In the B2B marketing world, the buying cycle is long. Unlike in B2C marketing, your future customer doesn't simply walk up to your vending machine, make a purchase, and become a closed sale.
There's a long cycle that has a lot of money and resources at stake, so you need to nurture your prospects all the way through the process. It's about driving them through to the sale by creating great content at each stage of their journey.
Navigating the Sales Funnel
1. Top of the Funnel
The top of the funnel includes content related to the topic of your industry and offering. For example, for RingLead, we often create top-of-funnel content around data quality, CRM implementation, marketing automation best practices, and even broader content, such as marketing and sales productivity tips.
This stage of the funnel is all about helping, not selling. There is no product mention; instead, you’re establishing your brand as a leader—and expert—in the topics your audience cares about.
2. Middle of the Funnel
The middle of the funnel is often thought of as the "black hole" of your sales funnel, since the top of the funnel is clearly owned by the marketing department and the bottom of the funnel is clearly owned by sales.
This is the middle ground where organizations tend to get lost and prospects tend to slow down. Prospects often want to take action at this stage, but if there's no compelling event, messaging, or content, you lose them.
Middle-of-funnel content is where the product starts to get woven in. Whether it's product-related webinars or case studies, content is still high level and helpful, but it's more actionable when it comes to your offering.
3. Bottom of the Funnel
Lastly, the bottom of funnel is sales-driven. This is the point where sales decks, presentations, proposals, and pricing come into play. If the entire funnel is a road and the marketer is driving a car down Funnel Street, the marketer moves to the backseat and the salesperson takes the wheel at this point in the cycle.
No matter where you are in the funnel, it's a marriage between sales and marketing—they must work together to help the prospect become a customer.
One study showed a 209% increase in revenue and closure rates based on strong alignment between sales and marketing.
Owning Each Phase of the Funnel
There's a level of accountability in each phase of the funnel, so it's important to outline it and come up with your strategy for the entire funnel, and then work with sales for buy-in.
It's important to remember that a funnel is not a perfectly shaped, organized, upside-down triangle. It's actually more like a bucket with holes in it.
Prospects fall out of the bucket left and right, and come in at different angles and stages. A prospect could come in at the middle or the bottom. Someone might come in at the top and move directly to the bottom.
Therefore, make sure your content tells a cohesive story all the way through the funnel, whether it's bottom-up, top-down, or somewhere in between.
Remaining Transparent through the Funnel
Marketers know the importance of being honest and transparent when working with customers, engaging on social media, etc., and the same holds true for the sales cycle. Be open and clear about the different stages of the funnel and where the prospect is going next. Oftentimes the prospect doesn't know what the buyer journey looks like—especially yours. Map out the journey for your prospects so they understand what they're likely going to need at each of the different stages.
For instance, be clear about when your prospect may need to involve an executive for budget sign-off, or at what point they’ll get a quick hello from your CEO.
Transparency starts with the prospect's first experience with you, and usually that's your website.
If someone is about to download one of your ebooks, let them know that they're going to receive an email with the ebook, and then in the email, let them know that your inside sales rep Joe is going to reach out, and include Joe's photo. Even better, that email should come from Joe.
The B2B sales funnel is not cut and dried, and neither is the content associated with it. However, if you put your audience's best interests first and think about the information they need to address their challenges and pain points, you'll be appreciated, loved, and shared. Most importantly, you'll also gain customers for life.
Author bio: Amanda Nelson is Director of Marketing at RingLead, an Oracle Marketplace Partner, where she leads content marketing strategy and execution. She previously worked in content marketing and community management at salesforce.com and Radian6, and has a background in account management for interactive and full service advertising agencies.
For more on content marketing, be sure to download the Modern Marketing Essentials Guide to Content Marketing where you'll get tips from leading content marketers and thinkers, new content categories to consider and a whole lot more!