We no longer live in a world where sales and content are distinct notions, so successful digital marketers should have an expert understanding of their company’s sales funnel and how they can make it a true content marketing funnel.

Every company is different, but the basic concept of a sales and marketing funnel is that you take a big group and narrow that group down to those individuals who are likely to become paying customers. Most companies have three or four steps to their funnel, and they generally are along these lines:

  1. Awareness: Making people know that you exist
  2. Evaluation: Allowing people to determine if you can solve their problem
  3. Conversion: Directing people to a purchase

Using content specifically created to speak to people at every point of the sales funnel is critical. Remember, content is no longer something only for the very top of the funnel — content can help leads and prospects maintain excitement and momentum all the way to the very bottom of the funnel.

By reading this far, you’re already ahead of the game: More than two-thirds of B2B organizations don’t even have solid definitions for the stages in their sales funnels.

A Deep Understanding of Your Buyer — and Buyer’s Journey

Another way to think of a sales and marketing funnel is as a buyer’s journey. What process does your customer go through in becoming aware of your company, judging you as a good option for solving their needs, making a purchase and, critically, becoming a repeat customer?

Before you can understand your buyer’s journey, you need to understand your buyer. That often means constructing buyer personas, as different appeals will work on different types of people. Here are a few of the areas to think about when developing these personas:

  1. Demographics (sex, gender, age, race, orientation, religion, income, marital status, household size, educational background)
  2. Job role and industry
  3. What are their primary pain points? What problem do they need solved?
  4. What sources do they use to gather information?
  5. What considerations are most important to them when making purchasing decisions?

Once you know who your ideal buyer is, you’ll be able to model the buyer’s journey. Sticking with the stages we outlined earlier, here are a few of the key considerations required to constructing a model buyer’s journey.

Awareness: The buyer realizes a need or a challenge they want to solve and becomes aware that your business may be able to solve the challenge.

  • How does my ideal buyer describe their need?
  • What questions might they ask, or what search terms would they use?
  • What sources do buyers use to seek authoritative solutions?
  • What common misconceptions exist about the topic or product?

Evaluation: At this point, the buyer is aware of your business as a potential solution, wants to learn more about you and will establish the criteria for buying.

  • What types of solutions do buyers consider?
  • How do buyers weigh the pros and cons of different solutions?
  • What factors do buyers consider in determining the ideal solution?

Companies that have well-developed mid-funnel engagement have a response rate as much as 10 times higher than those with generic content.

Conversion: By now the buyer has decided what type of solution they need and they know how exactly they’ll decide which solution to purchase.

  • What factors make one solution stand out over another?
  • What barriers exist to purchase?
  • Do buyers have any concerns with our solutions vs. other possible solutions?
  • Who will make the final decision?

No doubt your buyer personas and buyer’s journey will be a bit different, but having a comprehensive understanding of your customers is absolutely essential not only to creating an effective marketing funnel but making sure your content is received as you intended it.

Developing Expert Timing

You know your ideal buyer and how they go about making purchasing decisions. And you have this great content that you’ve created. Now you need to think about the best way to marry the two. Sometimes this means taking what you already have and presenting the buyer with it at a certain stage in the funnel, or it could be taking something you did previously and reworking it for a particular audience. And it might even be creating new content when you realize you don’t have anything that speaks to a specific buyer at a specific point in the journey.

You should experiment and find what works best for you, but here’s an example of an effective game plan:

Awareness

  • Ads
  • Infographics
  • Landing pages
  • Your website (duh)
  • Videos and animations
  • Courses
  • Quizzes

Why: These are all somewhat low-impact workouts for you and can be tailored to appeal to an incredibly wide audience or a very specific one, so you will have the utmost flexibility at this stage.

Evaluation

  • How-to guides
  • White papers
  • Webinars
  • Presentations
  • E-books
  • Case studies

Why: At this stage, potential customers want to see proof points that you know what you’re doing and are a reliable, authoritative solution to their problem. They want to see that you’re an expert, so this is where you flex your experience. You should assume at this point, those interested in this content have some background in the topic, so you want to speak to your mastery of it.

Conversion

  • Trial offers
  • Questionnaires
  • Reviews
  • Self-assessments
  • Testimonials

Why: By this point, the buyer is likely deciding between you and other providers. This will be the salesiest of your content, as you are making a direct pitch for the potential customer to become an actual customer. You know people are interested; the key here giving them enough reason to click “buy.”

Without a doubt, you’ll find there’s a great deal of overlap in which types of content work best at which points in the buyer’s journey. A self-assessment could be the thing that entices someone at the very start of the journey, while a well-crafted white paper could seal the deal for another potential customer.  

Metrics That Matter

So how do you know if any of your plans are working? The easiest answer, of course, is sales, but that’s just the end of the equation. You need to monitor all the variables along the way. Content marketing certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of metrics, and trying to keep up with all of them not only is impossible, but even if you could do it, it would be too confusing to be valuable. Let’s take a look at a few of the mission-critical metrics you should be gathering and why they matter so much when formulating your content marketing funnel strategies. (By the way, you should already be tracking most of these.)

  • Awareness: Page views, unique site visitors, time on page, email clicks/opens
  • Evaluation: Follower count, return rate, likes/shares, email forwards, comments
  • Conversion: CTA performance, sales conversion rate, form/survey completions

Let’s take a closer look at some of these and why they are so important to content marketing funnel success.

Time on page

When looking through the content marketing funnel lens, this is essentially a measurement of how engaging your content is. After all, the longer a visitor is on a page with your piece of content, the more they find it interesting and relevant to solving their problem. If a piece of content proves engaging, that gives you a case study to replicate with other content, but if you find they’re staying with the content but not clicking through your CTA, then you know the problem is the CTA and not the content.

But be warned — the deck is stacked against you. According to one study, the average person only spends 15 seconds on a given page.

Return rate

Getting potential customers interested is one thing; keeping them interested is something else entirely. This is a measure not only of how engaging a couple of pieces of content are, but whether your messaging is effective in keeping people interested in learning more about your company. And unless you expect most of your sales to be one-offs, this metric helps you nurture repeat business, so this also could be looked at as a gauge of customer loyalty.

Research has proven time and time again that customer retention is incredibly valuable: Boosting retention rates by a mere 5 percent could increase profit by a 25 percent!

Sales conversion rate

This is the big one, right? The whole point of creating a content marketing funnel is to generate sales. So this metric is really where the rubber meets the road. If your content has been engaging and deployed well and you’ve removed all the barriers to purchase, then this number should climb. A good rate is entirely dependent on your industry (according to one study, website conversion rates ranged from 2 percent for nonprofits to 10 percent for professional services), but you certainly can measure yourself against … well, yourself. Determine a benchmark and see what makes that final number go up or down.

Clever Use of Automation

Remember that incredibly abbreviated list of metrics you just read about? Well, you don’t want to compile all that by hand, right? Of course you don’t. That’s why it pays to explore marketing automation tools that can help you schedule, publish and monitor engagement of your content and your potential customers’ journey through your content marketing funnel.

Employing content marketing automation not only can save you time and money by taking away the repetitive, monotonous tasks better done by a computer, but it allows you to allocate more time to conceptualizing and crafting content perfectly timed with your buyer’s journey.

Nearly 80 percent of marketers agree that automation boosts revenue, but how can you connect it to your buyer’s journey and marketing funnel? Let’s take a look at some of the content marketing funnel-related tasks that can (and should) be automated:

  • Social media scheduling, posting and tracking
  • Monitoring of prospects’ position in sales funnel
  • Email marketing distribution, list segmenting and tracking
  • CTA, demo and download engagement

Unless you sell something that everybody needs, sustaining your business means attracting customers, keeping them interested and doing enough to convince them to buy your goods or services. And if you want to grow your business, it’s even more critical to be able to duplicate success. There simply is no substitute for creatively nurturing leads through smart, well-crafted content marketing. In fact, more than 90% of B2B marketers agree content marketing is more effective than other methods of marketing.

But simply creating and publishing great content isn’t enough in our busy world. For your content to truly soar, it must be tied to a well-oiled marketing funnel that ensures the right person is seeing it at the ideal time for them to go from a lead to a customer.