There are three ways to think about the B2B sales funnel. First, you have to look at it from the buyer’s perspective and predict their journey. Second, you have to look at it from a B2B sales ad marketing funnel perspective and activate digital marketing programs to reach them in those channels. And third, there’s reality. No one knows the psychology of why buyers do what they do. We have to rely on data and indicators to help make more intelligent decisions to reach buyers at every stage of the marketing funnel.
What is the B2B Sales Funnel?
A B2B sales funnel is a process that enterprise brands use to understand how potential buyers (business and IT decision-makers) decide which products and services to buy. The insights are used by marketing and sales teams to build content marketing programs that will reach these buyers at the different stages of the buying process.
There are hundreds of versions of sales funnel stages. This post isn’t meant to reinvent the wheel or introduce a new sales funnel model. For the most part, they’re all the same. But to establish a baseline, let’s quickly walk through the traditional sales funnel–the awareness stage, consideration stage, preference stage, purchase, and loyalty (or advocacy).
The awareness stage targets the top of the funnel digital marketing programs. Content here is meant to create brand awareness, thought leadership, and top-of-funnel messaging. At this phase of the B2B sales funnel, buyers are looking for information that helps them understand their needs and challenges related to a particular industry or market segment. In some cases, they might just be looking for new technology that will help them scale and drive innovation within their company.
The consideration stage of the B2B sales funnel helps potential customers consider your product or service as an option to solve their business or technology problems. They will most likely be doing more research, comparing products and specs to each other, and cross-referencing that against their business requirements. The middle of the marketing funnel is the time when your potential customers will show interest but are not yet ready to buy.
The preference stage of the sales funnel is where your potential customers are almost ready to decide on the purchase. They have already narrowed down 2-3 different options at this stage and seek third-party validation from their peers, colleagues, analysis reports, the media, and influencers. The bottom of the funnel stages is essential to generate quality leads and focus on customer relationships.
The purchase stage is the final step before potential buyers sign a contract and start using your product or service. It’s not uncommon for buyers to ask a friend or colleague for validation right before they decide to sign the contract, so enterprise companies must continue to push messaging that reinforces their value proposition.
The last stage in the B2B marketing funnel is loyalty. I prefer to call it advocacy. A happy and loyal customer will continue to purchase your product and renew their contract every year. The customer advocate will do that and tell everyone they know about it. One of the main benefits of doing business is creating brand advocacy by providing good products or services.
Optimize Your Marketing Funnel & Build the B2B Sales Pipeline
True success happens when sales and marketing can map their digital programs to the B2B sales funnel. This means that they must understand the behaviors that B2B buyers go through at each phase of the marketing funnel. The B2B buyer’s journey is unique in that every buyer is different. They use Google differently, they have conversations with various people differently, they seek advice in forums, on social media, and over the phone differently.
Here are a few ways modern B2B companies can optimize the different sales funnel stages with content marketing. To be consistent, let’s use the classic sales funnel outlined above as an example–awareness, consideration, preference, purchase, and advocacy.
B2B buyers may or may not have heard of your product or service in this stage of the funnel. All marketing and sales initiatives must focus on the top of the funnel brand awareness.
- Marketing tactics: Large brand partnerships and event sponsorships can reach large audiences across multiple sectors. This could be as big as a 30-second halftime commercial during the Super Bowl or a media sponsorship on Business Insider. Display and native advertising can also reach audiences at the top of the funnel.
- Messaging & narrative: The messaging must focus on high-level business value and answer questions like, “What business and technology problems can you solve?”, “What does your brand stand for?” and “Why should anyone care?”
- Measurement approach: In the awareness stage, the metrics are superficial, often called vanity metrics. This includes reach and impression data, page views, and video views.
In this B2B sales funnel stage, buyers are already aware of your brand, product, or service. And if you’re lucky, you might be a part of the consideration set. Still, lead generation will need to be top of mind for sales and marketing to continue feeding the B2B sales pipeline.
- Marketing tactics: All the marketing tactics from the awareness stage are applicable here. The differences will be in the messaging. I’d also include SEO, content marketing, paid search, paid social, influencer marketing, and sales enablement as marketing tactics essential to implement.
- Messaging & narrative: The messaging here is about differentiating your products and services from your competitors. This could be long-form content white papers and eBooks, emphasizing product comparisons or collaborating with influencers and asking them to test your product, write a review and record a testimonial. It would also be wise to create a sales enablement program (social selling) that would enable the sales team to produce and share thought leadership content with potential B2B buyers.
- Measurement approach: The metrics in the consideration stage are a tad more advanced. Generating leads and optimizing email marketing for high conversion rates, email subscriber growth, social media channel growth, and basic social media metrics are all applicable.
Preference Stage (also known as the Evaluation Stage):
In this stage of the B2B sales funnel, your product or service is one of two or three potential vendors or suppliers. In this case, you may be fighting to convert existing customers to your competitors. That’s the challenge with the marketing funnel. While you acquire new customers through marketing and sales programs, your competitors do the same. This is the evaluation stage, so until you can secure a commitment from your prospects, lead nurturing will still need to be prioritized to infiltrate the buying process.
- Marketing tactics: The focus will be email marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, and paid search.
- Messaging & narrative: The messaging must reinforce the brand position, with clear and concise differentiation from competitive products and services. Understanding customer needs, desires, and language can help craft messaging that aligns with what is important to them.
- Measurement approach: Building the B2B sales pipeline with qualified leads, conversion rate, total leads, clicks, click-through rate, and other lead generation tactics will be critical during this sales cycle.
Even in this stage, the B2B sales funnel is not yet complete, but it’s close. Marketing and sales teams are on the cusp of turning qualified leads into a paying customer. After successfully leading your buyer down the marketing funnel, you will have to continue nurturing them by making them feel comfortable with their decision.
- Marketing tactics: Other than top-of-the-funnel marketing programs, most other channels will be relevant to reach target customers in the B2B sales funnel.
- Messaging & narrative: The messaging is about reinforcing the product and brand differentiators and doubling down on your core marketing messages. If the brand message is about quality, the messaging needs to support why your products are the best on the market. If it’s about scale or security, messaging needs to keep that security-specific content.
- Measurement approach: The metrics in this stage are the same as the above–closing deals in the sales pipeline, leads, and direct sales
I am sure that you have heard this before. It’s more expensive two acquire new customers than to retain existing ones. Digital marketers need to keep the relationship strong with existing customers. I am prioritizing community engagement, active listening, and responding to customer complaints.
- Marketing tactics: Community engagement and brand advocacy programs should be the focus. Many enterprise companies are launching branded communities which is a smart option.
- Messaging & narrative: The messaging is less important, although reinforcing differentiated product messages would be wise, especially if you have different products.
- Measurement approach: if you launch a branded community, metrics in this part of the sales funnel will include general community engagement data points, user sessions, new user signups, and retention rate.
Gartner’s B2B Buying Jobs & The Sales Funnel Stages
Gartner fielded a study about the B2B sales funnel and identified six buying “jobs” that potential customers must complete before finalizing a purchase. This study is valuable for both sales and marketing teams. The six buying “jobs” are below:
- Problem identification: This is when potential customers realize that they have a problem and need to find a solution quickly. This could also be considered “identifying an opportunity” to drive technology innovation.
- Solution exploration: B2B buyers start assessing the landscape to understand what technology vendors are in the market. They may read the Gartner Magic Quadrant and other reports that evaluate various technology solutions.
- Requirements building: This is when buyers start to document all the internal requirements to ensure a smooth deployment of new technology.
- Supplier selection: Once the B2B buyer has the list of B2B companies and vendors, they will seek buy-in by collaborating with other internal business decision-makers and stakeholders.
The B2B Sales Funnel Flipped Upside Down With MEDDIC
The B2B sales funnel has evolved over the years. It used to be linear, or marketers thought it was linear. A few years ago, we completed a project for a client where we built an buyer persona (informed by accurate data), and we mapped their conversations to MEDDIC—an acronym for Market Mapping, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain Points, and Competitive Landscape. MEDDIC is a sales process that emphasizes better customer qualification and is used globally by sales and marketing teams. It tracks how buyers and IT Decision Makers consume content and media in the marketing funnel.
Market mapping is the first step of the MEDDIC sales process. It involves building a set of market-related questions designed to assess the opportunity, competitive dynamics, and potential of a target segment. The purpose of this sales process is to separate high-value projects from those that wouldn’t be worth pursuing. Market mapping builds upon research spanning different industries and geographies to provide unique perspectives on the market landscape and digital ecosystem.
In contrast to market mapping, the economic buyer involves a set of questions that focus on the customer side of the business equation. These questions identify what people want from a product or service and why they might consider buying one like ours. This analysis ultimately drives how to define a target segment, which customers to pursue first, and then how to reach them as they navigate the B2B sales funnel.
Decision criteria involves documenting a set of questions about what will – and won’t – influence customers’ purchasing decisions within the target segment. Enterprise and B2B companoes often sell multiple products to a single customer, but these customers have budget limitations and preferences for how they want to be sold. It’s critical that sales teams understand these preferences and prepare language, documents and other collateral to overcome any objections.
The decision process is a parallel set of questions about the audience within the target segment within the B2B sales funnel. This includes which players are involved, what information they have access to, and what types of contracts or deals they favor. Gartner’s “buying jobs” above is a good example of this.
The fourth step of the MEDDIC sales process is to identify pain points. This involves a set of questions that help customers articulate their reasons for not buying our product or service and any other problems associated with their current solution. The purpose is to help marketing and sales understand what issues we can address during each stage of the sales cycle and how those issues affect their ability to close deals.
Finally, the fifth step of the MEDDIC sales process is to analyze the competitive landscape. To be successful in today’s market, companies need a thorough understanding of their competitors’ moves and initiatives. The purpose is to understand what makes a product different from similar products and services, how they stack up against competitors, and how their company’s strengths can be used to counter competitors’ weaknesses.
The MEDDIC sales process is a powerful model that provides a much-needed structure for sales prospecting. It allows companies to identify customer pain points, create targeted marketing messages, tailor the selling approach accordingly, generate qualified leads, and ultimately close more deals. This sales process can make all the difference in today’s highly competitive sales environment.
Final Thoughts on the B2B Sales Funnel
Understanding B2B sales funnels isn’t like playing a game of checkers. Sales and marketing teams need to understand that the buyer’s journey can be as long as 18 months, so a long-term strategy must be developed to create a sales pipeline and close deals.
With that in mind, I started to map some initial thinking to address the B2B sales funnel:
- Empathize with the tech challenge
- Provide unbiased & alternative solutions
- Reinforce product capabilities of the tech stack
- Elevate customer references, amplify everywhere
- Activate influencers for 3rd party validation
The B2B sales funnel isn’t linear. It doesn’t map to the marketing funnel you learned back in business school, either. It’s unique, ever-changing, and dynamic. More importantly, the buyer’s journey is unpredictable. This is why mapping data-driven content to the buyer’s journey is essential to your brand marketing efforts.
The B2B sales funnel isn’t dead, despite the industry punditry. It is changing, yes. But the beauty about data is that you can uncover insights that will help deliver content in the right channel, to the right audience, and at the right time.
B2B Sales Funnel FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
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