What is the Sales Funnel in Digital Marketing?

At any given moment your potential clients/customers are at various stages of their buying journey. While one is weeks away and gathering preliminary research the other is ready to make a decision today. A complete digital marketing strategy will attract people from all funnel stages, building a more predictable pipeline. When budget constraints are a factor, companies need to select which stage of the funnel makes the most sense for their goals. In order to simplify the funnel, we have divided it into three sections: Top, Middle and Bottom.  


Top of Funnel 


When someone is at the top of the funnel, they know that they have a need but are often unable to name a solution for that need. If they do know of a solution, they have not yet completed any research. For example, if you searched for “What is the Sales Funnel in Digital Marketing” and found this post you are likely at the top of the funnel in your buyer’s journey. You might be looking for agency support, information about marketing automation or instructions on how to build funnel-based campaigns. Here are a few key tactics that can help with top of funnel marketing: 


1. Blogging 


Writing blog posts (just like this one) that address users early stage searches about a topic is a proven tactic. Prior to writing your blog post you need to identify questions that early stage prospects often ask. Your frontline staff, sales representatives and website chat bot are great sources for this information. Once you have your preliminary list you need to validate search volume. A great blog post with no supported search volume will never get found on search engines. 


2. Paid Social 


Utilizing demographic-based targeting we can identify people who may not yet be in the market for your solutions, but likely will be eventually. For example, if you are a roofer who has just replaced a roof in a 20-year-old subdivision it would be logical to target other homeowners in the area whether they are in market or not. These homeowners will eventually require a new roof and if you are reaching them early creating a competitive advantage.  


Middle of Funnel 


When someone moves from the top of the funnel to the middle, they now are able to name their need with confidence. They are aware of various solutions within the market. They will now switch their focus from needs identification to solution selection. For instance, someone attending a wedding who had previously searched for “Most Flattering Dress Styles” (Top of Funnel) may now start to evaluate various cuts. In order to attract potential clients at the middle of the funnel we need to: 


1. Create Effective Page Content & Sections 


With blogging, we were are attempting to rank for long-tail keyword strings. With page content and sections, we are looking for head terms. To better understand the two: Long Tail “What type of bike is best for road racing?”. Head Term “Carbon Fiber Bike”. When creating these sections and pages it is important to clearly identify what the product/solution is. Optimizing these pages for SEO and CRO will help to drive more conversions.  


2.Performance Display Advertising  


Unlike traditional display advertising performance display relies on a better ability to identify user behavior. For example, if you are a car dealer rather than focusing on everyone within a radius you can filter that list by those who are actively in market for new or used SUVs. This form of display allows us to build brand awareness and drive conversions simultaneously.    


Bottom of Funnel 


Finally, we have reached the bottom of the funnel. For some this journey took minutes and for others it may have taken months or years. People in the bottom of the funnel know their problem, they have identified solutions and now they are ready to select a vendor. Here are a few ways you can increase the likelihood that they select you.  


1. Search Marketing (Both SEO and PPC fit into this category) 



We want to attract users who are ready to make a purchase. Think of buyer ready terms and base your strategy on these terms. Take advantage of the pages and sections that you created for the middle of the funnel and drive more traffic into these pages.   


2. CRO Conversion Rate Optimization 


You have worked so hard to attract prospects and bring them to the bottom of the funnel. It would be a shame to lose them now. Optimize your site in an effort to maximize conversions. Simplify your shopping cart and make it easier for visitors to find the next step. Always consult with your SEO agency prior to making any navigation or on-page content changes as these CRO improvements may have a negative impact on total traffic.     


Connecting the Funnel 


A common misconception with the funnel is that everyone moves through it in the same fashion. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Some may move down and then back up and others may pause the funnel and re-enter at a later time. Given that we have invested in attracting these prospects we want to make sure we continue to help them in their buyer journey. Fortunately, there a few things we can do to help with this. 


1. Remarketing 


We have all seen these ads before. They follow you around after visiting a website. Let’s be honest when they are not done properly, they can be annoying. On the other hand, when well executed they can be very helpful. Remember that your remarketing should align with the funnel stage. Trying to sell an expensive product to someone who just entered the top of the funnel is a losing proposition. Provide sequential messaging and offers that will help and excite them to move through the funnel.  


2. Email Marketing 


There are two things we all hate about email marketing: the frequency and irrelevant content. If you limit frequency and align the content with each prospect’s unique journey this tactic can be highly effective. Always think about moving them to the next stage. For example: 


A top of funnel prospect who showed interest in a TV may be interested in downloading a buyer’s guide comparing the top 5 TVs on the market. This would effectively move them from top of funnel to the middle now that they are evaluating solutions. 


A middle of funnel prospect who read your content comparing the safety features of various SUVs could be moved to the bottom of funnel by asking them to book a test drive or attend a demo day. If they book that test drive or attend the day they have now moved to the bottom of the funnel.  


A bottom of funnel prospect who viewed your product but did not convert may be enticed by special offers. Once a prospect enters the bottom of the funnel the next logical step is to become a customer. Consider sending free shipping offers or suggestions on product bundling.        


Where Should I Start? 


The reality is many businesses do not have enough budget to support a complete funnel-based approach. Where you start is dependent on your unique situation and needs. Below are a few helpful tips that will help you determine where you should start. 


Top of Funnel First 


In the long term, a top of funnel approach will net out the most consistent funnel and the lowest overall cost of customer acquisition. The primary challenges with this approach are systems and time. You need to have an effective nurture system in place in order to justify these efforts and you need to be ready to wait. It is not uncommon for top of funnel prospects to take several months before they reach the bottom of the funnel. Fortunately for you, you have created an early relationship and may become their trusted advisor reducing your need for middle and bottom of funnel tactics.  


Middle of Funnel First 


Much like top of funnel advertising, this approach can generate very positive long-term results and lower overall acquisition costs. The primary challenge is that it is very rare this approach will work as a standalone solution. The journey from middle to bottom of funnel can be very short at times and you may not have established yourself as a trusted advisor. Be prepared to spend on bottom of funnel tactics if you are spending on middle of funnel tactics.  


Bottom of Funnel First 


This approach has the fastest return on investment. You are able to generate leads and convert them into customers within a very short window making this approach extremely attractive to most. The primary challenge with this approach is the cost of acquisition. Now that you are competing at the bottom of the funnel you do not have an established rapport with the prospect and many are lining up to compete against you. If this is where you play, make sure have great sales systems in place. For businesses that need a speedy return on investment, this is the best place to start.  


 How Can I get Started 


Start by identifying your systems, needs, budget and timelines. These will ultimately become the largest deciding factors in which approach you take. When it comes to building a sales funnel through digital marketing you are best to consult an agency unless you have significant internal resources at your disposal. These approaches require many unique skill sets.  


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