Understanding the Online Sales Funnel

Understanding the Online Sales Funnel

I think we can reasonably say that the worlds of sales and marketing have combined, or at least there’s a blurred line between them. Every marketer now needs to be versed in the latest sales techniques and every salesperson needs to understand the concepts of digital marketing. The two work hand in hand, and without alignment, success is going to be hard to come by.

First up, let’s define the sales funnel – in its basic form it’s composed of four stages: awareness, interest, decision and action. The idea is to take a lead through each stage so they go from being a suspect, to a prospect to a paying customer. In theory it sounds relatively straightforward, driving a prospect from one stage to the next, but in practice it’s not as easy as it sounds.

According to CEB Global, the average B2B buyer is now 57% of the way through the purchasing decision before looking to engage a supplier/sales rep, and when they do reach out it’s frequently with questions surrounding pricing and, if applicable, licensing. A prospect now has access to pretty much all the information they need. Whereas 10 years ago the salesperson held all the cards in terms of product documents, case studies, use case scenarios, competitive benchmarking and so on, that information is now freely available on the web. With some 75% of B2B buyers now using social media to be more informed on vendors, it has become much harder to garner their attention and move them through the sales funnel.

Let me give you a quick personal example. Last year my wife was looking to buy a new car. She conducted a great deal of research online, requested materials be sent to her via manufacturers’ websites, read independent car reviews and watched a number of YouTube videos. She narrowed her decision down to three particular models by three different manufacturers, and having requested information from each, she was placed into their lead nurture streams and began to receive content from each.

While this played a part in helping to influence her ultimate decision, she also turned to her network of contacts/friends on Facebook to ask which of them owned vehicles by the three manufacturers in question, what their impressions were, what the running and insurance costs were, etc.

Having received a great response to these questions and pretty much made her decision on the car to go with, she then took things a step further by going back to Facebook and asking which dealership they would recommend she visit. Despite having three dealerships of the chosen automaker within a 25-minute drive of our home, three individuals on Facebook suggested we visit one particular dealer which was about a 90-minute drive away, stating that the level of service and overall experience was superb and we would not be disappointed.

So we made an appointment via an online booking service with a sales exec for the following week. In the interim the dealership emailed us with information on the vehicle in question, sent us details of the services they offered along with a personalised video explaining the process we would be working through during our visit. One week later we drove the 90 minutes to visit the dealer, the sales rep had all our background information and just a few hours later we had placed a deposit and ordered a new vehicle.

It’s this combination of serving up content combined with the influence of social networks that’s imperative in today’s market. No longer should a salesperson be concerned about the number of calls they make, they should be focusing on how much content they are either curating or creating.

I have salespeople who start each week ensuring that they have a selection of content queued across their social channels – Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook – meaning they are staying top of mind with their customer and prospects, while making it easy for people to find them when they are looking for help. I encourage them to include a call to action on every piece of content they share or at least guide them back to their profile. This all helps to generate inbound opportunities, and while each person may be at a different stage of the sales funnel, each salesperson will then go on to qualify that individual.

So it really does come down to staying top of mind by sharing content – but there’s a secret sauce in terms of determining what content to share with each lead/prospect depending on where they are in the sales funnel.

Serving the right content to the right persona at the right time is key. In its simplest form, the awareness stage (top of funnel) should include informative and easy-to-consume content such as blog posts, listicles, infographics or short videos (lasting no more than 60 seconds), which is all designed to grab attention.

As you move further down the funnel into the consideration stage you’ll need to begin serving up content that’s designed to help influence the buying decision and address the problem a suspect/prospect may face. Once the suspect has reached the bottom stage of the funnel, you can begin to serve up content around your own offering which highlights your product/solution/service, conveying why they should buy from you and what makes you stand out from the crowd.

It is during this process that you should consider implementing a lead scoring system. Lead scoring is a methodology used to rank prospects against a scale that represents the perceived value of each lead to the organization.

The more time quality leads spend with your content and the better informed they become, the more likely they will be interested in hearing from your sales team. Ultimately, what you should be looking to do is take the conversation from online to offline and speak to your prospects, or if possible meet with them face to face.

If you’re a LinkedIn user and have access to Sales Navigator, there’s a very clever feature called PointDrive which can assist with this process. PointDrive allows you to create, package, share and track content with customers and prospects in a professional and highly engaging way. Once you have created your presentation, you generate the unique link and send this to your customer or prospect.

When they begin viewing your presentation you are informed in real-time, and you will receive insights on what items of content they have viewed and how long they spent viewing them. If your customer or prospect then shares the link with any of their co-workers and they too begin viewing your presentation, you will be notified of who they are. This ultimately helps to build a picture on who is involved in the overall decision-making process.

While content is key, there are a number of other tactics to consider in order to help drive leads further down the funnel. Offering an incentive (buy one, get one free) or discount (10% off your first order) is always appealing. Setting a specified date/time for an exclusive offer will also remain in the minds of any prospects and you can increase the number of times you communicate/engage with them the closer you get to the date set.

It’s also a good idea to build out customer personas in order to recognize key traits, as this will help to ensure you’re reaching the right people and driving them through the sales funnel by marketing to them via the right channels.

With a well-defined content strategy, combined with a good understanding of your target audience and the channels they frequent, you stand a good chance of being able to drive them down the sales funnel.


Paul Lewis

Paul is a 20+ year marketing veteran who began his career in Los Angeles with the global advertising agency BBDO. He then moved on to spend eight years at Experian, the world’s leading global information services company. Since 2013, he has been overseeing the management, creation and execution of social media marketing and sales enablement programs at global tech company Pitney Bowes.

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