What Is a Sales Funnel and How Does It Work?
by Isabel Greenfield
8 Min Read
12 Min Read
As a marketer, you know the power of a marketing funnel. Meeting your customer at the right time, through the right channel is essential to serving their needs, and a well-defined funnel can make that happen effectively.
But there’s a common mistake marketers make that can seriously hurt their overall strategy: only focusing on the bottom of the funnel—on sales conversions.
The most successful marketing strategies make use of the full funnel. A full-funnel marketing strategy considers customers at all stages of the funnel, from awareness to purchasing.
So what exactly is a full-funnel marketing strategy? And how can you build one that brings in results? Let’s explore the fundamentals of full-funnel marketing.
Full-funnel marketing is exactly what it sounds like: a strategy that takes into consideration all levels of the funnel, from beginning to end. Throughout every stage, marketers focus on nurturing a relationship with the customer, putting the customer’s needs first.
Rather than focusing solely on sales, a full-funnel marketing strategy is more concerned with building a better brand experience.
While marketing funnels and sales funnels are closely related, they have distinct purposes.
A marketing funnel is about the relationship between the customer and the brand. It starts the moment when someone learns about your company, and it ends the moment when they become a sales-qualified lead (SQL). The marketing funnel focuses on how customers interact with your brand’s content and experiences, from scrolling through your website to seeing your ad on Connected TV.
The sales funnel, meanwhile, takes the leads who have already gone through the marketing stage and guides them through to a conversion funnel. In the sales funnel, customers are already aware of your brand. Now, it’s about convincing them that your brand is the best choice when compared to the competition.
There’s clearly some overlap between the two, but the sales funnel generally takes over where the marketing funnel ends. Even in the moments when the two funnels come together, they each offer valuable insight into the same customer journey, just through different lenses.
If you already have an effective sales pipeline, you might be wondering: why bother moving to full-funnel marketing? If it ain’t broke, right?
Consider, though, that in the digital age, the customer experience is far from linear. Customers can come across your brand at any stage in the marketing funnel, and through any marketing channel. When customers can begin the journey at any point in the process, focusing too much on top-of-funnel or bottom-of-funnel approaches could very well mean you’re losing valuable customers in between.
In a world where the path to purchase is unpredictable, it’s more important than ever to have a holistic, full-funnel marketing approach. A thoughtful and data-driven strategy can deepen your brand’s relationship with customers, setting you up for long-term success. And over time, it can boost your bottom line: A full-funnel marketing strategy can boost your ROI by 45% and offline sales by 7%.
A potential customer can come across your brand through any of the digital channels at their fingertips. With a full-funnel strategy, you can meet the customer where they’re at—and give them exactly what they need to move on to the next stage.
Here are the three main stages of full-funnel advertising:
In upper funnel marketing, it’s all about brand awareness. A customer’s awareness of your brand includes your name, your messaging, your values, and so on—the basic whats of getting to know someone (in this case, your brand).
To drive awareness, brands must meet their target audiences in the spaces where they spend the most time—for example, digital advertising, social media campaigns, television ads (traditional and Connected TV), radio ads, content marketing, and more.
While awareness alone usually isn’t enough to inspire a purchase, it puts potential customers on the path to learning more about what you offer. The goal is to keep your brand top of mind for the customers who need your goods or services most.
After you’ve captured someone’s attention comes the consideration stage. At this point, the middle of the funnel, customers may not be fully invested, but they have your company floating around their mind as they search for the best solution to their problem.
In this stage, it’s important to produce marketing content that highlights why someone should choose you. Think about the kinds of pain points your target audience might have, and how your brand can offer a solution. Or consider the ways your brand stands apart from the competition.
After all that hard work, you could already have your prospects convinced. But just to be safe, they might need a little nudge to convince them to finally click “buy.”
At the final stage, the bottom of the funnel, your goal is to inspire confidence in the purchasing decision. Testimonials, case studies, and customer reviews can be especially critical here. You can also help leads through the conversion funnel with additional benefits, like free trials, discounts, coupons, and free shipping.
A full-funnel marketing strategy isn’t just about doing more at each stage of the funnel. To craft a successful strategy, you need to understand how all of the stages work together to inform the buyer’s journey.
Here are a few key steps to building a full-funnel marketing strategy.
Before you start building a full-funnel strategy, you first need to know who you’re planning to target. This step shapes the rest of your marketing approach because your messaging has to align with the needs and preferences of this audience.
Think of a few personas for the “ideal” customers you have in mind. Demographics like age, gender, and employment status can help you construct a profile of who they are, the challenges they’re facing, and what they’re looking for in a brand. Most importantly, this will also help you decide the right channels to use to reach these buyers. Some brands even give their personas names to make it easy to keep them in mind throughout a campaign.
Now that you have a target in mind, it’s time to develop something that can reel them in. A “lead magnet” is an incentivization tool that attracts people into your funnel. Remember, customers can enter your funnel at any point, so a full-funnel approach will require you to focus on lead magnets that can draw leads into your funnel—and keep them there—at all stages of the buyer’s journey.
Examples of lead magnets include:
Once you’ve caught the eye of a potential customer, it’s time to make a powerful first impression. Whether someone clicks an ad or simply searches for your brand on Google, the landing page is where they’ll end up.
The purpose of this page is simple: to convince visitors to take action. “Action” doesn’t necessarily mean a purchase, yet, either; it can also be a webinar registration, free consultation booking, or newsletter sign-up.
The landing page is often the first thing people will see on your website, and it takes only a fraction of a second to make a first impression. The landing page should deliver the relevant information quickly and effectively with a clear call to action.
Email marketing is one of the most effective strategies for nurturing leads. Once you have potential customers on an email list, you have a direct line of communication to the customers who are already on the verge of purchasing. This has the highest ROI of any marketing strategy, at $36 for every $1 spent.
You can also use email at every stage of the funnel. Creating email content based on a customer’s location within the funnel lets you address them with the right messaging at the right time.
No funnel can succeed without one thing: an appealing offer. Whether you’re offering a product or a service, it’s the offer that draws customers deeper into the funnel.
Think about the kind of value you provide, and make sure it’s reflected in your content. Encourage customers to act with powerful CTAs. Or you can even make an offer using incentives like free add-ons, trials, bonus resources, and more.
A sales page is a standalone page on your website with the sole purpose of boosting sales. On this page, a potential customer can learn everything they need to know about your product or service. Think of it like a landing page, but far more detailed and thorough.
A sales page typically includes a detailed description of your product or service (i.e. “how it works”), a breakdown of all its benefits, and an explanation as to how you can solve a customer’s problems. It clearly demonstrates the value your brand brings to the table.
This is also a place where you can address customers’ questions or concerns through FAQs, highlight your best reviews and testimonials, and showcase case studies that demonstrate great results you’ve delivered in the past.
Every touchpoint for your brand matters in a full-funnel strategy, and that includes your order form. An online order form guides customers through the order process and takes their payment with just a few buttons. The easier it is to buy, the more likely they are to actually convert.
In an effective marketing funnel, customer relationships don’t end with a sale. In fact, the sale can be just the beginning. A post-purchase sequence can improve customer retention, keeping them coming back again and again.
To start your post-purchase sequence, set up an email to go off automatically. This is an opportunity to inform customers about their order, thank them for their loyalty, and show off a little personality along the way. It’s also a chance to upsell or remind them about future promotions you may be running.
Even when you have everything you need for a successful funnel, your job still isn’t over. Every marketing funnel is unique to the type of customers you’re looking to attract.
That’s why it’s so important to keep testing and optimizing your process based on customers’ behaviors. Once you know how customers are engaging with your brand’s touchpoints, you can optimize the marketing funnel to meet them where they are—and, ultimately, increase your conversions.
A successful full-funnel advertising strategy improves the customer experience using a data-driven approach. By understanding how each brand touchpoint is connected, you can better invest in the stages of the funnel that need it the most.
Let’s break down funnel optimization in more detail.
It all starts with your existing sales funnel. Try visualizing your funnel to get a bird’s-eye view of the current customer experience. Then use data to get a clearer picture of customer behaviors, conversion rates, and any potential bottlenecks in your funnel.
It can be hard to optimize if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Set clear and specific goals you want your funnel to accomplish for you. The right goals will be different for everyone, but it can help to identify marketing metrics and KPIs to track, such as revenue or customer churn rates.
Split testing—also known as A/B testing—involves releasing slightly different versions of the same marketing content to see which performs better. For example, something as simple as the size of your CTA button could impact the number of conversions you generate.
Split testing can be a powerful strategy for optimizing your lead magnets and landing pages. First, create a modified version with just one change that you think could impact your sales. Then, randomly assign half of your website visitors (or email recipients, etc.) to the original content and the other half to the modified version. Based on the results, you can adjust as you go.
Refresh your outdated campaigns. This might mean updated messaging or occasionally clearing your email list to ensure it’s primed for engagement.
Just like with your webpages, you can use email lists to split-test what works and what doesn’t. Keep an eye on analytics to see which campaigns are performing well and which ones are falling short.
Split testing is something you can do for all of your webpages, including your most critical sales pages. Whether it’s a new design choice or a simple adjustment to your sales copy, look for ways to better resonate with your audience and put them to the test.
If your checkout process is slow, clunky, or outdated, you could be losing customers at the bottom of your sales funnel—the most crucial moment! By optimizing your checkout process, you minimize abandoned carts and ensure conversions follow through.
Make sure your order form is intuitive and straightforward. Other helpful adjustments include optimizing the form for mobile, capturing email addresses early in the checkout process, and being upfront about shipping fees so you don’t scare off potential customers.
Testing can be a powerful tool for your post-purchase sequences, too. Whether you want to inspire customer loyalty or convince someone to make another purchase, the right post-purchase email can help you meet your goals. Try new messaging, a different subject line, or different design choices to see how buyers respond.
While plenty of companies are switching to full-funnel advertising strategies, Amazon is particularly well-known for its full-funnel approach. From SEO tactics and email marketing to pay-per-click ads, the ecommerce giant is a prime example of reaching customers at all stages of the funnel. The brand also uses a vast amount of consumer data to personalize its marketing, to reach customers with the exact messaging they’re looking for.
To measure the success of your full-funnel marketing strategy, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the numbers. Establish the most important metrics and KPIs you want to track—about 5-10 is a good place to start. Those KPIs should be tied to your long-term goals for marketing success.
Here are a few examples of KPIs to consider:
Traditional TV advertising has always been a powerful branding tool. It’s been used primarily as a tool to generate awareness—bringing people into the first stage of the funnel.
But TV has changed. The introduction of streaming and smart TVs has brought about Connected TV advertising, which combines the reach of traditional TV advertising with the targeting power of performance data to aid in a full-funnel marketing approach.
And with a partner like MNTN, you can ensure that your CTV campaigns accurately reach people at every stage of the funnel, from beginning to end. MNTN’s suite of optimization and targeting tools have transformed Connected TV from a brand marketing channel to one that functions like paid search and social—allowing you to launch self-managed campaigns that combine the prestige of television with the urgency, targeting, and timeliness of digital.
Our CTV campaigns are optimized to deliver powerful results.
With so many touchpoints on a wide range of digital channels, the path to purchase isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. A full-funnel marketing strategy helps you reach more potential buyers, wherever they are in the funnel.
Subscribe to the report Apple, Amazon, NBC and more use to get their CTV news.