5 Stages of the Sales Funnel (With Examples and Strategies)

5 Stages of the Sales Funnel (With Examples and Strategies)

9 Min Read

As a marketer, you’re always looking to build relationships with new customers and strengthen your sales with existing ones. But how do you make that happen?

To maximize your efforts, you’re going to need a deep and granular understanding of the stages of the sales funnel.

Because your ability to attract customers to the sales funnel and move them down its stages—from more abstract consideration of your product to concrete action—can make or break your sales and marketing operation.

There are five distinct sales funnel stages. Keep reading to learn (or refresh your memory) about each one, including some examples and strategies for how to master each stage, so you can drive customers toward your ultimate goal: an ongoing relationship with your brand.

What Is a Sales Funnel?

The sales funnel, inspired by the shape of a funnel that’s broad at the top and narrow at the bottom, represents your customers’ journey. It begins with them becoming aware of your product or service and ends with them making a purchase—and then hopefully returning for repeat transactions.

Of course, not every customer makes the journey through all of the stages of the sales funnel. Your job is to encourage as many as possible to get to the pointy end.

Sales Funnel vs. Marketing Funnel

Historically, companies have thought the difference between marketing and sales funnels is based on where a potential customer is in their journey. The two funnels were stacked on top of each other: the marketing funnel on top, the sale funnel right below.

The marketing funnel would appeal to a broad range of potential customers and build brand awareness. The goal would be to give these audiences a positive impression of your product or service, through things like ads, email newsletters, promotions, social media, and so on.

Once customers got to the bottom of the marketing funnel—i.e. they knew your brand/product/service and considered themselves potentially aligned with it—they would enter the sales funnel. At this stage, your marketing team would hand the customer off to your salespeople, who would then use a well-orchestrated pitch to guide them toward a sale based on where they were in their journey. The two teams rarely worked together.

Today’s marketers and salespeople favor a more holistic approach. Instead of operating in silos, the sales and marketing teams often collaborate, using stellar marketing to turn awareness into qualified leads. 

Trying to differentiate between marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs)? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) are potential customers who have interacted with your brand in some capacity. They may have seen video ad campaigns, social media posts, offline ads, or any other marketing messages that resonated with them enough to convince them to learn more about your brand. While MQLs aren’t in your sales funnel yet, they represent real potential customers who fit your profile and deserve more attention. With the right messaging, your sales team can interact with MQLs to move them further down the sales funnel. 
  • Sales-qualified leads (SQLs) are MQLs that have officially entered the sales funnel. (Think squares v. rectangles: An SQL was once an MQL, but an MQL has not yet been an SQL.) An SQL knows their needs and has done more thorough research. They understand their budget and have a list of questions and concerns to address before they make a purchase. 

Defining clear goals at different sales funnel stages will help you make good choices about your content and allow you to evaluate what is and isn’t working as you move prospects through the funnel.

Stage 1: Awareness

Who are you? (As a brand, that is.) What’s your raison d’etre? What’s your whole deal? The awareness stage (top-of-funnel) is where you let people know what you stand for. Everyone who has ever come across your brand is at this level, at least at first.

Any marketing channel can serve as a door to customer awareness. You can build familiarity with paid social media posts, static ads, YouTube, or Connected TV (CTV) ads, pay-per-click campaigns, and so on. A potential customer enters this stage before they even know what they’re looking for. 

For example, a consumer at the awareness stage might stumble upon a mattress ad after a rough night’s sleep and check out your website for more information. Your goal in the awareness stage is to drum up interest in your product or service—to suggest your brand as the solution for a problem a potential customer has.

Success at the awareness stage lies in showcasing how you can address your customers’ needs. For example, the customer above may usually tune out furniture ads, thinking they don’t need new furniture. But after a few rough nights of tossing and turning, your ad starts appealing to their needs.

Strategies for the Awareness Stage

Improving awareness is the start of your funnel optimization strategy. Creating quality content that is entertaining (and lightly informative) is an excellent way to get your brand to stick in potential customers’ minds. You’re building authority at this stage. Many consumers keep tabs on brands for large purchases they will make in the future.

For example, if you sell mattresses—a market with a ton of competition—your content should be geared toward making your brand stand out as the mattress provider they should consider when they’re finally ready to pull the trigger. In the meantime, while they’re weighing the pros and cons of investing in a new mattress in general, you can be touting the virtues of yours and, more broadly, the dangers of hanging onto an old one (back pain, toxic mold, etc.). 

Clever social media posts will help you reach those potential customers, develop a clear brand message and identity, and clarify who your ideal customer is. Now is the time to be clear about what you offer, because you have a window for making an impression on your customers.

Stage 2: Interest and Evaluation

Now that you have your hypothetical consumer’s attention, it’s time for the interest and evaluation stage, wherein they’ve started showing interest in your product. This is the beginning of what is referred to as the consideration stage (middle of funnel). They may not have committed to buying a new mattress, but they are taking measurable steps to learn more. This could mean filling out a query form or signing up for your mailing list.

Strategies for the Interest and Evaluation Stage

Offer prospects at this level free, quality resources to feed their interest and establish a sense of trust. Remember, the best approach is to treat your interested potential customers like people, not objects of potential sales. A fun, friendly tone can work wonders, especially in combination with in-depth information that satisfies people’s questions.

You’ll be making blog posts and video content for all funnel stages, but content in this earlier stage should skew toward the general and product non-specific, with titles for blog posts and videos like “The Amazing Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep.” (You’re the authority on the topic, after all.)

Now that you have a sense of your ideal customer profile, you can create tailored email and blog campaigns full of “did you know?” information that can help you gain points as they evaluate their options. Free-trial offers for your products can also help tip your leads from interest to active engagement.

Stage 3: Desire

Your hypothetical mattress customer has decided they do indeed want to buy a new mattress. They have a budget and a sense of what’s out there. But they’re still actively weighing their options, and it’s not certain that your mattress will be their final choice.

Strategies for the Desire Stage

As you’ve probably experienced firsthand, reviews and testimonials are a great way to sway individuals who are weighing their options. Video content that’s either genuine user-generated content (UGC) or in the style of UGC can enhance that sense of a bond between your brand and your consumers.

Polls and surveys are another great way to engage with your customers directly and keep a conversation evolving. Pointed case studies can also help potential customers draw links between success stories with your product and how to make it work in their own lives.

Stage 4: Action

Your prospect has finally decided to pull the new-mattress-shaped trigger. You’re getting toward the end of the funnel, but you’re not there yet. At this stage, you may see your prospect put an item in their cart, then close their browser window. Yikes! So now you need to help your prospect push forward and buy something.

Strategies for the Action Stage

Ways to seal the deal during the action stage could include:

  • Special offers and package bundles
  • Discount codes
  • Email offers and campaigns
  • Limited-time promotions

Now’s the time to refine any spots on your site where there might be friction or an obvious barrier to follow-through. That could mean adding more testimonials on your checkout page or sprucing up your website’s flow.

Overall, at this stage you want potential customers to feel supported. If you’re selling a complicated product, ensure that customers know how to care for and assemble it. In other words: you’re heading off any future problems at the pass.

Stage 5: Loyalty and Re-Engagement

Finally, your customer hits that “purchase” button. At last! Now, they’re satisfied with their purchase. (We hope.) That means you’ve crossed the first and perhaps most significant barrier. But the full funnel isn’t over yet. Now, you want to keep them coming back for more. Obviously, in our mattress example, that won’t mean buying another mattress—not for a few years, anyway. But there are still other ways of keeping that engagement: products related to their first purchase (a mattress cover? A mattress pad? sheets?), a subscription to a monthly package, ongoing support, or even spreading the word to others are all great options.

Indeed, friend or colleague referral leads account for 84% of sales, with an impressive 30% conversion rate. So don’t abandon your sales pipeline after your customers have made their first purchase.

Strategies for the Loyalty Stage

You’ve established a relationship with your customers. Now it’s time to keep the love alive! They still have choices to make about future purchases. And you can be sure that they’ll see your competitors’ ads pop up in their social media feeds and on websites they visit.

Competitive loyalty programs and perks, future discount offers, and responsive customer service—including easy returns and replacements—are all great ways to keep your customers’ loyalty.

How CTV Advertising Can Keep Your Funnel Full

Connected TV harnesses the power of TV, combined with the power of performance data, to accurately target prospects at every stage of the funnel. CTV advertising can turn awareness into engagement and engagement into sales.

MNTN offers market-leading services in crafting targeted, smart, and efficiently produced campaigns. And once you have customers, you can re-engage them. This case study is just one example of CTV driving lower-funnel results in a brilliantly targeted and cost-effective way. 

Contact MNTN today to find a package that’s right for your needs.

Sales Funnel Stages: Final Thoughts

Moving prospects through the stages of a sales funnel takes work, but it doesn’t have to be a chore if you develop a comprehensive strategy and utilize the right technology. CTV offers exciting new solutions, no matter where in the funnel your prospects are.