The modern sales funnel looks less like a well-defined funnel and more like a maze of possible touchpoints. On average, prospects receive ten marketing touches through the course of a successful buyer's journey (ending in a closed deal).(1) As buyers conduct more independent research and the sales funnel becomes less linear, responsibility for much of the buyer's journey falls to marketing.
So how do content creators adapt to the changing sales funnel? How do they engage, inform, and entertain invisible audiences, turning them into visible leads?
It starts with addressing each stage of the sales funnel with quality content that focuses on the target audience's needs as they move toward purchase. 76% of B2B buyers prefer different content at each stage of their research process, a study from Pardot found.(2) Before mapping content to various stages, though, it's important to understand the mindset of a prospect at each stage. The top, middle, and bottom of the the sales funnel can generally be connected to three common mindsets:
- Awareness: Prospects have either become aware of a product or service, or they have become aware that they have a need that must be fulfilled.
- Evaluation: Prospects are aware that a product or service could fulfill their need, and they are trying to determine which is the best fit.
- Purchase: Prospects are ready to make a purchase.
Definitions vary and sub-levels that align better with individual sales processes might be needed, but this model serves as a solid starting point. Knowing prospects' concerns allow for a content strategy that speaks directly to their needs. The sections below provide examples of how content might align to each stage of the sales and marketing funnel.
Top of Funnel
The top of the funnel, or "awareness" stage, is the perfect place to educate prospects—not about a specific product or solution, but about topics that matter most to their business. This stage attracts new prospects, answers questions on topics relevant to both the buyer and brand, and builds trust.
This is the widest stage of the funnel, so content doesn't need to be dense. It should contain enough information to keep prospects engaged. Content should be entertaining and educational. This is the perfect place to work in humor and show a bit of character.
The goal is to move buyers from "limited knowledge" to a greater degree of proficiency while leaving them wanting more. The purpose of top-of-the-funnel content is to intrigue, not to sell, and to capture quality leads looking for further information.
Common Types of Top-of-the-Funnel Content:
- Tip sheets
- Whitepapers that educate
- How-to video/webinar
- How-to blog posts
- Guest blog posts
- Overview reports
- Online articles
- FAQ pages
- Resource pages
- Social posts
Middle of Funnel
The middle of the funnel, or "evaluation" stage, tackles the issues impacting leads at a deeper level, and gradually pulls them toward solutions. Content in this stage makes a connection between top-of-funnel educational resources and information around products and services.
Prospects at this stage are investigating and comparing. They research multiple companies, weigh the pros and cons, and seek out data and information around how a solution would actually function within their organization. Content served at this level must detail how to solve particular business challenges and highlight value propositions.
This stage must continue to educate prospects, but should also challenge them to think differently about a solution. Content with data, facts, and third-party involvement fits within this stage very well.
Common Types of Middle-of-the-Funnel Content:
- Email marketing/newsletters
- Buying guides
- Product demo videos/webinars
- Video of keynotes or speaking engagements
- Case studies
- Data sheets
- Product comparisons/pricing guides
- Blog posts with more in-depth content
- ROI calculators
Bottom of Funnel
At this point, prospects enter the "purchase" stage. Marketers look for intent to buy—absorption and interaction with top- and mid-funnel content. Content at this stage should help overcome final objections and empower opportunities to make an educated decision.
Content should reinforce positive sentiments built up from previous interactions with the company, holding creeping doubts at bay. High-level content is replaced by niche and/or product-specific assets. This is a stage for advanced topic matter content showcasing expertise and equipping sales to act as thought leaders.
Common Types of Bottom-of-the-Funnel Content:
- Free trials
- "Deep dive" product demos
- Follow up consultations
- Customized estimates
- In-depth blog posts or articles
- Input from current customers/advocates
- Email marketing/newsletters
Note that these are just suggestions of types of content that work in these stages. Many of these types can work at any stage of the sales cycle depending on the subject matter and the granularity of the information it includes. Companies need to test performance of content in various stages, making adjustments as data is analyzed to keep the content strategy fresh and effectively targeted.