Is the “Typical” Sales and Marketing Funnel All that Typical?

February 16, 2012


There’s a lot of content out there about the “typical” marketing/sales funnel when it comes to business purchases. Marketers put a lot of weight on this funnel, as it can be a good indicator of what type of content we should provide, how often and in what ways we should nurture leads, and what sort of marketing investments we should make in various online marketing channels.

But it’s always good to have a reality check. Bizo recently migrated to a new blogging platform, and I thought this presented the perfect opportunity to evaluate the sales process I experienced as a prospect, just to see if the “common” stages of the funnel really hold water when applied in the real world.

Here’s what happened:

Awareness Stage: I first heard of our blogging platform at a trade show a few years ago. I wasn’t in the market for a solution back then, but their booth presence was enough to make me to take notice, and remember the company.

<A few years pass…>

Still in the Awareness Stage: Since that time, I had probably seen the same company a few other times at various industry shows of which Bizo has been a part.

<Another year passes…>

Education Stage: In the process of setting up our marketing plan for 2012, we decided to make a deeper investment in content, which included choosing a new platform for our blog.

<1 day passes>

Education Stage: I searched Google for terms such as “blogging software,” “blogging platform,” “b2b blog,” and more. I also ran searches on LinkedIn Answers to see if anyone had commented on their experiences with specific platforms.

<1 day passes>

Awareness/Education Stages: I received an email from a company offering a “business blogging guide.” I downloaded this, and found it to be a tremendous content resource. I added this product to my “short list” of possible solutions.

<Same day>

Evaluation Stage: I visited the corporate websites of each solution on my shortlist. I compiled a spreadsheet indicating pros and cons, pricing, etc.

<Next day>

Evaluation Stage: I signed up for free trials on the sites that offered this. On the others, I filled out the “Contact Us” form on the website, and scheduled a demo call with a sales rep within one week.

<4 days later>

Evaluation/Proposal Stages: After having the demo, and doing final research into the other solutions, I felt confident in sending my recommendations to the executive team.

<1 day later>

Purchase Stage: Budget was approved, and we signed the deal.

Lessons Learned

As much as we’d like to think there’s a magic formula to the marketing funnel, my experience underscored that you never know when a highly qualified lead is going to jump into your lap. Here are some tips to make sure you’re consistently meeting (and exceeding) the needs of your prospects, regardless of which stage they’re in, or how long they may take to get to an actual purchase.

  • Awareness plays a role throughout the entire funnel, not just at the top.
    There’s often no predictability around how long each stage in the marketing funnel will take. As you can see from my own business purchasing timeline, it literally took years between the moment I became aware of the platform to when I actually needed it. You never know when or where you next qualified prospect will appear, so it’s in your best interest to be everywhere you can, given your target audience. Go to the right tradeshows (in-person and virtual events). Invest in targeted display advertising. And try to incorporate retargeting across your marketing mix to stay top of mind with prospects everywhere on the Web.
  • Invest continuously in the “Education” stage. These days, it’s not just about creating informative white papers and datasheets to educate your audience. You’re competing against a lot of other content online, so think “outside the box” as much as possible. In addition to your standard white papers and guides, try investing in catchy viral videos, fun Twitter contests, and new ways to nurture your existing house database.
  • Your corporate website plays a key role for prospects further down the funnel—make sure it’s in tip-top shape.
    Your most qualified leads are going to visit your corporate website at various points along the marketing funnel, so be sure to keep your corporate website up to date and meaningful. You can also use your Web analytics tool to track and trend the key business audience segments who are visiting your website – in doing so, you can make sure that your current programs are driving the right people to your site, and may even discover new audience segments that are interested in your product or service.
  • When someone asks to be contacted, be prepared to jump on this opportunity.
    There’s nothing worse than prospects telling a company that they want to be contacted and not hearing back. From anyone. For days. To prevent this from happening, make sure you set up your contact form and email addresses as distribution lists so that multiple people are aware of these opportunities and can pass them along to sales accordingly. In addition, set up an SLA to ensure that your sales team is obligated to get in touch with the person as soon as possible—and definitely within 24 hours.

I was glad to have this opportunity to experience the marketing funnel first-hand—there’s nothing like being an actual prospect to help a marketer re-evaluate her approach to things. If you’ve made any business purchases lately, how “typical” was your experience?

This post was originally published on the Bizo blog. In July 2014, LinkedIn + Bizo joined forces to build the most robust B2B marketing platform available to marketers. To learn more, check out David Thacker, VP of Product at LinkedIn’s announcement blog post.