Over the past few years, sales experts have proclaimed the death of a B2B sales funnel multiple times. Despite this, it remains one of the most common areas sales and marketing teams wish to improve the most. And rest assured, B2B sales funnels will be here for a while to provide valuable guidelines to salespeople on how to do their jobs better.
Very often, the sales journey of your customer is described as an orderly and consistent process, while in reality, it looks way more complicated.
The origins of the sales funnel were developed by the American pioneer of advertising, St. Elmo Lewis, more than a century ago. B2B sales funnels include many different models and come under a variety of names. Customer funnel, sales cycle, purchasing process, and buyers journey are often used interchangeably. People apply this term in multiple fields of research and interpret its processes differently.
Along with various models, there’s no consensus on what a B2B sales funnel should or should not encompass. It’s anything but consistent, changing its features from company to company.
On the one hand, marketers see it as a journey a customer takes through the stages from awareness to consideration to the decision phases while purchasing a product or a service. The same goes for repeated purchases or expansion when a client has already developed a loyalty to a brand. On the other hand, sales teams understand a B2B sales funnel as a specific number of steps to turn a prospect into a client.
The purpose of this article is to provide the most comprehensive interpretation of what a B2B sales funnel actually is, what the most popular funnel models are, and how to build or modify them to maximize sales effectiveness.
From this article, you will find out about:
- The AIDA Model
- The Forrester’s Model
- McKinsey’s Loyalty Loop
- Heinz Marketing’s Bowtie
- The Conversion Funnel
- JB Media Group’s Sales Funnel
- RAIN Group’s Buying Process
What Is a B2B Sales Funnel?
For the precise understanding of a B2B sales funnel, three processes are of extreme importance:
- Buying: Seeking the solution for a problem (pain point)
- Selling: Searching and communicating with customers that experience a particular pain point to provide the solution
- Marketing: Studying the problems and those who have them, educating the potential buyers, and supporting the sellers
B2B sales funnel is where these three processes intersect and engage with each other. It’s up to a particular organization how exactly to arrange this intersection. Obviously, the buying process is not in your full control; you can’t just force someone to purchase your product. However, you can influence it through a manageable selling process and efficient marketing strategies.
Why a sales funnel not a pipeline?
The sales funnel is firmly interwoven with a B2B sales pipeline of a company. However, it is not the same thing. A B2B sales pipeline represents how your sales team influences the pool of potential customers, focusing on what actions were taken to win the deal. Leads come and go, passing from one step to the next one, back and forth. It is only in your salespeople's hands to return them and make the deal.
To make it more clear, let’s imagine that your SDRs have sent 2,000 emails in June 2020, received forty-two replies, and set fourteen appointments. In the next stage, only ten prospects showed up, and your sales team won five deals. A year after, two customers churn. However, your team manages to expand one account and negotiate the reselling for two clients. As a result, you had three customers in June 2020.
That’s very simplified math. Your sales team works hard every month to ensure that there’s plenty of fish in your sales pipeline. But it is their actions that win back and make the sales over and over.
At the same time, a B2B sales funnel represents how a potential customer moves from the general knowledge about the product/service and their providers to a specific action—the purchase from a certain company.
So, what are the stages of the sales funnel? It is important to remember that they may vary from company to company depending on the strategies chosen. As a rule of thumb, there are four main stages of sales funnel in any organization:
- Awareness: This is when people hear about the product or service you provide for the first time. An example at this stage of the sales funnel might be when a lead finds your blog on the Internet, becomes aware of your existence, and wants to read more about your product.
- Interest: This is when the prospect’s awareness of your existence transforms into an interest. They research more information about you and your services, checking out your competitors to determine who has the best offer.
- Decision: After collecting information about your company, prospects do precise research, setting up discovery calls and price evaluations to make the final decision.
- Action: After all the hard work is done in the previous stages, this is when the prospect either purchases or declines the offer.
Obviously, not all the prospects who are aware of your company will become your customers. That is why the top of the funnel is always wide, and the bottom is narrow; of all the offers out there, your client finally chooses you.
The interpretation of a B2B sales funnel is not as simple as you may think. Some experts claim that a sales funnel is a sequence of stages (phases) in a single selling process—a prospect enters the sales funnel by gaining awareness about a product or a service; afterward, they go down the funnel through the Interest and Decision stages to Action.
Research conducted in the last decade put the old sales funnel model under question. In 2010, Forrester issued several reports dedicated to the subject. They emphasized that the old model didn’t consider the advocacy of the clients, customer lifecycle, and complex buyer’s journey.
Furthermore, back in 2012, the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) researched customer behavior and figured out that many prospects began falling off the classic sales funnel. According to CEB, the buyers researched on their own and would often enter the sales funnel in the late stages.
The Sales Management Association concluded that customers’ movement along sales funnels has changed. It used to be one way—from the top to the bottom. Lately, it has become multidirectional. In addition to this, the number of channels and touches per one buying process increased significantly, making marketing teams an important part of the process.
Sales funnel vs. buyer’s journey debate
Some marketers were eager to announce the death of a B2B sales funnel and offered to replace it with the term buyer’s journey. This term appeared as an acknowledgment of the buyer’s power and control over the buying process. However, this approach isn’t as effective as they say. And here’s why.
In the past, the sales funnel was pretty stressful for customers as they lacked data and were under constant pressure from sellers. The vendors were active; they were the leaders and controllers of the process. The clients were passive, forcefully guided through the funnel.
There was a strong imbalance in favor of sellers. However, today we see a new imbalance in favor of buyers. And giving up on the idea of a B2B sales funnel won’t correct the imbalance.
Another important aspect of a B2B sales funnel is the internal organization of your sales and marketing efforts. Carlos Hidalgo was one of the few people who defended the sales funnel, stating: “In order to manage any change, organizations must address the internal, operational process so that sales can effectively engage with customers.”
The B2B sales funnel is an inalienable part of the operational process, which among other things, is necessary to build a sustainable strategy for communication with your potential and existing clients.
Ric Riddle, another supporter of the sales funnel concept, stated that customers who research on their own often don’t see the root causes and come up with suboptimal solutions. In addition to that, the pressure of the decision-making process can cause buying analysis paralysis and halt sales.
And here’s one last argument: No matter how long and complex the buyer’s journey can be, every buyer still needs to walk his way from the problem recognition stage to its solution. Vendors pass all the sales funnel stages, even if they get into the same phase more than once.
This might seem like a chaotic labyrinth. However, try following each of the complex buying journeys and see how it passes the sales funnel stages. The seller’s main job is to make sure that every step convinces buyers that this particular solution is the best one on the market for them. That is why the B2B sales funnel, as a multi-stage process, should remain in use, even though buyers’ journey isn’t necessarily straight and can take any direction.
So, what is a B2B sales funnel after all?
As mentioned before, there is no exact definition of a B2B sales funnel concept. It can be an understanding of how the buying process is organized. It can also be a process that describes how a vendor company creates an environment for its potential customers to make a purchasing decision.
Summing up, a B2B sales funnel:
- Is a virtual place where selling and buying processes meet and are enhanced by marketing activities
- Contains information about the potential customers of a certain company, their consumer buying behavior, and the decision-making process
- Provides several channels for buyers to engage with the organization
- Has stages that are relevant to the logic of the buying process
- Enables different types of engagement at different stages
- Educates and brings value to a potential customer
- Is adaptable to different types of buyer personas
- Gives data for the analysis and planning of sales process and marketing activities
How to Create a B2B Sales Funnel
There is no single sequence of actions that will ensure a 100% perfect result for building a B2B sales funnel. However, there are some simple rules to follow that might help you to avoid simple mistakes on your way to establishing a funnel that fits your business model.
1. Build a strong pipeline to help enhance the sales process.
Any sales team should have an established sales process. To create it, you need to arrange your team’s actions in three dimensions:
- When: Phase
- Who: Position
- What: Task
The sales funnel stages will provide you with the landmarks for each dimension. The real-time visualization of your sales process can be achieved by creating a B2B sales pipeline. It should contain all the necessary data about the prospects, opportunities, and clients you currently work with.
A pipeline is a powerful tool to track and analyze your sales team’s activities and make predictions for your revenue. For example, a company with a simple spreadsheet of contacts they work with, sorted by name or date of the last communication, has a better chance of knowing exactly what steps a sales team should take next. They will also have clear answers to such tactical questions as:
- Is our sales team communicating with enough companies to generate the revenue our firm expects from us?
- Will we close enough deals to meet the quota?
- What are our predictions for the next quarter? What did we do right (or wrong) last month?
If you don’t have a clear, structured pipeline, you won’t be able to answer these questions, and you won’t be capable of building a sales process that works. As a result, you won’t have predictable revenues.
Will your business be able to survive? Maybe. Will you grow your revenues steadily? Unlikely. Try building a good B2B sales pipeline to organize your sales process accordingly and see how your revenues grow right away.
2. Improve your team's sales specialization.
Once you’ve created a sales process, you will see that the tasks at the top of the funnel are very individual and require a different set of skills than those at the bottom. An experienced sales manager should understand that one person cannot be equally efficient at fulfilling all of these tasks.
That’s where sales specialization comes in handy. Though introduced not so long ago, it has proven to be a valuable innovation within sales teams. Needless to say, that sales specialization follows the logic of the purchasing process and enables you to focus on each detail of the B2B sales funnel stages.
Data enrichment specialists and SDRs work at the early phases of the funnel. Sales managers take over the middle and late stages. If your funnel goes beyond the purchase phase, you should hire project managers to serve the needs of your existing clients.
To build a B2B sales pipeline, you need to establish several positions within your team, hire the right people, and equip them with strong sales skills and procedures.
3. Ensure relevant communication with the prospect at each stage.
As a potential client undertakes the buyer’s journey, they seek and obtain information to facilitate their buying decision to move into the next phase. They have three main sources to do that:
- The sales team
- Content marketing, provided by the organization via various channels
- Reviews of the providers’ clients and unbiased third parties
At each stage of the buying process, a customer needs to receive relevant information. For example, imagine what a disaster it would be if SDRs included pricing information instead of qualifying questions in the first email outreach campaign. They probably wouldn’t get many replies. The same would happen if a CIENCE project manager, whose job is to help the client to onboard successfully, asked the client if they need a lead generation service during the discovery call. These questions won’t bring any value to either side of the communication but will add confusion and question your professionalism.
Just as important as it is for a marketing team to support the efforts of the sales team, it’s equally important to provide all types of relevant content at each stage of the buying process. Here’s a simple example from the blog of our company:
- What’s the price of a lead?: Awareness stage—identifying the high costs of the in-house SDR team.
- Lead generation companies (using a company comparison table and ROI calculator): Discovery stage—searching for a solution.
- Case studies: Negotiation stage—proving that CIENCE is the best option to solve the problem.
To ensure smooth communication with the prospect, everything needs to happen in the right order. A well-tailored B2B sales process provides guidelines on what information to deliver to the prospect at a certain stage to facilitate a buyer’s decision to go down the funnel.
4. Calculate the conversion rates constantly to build a better B2B sales funnel.
To deliver only relevant information about your company to help your potential buyers choose you among other providers, you should continually work on strengthening the weaker sides of your business. Analyzing your B2B sales funnel can provide valuable answers.
When you monitor the number of buyers at each stage of the purchase funnel, you can calculate the conversion rates between these phases. This will enable you to see where your teams have done brilliant work (and analyze what’s so effective about it) and help define the weak spots so you figure out how to fix it.
Undoubtedly, not all of the prospects that get into your B2B sales funnel will stay in it. However, if you see that, at some point, you have an abrupt reduction of leads, you should change the communication with them at that stage.
5. Find a balance between being persuasive and professional.
Despite the necessity of the structure provided by a sales funnel, there’s another important aspect that sales teams often forget about—finding the right balance between following a process and being relatable.
A good example of this is a mobile/Internet provider trying to upsell some new home Internet solution to you and not even asking if you own a house or need this type of service. It can be really annoying, especially when you’re in a great hurry.
In the example provided above, sellers act more like bots than real human beings. And while, in some cases, it’s better to replace actual human communication with software interaction, individuals by no means should act like machines.
To a certain extent, the sales process should be flexible and adaptive to the needs of every buyer. It’s vital in the age of micro-targeting and customization. It would be irrational to develop a specific buyer persona, research the leads that fit it perfectly, make personalized outreach, and then ruin everything by offering them products that don’t fit their buying logic. There are several ways you can address this issue:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions to find out more information about your prospect: :
- Will it be relevant if we shared a few success stories of our customers?
- Many organizations working in your industry apply this software to strengthen the impact of our service. Do you think your company could benefit from it too?
- What is the buying procedure in your company? We do the following steps to facilitate the buying process for our customers, but we want to be 100% YOU-oriented.
- Ask for a request for a proposal (RFP). In many cases, there is no need to invent the wheel—your buyers have ready-to-use procedures. All you need is to adapt to it.
- Conduct surveys among your existing clients:
- What was most helpful in our sales process?
- What negotiation procedures were, in your opinion, unnecessary?
- How can we improve the buying experience of our customers?
- Analyze your conversion rates at each stage. Conversion analysis can show the sales process stages that need improvements.
- Track the reactions of your buyers. Anything that doesn’t bring value to your customers will make them experience discomfort during the conversation with the seller. Don’t push—be patient and listen carefully.
6. Align your marketing and sales teams.
Many companies have seen conflicts between marketing and sales. Who should dominate the funnel? Which team should generate leads? Which techniques are more efficient: inbound or outbound? And probably the hardest tension is marketing qualified leads (MQLs) vs. sales qualified leads (SQLs). These questions are tough to answer.
The buyer’s journey has been heavily digitalized over the past decades with massive access to the Internet. According to Gartner Leadership Vision Report 2021, 27% of B2B buyers research independently online before purchasing anything. We love the web for the availability of information in the first place. Most people can find almost any data they want and leverage it too. This influences the way buyers make their purchasing decisions and how B2B sales funnels are built.
However, the question is, has an overabundance of information made our buying experience easier? Barely … nowadays, buyers have more control over the buying process and more responsibilities. As a result, it has become significantly longer and harder for both decision-makers and vendors to make the sale. In the past, the objective was to close the deal. Today, it’s to provide value.
Let’s use content development over the past decade as an example. It was somewhat acceptable to stuff your website with keywords to get the best placement in the SERP. In 2018, Google’s methods of page ranking were in a grey area, but the era of meaningless keywords in articles has ended. And pushing out useless content doesn't work either. One can’t simply publish an article that doesn’t provide value and hope it stands out.
The successful sales funnel is a value-rich informational environment that facilitates the buying journey for the decision-makers. So, who creates this value for your products and services?
The marketing team—they study the market, competitors, buyer personas, and unique selling position (USP). They do the segmenting.
Who delivers this value to the prospects? Everyone on your team. In today’s highly competitive environment, you need to leverage basically every communication channel with your potential customers to succeed. Furthermore, their methods of influencing buyers differ by nature. Needless to say—the more methods you have, the better. Just make sure they’re efficient.
Marketers target large audiences and provide reusable information. Sales excel in real-time, person-to-person communication.
There’s another important point to consider: In the B2B model (unlike B2C), marketers don’t sell. Will you buy a fifty-dollar shirt from an online store? Probably. Will you allow a robot to deliver your pizza (sure, why not?). Will you use an automated cashier in a supermarket? Not at all. You will probably use a credit card to pay for Grammarly Premium for your team. It’s only $12.50/month, but …
Will you sign a $200K contract by filling out a form on a website without negotiating the terms?
Any B2B sale requires person-to-person communication. And that’s what the salesperson does and marketers don’t. The former negotiate. The latter supports reliable and unbiased information.
If your sales and marketing teams communicate, cooperate, and think of driving value in the first place, your company succeeds. If they fight over the funnel, they will likely fail.
7. Customize content and activities at every stage.
Just like how you outline your buyer personas to make your outreach personal, you need to adjust the sales process to potential customers’ needs. No model you’ll ever find on the Internet can provide a comprehensive guide on building a sales funnel—that is to say, the efficient communication environment between your company and your buyer.
What works great in the financial sector might fail in the automobile industry. For example, demonstrations are good for tangible products or software. However, case studies are arguably better for service providers.
Here’s another good example: Databox has applied unique lead generation tactics for their company. Read the interview with their CEO Peter Caputa to learn more.
No matter what sales funnel model you apply to your process, you need to customize the activities at each stage to create the best buyer experience and give your customers what they need to move forward.
Your marketing and sales team should study the behaviors of your buyers regularly and adjust their tasks accordingly. It can’t happen overnight. Continuous monitoring and analysis can provide you with valuable data and unexpected insights.
Make sure that your selling process is flexible to a certain extent. In this case, any strategic or tactical changes in your sales funnel will require fewer resources (time, money, and effort) when implemented in real life.
Every stage and activity should empower your buyers with knowledge that they can't find get elsewhere. If you do it right, it will help build trust between you and your potential customer and eventually influence the purchasing decision.
8. Organize the sales funnel at every stage.
To build your B2B sales funnel, create a spreadsheet that organizes and covers the following aspects:
- Purchase funnel stages, which will describe substages relevant to your product and industry.
- Sales activities at each stage: their tasks, sales staff responsibilities for each task, software, and tools needed at this stage, key skills required, and training procedures.
- Marketing activities at each stage: task, marketing staff responsible for each particular task, software and tools, key skills required, and training procedures.
- Outsourcing options.
- Conversion rates at each stage.
- Activities aimed to stay in touch with the prospects that aren’t ready to make a decision.
- Analysis of your key strengths and weaknesses.
- Suggestions on how to adjust each funnel stage to address the buyer’s needs.
Sales funnel model at CIENCE
To give you a good example of how your sales funnel should look like, take a look at a B2B purchase funnel of CIENCE, developed from years of experience and constant improvements to the sales process. This model consists of six main steps, divided into two big categories—the lead generation stage and the negotiation stage. The strong side of this funnel is that it includes not only the prospect’s point of view on the selling procedure but also the seller’s side.
As a lead generation company, we understand the importance of the top of the purchasing funnel. If you don’t get enough high-quality leads, the whole sales process will collapse no matter how fine-tuned your later phases are.
Lead generation is a complex process that is comprised of two stages:
- Data generation and enrichment: The acquisition of the accurate contact data of the leads that fit your buyer persona
- Outbound prospecting: Connecting with your leads to find out more about their pain points, educating them on how to solve their problems, and offering to start a conversation with your sales managers
These practices can be quite expensive. That’s why many organizations are eager to reduce costs by outsourcing this part to lead generation companies.
Models of the B2B Sales Funnel
The CIENCE B2B purchase funnel isn’t the only model out there. Several models of the B2B purchase funnel were developed during the evolution of the buying process.
The AIDA Model
The very first sales funnel, AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action, was developed by the American businessman, St. Elmo Lewis, in 1898. It described the perfect ad formula. There were several later versions, but the AIDA associated with Verdi’s opera of the same name gained a foothold. The term itself was first applied to sales by Arthur Sheldon in 1911.
Additional stages were later added into the acronym AIDA (Arthur Sheldon’s model included Satisfaction), and some marketers would rename a certain phase. However, the main idea behind AIDA remained the same:
- First, you notice a product.
- Second, you start thinking about it.
- Next, you want it.
- Finally, you acquire it (and experience emotions about it).
AIDA applied to B2B sales might look like this:
- Awareness: Decision-makers find out about a product or service.
- Evaluation: They begin to analyze its pros and cons and compare it with similar products/services.
- Intention: They choose the provider.
- Purchase: The customer buys the product/service.
The stages were intentionally renamed in the B2B environment because they are driven by rational thinking rather than emotions associated with B2C. However, one can’t simply take away the sentiments of a purchase; it’s no surprise that sellers and marketers alike continue to leverage these ideas.
- The purchase funnel was groundbreaking at the time.
- It educates sales and marketing teams on how buyers make their purchasing decisions.
- This model doesn’t take into account the emotions, thoughts, and behavior of a buyer after the purchase (except for AIDAS).
The Forrester Model
Forrester made several important reports on the marketing funnel. In 2007, Brian Haven’s Marketing’s New Key Metric: Engagement described the buyer’s journey complexity, influenced by information available online. He argued that buyers could become valuable contributors to the brand:
- The model sheds light on what influences the purchaser’s behavior.
- Companies were incentivized to serve their customers better.
- The model described a buyer’s journey rather than a multistage sales funnel.
Forrester issued the Time To Bury The Marketing Funnel report by Steven Noble in 2010, which talks about the customer lifecycle to better understand the buyer’s behavior:
They offered to expand the marketing funnel (Awareness, Consideration, Preference, Purchase) and add Loyalty as a next stage. Steven Noble emphasized that such a model would be in line with the customer lifecycle: Discover > Explore > Buy > Engage and back to the beginning.
In 2012, Forrester analyst Jeff Ernst came up with the idea to merge the marketing funnel and customer lifecycle:
- The marketing funnel encompassed the relations of a buyer and a seller after the purchase.
- It’s only partly true that after customer engagement with the brand, they again get into the discovery stage (for account expansion, to be precise). In most cases, they either churn or repurchase.
McKinsey’s Loyalty Loop
In 2009, McKinsey presented their model. The classic AIDA model was complimented with a loyalty stage, or to be more precise, a circle with a loyalty loop, which showed how positive the post-purchase experience contributed to the reselling.
- It encompassed loyalty as part of the desired buyer attitude.
- The model encompassed the post-purchase and repurchase stages.
- It didn’t take into account that there’s indifference or even disdain on the flip side of loyalty.
Heinz Marketing’s Bowtie
In 2010, Matt Heinz made two important statements about the classic B2B sales funnel:
- It didn’t take into account the communication with leads that aren’t ready to buy at the time of contact but are willing to buy in the future.
- In reality, it should look like a bowtie, since after the purchase, there are many ways in which a customer engages with the provider.
The model is also called a Bowtie because of its shape—depending on the vertical or horizontal positioning.
- The model dived deeper into consumer relations with the brand.
- It didn’t take into account the negative impact of the unsatisfied buyer on the company’s reputation.
The Conversion Funnel
This sales funnel model explains the sales process the prospect goes through when purchasing online. We liked it for several reasons, which we’ll list in the pros section:
- Important stages were added: pre-awareness stage, a trigger event, opinion and a short list, and repurchase intent.
- Defection is also an important part of any sales funnel because it provides valuable data for analysis and planning.
- It noted that any buyer could be either an ambassador or a saboteur of the brand.
- Account expansion is not anticipated.
- It's not suited for B2B sales.
JB Media Group’s Sales Funnel
JB Media Group presented the sales funnel in 2018. See the full model here. The funnel is created for the marketers and explains what types of content are relevant for each phase’s potential customer.
- It provides guidelines on what to do at every stage of the funnel.
- The funnel didn’t encompass the efforts of a sales team.
RAIN Group’s Buying Process
RAIN Group never talked about a sales funnel. Instead, they provided a buying process model. What’s interesting in their take is the successful attempt to describe the activities that a sales team should undertake at each stage:
- It provides guidelines for the sales team.
- It’s a combination of the buying and sales processes.
- There are no guidelines for marketers.
Whatever B2B sales model you decide to go with, it should always be adapted to your business needs. Using a strong sales funnel that has worked for others might be a good start while working on building your own model.
Challenges of Building a Sales Funnel
The sales funnel may be difficult to build, but when it comes to implementation, it gets even more complex. In fact, people who have built many B2B sales funnels for different companies state that every single one of them is unique. They should be constructed according to your company, product, market, and buyers. That is why the main challenge companies usually face is adapting to the modern B2B buying process and purchasing funnel.
The sales model examples above didn’t necessarily take into account the specifics of the modern B2B buying process. If the average purchase in B2B has 6.8 decision-makers on average, does this include only one sales funnel or many?
Certainly, you will have several individual buyer’s journeys that will need help navigating the decision-making process. This means you'll need to to build a nurturing environment that will facilitate their movement from one stage to another. Consider all of the buyers involved in the purchasing process as you build your perfect sales funnel for your business.
Updating the sales process
Companies that have been in operation for many years may have already built their purchase funnels —and haven’t changed their models since. It takes transformative thinking to adjust to the new realities of the digital era and sales specialization. Rebuilding a sales funnel is also a huge challenge because it means rethinking and changing the entire sales process in these ways:
1. Sales process = structure
In this case, the structure means all those activities that a sales team undertakes daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly. Which of those still work? Which are out-of-date? And most importantly—how do you change the structure with minimal resources but maximum effectiveness? These are all the questions that need to be answered.
2. Sales process = skills
Experts claim that it’s easier to train new skills than retrain old ones. And a sales team is all about skills—you’ll need to retrain managers and coaches too (as well as reinvent the training process itself). Without learning new skills, you risk to staying ahead of the competition.
3. Sales process = stability
Stability means that your team knows precisely what to do at each given moment. Since many people are uncomfortable with change, especially when it comes to new skills, they will need extra time to acclimate to the new sales process. Many people are biased against new practices and techniques, even if the old ones don’t work. There’s a natural fear that new tricks won’t work, which you need to help them overcome.
4. Sales process = specialists
The sales experts who previously created your sales process and trained salespeople need to know how to change and support a new way of doing business. This may involve retraining managers or recruiting specialists to implement a new way of doing business.
Start-ups might seem like the modern solution to reinvent the sales process. You'd think they can easily find information about how to build a sales funnel from the latest blog posts and reports. However, this doesn’t guarantee successful implementation. Young companies have their own challenges once they decide to establish a B2B sales funnel:
1. First steps in sales
Often in start-ups, sales are mostly completed by the founder/owner. They may have their own network of potential clients. However, once their network has dried up, it becomes necessary to build a strong sales funnel.
The growth of the business requires establishing a high-performing sales team. Here's where the problems might ensue: Not all CEOs are experienced salespeople. Oftentimes, they lack expertise in building a sales funnel, a sales process, and procedures, especially when it comes to lead generation, which is still new to many people.
To create a B2B sales funnel means describing your buyer’s journey, outlining the key touch points, and creating a working message. Most companies analyze the existing patterns of their buyers’ behavior, communication, and reactions. Start-ups may not have this data. Furthermore, such sensitive information isn’t something you can just Google to find the answers.
3. Costs and time
Building a sales funnel for start-ups from scratch requires hiring and training a sales team. It will take time and money before they achieve full productivity. One possible way to reduce costs and gain expertise is by outsourcing some activities within a sales funnel. In many cases, companies entrust the top of the funnel to outsourced lead generation services to save costs on hiring an internal team and budgeting expensive software.
CIENCE has calculated the price of a lead and shared the insights here.
Sales Funnel Expert Insights
We reached out directly to sales experts to get their thoughts on B2B sales funnels. Here’s are some top insights from these successful business leaders:
Matt Heinz: President and Founder of Heinz Marketing
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the Bowtie Sales Funnel?
A: I’m sure someone else came up with it before me; we just were on a whiteboard one day talking about customer lifetime value in addition to just net-new customer acquisition. It’s a reverse funnel in terms of expanding the opportunity you may have with a new customer, earning greater retention, renewals, and upgrades.
Q: Has your vision of a sales funnel changed over the past ten years?
The sales funnel has never been precise for every single deal, so it’s still a model to be used as a baseline primarily. That said, I do think that many companies (ours included) have gotten more precise in how we manage funnel stages across sales and marketing. Where marketing traditionally owned the top of the funnel and sales owned the bottom, today we see more companies split the funnel vertically so that sales and marketing each have a role in more parts of the entire buying process.
Q: What’s new about the sales funnel in 2021?
A: More companies are running account-based sales and marketing programs, which means the funnel is much narrower. You don’t start with the entire addressable market or a bunch of web traffic; you start with a smaller set of high-value targets. The buying process doesn’t necessarily change, but the focus from sellers certainly does in this model.
Q: Can you name three pillars of a working sales funnel?
A: Attention, engagement, and commitment: These are generally the top half of the funnel, but you aren’t going to get many prospects to close if they don’t understand the problem that needs solving and commit to change on its behalf.
Carlos Hidalgo: Founder and CEO of VisumCx
Q: You were one of the defenders of a sales channel back in 2012 and made some interesting observations in a blog post for ANNUITAS. Has your opinion changed over the past years?
I believe what I defended was the use of the funnel internally for tracking and analysis. I think my view on how organizations use the funnel has relatively stayed the same, and that is to use it to track and measure your progress toward a revenue goal and the conversion of leads across various internally defined lead stages. But do not make a mistake in thinking that this is how the buyers buy: As I have said many times before, I have yet to hear a B2B buyer ever state, “I am in the sales accepted lead stage of my buying process.”
Q. What are the three important things sales and marketing teams should remember when building a B2B sales funnel?
A: I believe it is more than just developing a funnel. You have to think about building a holistic program that will align with the buyers’ purchase path. I speak to many organizations who have a funnel they track or have adopted the waterfall, yet they have nothing coming in other than inquiries.
If you are looking to adopt a funnel/waterfall approach, remember, as I stated earlier, that the funnel is not the same as a B2B buyers purchase path. Secondly, the funnel’s usefulness is only as good as the times you are reviewing and optimizing the performance. Thirdly, this changes if you are moving from volume demand generation to an ABM approach.
Q: You spoke about the importance of aligning your sales process with the buyer’s journey. How do you achieve it?
A: You have to take the time to speak to your buyers and understand their approach and process of purchasing. Too many organizations do this internally with marketing and sales in a room and never involve the buyers in mapping the journey. When I have compared what buyers tell me about their purchase path with what companies think they know, they are very different. It is imperative to get your customer’s perspective when understanding the journey.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the best way to build sales and marketing activities for a model sales funnel?
A: Again, this begins with your buyers and understanding you need to develop a program that aligns to the full journey and not just part of it. Too often, I see organizations doing activities focused on one area of the journey and across just one channel.
B2B buyers are multichannel in their approach to buying, and marketing teams have to know what channels their buyers prefer before they begin launching activities and sending out content. So the answer is .... it depends. The most useful activities will depend on what your buyers prefer.
Get Answers from CIENCE Experts
If our experts didn’t answer all the questions about the B2B sales funnel you might have, you are always welcome to reach out to CIENCE experts and get assistance from them directly.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2018 and has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.