When is the right time to start building your marketing funnel? The answer is always "right now," no matter your product development stage. It takes time to generate awareness and start capturing leads, and it takes even more time for those leads to move through their journey with your brand and become ready for a demo or sales pitch.
Your pipeline needs time to build momentum and start to generate velocity (the speed that leads move through your funnel to purchase). Even if your product hasn’t officially launched yet, get started on demand generation now. If you’re waiting, you’re probably already too late.
So, if already behind, what should you do first? You don’t have time for fancy theory — your clock is ticking on generating demand! So let’s get down to brass tacks: here’s what you really need to know about building a marketing funnel to achieve growth in tech and SaaS.
Fact #1: The Funnels, They Are A-changing
Traditional marketing funnels were one-way cattle chutes, where the input (site visitors) are nurtured along, ultimately becoming an output (paying customers). Easy enough, right? But funnels are no longer linear because neither is the buyer’s journey. The sales process is becoming more and more complex.
This means you need to be ready to meet potential customers wherever they are in their journey, and their path toward conversion will likely be a tad...well, convoluted. Yet, it’s a path you somehow need to be able to predict, follow, and influence. Not sounding quite so easy anymore, is it?
Fact #2: The Fun(nel) Can’t Stop at Lead Gen
There was once a time when marketing could generate a lead, qualify it a bit, and then hand the lead off to the sales team and pretty much forget about it. But there was also a time when video conferencing was a sci-fi fantasy, not a thing you do with the grandparents. Once again, times have changed.
Marketing isn’t just about lead generation anymore, and there’s no longer a clean hand-off from the marketing team to sales. Both teams have responsibility for moving leads through the funnel, and the touchpoints need to be well orchestrated (cough, cough: sales and marketing alignment, anyone?) to avoid looking disconnected in front of the customer.
Today, marketing influences the entire customer lifecycle, including retention, expansion, and reactivation. One way to envision this is with the hourglass funnel model, which gets narrower at the middle as you move leads to the point of conversion and then broadens again at the bottom base, as you expand within customer accounts and evolve toward brand advocacy.
Another way to think about going beyond lead gen is through the HubSpot flywheel, a complementary model that moves the customer from the position of an output of the funnel, to the center of the whole story. The flywheel addresses the entire customer experience, including service touchpoints, and ensures that the whole lifecycle is as optimized as possible, carefully adding momentum and eliminating friction.
Fact #3: Your Marketing Funnel Is Hungry (Feed It)
Even though marketing’s responsibility can’t stop at lead generation, the reality is that funnels are built primarily for that purpose. And in order to make sure that your funnel is delivering enough new customers to hit your revenue growth targets, you need to make sure that you’re filling the top of the funnel with enough qualified traffic and leads. Here are a few tips to keep your funnel fed:
- Be thoughtful about lead capture: Don’t ask for your visitor’s Social Security number and their cousin’s best friend’s name just to give them a white paper. Ask as little upfront as you can get away with in your forms (putting up the lowest possible barrier to conversion). Then use progressive profiling, where you ask different questions with each subsequent form fill, to learn a little more over time.
- Offer calls to action (CTAs) everywhere they’re relevant: But be mindful that not everyone is going to be ready for a sales pitch. Map your offers to your marketing funnel and make sure that you’re only giving high-intent CTAs to people who have given indicators that they’re ready.
- Let the data drive your decisions: A/B test your CTAs and landing pages, adjusting just one variable at a time so you can determine which levers get you the best results.
- Be relevant and personalize: This means more than just plugging in a token like first name or industry. Segment your audience as granularly as you can, and use smart CTAs that dynamically select the best offer to deliver, based on what you already know about your visitor (perhaps through progressive profiling?).
- Define your funnel stages and triggers for advancement: Use lead scoring to track engagement and quantify your visitors’ interest. As your leads spend time engaging with your brand, they’ll also gain points that let your marketing team qualify them for sales readiness.
Fact #4: Talk to the Whole Marketing Funnel
Content marketing isn’t just about generating brand awareness. The best content marketing is about answering your potential customers’ questions, wherever they are in their buyer’s journey. In fact, Semrush has found that the biggest challenges reported by content marketers relate directly to addressing the marketing funnel stages.
Use your content to nurture and drive your leads through the funnel, helping them build up that lead score along the way. And don’t forget that there’s another side to the funnel: also create content for your current and perhaps even former customers, focusing on retention, expansion (always upsell or cross-sell!), advocacy, and even reactivation.
Fact #5: It’s Tough to Keep a Funnel Happy and Healthy
Marketing funnels aren’t set-and-forget. They take a lot of work. You’ll need to monitor that the stage definitions and advancement triggers you set are behaving as expected once out in the wild (e.g., maybe you set your lead score target too high). You’ll also need to make sure that your teams are staying aligned and everyone is following the process you carefully defined.
Then you’ll need to keep your lead and customer data maintained. You’ll want to make sure that it’s accurate and up to date and that your collection and management processes are compliant with government regulations (we see you, GDPR and CCPA, and all the rest). You also want to make sure that all of your internal systems, like your CRM and automation tools, are sharing the same data, updated in real time.
Then, there’s perhaps the most critical work in marketing funnel maintenance: monitoring your funnel conversion rates to optimize, optimize, optimize. This means using reports to track both upstream activity (click rate, open rate, likes, shares, views, downloads) and downstream conversions (win rate, revenue influenced by marketing, attribution reporting).
Specifically, you’ll want to monitor conversion rates across each stage of the funnel to determine where you need to make changes. What might that look like in practice?
- If you’re generating a ton of traffic, but it isn’t converting to leads, take a look at your offers, forms, and CTAs, as well as your traffic sources. A shift to growth SEO might help bring in better qualified (read: higher-converting) traffic.
- If your leads aren’t qualifying to MQL (marketing qualified leads), you may need more (or better) nurture streams.
- If you’re creating lots of MQLs, but their quality is poor (meaning, sales is rejecting them all), you may need to adjust your lead score threshold or whatever trigger you’re using to advance the stage.
- If your SQLs (sales qualified leads) aren’t converting into opportunities, perhaps you need better sales tools, more sales support, or closer sales and marketing alignment.
- If your opportunities aren’t closing at the rate you want, you may need to look at your product offer (pricing, etc.) or contract terms as they compare to your competitors.
And if your stage-by-stage conversion rates are on track, but you’re still not getting enough new opportunities to meet your revenue goals, then you need to bring in more qualified traffic to keep your funnel fed from the top down.
Fact #6: Funnels Are Important, But They’re Not Magic
At the end of the day, let’s not forget that the marketing funnel is just a framework to help you think about how to build demand in a systematic, repeatable, and measurable way. Funnels are useful and beneficial; when done right, they organize the activities of your teams, and they can definitely improve the experience for your customers.
But don’t put the funnel on a pedestal, either. There are several funnel models you can choose from, which can lead to analysis paralysis. (Think: How many stages should you use? Will you call the second one “Consideration” or “Education” or something else entirely?) Just know that there isn’t one model that is right for every company or every sales process.
The most important thing is to choose one that works for your organization today. If you can, try to plan for future growth so you aren’t redesigning it every couple of quarters. But don’t lose sight of the fact that it needs to be a model you can roll out and start using tomorrow (today is even better). The key is to develop a solid plan that is aligned across your marketing and sales teams, can be implemented consistently, and can be measured regularly.
If designing the ideal marketing funnel for your tech or SaaS company still seems overwhelming given everything else on your plate, don’t worry. We can help.