There are two sides to the buying process: the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel. While closely related and often confused, they are not the same thing. The buyer’s journey refers to the customer’s whole process, which may or may not include your brand, but your sales funnel is yours and yours alone. Think of it as a whirlpool designed to capture leads and draw them deeper in, where the outer edge is their first tenuous connection with your business, and the very bottom is the point of sale.
The process of moving someone down the sales funnel is known as lead nurturing, and it’s a key part of long-term marketing efforts; nurtured leads tend to purchase more frequently, and to make larger purchases along the way.
Which means that your sales funnel has to be designed to capture people wherever they are on the buyer’s journey and keep them engaged all along the way with content that’s designed to draw them in deeper. It accomplishes this by using predefined stages that help you structure your marketing efforts and language toward your leads, where the goal is always simply to get them just that much closer to the point of purchase.
Your sales funnel’s stages are:
Awareness is the top of the funnel (TOFU), interest is the middle of the funnel (MOFU), and decision & action are the bottom of the funnel (BOFU). And these stages roughly correspond to the buyer’s journey as below:
This guide, while rough, is valuable, because it shows you how your marketing efforts map onto your prospect’s decision-making process, allowing you to tailor your sales funnel to the real-life needs of your audience, wherever they enter into the funnel.
Understanding the Stages of the Funnel
The Top of the Funnel – The buyer in the awareness stage of the sales funnel has heard of your business, solution, or product, and is aware that they have a problem this solution can solve. That means that you’re on their radar. This stage is not identical to the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey, but they overlap in significant ways: your prospect is undecided, and still in the initial research phase, making themselves broadly more aware of potential solutions, including yours. Once you’ve gotten them to your website, via an ad, mailing list, Google SERP, or something else, they enter into your sales funnel.
The goal is to move them from mere awareness to active interest, where they’re actively trying to solve their problem. Relevant content includes general subject matter material and introductory content focused on their problems.
The Middle of the Funnel – Buyers at the interest or MOFU stage are out there every day actively looking for solutions to their problems They’re out there googling, because they’re frustrated enough to consider making a purchase. This is when buyers start to get a lot more serious, with less fantasizing and more real research and commitment. This is also where email and social media marketing start to get a lot more fruitful, and you have more freedom to start getting less general and a lot more specific, because they’re after a real-life option.
The goal here is to move them from interest, where they’re looking into possible solutions, to decision, where they’re ready to make a purchase and are considering service providers. Relevant content includes deeper dives into possible solutions.
The Bottom of the Funnel – At the bottom of the funnel, the decision and action stages, your lead is ready to buy. They’re looking around, comparing different solution providers, and are ready to be convinced to take the plunge.
The goal here is to get them to make the decision to buy from you and not someone else. Relevant content includes demos and provider comparisons.
Bringing It All Together
Understanding the sales funnel (and how it’s different from the buyer’s journey) empowers effective lead nurturing that delivers loyal, repeat customers. And when coupled with powerful marketing automation with a CMS like HubSpot, lead nurturing efforts like these can keep these loyal customers coming your way, providing the firm foundation for future growth.
✅ Update! There's more to learn when it comes to the sales funnel. Now we call it the Loyalty Loop, or the Sales Cycle. Read about it here: