What is a Marketing Funnel – The Stages from Start to Finish

Oct 9, 2020

Marketing funnels define the steps your leads take towards becoming your customer. Learn how marketing funnels can help grow your business.

What Is a Marketing Funnel

Everyone wants visitors on their website to take specific actions. This might be to fill out your contact form, sign up for your newsletter, or make a purchase. These actions are called conversions.

A marketing funnel is the steps they take before they reach the conversion stage. A full funnel marketing strategy helps you define and visualize your customer's journey from when they first learn about you until they convert into a customer. Ideally, this funnel will flow into a process that follows your customers after their purchase. The post-purchase journey is just as important as the pre-purchase journey. It helps you follow-up with your customers, increase customer retention, and promote repeat sales.

Marketing Funnel Stages

Not every company adopts the same model of marketing funnel stages for their sales process. There's multiple types of funnels with different names for each stage, and even a marketing flywheel as created by Hubspot.

At Nerd Free Marketing, we look at marketing funnels as a hybrid between a funnel and a flywheel. Customers move along stages of the marketing funnel until they reach conversion and from there move around the flywheel from onboarding through retention. With this model, existing customers move through the flywheel in a regular cycle to nurture the customer relationship and encourage future sales.

marketing funnel to flywheel

Marketing Funnel Awareness Stage

The first step is to get the attention of potential customers. At this stage, they've become aware of a problem or need and are searching for answers on how to solve it. Some issues will be easier to solve than others.

Here's a few examples:

Obvious problem and solution example:

It's winter in Wisconsin and you just visited your cabin to find your pipes have burst. The problem is obvious, you need your pipes fixed. The answer is to call local plumbers and get a quote. It's appropriate for a plumber give the potential customer a quote right now.

Somewhat obvious problem with a vague solution:

The transmission in your truck broke while you were driving home. You get it home but now it won't move. The problem again is pretty obvious, you need transportation. But the solution is a bit more vague. Do you need to replace the truck? Should you replace just the transmission? Perhaps the transmission can be repaired? Now is not the time for a used car salesman to jump in with an offer of a high-dollar trade allowance. The customer isn't even sure if they want to fix their truck or get rid of it. A quote at this stage is definitely not appropriate.

Vague problem with multiple unclear solutions:

Let's talk about a business example. You recently had your website redesigned and it looks pretty nice, but no one is filling out the contact form and you're not getting any calls. Is there something wrong with the website? Can your potential customers find you? Do you need to use other marketing to connect with customers and if so, what type of marketing? In this instance, the business owner knows there's a problem but isn't sure what the problem is yet. A quote from any company at this point is useless. They need answers from someone who's experienced in converting leads into customers.

During the awareness stage, it's your job to educate potential customers about their problem and raise awareness of the issues they have. Show them their problem is important, it has a solution, and can be fixed. You might also need to help them clearly define the problem before offering a solution. If a problem is strong enough or needs immediate attention, they're likely to become customers right away. This doesn't happen too often.

Marketing Funnel Interest Stage

Once you have your potential customer's attention, you can begin to build interest in the solutions you offer. You want to be available to your leads on whatever channel they're likely to visit while searching for solutions. Potential customers at this stage know you could solve their problem, but they also know your competitor could solve it. They need to be shown you're the best choice and why.

During the interest stage you want to:

  • Build relationships with your prospects
  • Introduce them to solutions you offer
  • Use compelling stories and branded content to communicate valuable information

Leads at this stage will read company reviews, ask their friends and family who they recommend, call multiple providers to get a quote, and talk with sales professionals to gain more information.

Marketing Funnel Consideration Stage

At this stage, your prospects have now turned into qualified leads and should be considered prospective customers. Through their research and the information they've received, they know the problem, have ideas for a solution, and know you can help them. But, just because they know what you can do to help them and how you can help them, it doesn't mean they'll choose you.

Here's what you can do to help your potential customer learn why they should choose you:

Target keywords with higher-intent. Keywords like "best Wisconsin marketing agency" or "accounting software for start-ups". These keywords show a clear intent of what the user is searching for. They're trying to decide which option is right for them.

Remarket to users who have visited your website but did not convert into customers. Create segmented remarketing lists based on the actions of your target audience and website visitors. By using Google Analytics, you can create multiple remarketing lists such as:

  • Bounced visitors
  • Length of time spent on a page
  • Visitors who clicked but didn't convert
  • Users who started the conversion process but didn't complete it
  • Someone who viewed several pages but left

These actions indicate an interest in what you offer and makes them good candidates for remarketing.

Use lead magnets to capture their email addresses. Email marketing is an effective tool for nurturing prospects in the latter stages of your marketing funnel. With a well-defined email marketing campaign, you'll be able to help your prospects progress to the final stages of your marketing funnel.

Marketing Funnel Conversion Stage

Everything prior to this stage has been building up to get the prospect to complete a conversion action. Usually this involves a purchase but for some longer sales cycles, a conversion could be signing up for a free trial, creating an account, downloading content, or for current users it could be upgrading their account.

Similar to what you've done in previous stages, you'll create both paid and organic search campaigns to target leads at the conversion stage. The campaigns will be targeted towards users who are ready to convert right now.

Here's a few examples:

  • You might create content for an email drip campaign that shows how to get the most out of a "Free 14 Day Demo".
  • Create reviews of your products that compares them to your competitors so you can rank organically when people search for your competitor
  • Target words that indicate an immediate purchase decision with "Buy Now", "Best Price", or "Free Shipping"

Marketing Funnel Onboarding Stage - Transitioning to the Flywheel

Your prospective customer has now completed a conversion. Maybe they've made a purchase, or signed up for a free demo. Whatever the case may be, now it's time to transition to the onboarding stage and start moving into the flywheel portion of your marketing funnel.

marketing flywheel transition

During the onboarding stage, you'll help your customers get started with your product or service. If their conversion involved a purchase, you'll nurture them in understanding your product and how they can obtain value from it. Right now, your customers like you. They've trusted you enough to buy your product or give you their contact information. Now you need to keep that trust going with an effective onboarding process. You do this by ensuring their user experience is as good as your sales process and they receive the benefits of everything you promised them.

Here's a few tips for a great customer onboarding experience:

  • Use personalization - make sure your solution is tailored to uniquely meet their needs.
  • Slowly feed information to them - give them instructions a little bit at a time so you don't overwhelm them. Give them a chance to get acquainted with your product or service.
  • Provide excellent customer service - show them how they can connect with you and reach out for assistance.
  • Acknowledge their milestones - define what success would look like to your customers and celebrate those wins with them. Send notifications or special emails when they reach important milestones.

Here's an example:

In our previous example of a small business customer who wasn't getting any new leads, let's say they hired a marketing agency to build a marketing funnel. During the onboarding process, the small business received several new leads that were likely to convert. By tracking metrics for their customer, the marketing agency can see these goals being reached and send a congratulatory message.

Marketing Flywheel Engage Stage

During this stage, you'll focus on creating lasting relationships. It's important to stay connected with your customers and deliver content important to them. Personalize the content you deliver by sending information related to their purchase or conversion and deliver interest related content by tracking the conversion in your messages.

Here's an example:

Back to our transmission problem earlier in this post. One way the mechanic who fixes this truck could celebrate a milestone with their customer would be to send out an email with a special offer. Something like, it's time to flush your transmission to keep it running great. Here's a % off discount if you respond by a specific date.

marketing funnel customer service

Marketing Flywheel Delight Stage

The customer journey doesn't stop once you make the sale and have them in your system. You need to continue nurturing them and helping them reach their goals.

Some of the activities you can do during the delight stage include:

  • Offer self-service customer support options where appropriate so they have shorter wait times to get support.
  • Share helpful resources and success stories to help them get the most out of their purchase.
  • Offer upgrades and highlight benefits of premium services.
  • Make it easy for them to renew and continue service with you.
  • Implement new products or features based on their feedback.

Marketing Flywheel Retain Stage

Retention involves not only keeping them on as long term-customers but also meeting their needs over an extended period. Keep in touch with your customers and learn more about how you can help them. Move them along your flywheel process and deliver more services to engage and delight them along their customer journey.

Beyond the marketing funnel

As Hubspot mentioned, a flywheel is an energy-efficient wheel that stores and releases energy. The faster it spins, the more energy it releases.

Keeping a continuous flow of leads through your funnel and into your customer flywheel will release energy necessary to grow your business. This momentum will help you reach your goals and experience more growth. How fast your business grows is dependent on how much effort you put into powering your funnel to flywheel system.

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