Did you know that 44% of marketers say “better measure the ROI of our demand generation initiatives” is their top priority for 2021?
Great advertising attracts customers, improves brand awareness, and generates business leads & sales revenue. A sales cycle is defined as a series of events or steps that occur during the selling of a product or service. Unlike some Business-to-Consumer (B2C) industries, that can often have rather immediate and short sales cycles, Business-to-Business (B2B) industry sales cycles are often quite longer in nature, and can often require the nurturing of potential customers for many months, if not years, before they may turn into a sales opportunity and/or a paying customer.
A strong digital marketing strategy and B2B marketing/sales funnel has the potential to ‘unleash’ the full success of demand generation initiatives for B2B marketers. For B2B businesses, you need to have a fully-integrated marketing funnel to attract new leads, nurture prospects and ultimately convert more prospects into paying customers. By offering potential prospects a seamless experience at each stage of the buyer’s journey, you then enable the ability to guide them one step closer towards taking a favourable action, and turn them from a lead, to a prospect, and finally, into a paying customer.
Let’s review the three stages in a typical B2B marketing funnel, major differences between B2C and B2B marketing funnels, and a B2B industry example, applied in practice.
The B2B marketing funnel:
A marketing funnel is an integrated marketing plan that targets potential customers with personalized content/messages at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Your B2B marketing funnel should aim to attract new leads to your business, qualify leads to become prospects, and nurture these prospects to become a paying customer over time. Sounds simple right?…..wrong. The customer acquisition sales cycle is different for every individual business and industry. It is important to note that each stage of the marketing/sales cycle may include more than one touchpoint, before any user may be ready to move on to the next stage of this cycle. In addition, there is no set sequence, as a user may take one step forward, followed by two steps back, as they make their way through their individual buying journey at their own pace.
Three stages of the B2B marketing funnel:
A typical B2B marketing/sales funnel consists of three main stages in its simplest form, plus the addition of customer loyalty & retention, which is factored in one you have already acquired paying customers.
The below depiction represents the various stages of a B2B marketing funnel, and how buyers move from firstly learning about your brand/product and/or solution, all the way through to becoming a buyer, and loyal paid customer of yours.
- Top of funnel (TOFU) – Prospecting
- Middle of funnel (MOFU) – Lead Generation
- Bottom of funnel (BOFU) – Conversions
Stage 1: AWARENESS:
- During this initial stage, you need to build AWARENESS, so your prospects know and trust you.
- B2B customers are looking for answers to their complex business problems during this phase. They are seeking education, information, statistics, and reputable opinions, in order to both understand & help solve their complex business challenges.
- From a seller’s perspective, you need to build initial awareness so prospective customers know who you are and why they can trust in you to help solve their complex business challenges.
- The desired user action a B2B marketer should seek to encourage during this stage is for the user to LEARN MORE, whether that be visiting your businesses’ website for the first time, reading a relevant whitepaper or article featuring your company and/or business solution, etc.
- It is important to note that while each customer is unique, some may stay in this initial awareness stage for a longer duration of time than others, and require multiple touchpoints in order to encourage greater movement down your marketing/sales funnel.
Stage 2: ENGAGEMENT:
- At some point in time, your B2B prospects will begin to seek more than just information. Rather, they will then have the need to ENGAGE with you on some level, as they move one step closer towards making a purchase decision.
- This may include the user attending a free webinar that your company may offer to demo your offered product/solution, download a relevant e-book, or view a relevant data sheet/case study, in relation to your business offerings.
- At this stage, the potential prospect has now identified that you may offer a suitable solution to their problem, and are now taking some form of engagement themselves, therefore bringing them one step closer towards making a purchase decision and down your marketing/sales funnel.
- The desired user action in this Engagement stage, is for them to DOWNLOAD/VIEW/REGISTER for an event of yours for example, as they are beyond their initial discovery/awareness in seeking potential solutions, and now seek to engage with you on some front in exploring further.
Stage 3: CONVERSION:
- It may take a week, month, year or even multiple years to nurture B2B prospects into this conversion stage, however, at some point in time, most B2B buyer(s) are ready to take action!
- This is ultimately when a prospect is now ready to make the ultimate ‘leap of faith’ and possibly take the desired action of reaching out to request a product/service demo and/or a free quote.
- While it may not be easy, taking the time to nurture potential prospects and guide them down your respective marketing/sales funnel will help you qualify new business leads that more closely align these potential prospects to those you seek, prior to them getting in contact with you directly.
Differences between B2B and B2C marketing funnels:
We now understand the importance of a marketing funnel and the included stages within.
Let’s dive a bit further into HOW B2B and B2C marketing funnels differ, and WHY you should care as a marketer.
B2B customers conduct thorough research before making a purchase decision on the behalf of their company. There are three distinct differences between a B2B and B2C marketing funnel, as cited by StableWP:
- The motivation behind a buyer’s persona is inherently different between both a B2B and B2C buyer.
- B2C buyers are looking for a solution that may improve their personal situation, or that of a loved one and/or friend.
- B2B buyers are looking for a solution that improves their organizational bottom line and increases organizational ROI.
- B2C purchase decisions are often made by an individual, and can be influenced by immediate family members, friends, influencers, and any personal research performed on their own terms.
- In contrast, B2B purchase decisions are typically made by a group of individuals, often needing to go through many layers of an organization’s hierarchy prior to a decision being made.
- For example, in a medium-sized SaaS organization, a seller may start off by speaking with a user who holds the title of Marketing Manager, prior to being introduced to any CMO/CTO titled individual, who ultimately may need to present the proposed business solution to the CEO and/or entire leadership group prior to a decision being made.
- Decision-making process
- B2C purchase decisions are often made relatively fast, and can be based off of both emotion and/or impulse.
- For example, If I were to lose my personal cellular device, I may go online and purchase a brand new one rather immediately and based on impulse, in order to satisfy my immediate need of getting a new phone.
- B2B buyers typically use greater logic, reasoning, and conduct a longer search process prior to making a purchase decision. Once again, this is why the creation of a marketing funnel is so crucial for B2B marketers, given the lengthy buying cycles, and importance of ‘guiding’ users down your marketing/sales funnel at their own pace.
- B2C purchase decisions are often made relatively fast, and can be based off of both emotion and/or impulse.
B2B marketing funnel example – B2B marketing funnel applied
Now that we know what a Marketing Funnel is, the different stages within and how a B2B and B2C marketing funnel can differ, let’s apply this funnel to an industry example.
Suppose I am the Marketing Lead for a SaaS solutions provider, that helps enterprise-level companies build integrated CRM software solutions to maximize data automation organizationally.
The ultimate ‘buyer’ or decision maker may be the company’s CEO, however, the starting target audience I may be looking to get in front of and transform into my internal ‘organizational champion’ may be a user who holds a Marketing Manager, Data & Analytics Director, or even a CTO-level title.
For B2B marketing, oftentimes your target audience may not even be aware of your brand, offering, or have even identified an organizational need and/or opportunity that my company can help them solve via a tailored SaaS solution. Given this, the importance of firstly building awareness (TOFU), is a critical step in your marketing cycle.
Let’s now dive into some specific examples of channels/tactics within each stage of our marketing funnel that I may use to attract, engage and ultimately convert prospective buyers into becoming a paid customer. The below table summarizes a list of possible digital marketing channels/tactics that a B2B marketer may exploit as part of their strategy, to encourage the desired action outlined within each stage of the marketing funnel.
Figure 2: Digital marketing channel & tactics by marketing stage
AWARENESS STAGE – APPLIED:
- As outlined above, our desired user action in this initial stage is for them to take action and ‘LEARN MORE.’
- As a B2B marketer looking to sell my organization’s Cloud CRM solution, this is the intended action I am looking to encourage prospective buyers to take.
- It is important to ensure all channels & tactics utilized within this stage, convey messaging that is in-line with the intended user action we are trying to encourage.
- I may decide to utilize SEO as a channel, by creating some timely TOFU informational blogs, identified using SEMrush’s topic research tool for example, aimed to answer topical & frequently asked user questions, in relation to the gap that my company’s solution aims to ultimately solve.
- I may also layer in a supporting traffic-focused PPC campaign in the mix, to drive inbound website traffic, build interest, and begin to build out qualified audience list(s), which can come in handy at later stages of this funnel.
ENGAGEMENT STAGE – APPLIED:
- In this Engagement stage, the focus or intended user action shifts from learning more, to engaging with my business on some front.
- I am now trying to get in front of users who may already know who my company is, what we offer and why they should care, but have not yet taken action to engage on some level, and move further down the funnel.
- The desired user action in this particular example would be to encourage the download of gated content in relation to an offered solution and/or sign up for a free webinar to learn more about my offered industry solution.
- The output received via this ‘transaction’ may be a few pieces of data, which may include; prospect’s name, email, phone number, and possibly company name and reason for their interest as well, when they submit a request to attend an event or access a piece of gated content.
- From a channel & tactics perspective, I may decide to utilize LinkedIn lead-generation ads as a MOFU tactic, to directly collect customer data from any user who wishes to receive access to a gated piece of content via my ads campaign, directly from within LinkedIn.
CONVERSION STAGE – APPLIED:
- Finally! At last! Once a user reaches this stage, the focus or desired action becomes very much transactional based. I am now trying to encourage users to take a direct action, such as booking a free trial to see my offered solution in practice, or they may be ready to dive in and receive an initial quote against any offered solution.
- The intent is now to re-market and get in front of qualified prospects, who showed initial interest, engaged, but have not yet converted.
- From a channel & tactics perspective, I may now be leveraging all the initial user data collected from these first two stages, and any specific audience list(s) that I may have been building up, such as those who already downloaded a piece of gated content, viewed a particular blog, or attended a free webinar. I may now run a targeted Google Search & Display campaign, to get in front of users who are actively searching against queries that have a direct purchase intent behind them, as well as leverage cross-channels efforts and remarketing ads via the Google Display Network, to get in front of users who previously engaged on some level.
While by no means an exhaustive example, the above application can allow us to now understand WHY a Marketing Funnel is so important for B2B businesses, WHAT is included within the different stages of the funnel and HOW specific channels/tactics can be applied within to encourage more favourable user actions.
No matter your businesses’ industry, size, market, or focus, a marketing funnel is likely crucial to your long-term demand generating success.
For B2B businesses who have a lengthy sales cycle, the importance of a well-defined funnel cannot be stressed enough.
At seoplus+, we work with a diverse portfolio of clients, both B2B and B2C, who all have different marketing needs and sales cycles.
The most important step in your digital marketing journey is getting started!
Reach out to seoplus+ today. We are happy to help!