410: Top, Middle, & Bottom of Funnel | Master Sales Series

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The sales funnel: everything you need to know about top, middle, and bottom of funnel.

Master Sales Series is back with another episode. This time we are exploring the various segments of the customer journey. We examine the top of funnel, middle of funnel, and bottom of funnel. The customer controls the journey as to where they are in the funnel. A staggering 83% of the customer’s journey in 2020-2021 is now spent doing independent research, and 17% of the time is spent talking to a salesperson.

If we are looking at the lens from a content marketing perspective – The top of funnel is all about learning and exploratory; examples of this would be blogs, podcasts, videos, and infographics. The middle of funnel is the consideration stage where you build trust with the customer; this would include eBooks, case studies, gated content, and email campaigns. The bottom of funnel is all around buying and negotiation; this can look like product FAQs, free trials, demos, and presentations.

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George: Welcome to the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith. This week’s episode is all about the customer journey. Whether it’s the buyer’s journey the customer deciding it’s gotta lot of names. Some people even just call it a funnel. How do we get a lead into the funnel? And how do we move it through that buyer’s journey? We’ve got some great data points that we’re gonna share that actually are quite staggering. As you start to look through this episode and this training series it’s all part of the master sales series. And we are going to dig in to the customer journey, when we return on the Conquer Local podcast.

It’s the master sales series, the Conquer Local podcast. And this week, it is all about slowing down. Producer Colleen has two ping pong paddles. You might’ve maybe saw it on LinkedIn. One is slow down. Number two is closer to the mic which I’ve never actually been accused of being too far from a mic. So I’m shocked that they have one of those. This episode is all about that customer buying journey. And the content from this episode comes from a number of different sessions that I’ve been holding with our internal teams with channel partner groups. As we talk about this idea of how we’re going to use content and messaging to move a customer through that buyer’s journey. And it’s interesting where some organizations really have a challenge and even comprehending that there could be top of funnel middle of funnel and bottom of funnel motions. And the way that you communicate with a top of funnel lead is different than a middle funnel lead or a lead that is now into that solution validation or contracting stage. I don’t think that we can do enough training around this.

The Sales Funnel

The top of funnel usually is a learning. It has a learning cadence to it where they’ve downloaded a white paper. They have filled out a form filter to require more information. And they’re looking not only your organization they are may be looking at multiple organizations to solve a problem or they’re looking to maybe level up their tech stack in a certain component or it doesn’t really matter what it is. Maybe you’re buying a new vehicle at that top of funnel. You look at a number of different solutions to your challenge and you’re really in a learning motion. Then when we get to that middle of funnel we’re starting to consider different options. So we’ve done a bunch of the research and now we’re starting to do some consideration. That’s where there are other factors coming into play, where, you know, at that moment of consideration you really need to be focused on the trust-building portion. And sometimes it’s called rapport. I like to really move it towards trust. All rapport is, is that you, you know you don’t get thrown out of the office. You’re starting to build a relationship but trust is such an important component. And words really matter in that middle of funnel and consideration phase whether it’s the email that you’ve sent to the prospect, the LinkedIn inmail, the phone call that you’re having ,the demo or the online meeting that you’re having. Words really matter and the messaging matters because they have done the research. They have identified that they have either a challenge or they’ve got a gap that they’re trying to fill. They’re looking at the organizations or individuals that can help them with that. And now they’ve moved into consideration where it’s all about building rapport, trust. There’s a question and answer component that middle of final component is really about becoming a student again and going in and asking questions, seeking to understand looking for further information so that you can move into the bottom of funnel which is really that buying motion.
And that’s where we get into the fun part which is negotiation and bundling and figuring out how we can meet the expectations of the prospect from a budget standpoint, maybe.

Top of Funnel

So when we get into that pre-sale customer journey which is top of funnel, it’s important to understand that a Walker study predicted that in the year 2020 customer experience would be overtake price and product is a key brand differentiator. And it turned out that they were right. I think that actually happened earlier. I think it was happening in like 2016, 2017. I’m told by my friends in the auto industry that when someone comes in to buy a vehicle they actually know more about the vehicle usually than the sales person that’s talking about it because you know, it’s easy to do that research.

So the factors that influence the success of a product or service have really shifted to ones that are completely customer centric. So today’s buyers and customers they are in control of their own journey. And that’s why it’s, you know, is it the sales journey? We’re trying to say, no, the buyer controls the journey and it’s really choose your own adventure as you move through that funnel and that journey, you’re doing research. And sometimes if the research completely aligns with the need or the pain point, boom you can move right to a sale very quickly, or you’re really at that learning stage where you’re looking at a number of different you’re really seeking to understand you don’t really have the problem solved as the buyer.

So those buyers and customers are in control of their own journey now. And the availability of content and information through digital channels has really made it easier for them to traverse that journey independently. And the younger the buyer is we’re finding that they’re saying stay out of my way sales person. I will raise my hand when I’m ready let me go do my research. And the reason for that is they’ve been treated badly by salespeople sometime in their life. And they’ve been lied to. So they’re like, I’m going to go out and research this. I’m gonna make up my own mind. And then I’ll raise my hand when I need you to take me on a test drive because you can’t do a test drive a new vehicle without the salesperson there most times. So you can see where sales needs to be more of a helping motion. If they want to introduce themselves into that buyer’s journey. I’ve found that sales is very welcome. If they come in as a tour guide, more than a sales person.

Content Creation

What is setting us apart in B2B sales or commercial sales is that the content that we create will educate the buyer and it will show the experience that you deliver. So it’s important that we move to developing that content. And we’re gonna have a lot of episodes here in the first half of 2021 around content generation that we generate a piece of content that is educating. But at the same time, showing that we have an experience that sets us apart from the competitors in the problem that you’re trying to solve. So understanding your ideal customer profile, understanding who the buyer personas are in that ideal customer profile will help you to craft the messaging around the content. So it’s not just content, it speaks to the experience that is unique to your organization. In fact, we found the Gartner research has found that customers who consider the information they receive from suppliers, they found that they were two point eight times more likely to have a positive purchasing experience. And they were actually three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret. And the reason for that is they are consuming that content whether it be video, whether it be audio, whether it be a written piece of content whether it be a case study and they now don’t have to pass that trust bridge. They’re passing the trust bridge way before they ever talk to the salesperson, based upon the brand promise of the organization.

B2B Buyer’s Journey

As many of us know, the B2B buyer journey is not linear and it is becoming increasingly more complex. There’s a number of different reasons for this but here are the important ones that I wanna highlight. 83% of the sales cycle in 2020, and moving into 2021 is now spent doing independent research. 83% of the time when that buyer is figuring out what they wanna buy, they’re doing it on their own. And that’s because it’s so easy for us to do research. Only 17% of the time is spent speaking to an actual sales person. During the purchase process B2B buyers consume an average a whopping average of almost 12 assets. It’s 11.4 is the exact number. So they’re going to 12 different places to do their research and they consume that information. And then they move into the consideration phase.

At that point, it’s your deal to lose as a sales person. And there’s often a buying committee in those B2B purchases. So that’s an important thing to consider as well. You have this buyer that arrives where they they fill out a form fill and or they click on at a PPC ad and now they are declaring their intent. But there’s a bunch of people behind the scenes that are influencing that purchase. I have a deal right now, that’s going on live. I can see it here in my email. We sent the offer to the customer this morning through one of the sales reps, and we put some pricing in place based upon the volume that they wanted to purchase the volume of licenses. And there’s four more people that got added to the email thread that are weighing in on that. And I believe from the comments that I’m seeing there was one person that did a lot of independent research because they’re coming back saying, oh I think your price is a little bit high. So now we have to go back in and introduce ourselves to this new individual in the buying committee and ask them why they believe that that’s too high. The answer probably is going to be something like we looked at three competitors and we have other pricing based upon that volume. But it’s just an interesting example. We see it all the time. The more that the purchase price rises the more that you’re going to have this buying committee that is involved and inside buying committees you can have net detractors that you’re going to have to seek to understand what their challenges are or their objections are.

Independent Research

Independent research is the biggest influencer on a purchase decision. Sorry salespeople it’s not you. It’s not the great sales pitch. It’s not the fact that you’re good at followup. It’s not the fact that you’re good at negotiation. It’s the fact that your organization has played in this space around content creation. And when the independent research happened, the buyer as they were doing, their research did not disqualify you. They kept you in the deal. They kept you in that research phase. So that’s why top of the funnel is so important. And when we look at organizations that are struggling to hit their revenue numbers, a lot of times what we find is they do not have this intense focus on the buyer’s journey. They don’t even understand that there’s top of funnel. They don’t even understand there’s a mid funnel motion. They’re just focused on closing deals.

The Sales Funnel

We come back to, and if you’ve listened to a number of these episodes, there’s the one where I talk about leading and lagging measures. The analogy that I always use that people can understand is losing weight. If you wanna lose weight and the only thing you measure is the scale, it’s basically, Oh, yeah you’re Oh shit. Because that, while it’s important, that’s the goal. The scale needs to go down or up. If you’re trying to gain weight it’s the leading measures that you need to be looking at. So when we look at our sales funnel and we say, boy we’ve got a skinny funnel or a short funnel or whatever, it might be. A lot of times, the problem is is we’ve not considered a top of funnel motion where we’re starting to put content out there to folks that are in that independent research component they are in that phase of the buyer’s journey. What do I mean by content? Well I’m talking about case studies, I’m talking about white papers and talking about data sheets documentation, videos, webinars, blog posts, podcasts, all of these things are part of that decision enabling pieces. All of that content that your organization is driving is moving the buyers one step closer to a decision. And it’s our job as marketers to provide our buyers with this content. And the good old days when I started selling, you got in a car you drove across town, you killed a tree you stapled it together and you dropped it on the desk and hoped to hell, let the buyer read it. But now we have the ability to put that content online on our website, make it more than just a brochure, make it an interactive experience. We can record videos and we can allow that lead at top of funnel to self nurture. These experiences also extend to after the deal is closed. This is the thing that I need you to understand. This is not a linear funnel.

Although we use that analogy, a lot of times put leads in the top money falls at the bottom. It actually moves more into a flywheel approach because getting that first sale is only half the battle. In fact, I don’t even think it’s half the battle. I think it’s like a 10th of the battle where the real key comes in where you take that buyer and you move them into an ongoing cycle where they continue to consume more products and services from your organization. That buyer that has a level of trust that buyer that has become a net promoter to your organization, is actually one of the most valuable things that you have. And that’s where we wanna measure the lifetime value of that customer. Because getting customers is hard, it’s expensive. And if we get one we need to take that customer and continue to provide them with the exact same content that we used to attract them into our mouse trap in the first place.

Just because I consumed a case study and a white paper as I came into the buyer’s journey, doesn’t mean that I won’t wanna consume that content later. And a lot of times for an existing customer what you’re doing by providing content to those folks is you’re blocking and tackling against the other organizations that are trying to eat your lunch. So content, isn’t something that’s just for lead gen to get them into your organization. It actually becomes part of that flywheel where we take existing customers we retain and grow those customers. Because as my colleague, Jeff Folckemer said a number of episodes back you can’t outsell churn.

Measuring the Buyer’s Journey

Attached to every channel touchpoint and campaign is content. It’s a critical role in closing the sale and engaging customers. However, when I talked to many organizations they don’t see it this way. They see it as an isolated use case. We did some content once and it didn’t work or we’re only using content over here for this thing. It’s interesting when I talk about content experience in these same companies, I tend to dissect the tactics and channels use to attract new customers, accelerate the buyer’s journey and to delight customers. And each time that I do, I ask them where are they sending prospects and customers? And more often than not the answer to this is a destination. And at the heart of this destination is some form of content. So if you’re focusing on your channels and tactics I want you to think of ads, direct mail, chat bots, carrier pigeons, smoke signals, email, social. You might be ignoring where you’re actually sending people. And then you’re missing a huge opportunity to get the right information into the hands of your buyers at the right time. So measuring the buyer’s journey is something that never ends. We’re constantly watching that. Smart organizations are recognizing that what we used to use, well, let’s look back 12 months.

What we used to use 12 months ago if you’re listening to this thing, I’m talking Jan, Feb of 2020 probably doesn’t work as well as what happened in March when the world changed. So we need to look at our buyer’s journey again. Does the buyer really even wanna walk into our business? That’s an easy one. A bunch of people just don’t wanna do that. So that’s why e-commerce has become so prevalent. And it really is critical for it’s mission critical for a business to survive. This is where content experience plays a crucial role. If you send a visitor to a single blog, video white paper or landing page, the most you can expect from them is they’re going to do one thing. And that is consume that single piece of content. Then what will happen is you will disqualify the entire motion. And you’ll say, yeah we did that content thing that George was talking about and it didn’t work. And the reason that it didn’t work is it’s just one component of the buyer’s journey.

If you consider the destination that you’re sending the person that consumes the content and then send your prospective buyers to a content experience that’s relevant, it’s engaging it’s designed for further content consumption. Then you can make the most of that visitor’s attention. So let me give you an example. We’ve recently moved into a motion where we’re building top of funnel leads. The content that we’re using is the definitive guide for lead generation. And we’ve found that LinkedIn is a great place to get that content out into, into nature. And guess what? A lot of those leads don’t wanna talk to a salesperson. Guess why? 15 minutes and 59 seconds I’ve just been explaining why. They’re only in the learning stage because they believe that every lead ends up in a sale in a 90 day period or a 30 day period it’s sales cycle measurement. And while you may have leads that come in to that sales cycle and close in a day that’s because they did all of the research somewhere else. In fact, they may be researched a different brand or a different solution. And at some point in that journey that solution was disqualified and they found out about you and it was product market fit and boom, you get the sale. But they’re called unicorns for a reason. We actually have a unicorn emoji when somebody closes something in one day, because what I want the organization to believe is that is not the norm. That’s just luck. We just lucked out. Now maybe some point in time, we’ll get to that point. Wouldn’t that be great. But what, you know, 30, some odd years in the sales business I’ve found is that it’s hard work that wins this at the end of the day. And by putting that content out there and nurturing that lead and remembering the destination and you if you send them a piece of content to educate them you should probably continue that education process at top of funnel.

Bottom of Funnel

Now, what happens when the lead moves to middle of funnel that’s a little bit different because now they’re into consideration and we go back to what I was speaking about previous, we live in the world of customer experience and in that consideration now we’re being asked to do demos more than ever before at middle of funnel because people wanna see the solution. We are a technologically advanced society. So if I’m going to be talking to someone that has some tech I wanna bloody well, see it. I also have watched Silicon Valley. I said, show on TV. I know that vaporware is the thing. It wasn’t just Silicon Valley that told me that. So I think that as buyers, we’re a little bit leery. We’re a little bit jaded and we want to see the solution. So even in middle of funnel we’re finding that we need to be doing demos. We need to be showing what it might do. We might even want to give them a free login and let them use the solution product led growth before we get them to a contract stage.

So this journey where we moved from top of funnel which is really the learning stage. And then we move into middle of funnel where we get into that consideration phase. What are we providing in those two stages? So stage one, top of funnel awareness these are guides, reports, influencer comments, podcasts, educational content, white papers, press releases. But what happens when I get to consideration? Now we move to comparison white papers cause now I’m considering you against a competitor, how do you stack up against X? So we better have that, you know your solution on one side, their solution on the other side with the feature benefit how we stack up.

We also need to continue to give that educational content but it needs to directly correlate to our solution and how it solves the problem. Interviews or stories of other customers that are your advocates for your brand, demo videos or actual live demos and expert guides. I’m in consideration, depending up on the solution that you’re selling, you’re wanna provide some really robust information. And that really relates to the buyer persona that you have not everybody is going to be a type a George Leith personality that just wants to buy and then experience themselves. Some are gonna wanna do further research.

And then we get to decision. I’m not gonna talk very long about decision because a lot of the battle here is at the top of funnel. Most organizations have salespeople that can close deals if they get a qualified buyer that deep into the funnel. But at that decision stage, we still need to be thinking about product collateral, how it’s gonna work, is there a tutorial? Cause I’m really at the point where I’m gonna sign with you or sign with somebody else. A really rip and sales presentation something that just fantastic, clear, concise, insight based, talks about clear deliverables holds has accountability built into it where we’re going to measure that expectation to make sure that it’s working. Comparisons with how you stack up still might be there in the decision phase, especially if price comes into the equation at that point.

So I’ve talked about top, I’ve talked about middle and I’ve talked about bottom of funnel, but I also talked about this mythical thing called a flywheel. And this is where we get into what McKinsey likes to call the loyalty loop. And the final now turns into a circle, but we still have a consideration phase, an evaluation phase, then there’s a purchase then I move into delight that I like, like did you really knock it out of the park? Now I become an advocate. And then because of that delight and advocacy a bond is built with the customer where we really get into repeat purchase and loyalty. The holy grail, that’s where the flywheel exists. The flywheel is not on the outside. It’s really on the inside. And that’s where your product or solution had better live up to what the salesperson or the website said.

The Brand Promise

I talked to a customer, you know, one of the things that I get to do as Chief Customer Officer is talk to a lot of customers. And I talked to a client the other day and he had a less than ideal experience. So I was trying to understand why. And the one thing that I like to do on those calls is ask if, do you feel that anyone in our organization lied to you and he stopped? And he was maybe a little bit taken aback but he probably hasn’t had someone ask that question. And he said, no, I think everybody was pretty truthful but your website might’ve stretched the truth a little bit. And that now comes back to the brand promise that we place on our website, which is some of the first interactions that a prospect might have with the organization. You better damn well deliver what the brand promises on the website. And this is where we get to churn. And this is where we get to misaligned expectations. It’s, we’ve got this beautiful website tells us a great story. We’re gonna change the world for the buyer. And they believe that promise. They’re super excited. Especially if you built a hell of a website that addresses a pain point that your solution or your product is set out to solve. But now we’ve got customer service that comes into it good old customer service. We’ve got, what are we doing to make sure that we’re meeting that expectation? And we are, we are tempering the expectation because we all know that the customer when they read that they don’t really read it deeply. They read through it and they’re like, wow, this, they get excited. They believe the brand promise the emotion starts to kick in. And they’re like, this solves all my problems. I’m so excited. And then if we don’t do a good job of realigning the expectations to what it actually does, cause there may be a bit of a disconnect there. And a lot of times it’s in the prospect’s mind or the customer’s mind where they’re like, no I heard that you did X. And you’re like, Oh, who lied to you? But it’s not even that. It’s just a misaligned expectation.


So we’re gonna put a copy of the loyalty loop inside the notes because what I’m finding is you can listen to the podcast but then there’s jobs to be done afterwards to turn this into repeatable habits and make it something that just is ingrained in the culture of your organization. But that loyalty loop, that flywheel that everybody talks about is what we’re getting to. But the content that you use to generate a customer the first time it is long lived, and it can also be used inside the loyalty loop to block and tackle your competitors and to move that customer from where they’re like, Oh I really liked that solution to where they become advocates. They become raving fans. And inside that advocacy portion you get an opportunity at upsell. You get an opportunity at a larger basket size but you also get that case study. You get that five star review that you can post online and amplify on your social channels. And you might just get something that salespeople love, a referral to another customer that you can bring onto your organization.

Top of funnel, middle funnel, bottom funnel, loyalty loops, it all is about the customer journey. I hope you enjoyed this episode of the master sales training series here in the Conquer Local podcast. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode looks forward to seeing you back here next week when we continue conquering. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you, when I see you.

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