As marketers, we all want reliable information that tells us precisely where we need to focus our efforts in order to enjoy the greatest yields. This is why, in digital marketing, analytics have been the Holy Grail for so long.
But there are other tools at our disposal as well.
One of the most reliable models for understanding customer behavior is what’s known as the marketing funnel.
The funnel itself is a series of action categories representing the states a person goes through when interacting with your business.
When your prospects pass down through the funnel, it’s also known as the flow—ts movement are a direct result of your audience interactions. As these targets pass through the various stages of interaction, your audience becomes smaller and smaller to the point they’ve gone from a broad, general group to customers/evangelists.
The stages of the marketing funnel are as follows:
As mentioned above, the stages become narrower the further you travel down.
For example, in the largest stage—the awareness stage—you are interacting with what’s called the “total market.” This is the start of the journey and you are reaching out to anyone, anywhere who would benefit from your product or service.
Of course, you can’t appeal to everyone, only those who aren’t impeded by geographical limitations, lack of media access, cultural differences, etc. So for your awareness phase, you are now implementing marketing tactics to appeal to your “reachable market,” or those audience members you know you can interact with.
Successfully interacting with them produces two new subsets made up of those now aware of your brand, and those looking for a product or service such as yours.
If your interactions remain fluid, the next step down is into the interest phase, where these subsets turn into qualified leads.
The step now becomes to use sales and persuasion tactics to convert the leads.
It’s at the conversion stage when leads become customers, and the referral stage when customers become evangelists as well.
Not only is the funnel a proven model, but marketers have gotten creative about how to wield its power. This is particularly true where it concerns growth.
Many forward-thinking marketers have developed solid hacks to get the most out of your marketing funnel. But before we get to these 10 tips, let’s take a look at what you need to do beforehand to get your overall strategy in order.
#1 Establish a baseline
This comes first, before any implementation of your funnel process, or any change to the funnel itself.
In short, a baseline is a comparison tool, necessary for you to understand whether your actions are effective or not. Really it’s a set of metrics that measure overall performance. Bounce rates, page visitors, list sign-ups, cart abandonment, etc.—these all provide valuable insight into your customer’s behavior.
You want to harness this operational data in order to create your baseline. There a number of handy tools out there to help you achieve this, such as Google Analytics.
To this, you should link any success KPIs as outlined in your business plan.
#2 Set your targets
Now that you have a baseline, it’s time to set your priorities for audience interaction.
Each of these should correspond to a particular stage in the funnel.
First and foremost, a common goal for most marketers is to aim to drive more traffic to your website. So you set a target of 25,000 new and unique visitors per month. This corresponds to the first stage, the awareness stage, of your funnel. Then, as a long-term target, perhaps you’d like to convert 3% of these visitors to customers.
That’s a target of 25 per day and takes you further down the funnel to the referral stage.
Of course, you’re lost unless you can find the pain points in this journey.
Maybe you aren’t hitting your 25,000 unique visitors goal—that means there’s something precluding audience awareness somewhere along the way. To determine these pain points, calculate your target vs. performance gap and look at them in relation to the funnel.
Work your way from the bottom of the funnel up, dealing with each pain point as you go. This will define your problem areas and clarify metrics you need to work on.
#3 Identify which metrics you need to improve
Maybe your bounce rates are through the roof, or your cart abandonment is too high.
Whatever the issue, any growth plan starts with acknowledging where you’re falling short.
Obviously, these will go hand in hand with your customer pain points. Then it’s time to revamp your marketing channels according to where they’re flagging. It could be that your content efforts are falling short, or perhaps your email list is lacking subscribers, or your social strategy isn’t getting many shares.
In the B2B realm, take Basecamp as an example.
They continue to reinvent their marketing to get the word out about their project communication tool.
Their website has changed frequently over the years, a tell that they’ve been retooling their design and optimization efforts to focus on problem metrics. Maybe first-time visitors just weren’t understanding the core functionality of their software. However, anyone who visits their homepage now can see that Basecamp relies heavily on visuals to help guide the user.
They also emphasize their social proof by including a number of customer testimonials.
Moreover, they show their product in action and place a CTA for a free 30-day trial front and center on the homepage. There are three main marketing steps in their sales funnel here, each leading from one to the other. These are:
- Inbound marketing efforts (blog, social, organic search)
- Homepage information
- 30-day free trial
In other words, they have eliminated many pain points in the customer journey by explaining simply and through eye-catching animations how easy their product is to use, and how folks can even try it for free.
The result is fewer impediments to their audience moving down the funnel towards, hopefully, the customer/evangelist stage.
#4 Create your growth plan
Now it’s time to develop your growth plan.
Consider this a corrective blueprint—a plan to right the ship of your flagging marketing efforts and promote growth. Having a solid growth plan pinpoints the exact problem on the customer journey, helping you to understand the voice of your customer in the process.
First, settle on a timeline from where you are now to where you’d like your business to be in a certain amount of time.
Depending on your organization this could be 12-16 months (a typical target date due to the time it takes to see results from each marketing channel), or it could coincide with more long-term goals and represent a 3-5-year timeline.
Regardless, know that oftentimes, depending on the channel, there can be a lag in seeing results of a few months at a minimum. This is particularly true where it concerns your SEO channel.
If you’re retooling your optimization efforts, plan on it taking at least a few months to glean measurable results.
#5 Define success target goals by metric
There is an endless number of metrics and KPIs you can track, and you’ll want to focus on those that are red flagging.
For example, maybe your social channels are DOA—e.g. no one is chattering about you on Facebook or Twitter. You’ll then want to make tracking how people hear about your brand on social channels a cornerstone of your growth plan.
And if your social channels aren’t bearing fruit, likely your visitor metrics are suffering as well. You’ll want to look at your first-visit stats, that metric that tells you how your audience is finding your website and how engaged they are when they do.
Following directly from this is your returning visitor metric, or how effective your site is at building an audience. If all these metrics are struggling then you’re likely having problems with most if not all of your marketing channels, from content to social to search.
But even if only one channel is the problem, the solution is setting overall target goals to fix it.
Maybe you want to increase purchases by 500 or a thousand each month. We recommend also setting a monthly goal—a target you can realistically hit per month that will get you to your end goal.
#6 Work within your budget
This may sound simple on paper, but we all know how marketing budgets can explode once you start setting new target goals. The solution is to work backward.
So, traveling up your funnel from the bottom, what do those 500 new customers per month represent in site visits during the awareness stage? Maybe that’s 20,000 new, unique visitors per month to your site.
Can your budget compensate for doing a website overhaul or beefing up your content and/or social game? If not, you may have to set more realistic goals.
#7 Organize your marketing channels
So you’ve got your problem metrics and target goals sorted out, all with budget figures firmly in the black.
Now you need to know exactly where to spend that money.
The best strategy is to organize your marketing channels according to your funnel action category.
For example, there are a number of channels open to you that will help you build brand awareness, which corresponds with the awareness stage of the funnel. These include, but are not limited to:
- Paid advertising
- Social media campaigns
- Co-branding partnerships
- Email marketing
As for that last channel, any fledgling entrepreneur looking to make a name for him or herself would do well to take a page from Mixergy.com. The company sells interviews with successful entrepreneurs to a target audience of business owners.
By visiting their site, right away you know what channels they are focusing on in accordance with their funnel. In this case its email marketing.
Front and center on Mixergy’s homepage is a CTA prompting the user to click a tab and receive nine of their most popular interviews for free.
It’s a savvy tactic because in offering this free content, Mixergy is showing the value of their service.
Of course, in exchange, the user provides his or her email address. But now the user is incentivized, and Mixergy has started an initial relationship via email that has turned a general audience member into a qualified lead.
If Mixergy plays their cards right, from here the trip further down the funnel only gets easier.
#8 Assign an action for your most promising marketing channels
Once you have your ideal marketing channels in line with the appropriate action category, then it’s time to set it in action.
Just as importantly you need to assign a duration to this strategy of how long you intend to implement it. Make sure you can measure accurate results based on relevant KPIs.
Implement your strategy with targets in mind.
That means, like with Mixergy, you implement your traction channels with the goal to building a relationship with the target, not hard-selling them. Therefore all your channels need to be operating contextually and, when possible, offering personalized content for the target.
#9 Analyze the results
Do this by calculating the conversion rates between the stages of the funnel.
This time start at the top, with your general audience, and work your way all the way down to the conversion/referral stages, analyzing all marketing channel strategies and your closed-deal percentages.
#10 Have a backup plan
If you reach the end of your allotted duration and you still haven’t hit your targets, then go to the next traction channel on your list and implement it for another specific duration.
But, don’t forget that the marketing funnel only works in conjunction with your growth plan if you have a working business model,
If you’ve gone down your list and attempted every tactic according to your most promising traction channels, that means your product-market fit leaves something to be desired, so if you’re having trouble after working your way through your traction channels, you may need to regroup and come up with a new plan, or secure a larger budget for testing.
Now would be the time to ask yourself (and probably your customers) the hard questions about whether your product or service can satisfy the current market.
If it can’t, you don’t have a problem with marketing, you have a problem with the core of your business.