Michael O'Neill

Sales and marketing teams are obsessed with the funnel.

It’s the oft-used depiction of the buyer’s journey, detailing how leads arrive to your company, how they interact after that first touchpoint and how they, hopefully, convert into sales.

We have nothing against the funnel as a geometric entity. Or the circle, the rhombus or even this brand new shape that scientists just discovered: the scutoid.

The problem is that too many companies reproduce the same funnel as their competitors, or they do a quick Google Image search and build their marketing around the first result that pops up. And this is just that:

Looking at this image, what do you gain? Is this enough information for you to go off of? Does this apply to your business model at all?

Likely not.

We’ve seen every marketing funnel template under the sun, and we’ve used a few different iterations ourselves over the years. But we wanted to build something that can be edited and updated as a company evolves, prospects change and media formats grow more sophisticated.

At the moment, this is what works for us. We’ll walk you through it, and you can apply it for yourself.

Integrating customer stage, content type and traffic source

First, here is a quick primer on key terms:

  • Awareness Stage: This is the top of the funnel (TOFU). At this stage, readers and followers are first discovering your brand and becoming acquainted with your content and your messaging. They are NOT looking to purchase or be persuaded just yet.
  • Interest Stage: One rung down the funnel are prospects who are intrigued by your offerings and are interested in learning more. They want to know whether your services may align with their needs. We’ll categorize this as middle of the funnel (MOFU).
  • Consideration Stage: As the name implies, prospects are actually considering your services as viable options for their businesses. They are comparing your offerings, prices and capabilities to other vendors and are keen to gather as much information as possible to help their internal stakeholders chime in on which vendor (hopefully you) will be right for them. This stage is a lot more intent-driven and is transitioning from the middle to the bottom of the funnel (BOFU).
  • Purchase Stage: This is where leads convert. They’ve done their due diligence, read all of your collateral, spoken to your sales reps and executives and are ready to make a final purchasing decision. Many of the details to be ironed out before securing a contract come down to pricing structures, contract terms and timelines.

And here are the five most prominent channels (or traffic sources) we look at:

  • Organic and Paid Search: Visitors coming to your site via search engines. They may click on organic content that appears in SERPs or the paid ads you’re running through Google Ads (or PPC advertiser of your choice, such as Bing Ads).
  • Referral Traffic: Visitors coming to your site via external links.
  • Direct Traffic: Visitors coming to your site via a direct web search (typing Brafton.com verbatim into the search bar).
  • Retargeting: Visitors coming to your site via a paid ad that is targeted specifically to them and based on their previous engagement with your site. These are repeat visitors.
  • Organic and Paid Social: Visitors coming to your site via social media, either through clicking on your social posts or clicking on the paid ads you’re sponsoring on your social feeds.

We’ve chosen to illustrate our funnel by including additional information that every stakeholder can have visibility into, such as which channels we’re using, which content types serve each stage of the funnel and the conversion goals we’re driving prospects toward.

marketing funnel template

This model averts follow-up questions such as “Why are we doing this blog again?” and “What do we do once we have a lead’s contact info?” These answers are embedded directly into the marketing funnel template.

If you’re a marketing manager at a small-ish organization, and the rest of your staff don’t have much experience with understanding the merits or processes of content marketing, this handy template can be easily disseminated to them. That way, the whole company is on the same page.

Aligning content with buyer intent

The crux of a marketing funnel is to serve content that’s relevant at each stage. A blog post at the bottom of the funnel isn’t going to move the needle much. Conversely, you don’t want to hit someone at the Awareness Stage with a customer testimonial. You’d effectively be talking past each other, neither party receiving from the other what is needed.

The marketing plan that guides your campaigns should take into account your team’s content creation ability. If you’re conducting strategy and creation in house, you may be able to produce TOFU but not BOFU assets, as bottom-of-the-funnel content traditionally requires design and video components that are either too expensive or simply out of your wheelhouse.

Running your content marketing through an agency circumvents these obstacles, since you can tap into every type of content without going over budget or needing to scramble at the last second in search of a freelance graphic designer, for example.

Assuming you’ve got your content creation capacity squared away, align your assets with your actual strategy and goals.

Here’s what we recommend at each stage of the funnel to ensure you’re actually reaching your target audience:

  • Awareness Stage: blogs, infographics, social media posts, podcasts, short videos.
  • Interest Stage: eBooks, white papers, explainer videos, conversion landing pages, paid/display ads.
  • Consideration Stage: case studies, customer testimonials, sales emails.
  • Purchase Stage: on-location and in-studio video testimonials, sales collateral.

You can see how each asset maps to the intent of your audience and how engaged (or disengaged) they may be at their respective stages in the funnel.

Change the channel, or don’t

The distribution channel, that is.

You don’t really have “campaigns” until you’ve identified how to share your content with the world and how to accurately measure its performance. Here are the primary content distribution channels that encompass a campaign:

  • Website: Publishing content on your own domain and blog page. Original thoughts, proprietary research and custom imagery work well here.
  • Social media: Posting content on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and any platform of your choosing. Great for infographics and visual content.
  • Email: Sending out email newsletters to your list of leads. Hybrid content that includes both text and graphics is the ideal format for email.
  • Third-party websites: Promoting or guest-posting on credible industry forums and websites your audience frequents. Industry opinions and commentary on relevant marketing trends are best served on other domains so more readers can find your work.
  • Advertising: PPC, display, retargeting, social media ads, etc. Product- or service-specific landing pages are perfect mediums for paid advertising, as they are mandatory to run an ad campaign and they give intent-driven traffic a place to enter your site at the right stage of the funnel.

For a comprehensive marketing strategy, you’ll be active on all these channels, whereas newer marketers may stick only to website and social media. In either case, never distribute across every channel just because someone told you to – that’s an easy way to lose money.

Running a few pilot campaigns across each channel can clue you into which may work best for your purposes. And it all starts with analytics. Use Google Analytics, Google Ads, Pardot, Constant Contact and your respective social analytics platforms to compile performance metrics.

To know what’s working, use this data to benchmark against previous internal efforts or even  industry averages. For a good frame of reference, here are some conversion rates to consider:

  • Organic search: 1-2 percent.
  • Social media: 0-1 percent.
  • Email: 3 percent.
  • Ads: 2-3 percent.

These are fairly run-of-the-mill averages. Some companies are seeing 25 percent conversion rates on their landing pages, but they’re clearly outliers and they tend to plateau in a matter of months.

Here are a few resources for syndicating, promoting and amplifying your content for maximum exposure across your chosen channels. Now measure, measure, measure.

Driving traffic to the optimal conversion goal

Producing awesome content and sending it out via the appropriate channels are great initiatives, but only if they lead to logical conclusions. In other words, where are you sending your traffic? What do you want them to do for you?

Setting up Event Tracking and Goal Completions in Google Analytics is the easiest way to gather useful performance metrics based on the custom goals your company has.

In our template, our goals at each stage of the funnel include (in descending order):

  • Subscription to our formal email newsletter or to regularly receive content updates.
  • Providing contact info to opt-in to lead nurturing campaign or filling out a conversion form of some kind.
  • Requesting a demo or contacting our sales team.

Whenever one of the above actions takes place, we’re alerted. We know what to do, how to piggyback off these actions and how well our marketing is performing.

Beyond these conversions, we’re constantly in contact with prospects and continue to provide them with content that may entice them to take additional steps toward becoming our next best customer.

Your conversion goals don’t have to look like ours, and that’s the point of providing a template that you can edit and manipulate to your liking. However, whichever path you choose, be sure that it aligns with your sales methodology as well.

Marketing should fuel sales wins, and, for many companies, it’s their most profitable way to generate pre-qualified leads for their sales reps. Pam Didner, an author on sales and marketing alignment, described this dynamic by noting, “salespeople need to know what content has been generated by their marketing team. The marketing team needs to categorize, tag and describe the content and [then] help salespeople understand how to better use it.”

Does your marketing funnel accomplish just that?