Sales Funnels vs. Marketing Funnels: What’s the Difference?

Sales Funnels vs. Marketing Funnels: What’s the Difference?

8 Min Read

For a business owner like you, the basic goal of sales and marketing is simple: increase your sales, increase your revenue. In the past, you might’ve thought about sales and marketing as separate functions. Your teams would work in silos, never speaking to one another (or worse, getting in territorial scuffles on the reg). But these days, you’re living in the modern world, like everyone else. Today, you know that if you want to build a trusting relationship with your customers, your approach to sales and marketing is going to need a little more cohesion. 

While sales and marketing are indeed interrelated, they do have different objectives. Your marketing team’s job is to create awareness and solidify your brand image in customers’ minds. Once a customer becomes aware of your brand and moves closer toward making a purchase, that’s when your sales team takes over, building on that initial familiarity to bring the sale home.

Knowing the difference between the sales funnel vs. the marketing funnel—i.e., the stages of each of the processes outlined above—can help you develop targeted ads and sales campaigns that help you meet those big goals. Here’s how to tell the difference. 

What Is a Marketing Funnel?

The marketing funnel happens before the sales funnel even comes into play. It consists of all the activities you do to build awareness of your brand and attract people to the sales funnel. Funnel building helps generate interest, promote your brand, and build your reputation. 

A marketing funnel has four stages: 

  1. Awareness: This stage involves targeted marketing and ad campaigns that attract customers to your brand. 
  2. Consideration: At this stage, you’re building relationships and creating a positive brand image with the potential customers you attracted in the Awareness stage. 
  3. Conversion: At this stage, a potential customer may become a qualified lead. You might direct them to your website to make a purchase or hand them off to your sales team. 
  4. Loyalty: Much like the loyalty stage in the sales funnel, this involves building a reputation that keeps customers coming back. 

Activities of a Marketing Funnel

Marketing activities vary based on which stage a customer is in the funnel. You need to stand out from the competition to appeal to customers at the top of the marketing funnel. You can do so by knowing your target market and getting creative with your ads. 

Customers at the top of the funnel either don’t know much about your brand, or don’t know it at all. You can overcome this hurdle by doing market research and creating ads that highlight the benefits of your products as part of a demand generation initiative. 

Top-of-the-funnel activities include search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, social media engagement, and other marketing activities aimed at building awareness. 

To engage customers at the conversion and loyalty stages, you need more targeted content that speaks specifically to their needs. At these stages, consider content marketing, targeted ads, and nurturing campaigns designed to keep you at the top of customers’ minds. 

What Is a Sales Funnel?

A sales funnel is a visual representation of your customer’s buying journey. To enter the sales funnel, your prospective customer has to become aware of your business and do some preliminary research on your brand. At this stage, they know they might have a need for your product or service, and they’re starting to evaluate their options on a deeper level. 

Stages of a Sales Funnel

A sales funnel has five stages:

  1. Awareness: When your marketing and branding efforts are successful, a qualified lead enters the sales funnel. At this stage, they’re familiar with your brand, but they might not be aware of all the benefits you bring to the table and how you can meet their needs. 
  2. Interest: At this stage, a potential customer is learning more about your brand and how you can solve their problems. They may be conducting competitive research during this stage. 
  3. Decision: Prospects at the decision stage are on the hook. They understand how your company can benefit them and may still be doing further research on pricing and other options. 
  4. Action: Prospects at the action stage are ready to make a purchase. At this stage, you can expect prospects to convert. Even if they don’t, you might be able to recapture them later. 
  5. Loyalty: Customers who have purchased from you enter the loyalty stage. They might keep buying from you or recommend your business to others. 

Activities of a Sales Funnel

Once you’ve qualified leads from your marketing efforts and determined that they’re interested in making a purchase, you can use various strategies to push a prospect toward a sale. These vary based on whether the prospect is at the top of the funnel, in the middle, or at the bottom. 

  • Top-of-the-Funnel (aka ToFu)

    Your goal? Develop brand awareness beyond initial marketing familiarity and build a relationship with the prospect. During the awareness and interest stages, you should be sharing information with the prospect and answering questions. At these stages, your goal is to highlight how you can solve a customer’s pain points better than the competition.

    For example, if you’re in the business of selling cars, a prospect at the top of the funnel knows they need a car now, or they’re planning on buying one in the near future. They know about your brand and its reputation but don’t know much beyond that. 

    Top-of-the-funnel activities include sharing videos and other types of content, inviting a prospect to attend a webinar, or sitting down with them for an informational meeting. 
  • Middle-of-the-Funnel (aka MoFu)

    At this stage, a prospect trusts you and is evaluating your brand against others. Consider conducting nurture campaigns to warm up a cold lead, or more targeted information based on the prospect’s needs. Perhaps even a product demonstration to try out your product or service?

    In our car-shopping example, this is the stage where a prospect would visit multiple dealerships to get a feel for different car features. They will likely take some cars out for a test drive. 
  • Bottom-of-the-Funnel (aka BoFu)

    Your prospect is ready to make a purchase. At this stage, you’d share information about why your product is better than others. You would also start negotiating prices. Our car shopper would likely ask you how your car aligns with their needs and potentially make an offer. 

    Once you’ve successfully converted a prospect into a customer, stay in touch with them through loyalty programs, social media, and/or email newsletters to keep the relationship alive and encourage future purchases. As a car dealer, you might check in to see how the customer likes their car or offer free oil changes for a limited time to nurture the relationship.

Summary of Key Differences

Simply put, the main difference between the two boils down to each funnel’s end goal. With the marketing funnel, your goal is to cast a wide net and draw potential customers to your brand. Meanwhile, your sales funnel goal is to convert prospects into customers. Learn more about the benefits of a sales funnel.

Importance of Aligning Both Funnels

Today’s customer is more informed than ever, and they are constantly being bombarded with ads. The average American sees between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day, and customers today are less likely to respond to a hard sell. 

By aligning your sales and marketing funnels and creating a full-funnel marketing strategy, you can develop a better understanding of leads and potential customers at all stages. You can also tailor your messaging to communicate how your business will meet their needs. 

Give your sales and marketing teams room to operate holistically, as this also provides cross-functional learning opportunities. A salesperson sharing notes from a pitch might offer insights into pain points the marketing team hadn’t previously considered. The marketing team can then offer the sales team information into what types of content generate the most interest, helping the sales team craft personalized sales pitches. 

How CTV Advertising Can Keep Your Funnel Full

Connected TV (CTV) advertising offers you the reach of traditional television advertising, combined with precision targeting and accurate measurement and reporting. You can use CTV ads to target potential customers no matter where they are in your sales and marketing funnel. 

MNTN’s performance marketing platform offers tools you can use to optimize your campaigns based on your target audience. You can launch ad campaigns for prospecting and awareness to fill your marketing funnel or switch up your strategy to target people in the middle and at the bottom of the sales funnel. 

Our CTV platform even integrates with your website, so you can effectively retarget current and potential customers based on how they interact with your brand. 

Learn more by requesting a demo today

Marketing Funnel vs. Sales Funnel: TL;DR

Marketing and sales funnels may work together, but they have different objectives. A marketing funnel helps you locate the right customers and attract them to your brand, whereas a sales funnel helps you build relationships with people who already know you to show them why your brand is right for them. 

By aligning both funnels, your sales and marketing teams can successfully convert more customers, getting you to those big goals: increase your sales, increasing your revenue, and ultimately, growing your business.