What is a Marketing and Sales Funnel?

Before I explain that the marketing and sales funnel is, first let’s start with what marketing is in general. I like to break it down like this:

Marketing = Matchmaking

Matchmakers arrange a relationship between two people that hopefully leads to marriage (a long-term relationship). After getting to know you, your personality and after getting a good idea of what you’re looking for, matchmakers (a.k.a. great marketers) help you:

  • Find eligible partners (brand awareness)
  • Present potential dates to you (lead generation)
  • Get you ready to close the deal, i.e, how to look, what to say, etc. (lead nurturing)

How Does a Marketing Funnel Work? Marketing Funnels Explained

A marketing funnel, ‘funnels’ potential leads through your business to convert them into customers (pour traffic into the top of the funnel and clients come out the bottom).

As with a lot of terms in marketing, you’ll see them interchanged. You may hear “Marketing Funnel”, “Sales Funnel”, “Marketing & Sales Funnel”, “Digital Marketing Funnel”, “Purchase Funnel”,  but they are all the same. The same idea applies: it’s the journey your potential customer goes through.

You want to proactively align your marketing strategies with your customer’s journey with your business to drive stronger brand awareness, greater sales, and ultimately more loyalty. 

The AIDA Marketing Funnel Stages

You wouldn’t believe how many ways marketers map out the stages of a marketing & sale funnel. They are all right, but In the example to follow, I will be breaking the stages down into the AIDA Marketing Funnel which I feel is quicker to explain and understand.

  1. A = Attention (Top of the Funnel / TOFU)
  2. I = Interest (Middle of the Funnel / MOFU)
  3. D = Desire (Middle of the Funnel / MOFU)
  4. A = Action (Bottom of the Funnel / BOFU)
  5. BONUS: Loyalty (not part of sales & marketing, but important!)
marketing and sales funnel example

This may seem like a lot, but if you can get the basic principles down it will make all your marketing much easier to understand how it helps the bigger picture and how each initiative supports another to move that needle!

I can sometimes even get overwhelmed with all these marketing terms! The point is to have a framework to go by. I never did like starting a painting with a blank canvas 😉 

Traditional Marketing and Sales Funnel

If we first refer to a more traditional marketing funnel [from back in the day], the upper funnel was basically where marketing primarily lived. Everything after the first two stages in the upper funnel would then be handed off to sales. This put a lot more work into the sale’s team court which also ended up equating to lower sales conversion rates. There was a constant battle of “the faults”:

Sales rep:

“It’s marketing’s fault because the leads aren’t qualified. I’m sick of trying to close bad leads.

Marketing team:

It’s sale’s fault because they can’t close the leads we give them.

Who wants that type of tension? It’s inefficient, unsatisfying and there is a better way!

Modern Marketing and Sales Funnel

These days, marketing needs to work much harder to set sales up for success, especially digital marketing. Digital marketing done right should yield you a higher return. Instead of a salesperson (and their expensive salary) having to do all the work, content and advertising can do it for you 24/7 at a fraction of the cost.

I’ve personally had a lot of experience working in the past as an in-house marketer and I always worked very closely with the sales team to ensure that my marketing efforts made them more successful.

Here are questions I would get answered directly from the sales team:

  1. What are the unique problems customers are looking to solve?
  2. What keeps them up at night?
  3. How does the company solve these problems better than anyone else?
  4. And, what are the customers’ main sales objections?

You can only be equipped with this knowledge by regularly speaking with sales to understand what they are going through and feeling on their end. Communication & collaboration are so important in all of this. Marketing should not be living on an island somewhere! 

After you are equipped with all these juicy nuggets from sales, then you create content and advertising campaigns that address those topics.

Today, consumers are in charge and they don’t want to be sold to. They do their own research to get as informed as possible so they are equipped with the right knowledge before hopping on the phone to speak to a salesperson. Your content and advertising messaging should equip the consumer with everything they need to feel empowered, comfortable and ready to make an informed decision on who, what, when and how they will solve their problem.

TIP #1: A great content strategy is closer to a Q&A: You research which questions your customers are asking and then answer them in detail, thus building trust and bringing customers closer to your brand.

TIP #2: The better you understand your customer needs AND the journey they take to becoming a client, the better your funnel will perform. You can address objections and sticking points along the way.

Marketing Strategy Before Marketing Tactics

Unfortunately, a lot of small businesses fall short on their marketing because they jump right into tactics before considering the strategy behind it all. 

Think of your marketing strategy as the blueprints for your new home. I don’t think you would go straight to purchasing supplies (a.k.a. advertising) before having a plan first? 

Article: 10 Reasons Why You Need a Digital Marketing Strategy

So, before we jump into the various stages of the sales & marketing funnel make sure you have a strategy. We’re going to keep it simple in this matchmaker scenario and say that your first step should be…

STEP 1: Identify the right person = STRATEGY: Define your target audience

  • Goal: Clearly define your target audience (Envision your dream wife)
  • Tactics: Brand Strategy, Interviews, Personas, Customer Journey Mapping
marketing funnel stage strategy

If you don’t go through with this step, then you could end up with a bunch of potential dates knocking on your door that are simply put, not your type. Or, you could think that someone is marriage material all to find out that you weren’t really sure what you wanted in the first place. 

Article: Marketing Buy Persona: Why It’s Important for Your Business

Make sure you take the time to understand your compatibility criteria first.

Now to break down the stages of the AIDA Funnel in detail. For each stage, I will break down the following:

  1. Overview
  2. Goals
  3. Tactics
  4. Measurement (how can you tell if it’s working if you’re not measuring it?)
  5. Content ideas

Top / Upper Funnel Marketing Stages

This is where everything starts. Where you start getting more fish into the pond. A lot of your marketing efforts will go here to cast a wide net before refining afterward. 

STEP 2: Attract the right person = ATTENTION (Awareness)

  • Goal: Help people become aware of the brand and visit your website (Attract your mate)
  • Tactics: SEO, Networking, Social Media, PPC, Facebook Ads, Blog Articles, Infographics, Video
  • Measurement: Attribution, Engagement, Traffic
  • Content: The job of content in the awareness stage is to introduce people to your brand (generate awareness) by using searchable (SEO) and shareable content to find you. These are broader topics where people are searching for their problems in general. 
marketing funnel stage awareness

Article: Reasons Why Your Business Should Invest in SEO

STEP 3: Make a good first impression = INTEREST

marketing funnel stage interest
  • Goal: Instill trust  (Impression/ How you make them feel/ Have a conversation)
  • Tactics: Website Design/ User Experience, Content
  • Measurement: Bounce rate, Time on site
  • Content: Your website content must speak to your ideal audience. Think about it this way…If it keeps calling your potential date by the wrong name, they’re gonna leave. Your messaging should reflect your unique personality and makes people  feel like they are in the right place. Not only should you make a great first impression, people should feel comfortable, connected and overall have a great experience. 

Middle Funnel

This is where marketing and sales begin to meet. The goal of marketing in these stages of the funnel are to refine and qualify leads, a.k.a. Get them ready to talk to sales, therefore, cutting down on your sales rep’s time and closing leads faster!

STEP 4: Make a move – DESIRE

marketing funnel stage desire
  • Goal: Convert traffic into leads (Lead conversion/ Ask out on a date)
  • Tactics: Lead Gen Offers (Whitepaper, Webinars, Tools), Email Marketing & Automation, Demos, Free Trials
  • Measurement: Conversion Rate, # of Conversions
  • Content: People are aware of your brand at this stage, but are still doing research. Your MOFU content should convert visitors on your site into leads, and then build trust with those leads, so that they will eventually turn into paying clients. 

Lower Funnel

This is where the conversion happens; where the purchase is made (convert qualified prospects into customers)! This is where you want to pay the most attention. If you can’t get this right, then none of the efforts before this stage will matter much.

TIP: If you haven’t approached your business by identifying “leaks” in your marketing & sales funnel like this before, then always start in the lower funnel first. 

STEP 5: How to make a move – Action / Purchase

marketing funnel stage action
  • Goal: Convert leads into customers (Lead conversion/ Propose for marriage)
  • Tactics: Case Studies, Webinars, Sales process: Consultation, quote, proposal, etc.
  • Measurement: Sales
  • Content: People at the bottom of your funnel are most likely ready to move forward, but just need that extra push of confidence to decide to work with you. Leads in the bottom of the funnel are people who are interested in your services, but are trying to decide if you are worth the investment. 

Now this next stage isn’t in the marketing & sales funnel because you’ve already gotten the sale. This is more about delivering a world-class experience to keep customers coming back or so they refer more customers to you.

STEP 6: How to make a move – LOYALTY

marketing funnel stage loyalty
  • Goal: Repeat sales & referrals (Long-term client & brand ambassador/ Happy wife, happy life!)
  • Tactics: Create a world-class delivery, Customer Thank Yous, VIP / Loyalty Programs, Upsells, Events, Rewards, Community building
  • Measurement: CLV, Referrals, Net Promoter Score/ Reviews

In Summary

I know this may seem like a lot to go over, but it’s just a great framework to get you thinking more strategically. Always be proactive in your approach. Fish may be coming in your pond via referrals which is great! But, if you want a steady stream of QUALITY leads coming your way, then make sure you feed the funnel (TOFU).

Need to spend less time on tire kickers and more time connecting with prospects that you truly want to work with? Make sure you proactively warm them up before wasting your time (MOFU).

And remember, nobody wants to be sold to. If you are struggling to close the deal, use BOFU tactics to help. Make sure your sales process is easy for your customers and ALWAYS BE HELPFUL.  

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About April Edwards

Hello! I'm AE Design Co's lead Digital Strategist & Creative Director. For over 15 years, I've been helping busy businesses get a grip on their marketing to increase profits year-over-year.

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