What Does a B2B Marketing Funnel Really Look Like?

The concept of a marketing funnel is one of the core differentiators between B2B marketing and B2C marketing.

This audience-centered model creates a tangible and visual depiction of the long and complex nature of B2B purchase cycles, while also providing a framework for marketing teams to build their strategies around.

What is the B2B marketing funnel?

The B2B marketing funnel is a representation of the progressive stages that businesses and their decision makers go through when making a purchase. It is described as a funnel to portray the expected narrowing of an audience from the top point (broad awareness) to the bottom (converted customers).

Traditionally, the B2B marketing funnel has been divided into five categories.

Stages of the B2B marketing funnel

  1. Awareness: A company becomes aware of a problem, pain point, or opportunity that it needs to act on.
  2. Interest: The company begins to explore vendors and solutions capable of helping solve their challenges.
  3. Consideration: Buyers and decision makers within the company reach the point of actively evaluating and comparing potential solutions.
  4. Conversion: The company chooses your solution and becomes a customer.
  5. Retention & Advocacy: The post-purchase relationship continues with the goal of retaining, upselling, or building customer advocacy.

Marketers often use the marketing funnel as a way to categorize and position their content. For example, top-of-funnel (TOFU) content might be focused on building brand awareness and expanding visibility with your target audience.

Bottom-of-funnel content (BOFU) is usually more oriented toward warm prospects who are already familiar and more likely to take action.

B2B marketing funnel vs. B2B sales funnel

Although they are often used interchangeably, you might sometimes hear “marketing funnel” and “sales funnel” referenced in different contexts. Some companies distinguish the two models based on their specific functions.

A B2B sales funnel might look more like this:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Qualification
  3. Proposal
  4. Notification
  5. Closing

The two variations are fundamentally similar in that they narrow down a broad field of potential customers into a more qualified set and eventually convert some of this set into won customers.

“79% of marketing leads never convert into sales due to a lack of lead nurturing.” (WifiTalents)

Why the top of the funnel matters

Historically, B2B marketers have had an understandable tendency to focus overwhelmingly on the lower part of the funnel. They are under pressure to drive and prove results, and the bottom of the funnel is where marketers can demonstrate their most direct revenue impact.

However, it’s critical for B2B companies to recognize that the vast majority of their potential buyers, at any given time, are not actively in the market for their solution. Marketing only to the small fraction of people who are ready to buy means missing a huge opportunity to develop brand recognition and salience with those who will be ready to buy in the future.

An effective upper-funnel strategy is essential for maximizing conversions within that segment of active buyers. Someone who knows, trusts and likes your brand is more likely to remember it or consider it when a need arises.

Reaching buying committees early is vital: A study by McKinsey found brands that made it into the initial consideration set were more than twice as likely to win business compared to brands considered later in the decision journey.

Read more on our blog: Top SEO Strategies for Lead Generation

Shortcomings of the B2B marketing funnel

The funnel concept is valuable as a shorthand tool for explaining the B2B customer journey and how marketing interacts with it at a high level. However, certain limitations should be considered, such as:

  • Linearity: The marketing funnel can make a B2B purchase journey seem far more straightforward than it usually is.
  • Oversimplification: B2B buying cycles and committees are too complex to be captured in such a basic paradigm.
  • Neglects or minimizes post-purchase stages: Retention and the growth of existing accounts are central to many B2B business models (e.g. SaaS).
  • Lack of adaptability: Using one singular consistent model to encompass all customer journeys doesn’t work in the evolving digital world of B2B commerce.

As Anouschka Elliott of Goldman Sachs Asset Management shared with Marketing Week: “The funnel is very, very useful to explain to non-marketers what we do… But we’re missing advocacy, we’re missing the loyalty, we’re missing that continued relationship we need to be building, and all of the complexity of the actual journey.”

Despite these shortcomings, the B2B marketing funnel is certainly helpful for orchestrating your marketing strategy at a high level. Here’s a framework.

How to build a B2B marketing funnel

Building a customized B2B marketing funnel tailored to your specific brand, solutions, and audience is a helpful exercise for guiding your keyword strategy, content creation, and measurement approach.

#1. Conduct in-depth audience research

Lay groundwork for your marketing funnel by understanding it from the perspective of your customers and prospects.

#2. Develop an intent-based customer journey map

Intent-driven keyword research will help you understand how your audience searches for information and engages with content at each stage of the marketing funnel, from their first interaction to the completed purchase.

#3. Create strategic content for various funnel stages

Organize your content strategy around the marketing funnel, as informed by your customer journey map, to ensure you are meeting user intent at every stage. CTAs should be dictated by the logical action that helps prospects progress forward.

#4. Integrate organic and paid marketing activities

A balanced and coordinated combination of organic and paid marketing helps a full-funnel strategy work. Use broad organic acquisition to fill the upper funnel and invest in paid media to generate demand, nurture prospects, and convert customers.

#5. Measure and optimize

As with any aspect of B2B marketing, rigorous and relentless measurement will hold the key to success. Track the effectiveness of your content and ads relative to their specific funnel stages to keep optimizing for desired outcomes across the customer journey.

Which content works at different funnel stages?

The answer to this question will vary based on the brand, solutions and audience. However, a survey by Semrush (via Search Engine Journal) found that these content types are most effective at different marketing funnel stages. As you’d expect, educational content and resources are most popular at the top, while case studies and product information lead at the lower funnel.

Top of Funnel Content:

  1. “How-to” guide
  2. Landing page
  3. Infographic
  4. Checklist
  5. Ebook/White paper

Middle of Funnel Content:

  1. “How-to” guide
  2. Product overview
  3. Case study

Bottom of Funnel Content:

  1. Product overview
  2. Customer review
  3. Success story

70% of marketers say organic search is the most efficient channel in attracting traffic at the top of the funnel. (Search Engine Journal)

Measuring results across marketing funnel stages

Ensuring that your measurement strategy aligns to your marketing funnel is how you verify that you are optimizing for the right outcomes. For example, marketers who measure solely by lower-funnel metrics are at risk of sacrificing future growth by overlooking key upper-funnel metrics.

These are some common marketing metrics used at each stage of the B2B funnel:

Awareness

  • Website traffic
  • Social media reach and engagement
  • Brand mentions
  • Share of voice

Interest

  • Click-through rate
  • Content conversion rate
  • Leads generated

Consideration

  • Content engagement
  • Lead quality
  • Opportunities generated

Conversion

  • Lead/opportunity conversion rate
  • Average deal size
  • Sales cycle length

Retention & Advocacy

  • Customer lifetime value
  • Retention rate
  • Referrals/upsells

Keep your B2B marketing funnel flowing

The support of seasoned experts who fully understand the B2B marketing funnel and its fundamentals is invaluable. Learn about TopRank Marketing’s strategy and planning services, and how we can help you build a sustainable growth machine.

The post What Does a B2B Marketing Funnel Really Look Like? appeared first on TopRank® Marketing.

Source:: toprankblog.com

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The Customer Hero: Keys to Creating Case Studies That Get Results

It’s a content marketing quandary: case studies are widely considered the most effective and impactful B2B content format, but very few of them are actually all that good.

When you are able to share a true story of your product or service making a difference for real customers, that can be an incredibly powerful tool for validating your brand in the eyes of prospects and leads. The hurdle: getting people to want to read case studies, or to even find them in the first place.

One of the top content-related questions our agency hears from B2B companies is: How can we do case studies better? Many are not seeing the results they would like, while recognizing that this content is in-demand and highly influential for buyers.

So our team has put a great deal of thought and energy into elevating the marketing case study, developing a refined set of best practices based on industry insights and our own experiences with clients. Read on for a rundown on our approach and process.

Marketing case studies get results

In Content Marketing Institute’s latest benchmarking research, case studies were tied with videos as the type of content producing the best results for B2B marketers. It makes sense that brands are able to attribute a lot of lower-funnel impact to case studies because they’re often leveraged later in the buyer journey, when decision-makers are evaluating a vendor’s capabilities in the consideration phase.

Case studies serve as excellent stepping stones for interested customers, which is why they are frequently used as CTAs in upper-funnel content. Once someone has learned about a topic related to your solutions, they can learn how you do it, lending credibility.

Demand Gen Report’s 2023 Content Preferences Survey found that case studies are far-and-away the content format that buyers find most appealing at the middle stage of their journeys. (It was also fourth-highest for the final stage, after demos, user reviews, and ROI calculators.)

Case studies are extremely valuable in marketing. That statement is intuitive enough on its own, and well supported by data. So how can you do them better?

Where many case studies miss the mark

A big problem with case studies is found in the name itself. The term “case study,” which has become popularized in business, originated with applications in scientific research, so it’s no surprise these retrospective examinations can often feel a bit stuffy and academic.

Producing a dry “just-the-facts” case study might help a decision-maker check boxes for capabilities and verify your organization’s track record, but it’s probably not going to captivate them or inspire them.

The other common issue with case studies is that they tend to be highly self-serving, and as any content marketer knows, that’s not a recipe for success. Given their purpose, it’s fair to say case studies are inherently self-serving in a way, but there are key differences in framing that can make the content more engaging and valuable for readers.

Over the years, many companies have come to refer to case studies as “customer stories” or “customer success stories.” This phrasing gets at the right mindset: telling a compelling story, and putting the subject at the center. Brands have an opportunity to lean into this mindset even more.

Let’s explore some case study tactics and techniques in depth.

Best practices for customer-centric marketing case studies

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel in terms of structure. Generally speaking, a case study will include most or all of these basic elements, which marketers and customers have come to expect:

  • Title: Brief descriptor of the story and result
  • Summary: Quick overview with key details for execs
  • Challenge: What problem was solved?
  • Solution: How was the problem solved?
  • Results: What impact was seen?
  • Quotes: Direct insight from customer
  • Statistics: Evidence of success

At TopRank, the question we like to ask is, how can we elevate each of these elements for greater impact? How can we make every part of the case study more resonant, relevant and memorable for readers? Think holistically about the various components in applying these best practices.

Make the customer the hero. (Really.)

Many marketers seem to have this aspiration, but I must say that I often find the follow-through to be lacking. So many case studies I read from brands are framed as “Our product did this” or “Our service did that.” I understand why. Case studies need to showcase what the solution can do.

But the best case studies I’ve come across truly celebrate the companies whose results are being spotlighted. These customer stories break down the smart strategies and talented execution that led to overcoming a challenge at hand. It’s more “Their team did this (and our product helped)” or “Their company achieved this (and our service played a role).”

In this approach, the subject of the case study is the star of the show, and your brand is a supporting actor. That might feel counterintuitive in some respects, but when deftly crafted, the content will still establish your solution as essential in this success story, and the reader will be better able to recognize its impact through the customer’s eyes.

Imagining case studies as co-branded assets

Another big benefit of creating truly customer-centered case studies is that they also can become a case study for the company you are profiling. After all, you’re highlighting what they accomplished, how skilled their team is, how innovative their usage of your solution.

This flattering focus makes people within the featured company more likely to proactively share the case study in their own circles out of pride and excitement – precisely the kind of authentic reach brands should be aiming to achieve.

Tell an emotionally resonant story

Purchase decisions are made emotionally. A study by CEB and Google famously illustrated that emotional connection is more likely to differentiate a B2B brand in the eyes of buyers than distinguishing features or functionalities. Those things matter, of course, but they shouldn’t be driving the narrative of your case study.

As Stephen Cheliotis wrote in an article for the Association of National Advertisers: “While practical considerations are vital in B2B purchases – you wouldn’t buy an IT system with flimsy security or hire a security firm with a questionable track record – the choice isn’t simply a binary one between rationality and emotion. It’s about combining the two, presenting the tangible benefits of your brand in a way that also elicits an emotional response to drive mental market share and greater impact.”

Aim to make your case study bring through the emotions of the people involved: the frustration of the previous situation, the relief of a smooth implementation, the triumph of a turnaround in results.

Build content repurposing and promotion into your campaign plan

Too many marketing case studies are sitting in difficult-to-find sections of company websites, largely unpromoted and unnoticed. It’s a shame! Developing a promotional strategy in the early stage of your case study campaign will help ensure it gets the most reach and engagement possible.

Here are some tips for maximizing impact:

  • Consider SEO best practices in naming, designing and publishing your case study. People might not be likely to search for “How [client] got results with [company]’s product”; but they might search for something like “financial software implementation example.” Google rewards authentic content reflecting real-life experience and expertise, meaning these true stories have powerful ranking potential.
  • Repurpose the content to share in various ways. Once you’ve drafted the case study, you can efficiently create different forms of content to help people find or use it. These might include infographics, sales presentations, social media slideshows, and more.
  • Make case studies easy to find contextually. As mentioned above, case studies make for great mid-funnel content, so be intentional about helping users find them along their journey. Add links to specific case studies as CTAs in upper-funnel content where the example is pertinent.

Bring your customer stories to life

Don’t let one of the most powerful content formats in your B2B arsenal be an afterthought. Taking steps to make your case studies more customer-centered, emotionally resonant, and easy to find can make a huge difference in the success of your B2B content marketing strategy.

Ready to work with an experienced partner to elevate your case studies? Learn about TopRank Marketing’s content services.

The post The Customer Hero: Keys to Creating Case Studies That Get Results appeared first on TopRank® Marketing.

Source:: toprankblog.com

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