical accuracy of ads. 

Are these real weaknesses with the funnel?

Well, yes and no. 

Looking at the AAARRR funnel, we can see that Revenue and Referral are at the bottom of the funnel stages.

If you are paying attention, you’ll be looking at revenue and asking yourself, “is getting people from awareness to revenue cost-efficient?” Revenue looks at CAC and asks if the whole process is worth it.

The general rule of thumb suggests that for each $1 of ad spend; you should be returning at least $3 of revenue.

So, if you’re excessively focused on generating leads but not good at closing them, your process will get inefficient, and your CAC will become a burden because not enough cash is coming back in.

As for being too linear? Well, the referral stage is meant to solve this. For some, it makes the funnel more circular. i.e., You win a customer; they refer a friend, who then becomes a new person in the awareness stage.

But if you want to focus more on creating a sustainable type of growth that doesn’t involve constant sales and marketing re-investment, you might need to start thinking about growth loops.

What are growth loops?

If we say the funnel is linear, then we always need to spend money to get people into the system. However, marketing isn’t the only way people hear about products.

Sales loops take advantage of a few different things:

Incentivized referrals: An eCommerce store that offers a user a discount or an award for each friend they refer. If each person refers to another, this loop can grow exponentially.

Word of mouth: Word of mouth is a free advertisement, often from a trusted source. Your product needs to be great to generate this buzz.

Branded content: In the social media world, something like TikTok is a great example. As videos go viral, the TikTok stamp is right there in the corner, generating awareness for free. In the eCommerce world, you could get the same buzz from user-generated content that shows the value of your product.

Products that encourage group use: One person buys a tennis racket or a bike, and their friends and family want to join in the activity, so they buy one. 

These are just a few examples of how you can build loops into your funnel. It’s competitive out there; there’s always someone who can outspend you on marketing and sales. So it’s vital to find ways to:

  1. Make your marketing and ad spending as efficient and effective as possible
  2. Get the most value as possible from each prospect in terms of revenue and referrals

What metrics should you look at for marketing through the funnel?

By now, you should have a good idea of what sort of things you need to look at when making your funnel as efficient as possible. 

As shown earlier, funnels are flexible and should be tailored to your business model. However, there are a few sales funnel metrics that are essential to demonstrating the health of your business.

1. Entrances

To track entrances, you first need to define what you mean when you say a prospect has entered your funnel. Is it when they see an ad (impressions)? Is it when they click on an ad (clicks)? Is it about websites or social media engagement?

Define your entrances, so you can start tracking your conversion rates. 

2. Conversion rates

For an eCommerce store, a conversion rate is the percentage of leads who end up making a purchase. You can track conversion rates from site visits, landing pages, social media visits, etc. 

3. Customer acquisition cost (CAC)

Your customer acquisition costs are the cost of all your sales and marketing divided by the number of new customers. Ideally, you want this to be as low as possible. However, the best way to interpret it is in the context of customer lifetime value.

4. Customer lifetime value (CLV)

Customer lifetime value (CLV) is the total amount of money that a customer spends during their relationship with your business. If your retention is excellent and your customers stick around and spend money with you for years, you can justify higher CAC.

However, if most customers buy an item and then vanish, high spending on marketing and advertising could break your business.

5. Sales cycle

The sales cycle is another good metric to track. Essentially, it measures how long it takes a customer to go from awareness to revenue. Ideally, this number should be as low as possible. One of the functions of the sales funnel is to analyze bottlenecks, remove them, and accelerate the sales funnel.

Wrap Up

Sales funnels are an excellent way to track the customer journey. When you measure them correctly, you can identify the areas of your business that need to be fixed. 

If you pair an efficient funnel with excellent sales and marketing outreach, you’ll have a recipe for strong and steady growth. And don’t neglect sales loops. Get them right, and you can scale your business.

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