7 Key Stages Unveiled: Navigating the B2B Sales Funnel

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Min
Created On:
April 21, 2023
Updated On:
May 8, 2024
Stages of the B2B Sales Funnel

The B2B sales process is complicated. You might be launching excellent campaigns and providing the best customer support, but still end up with a low customer retention rate. 

The primary reason why most B2B sales fail is that it's a long process. Initially, the salespeople are all enthusiastic and trying and coming up with new ideas to convert a lead. But, gradually, when the lead takes time to convert, most sales reps give up. 

According to statistics, 44% of salespeople give up after following up only once, and 92% give up after the 4th. 

Now, we all know that follow-up is the key. To know what to do throughout the process, you need to study what worked. And this type of information comes from the B2B sales funnel. 

Read ahead to learn what b2b sales funnel is, the different B2B sales funnel stages, and how to create a b2b sales funnel.

What is a B2B sales funnel and how is it structured?

It is a guide/representation of a B2B company's customer journey from the first interaction to their conversion and afterward. 

It helps marketers understand different stages in a buyer's journey and find the cues that can convert a prospect into a loyal customer. It's crucial for customer acquisition and retention. 

Please note that the B2B sales funnel isn't the same as the B2B sales pipeline. While the former is a guide on the buyer's journey, the latter is the seller's journey to make a sale. 

A typical B2B sales funnel divided into three layers—top, middle, and bottom. These layers depict 7 different stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Consideration
  4. Contact
  5. Evaluation
  6. Purchase
  7. Loyalty

Different Stages in B2B Sales Funnel

Truth be told, a B2B sales funnel is indeed more complex than a B2C sales funnel. After all, the stakes are way higher in the B2B industry. A B2C buyer's journey might begin with awareness and directly jump to purchase. 

The reasons why a typical B2B sales funnel has 5 to 7 stages:  

👉 The product/service is expensive

👉 A wrong decision can affect the entire company/organization

👉 There's a team involved in the decision making

👉 They need to understand how the product/service works

👉 They need to understand the complex features

Because of the above reasons, B2B customers take a lot of time to reach the purchase stage. 

Awareness

The awareness stage is the first stage of the funnel. In this stage, a customer realizes they have a problem. It's called "awareness" because the customer tries to learn more about their problem at this stage.

Interest

After realizing they have issues, in the next stage, the buyers try to look for products that can solve them. In the second stage, the prospect/customer shows interest to solve their pain points, this is why it's called the "interest stage". 

Consideration

In this B2B sales funnel stage, the customers may or may not have shortlisted a few sellers/suppliers, but they are definitely considering some. 

In the consideration stage, buyers try to source brochures, check out YouTube videos, or ask their network to refer to a product/service. 

Contact

The contact or engagement stage is the most important part stage in the B2B sales funnel, as it single-handedly decides the buyer's future with the company. In this stage, the customer/prospect comes in contact with the seller. It can be through referrals, ads, outreach programs, etc. Although rare, sometimes, B2B buyers tend to jump directly from the awareness to the "contact" stage.

Also, note that a buyer may contact more than one seller for one product. So, try to showcase your expertise and answer any questions they may have to help them make an informed decision.

Evaluation

After contacting several suppliers/sellers for the product, customers take time to evaluate which product/service works best for them. In this stage, customer testimonials and social media presence can influence the buyer's decision.

To make yourself stand out as a seller, you should arrange a meeting or send an email highlighting the perks of choosing your product.

Purchase

This is the peak of the sales funnel. As the term sounds, buyers buy the product/service at this stage. 

The product demo is one of the industry-approved ways of sealing the deal in the purchase stage.

Loyalty

Many marketers don't include "loyalty" in the B2B sales funnel (in theory). But to make accurate strategies and hit the bull's eye in terms of ROI, it's important to include the loyalty stages as well. 

The best way to push your customers up to this stage is excellent customer service, reasonable pricing, and constant upgrading of the features. It's icing on the cake if you can create good content and relevant guides (that will help their businesses) to keep the customers in the loop. 

Is B2B Sales Funnel Still Relevant?

Thanks to the internet, the B2B industry underwent significant changes in the past decade. In the 80s and 90s, a B2B sales cycle began with cold calling, and a simple meeting in a golf club could make a purchase. 

In 2023, the B2B sales pipeline doesn't look anything like it was. Cold calling has become an extinct sales practice. On top of that, the buyer has become more informed than ever. 

According to a recent study, more than 50% of B2B buyers get inspiration from the sellers' websites and apps. 

This is why the "evaluation" stage has become such a walk on a tightrope. With a decent online presence, good reviews, and an excellent website, you can push the customers to the next stage. 

Talking about relevance, YES B2B sales funnel is still a relevant marketing strategy. The stages have changed a little, but the process remains quite similar. To say the least, a sales funnel plays an active role in increasing ROI. 

Things to Update in a Business-to-Business Sales Funnel

To be relevant in the market, sellers must adapt their sales teams to the new funnel. 

Here are a few changes that you should make to keep your funnel relevant and working.

#Remove Sales Pitching  

Traditional B2B sales techniques have gone through dramatic changes in recent years. One of the major changes is the decline in the sales pitch. 

If you want to update your sales funnel, the first thing you need to do is remove the sales pitch from the "contact" and "consideration" stages. 

#Be the Advisor 

Evaluation is the trickiest stage in a sales funnel. By that point in a buyer journey, you are aware that the prospect is thinking about you and hundreds of your competitors. Yet, you cannot risk pitching any of your products. All you can do is provide them the materials they need to make the buying decisions, aka…play the "advisor" role. If necessary, create a "buyer's guide". 

#Include SEO in Your Strategies

Now that outbound techniques like cold calling have gotten out of the routine, it's time to adapt to the new ones—inbound strategies such as SEO (technical, on-page, and local). 

The technical SEO will help your customers find you through Google image search, the on-page SEO will help you rank on SERPs, and local SEO will make it easier for locals to find your business. 

Why is the sales funnel important for B2B businesses?

To Create Data on Customer Behavior

The B2B sales funnel typically consists of several strategies, such as awareness, interest, consideration phase, etc. These stages include various sales processes, such as lead qualification, sales pitch, proposal, closing, etc. 

By tracking customer behavior at each of these stages (and processes), you can gain valuable insights into their customers' buying patterns.

For example, if a high percentage of leads drop out of the funnel at the evaluation stage, it could indicate that

  • Your product is too pricey
  • It needs improvement
  • Your demos need improvement
  • You need better material to influence their decisions

Similarly, if most leads drop out at the loyalty stage, it could indicate 

  • Bad customer service
  • Disappointing product features
  • Bad user experience

You can adjust your sales process to better align with the needs and preferences of your customers by taking a look at the data. One look at the statistics, and you can identify areas where they need to improve their sales and marketing strategies, such as messaging, targeting, or product offerings.

To Segment Customer Base

Customer segmentation is a marketing strategy that involves dividing your customer base into small groups for more advanced, targeted content creation and ads.  

By collecting data on customers' behavior and pattern, you can segment the customer base. This segmentation will help you to launch more personalized campaigns, reduce sales efforts, and target specific customer groups more effectively.

To Streamline the Sales Process

If you have just started your company, it might not be hectic. But, as the business expands, the sales process gets too complicated. From generating leads to providing customer support, it takes too much effort to keep everything on track.  

The B2B sales funnel can help to streamline the sales process by mapping out the sales process and identifying the key stages and actions. It eventually increases productivity and reduces time spent on tasks that are not effective.

To Create Clear Path for Lead Nurturing

A well-defined B2B sales funnel provides a clear path for lead nurturing. It enables you to identify which leads are most likely to convert and then focus your efforts on nurturing those leads through the sales process.

With a detailed, systematic sales funnel, salespeople have access to "asking the right questions". They will know which questions to be asked to which segment of their audience. 

For Tracking & Analysis

The sales funnel of business customers allows you to track and analyze your sales data. This includes conversion rates, customer acquisition costs, and other key metrics. 

In addition to identifying areas where you need to improve your sales process, it also helps you make data-driven decisions.

To Improve Customer Experience

The business-to-business sales funnel can help to improve the customer experience by providing a clear and consistent sales process. 

A detailed sales funnel will highlight "what worked" for which audience. Most importantly, it will show what "didn't work" with the previous customers. 

This way you can improve your strategies and help customers have a better experience than before. In the long run, this can build trust with customers and increase their satisfaction with your brand.

How to Create A B2B Sales Funnel to Close a Deal?

The funnel is a framework that helps you, B2B marketers, to engage with potential buyers effectively throughout the various stages of the buying process. 

Here's how you can use the B2B sales funnel to close a deal:

Use Data to Find Your Target Customers 

This entire funnel is nothing but a sales guide/tool. It's supposed to make things easier for your sales team. 

So, use the data you have collected to determine the characteristics of your ideal customer and create buyer personas. You must have proper data on their business type, business size, their needs, pain points, buying patterns, etc. 

This information will help you decide on the right platform for outreach campaigns and launch them to your niche audience. 

Optimize the "Awareness Stage"  

To make a sale, you need leads. And, to generate leads, you want to make your target audience aware of your product or service. 

You can do this through advertising, social media, email marketing, and other channels. The goal is to create interest and encourage potential customers to learn more about what you offer.

Use information from your sales funnel before launching ads, social media campaigns, and email marketing campaigns for better results. It will show what works and what doesn't.

Create Content Aligned with Customers' Preference 

Once you have created awareness, you want to convert interested parties into leads. You can do this by offering valuable content. Another way of generating leads is content marketing—creating relevant content optimized with SEO. This catches the attention of your potential customers. 

Once they visit your website or social media handles, it requires the user to provide their contact information in exchange for access. This will again help in creating highly qualified leads. 

Nurture Leads

Once you have generated leads, you need to keep them engaged and interested in your product or service. You can do this by sending targeted emails, providing personalized content, and offering relevant information that helps them understand how your product can solve their problem.

Use information from the sales funnel to understand what type of content works best for your clientele base. 

Play the "Advisor"

When a lead is ready to buy, you need to make the sales pitch and provide them with all the information they need to make an informed decision. This includes answering their questions, providing product demos, and addressing any concerns they may have.

Study your B2B sales funnel to learn what questions to ask, how to answer their questions, what kind of demos worked, and the common concerns of your previous/existing customers. This will help you influence their purchasing decision. 

Follow Up

After the sale, it's important to follow up with the customer to ensure they are satisfied with their purchase and to encourage repeat business. 

This can include sending a thank you note, providing ongoing support, and offering additional products or services that complement their initial purchase. This will keep the customers longer in the loyalty stage.

By following these steps, you can use the B2B sales funnel to effectively close a deal with potential customers. Keep in mind that the sales process is not always linear, and some customers may require more nurturing than others. 

However, by providing value at every stage of the funnel, you can build trust and establish a strong relationship with your customers. Make sure you use the information available on your previous customers for long-term success.

Key Metrics to Track in Your B2B Sales Funnel

Tracking key metrics in your B2B sales funnel is crucial for understanding the health of your sales process and identifying areas for improvement. Here are some key metrics you should consider tracking:

1. Lead Generation Metrics

Total Leads: The number of leads generated within a specific period.

Lead Source: Where your leads are coming from (e.g., website, referrals, events, social media).

Conversion Rate by Source: The percentage of leads that convert to opportunities or customers by different lead sources.

Cost per Lead (CPL): The cost associated with acquiring each lead from different marketing channels.

2. Pipeline Metrics

Sales Pipeline Value: The total value of all deals in your sales pipeline.

Pipeline Velocity: The speed at which deals move through your pipeline from initial contact to close.

Average Deal Size: The average value of deals in your pipeline.

3. Conversion Metrics

Opportunity-to-Win Rate: The percentage of opportunities that result in closed-won deals.

Win Rate by Sales Rep: The percentage of deals closed by each sales representative.

Time to Close: The average amount of time it takes to close a deal from initial contact to close.

Conversion Rate by Sales Stage: The percentage of leads that convert to opportunities and opportunities that convert to closed deals at each stage of the sales funnel.

4. Customer Metrics

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): The cost associated with acquiring a new customer.

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): The total revenue a customer is expected to generate over their lifetime.

Customer Churn Rate: The percentage of customers who stop using your product or service over a specific period.

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) Score: A measure of how satisfied your customers are with your product or service.

Final Thoughts

The B2B sales funnel is essential for businesses because it helps to understand customer behavior, streamline sales processes, and improve data tracking and analysis. 

By focusing on each stage of the funnel and optimizing your sales process, you can increase your sales and, eventually, ROI. So, if you have started your B2B company, start creating your sales funnel.  

FAQs

What is the difference between a B2B funnel and a B2C funnel?

The B2C sales funnel is simpler in comparison to its B2B counterpart. The former has around 4 stages, but the latter can have 5 to 7 stages, depending on the company. 

Also, the B2C sales funnel is targeted towards individual consumers, while the B2B funnel is for a segment of their audience—a group.

How does content marketing fit into the B2B sales funnel?

Content marketing plays a crucial role in every stage of the B2B sales funnel. In the awareness stage, informative blog posts, whitepapers, and educational content help attract prospects and establish your brand as a thought leader. In the consideration stage, case studies, comparison guides, and product demos help educate prospects about your solution and its benefits. In the decision stage, testimonials, ROI calculators, and free trials can help push prospects towards making a purchase decision.

Can automation tools help with managing the B2B sales funnel?

Yes, automation tools can greatly aid in managing the B2B sales funnel. Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms like Salesforce, HubSpot, or Zoho CRM help track and manage leads throughout the sales process.

What role do customer testimonials play in the B2B sales funnel?

Customer testimonials serve as social proof and can significantly influence purchasing decisions in the B2B sales funnel. They provide credibility and reassurance to prospects by showcasing real-world success stories and experiences with your product or service.

How can I measure the effectiveness of my B2B sales funnel?

You can measure the effectiveness of your B2B sales funnel by tracking key metrics such as conversion rates at each stage of the funnel, average deal size, sales velocity, customer acquisition cost (CAC), customer lifetime value (CLV), and sales team performance.

What are the common pitfalls to avoid when creating a B2B sales funnel?

Common pitfalls to avoid when creating a B2B sales funnel include:

  • Failing to clearly define your target audience and ideal customer profile.
  • Neglecting to align your sales and marketing teams and their goals.
  • Overlooking the importance of lead qualification and nurturing.
  • Ignoring feedback from customers and failing to iterate on your sales process.
  • Relying too heavily on outdated or ineffective sales tactics.

How can I tailor my B2B sales funnel to fit my specific industry and customer base?

To tailor your B2B sales funnel to fit your specific industry and customer base, conduct thorough market research to understand your target audience's needs, pain points, and purchasing behavior. Customize your content and messaging to address the unique challenges and preferences of your industry and buyer personas. Continuously gather feedback from customers and adapt your sales process accordingly to better serve your target market.

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Author’s Details

Rajnish Das

Rajnish Das is an in-house writer at SmartWriter and SmartLead. She writes product-oriented, data-driven content for B2B SaaS audiences and educates them on marketing and sales topics. Her expertise includes outbound marketing techniques like cold emailing and LinkedIn outreach.

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Edited by:

Charu Mitra Dubey

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