Marketers and sales professionals over a century ago first introduced the idea of a sales funnel to the business world. Since then, the sales funnel has undergone several revisions, updates, and customizations based on company types, industries, and target audiences.It’s safe to say that there is no one-size-fits all sales funnel for every business, but sales and marketing executives do agree on one thing. The purpose of a sales funnel is to help organizations understand, step-by-step, what needs to happen to capture a new buyer’s attention, nurture their needs, convert them into a loyal customer, and understand how to repeat the process for the next new potential customer.
When businesses do the frontwork and build an effective sales funnel, it helps them attract more interested leads, strategically refine the sales process, make more persuasive marketing decisions, and, ultimately, generate more revenue.
While developing a sales funnel is integral to the success of any company, here’s some shocking news. Sixty to eighty percent of B2B businesses don’t have a proper understanding of their own sales funnel.
This post will help B2B businesses understand how to develop a working sales funnel by covering the classic B2B sales funnel stages and smart ways wholesale brands can engage and nurture buyers during these phases.
Stages of the classic B2B sales funnel
Before presenting the five classic stages of the B2B sales funnel, it’s essential to note that the sales process won’t be linear for every one of your customers.
For example, some people may never have heard about your brand and will find you during the awareness stage. Others may have spent time researching your brand. The first time you hear from them, they may already be asking to see a virtual demo of your products.
While every buyer doesn’t necessarily travel down the sales funnel the same way, presenting the sales funnel in its linear stages makes it easier to understand what you need to consider as you research and build your unique sales funnel.
1. Awareness stage
Awareness is the first stage of the sales funnel, often called the “top of the funnel.” During this stage, retail buyers are starting to look for answers to problems.
In terms of e-commerce and wholesale, a buyer in the awareness phase may know they have a particular market need to fulfill, but don’t know exactly which brand will fulfill this need.
As such, the buyer starts seeking out resources, education, referrals, and conducts research to find out what wholesalers might provide the best solutions.
At this stage, the world is the buyer’s oyster. The buyer hasn’t yet decided to come to your brand for solutions. They are still casting a net and weighing all the options.
During the awareness phase, brands should strive to provide quality content to help buyers find your brand.
Here are some other ideas sales and marketing teams should consider when preparing for top of the funnel and lead generation success:
- Establish data-driven buyer personas. To capture the attention of the right customers, it’s critical for brands to conduct data-driven research to understand their ideal customer profile (ICP). Consider researching how your buyers think, what problems they have, and how they will seek out a solution.
- Play the digital marketing game. Sixty-two percent of B2B buyers mention internet search is one of the first three resources they use to learn about a solution. Another study says 94% of buyers use online research at some point in the purchasing process. If you want to stand out in the crowd, invest in online marketing.
- Provide an excellent digital user experience. Don’t lose out on customers by having a weak website or poor mobile user experience. Make it easy for buyers to check out your brand online and via mobile device.
2. Interest stage
The next stage of the funnel is the interest stage. During this stage, B2B buyers have already come in contact with your brand and are starting to view your business as a possible solution to their problems.
During the interest stage, you can count on buyers to research your products in greater depth and further connect with your brand. As such, it’s critical that you provide additional information and nurture your leads appropriately. Stats show that businesses that nurture leads make 50% more sales at a cost of 33% less than non-nurtured prospects.
Here are some ideas for nurturing leads during the interest stage:
- Invest in your content and materials. Much of the awareness and interest stages take place without your brand even knowing a buyer is researching you. This is why it’s critical for your marketing team to build educational resources that give your potential customers the info they need to take the next step. To give you an idea of how important content marketing and materials are, 62% of buyers say they can make a business decision based on online content alone.
- Email marketing. Email marketing is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies. When buyers opt into your newsletter, it means they want to hear from you. Additionally, 79% of B2B marketers say email is the most effective distribution channel for demand gen efforts.
3. Evaluation stage
Once a buyer has found your brand and engaged with your marketing materials, they may be ready to have a conversation with your sales team.
But, here’s the thing to remember.
It takes time and costs money to continue nurturing leads. If you know your products aren’t a great solution, it makes more sense to abandon ship than to keep moving forward.
During the evaluation stage, you decide whether your solutions are a great fit for a buyer or not. For example, if your brand sells high-end, expensive, luxury clothing, and the buyer’s retail audience is interested in those very products, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. If the buyer’s retail market is more interested in cheaper, mass-produced products, and your products don’t fit this niche, you can point these leads in a different direction.
Here are some things to consider during the evaluation stage:
- Send potential customers case studies. Customer success stories are one of the best ways to continue to nurture leads. A case study shows buyers how current customers use your products or services to solve business problems. According to Marketing Charts, case studies help convert and accelerate the most leads.
- Schedule a time to meet. If your sales team qualifies the buyer as an excellent lead and your products match the buyer’s needs, the next step is to get them on your calendar. Some brands will schedule a demo, others will meet in person, and most will find a time to meet in a virtual showroom.
- Redirect leads to a better solution. If a lead isn’t a good fit, refer the buyer to a partner brand.
4. Engagement stage
If a buyer has learned about your brand, researched your solutions, and you’ve determined they are a great fit, it’s time to engage with the buyer.
This stage is one of the most exciting and essential parts of the sales funnel. It’s the time when your buyers will have more meaningful contact with your sales team. You’ll have the opportunity to start building a real connection and, hopefully, an ongoing relationship.
Here are some things you can do to ensure a smooth transition during the engagement stage:
- Make it easy to book a product demo or virtual appointment. You want to make it so easy for your potential buyers to book a virtual appointment, that they don’t even have to think about it. Some effective ways to do this are to include your appointment calendar on your website and in your emails. This way, all your potential buyers have to do is click on a link and find a time that works well for them.
- Fine-tune your communication processes. Before you even start to engage with customers, you have to determine how you will communicate. Will you communicate via email? Phone? In person? Set up your communication processes so you don’t experience any hitches.
- Use a virtual showroom to your benefit. Traditionally, retailers go to trade shows to connect with new brands and view products. With advances in B2B commerce technology, and also with the recent stay-at-home initiatives, buyers and brands are turning to the virtual environment to make sales. A virtual showroom allows your sales team to showcase all of your products in a way that is effective, comprehensive, and just as good as if you were meeting in person.
- Schedule follow up meetings. Not all buyers are ready to make a purchase after the first conversation, and that’s okay. It may take several interactions to pull off a sale. At the end of your meeting, schedule a time to meet again.
5. Purchase stage
The purchase stage is when your new lead has signed the contract and you can consider them a new customer.
Here are some ways to ensure the purchase stage goes smoothly:
- Make it easy to order. Have you ever been ready to purchase something only to find out it was difficult to navigate through the purchasing process? The result is frustrating and may even cause you to look elsewhere for a solution. In the wholesale world, you need line sheets and order forms. A software like NuOrder digitizes and simplifies the process for wholesale brands.
- Engage through the purchase and after the purchase. Your relationship doesn't end with the swipe of a credit card. Stick around to make sure the purchasing process goes smoothly and that your buyers have answers to all their questions. Remember that most of your revenue will come from repeat customers, so continue to engage with your buyers and do everything you can to foster customer loyalty.
Get the right tools to help you optimize the sales process
To bring it all together, the best way to build your unique B2B sales funnel is to focus on correctly identifying your ideal customer profile and focusing on solving pressing problems.
You can do this with strategically marketing and investing in the tools that will help you create an excellent sales funnel.
Remember, as you nurture your leads down the B2B sales funnel, you can count on NuORDER to help you showcase your products with customizable line sheets, interactive virtual showrooms, and EZ-ordering, making the sales process seamless for you and your buyers.