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Understanding Marketing and Sales Funnels: A Comprehensive Guide

Marketing and sales funnels are two of the most crucial concepts for modern-day brands to apply to their business. Both are designed to guide potential customers through a series of stages, ultimately leading to a sale, specific conversion, or action. 

Many people approach these concepts in terms of marketing funnel vs. sales funnel. Similarly, they might conflate the terms without understanding their differences. While both funnels serve distinct purposes and are effective tools in and of themselves, they offer the most value to your brand when working in tandem. 

This helpful guide will explain the need-to-knows of both a digital marketing funnel, as well as, a sales funnel. That includes how they differ, their similarities, and how to make them work together for the greater good of your business.

What is a Marketing Funnel?

The marketing funnel definition is rather broad, yet simple, it represents a customer’s journey through the course of marketing campaigns — from beginning to end. It’s often broken down into four stages: awareness, interest, decision, and action. The goal of a digital marketing funnel is to move potential customers through each stage, gaining their interest and trust until ultimately, moving into the sales funnel.

Digital Marketing Funnel Stages

  1. Awareness: At this stage, potential customers become aware of your brand or product through advertising, social media, content marketing, or other marketing efforts.
  2. Interest: Once they’re aware of your brand or product, potential customers may start researching more about it — reading blog posts, watching videos, or checking reviews.
  3. Decision: After gathering convincing information on your brand or product, the potential customer decides whether they want to make a purchase. 
  4. Action: Finally, the potential customer decides whether or not to make a purchase after considering all of the available options.

In the latter stages, there should be a discussion with your sales team. As we will discuss, lead nurturing is crucial. This is where sales representatives have the opportunity to influence the potential customer’s decision and the final action that they decide to take.    

How Can Brands Optimize Their Digital Marketing Funnel?

Brands can optimize their marketing funnels to help increase lead generation, drive more conversions, and improve customer retention. This helps guide prospects along the buying journey with relevant content at each stage. And that includes post-purchase marketing efforts. 

Optimizing High-Value Marketing Funnels

To set up a successful marketing funnel, brands can strategize how to guide prospects along the buying journey with relevant content at each intersection. Here are some specific examples:

  • Define buyer & customer personas: Creating detailed buyer personas allows you to understand your target audience’s needs and pain points. This information can be used to create targeted content that speaks directly to the interests of potential customers.
  • Create engaging, relevant content: Providing valuable content at each stage of the funnel helps move prospects toward becoming paying customers. Some examples of content marketing include blog posts, eBooks, webinars, videos, and social media posts.
  • Optimize landing pages: Landing pages should be designed with a clear call-to-action (CTA) that guides visitors towards taking an action such as signing up for a newsletter or downloading an eBook. By testing different variations of landing pages, brands can determine which design elements and messaging resonate with their audience.
  • Leverage email marketing: No, email marketing is not dead! Email marketing is a powerful tool for lead nurturing and building relationships. Using automated email campaigns provides personalized content based on where prospects are in the funnel.
  • Use retargeting ads: Retargeting ads can be used to bring back potential customers who have dropped off at various stages of the funnel. Use them as reminders about products a customer was interested in or to incentivize them to complete the purchase.
  • Analyze data and refine strategies: By regularly analyzing KPIs (key performance metrics) such as conversion rates and bounce rates, brands can identify areas where improvements should be made in their marketing funnel strategy.

The most valuable marketing funnels adapt to shifting customer interest and demand. You should continually assess your data and test out different strategies to help generate more leads, increase conversions, and improve your churn rate (customer retention). 

How many marketing channels should a marketing funnel include?

There is no set number of marketing channels that should be used in a marketing funnel or lead generation. The goal is to choose the right channels for your business and target audience. It’s better to focus on a few channels that work well for you, rather than spreading yourself too thin across too many avenues.

But keep in mind that if you aren’t active on a channel where many potential customers spend time, you won’t convert them. And, more than ever, customers expect a brand to have a presence on the channels where they spend the most time. 

So how many channels to utilize? Recent research from Aberdeen found that over half of businesses already use at least eight channels to interact with customers. But if you’re short of this mark, don’t fret. It takes a lot of resources to operate eight or more marketing channels.

So, instead of trying to do a lot of things okay, the goal should ultimately be to prioritize your most valuable marketing channels, and execute at a high level. That allows you to produce the best degree of content, engage in more meaningful touchpoints, and have better control over your marketing funnel outcomes. To move a prospective customer through your funnel(s), your custom-made stages need to be well-defined, carried out, and maintained in order to see success in a competitive online environment.

What is a Sales Funnel?

A sales funnel is similar to a marketing funnel. But as marketing funnels seek to grow brand awareness and educate on your brand or product, a sales funnel focuses specifically on converting leads into paying customers. For this reason, it’s also known as a revenue funnel because its ultimate goal is generating revenue for your brand. 

You will notice several areas where sales and marketing funnels overlap. And that’s a good thing because your digital marketing and sales funnel should interact. Remember, it’s not marketing funnel vs. sales funnel—each provides the most value when they have synergy. 

At the end of the day, sales support marketing strategy, and an effective marketing strategy will build an ongoing pool of qualified sales prospects.

Sales Funnel Stages & The Sales Process

  1. Prospecting: Prospecting is identifying and qualifying potential customers who have a need for your product or service. The goal is to generate new leads, establish relationships, and ultimately convert them into paying customers. Methods include cold-calling, email marketing, social media outreach, attending events, and more.
  2. Lead Nurturing: Aside from prospecting, potential customers are fed from your marketing funnel into the top of your sales funnel. The sales team nurtures prospects by showing them why your product/service is beneficial for them.
  3. Conversion: After nurturing your lead with informative content it’s time to convert them into paying customers. The sales team does this by answering questions, offering discounts/promotions, and other methods that help turn prospects into converts. 
  4. Retention & Loyalty Building: Retaining existing customers with excellent service and loyalty programs helps build long-term relationships which in turn increases revenue streams. This stage is where you turn one-time customers into lifelong buyers. 

The sales process is only as good as its funnel. To win over prospective customers, the right infrastructure, sales tools, and people need to be in place. Today, purchasing has never been both more convenient, but sales have never been more difficult. The online environment is geared toward the customer, and can make sales an uphill battle, even with all the different visibility opportunities.

A sales process that is constantly tested, revised, and redeployed is one that will have the best chance of success.

How Can a Brand Optimize Their Sales Funnel?

To optimize your sales funnel, you can take a data-driven approach to identify areas where prospects are dropping off during the buying process. This means analyzing KPIs such as conversion rates, response rates, unique selling points, etc. to determine which stages of the funnel need improvement. This is another example of where digital marketing and sales funnels collaborate. 

Optimizing Sales Channels For Success

To elaborate, the specific steps that brands can take to optimize their sales funnels include:

  • Analyze KPIs: Brands should dig into the data to find where leads are dropping off during the buying process. This allows extra time and resources to be diverted to fix the leaks.
  • Simplify the checkout process: A complex, clunky, or lengthy checkout process can be a significant barrier to completing a purchase. Aim to simplify the checkout process by minimizing form fields, providing multiple payment options, and offering guest checkout.
  • Personalized content: Personalized content that speaks directly to a prospect’s needs and interests can help build trust and increase engagement. Sales teams can use customer data to personalize emails, website content, and product recommendations.
  • Provide excellent customer service: Timely, courteous customer service is essential for building trust and loyalty with customers. Brands should ensure that they have multiple channels for customer support, such as email, phone, chatbots, or social media. Ideally, all of these. Customers appreciate quick response times when they need support in any case where issues arise during their purchase journey. Providing great service will make them feel valued, hopefully leading them back to your brand in the future. 

By optimizing these four concepts, brands can increase conversions and ultimately drive more revenue for their business. If you noticed repeating concepts from the marketing funnel section, you’re on the right track! Neither operates in a vacuum and one hand tends to feed the other. 

Marketing Funnel vs. Sales Funnel: Why Fostering a Symbiotic Relationship Works Best

Now that you understand marketing funnels and sales funnels, it should be clear that they have a symbiotic relationship. Without successful marketing efforts, there would be no lead generation for the sales team to convert into paying customers. Conversely, a well-trained sales team can provide feedback from direct interaction with customers to the marketing team. That first-hand feedback is valuable to optimize marketing campaigns and identify weak spots in your approach. 

How To Make Them Work Together

To maximize the effectiveness of both systems, it’s necessary to unify messaging across each so that prospects feel understood and valued as they move closer to becoming paying customers. By connecting data between the marketing and sales departments, both teams can communicate what works—and what doesn’t—at different touchpoints throughout the funnels.

Aligning Marketing Funnels & Sales Funnels 

One way to align marketing and sales funnels is by creating a consistent brand voice and messaging across all touchpoints. This means that the language used in advertising, social media, email campaigns, and website copy should be the same language used by the sales team when communicating with leads. 

For example, if a marketing campaign focuses on offering high-quality products at affordable prices, then the sales team should reinforce this message when speaking with leads. If the sales team were instead to position the brand’s products as high-end, luxury products, those conflicting messages will confuse potential customers. And confused prospects don’t convert!

Another way to align marketing and sales funnels is by using data to inform decision-making. By collecting data on customer behavior throughout both funnels, brands can gain valuable insights into what works more efficiently at different stages of the customer journey. 

Let’s again consider how a brand with a drop-off in leads. If the sales team notices that many leads drop off during the decision stage of the brand’s marketing funnel, they may suggest different messaging in ads. Likewise, they could suggest offering one-time promotions to incentivize customers to convert.

Technology Improves Interoperability — and Profitability

One way to harbor an environment where both funnels are aligned is by integrating technology such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Using a CRM can help teams communicate more effectively and share information about customer interactions across departments. More than help, it improves the overall efficiency of your entire sales model. 

Using collaborative tools like a CRM ensures that both teams have access to up-to-date information about where each prospect is in their journey toward becoming a paying customer. Armed with this information, marketing and sales teams can then tailor their approach accordingly and provide personalized solutions for each step in the buyer’s journey. 

It’s a Match: Marketing Funnels & Sales Funnels

So, marketing funnels vs. sales funnels: time to shift that mindset. For all the reasons discussed, digital marketing funnels and sales funnels work best when they are side-by-side. But that requires a coordinated effort between departments and clear communication throughout each stage of the customer journey. By doing this, you can create a seamless brand experience that increases your increases conversion rate while building long-lasting relationships with customers.

How Credo Can Help Integrate Your Marketing & Sales Funnels

If you’re struggling to integrate your brand’s marketing funnels and sales funnels, Credo can help. Our platform connects businesses with a network of expert marketing professionals who specialize in funnel integration, ensuring that your marketing efforts seamlessly transition into your sales process. Don’t let disjointed marketing and sales processes hold you back any longer. Get started with Credo today.