[Fixing] The Discontinuous B2B Marketing Funnel

B2B marketing funnel

This article was originally published in the Elevate Your Marketing newsletter and has been repurposed and republished here with the author’s permission. Here is the link to the original article. 

The traditional B2B marketing funnel has been a convenient way of representing customer journeys. But it has failed to adapt (or rather we haven’t allowed it to) to the modern business environment.

It’s very similar to the story of the QWERTY keyboard which was invented more than a century ago to prevent the jamming of typewriter keys. Despite technology being far more advanced, for some reason, we stick to it.

However, the marketing funnel can no longer afford to stay the same. But before I suggest an alternative, let us first understand what the traditional marketing (and sales) funnel looks like as well as its limitations.

The traditional B2B marketing funnel

The marketing funnel we have all been using for ages is continuous, has unbroken paths, and involves a simplistic representation as shown below:

Traditional B2B marketing funnel

The top of the funnel (which is marked as the lead stage in the above diagram) is where the awareness stage would fall into. This funnel served as an easy way for B2B marketers and sales professionals to define customer journeys. And honestly, it did a good job to a great extent for decades.

But the modern buying process has become more complex with multiple touchpoints, way too many choices to choose from, and a varied set of influencing factors. Given this shift, the traditional funnel poses certain limitations. Let us learn what they are.

1. B2B customer journeys are not continuous in reality

This is best explained with an example.

Let’s say a prospect met one of your salespeople at an event. They exchanged contacts. The salesperson sends follow-up emails but fails to get a response since the prospect did not have a need for your product at the time.

A few months later, the prospect moved on and joined a new organization where his first assignment involved evaluating various options in your company’s product category. He recollects the company name from the interaction at the event and searches the name in Google to land on your website. He skims through some of your content which leaves a decent first impression on him.

But to make sure that he is on the right path before evaluating your product, he talks to a couple of his peers who have used your product (or similar products) in the past to understand the nitty-gritty of implementing it.

Post this, he goes and checks out a couple of demo videos of your product on your YouTube channel. He also visits the FAQ page on your website to get some of his doubts cleared.

Once all this is done, he gets in touch with the salesperson he had met at the event.

Sounds too lengthy and complex? This is what the journey of an average B2B buyer looks like today – broken, scattered, unpredictable, and for the most part, not trackable.

Clearly, the traditional B2B marketing funnel doesn’t take this into consideration.

Also read: B2B Customer Journey Maps – How To Create Them & Make The Best Out Of Them

2. Influence of ‘invisible’ B2B marketing channels

In one of the previous articles on revenue attribution, we discussed why activities on some channels cannot be tracked. The software-based attribution methodology is not capable of measuring the contribution of these ‘invisible’ channels. But they do have an impact on business outcomes.

For sure, the conventional B2B marketing funnel can’t fit these channels into the mix.

3. Inaccurate attribution

The old funnel comes with flaws with respect to attribution as well. It majorly resorts to methods like first-touch and last-touch attribution that are outdated.

In a way, this phenomenon is bidirectional. Attribution is flawed because of the way we look at the funnel. At the same time, the obsession with traditional attribution methods prevented us from looking beyond the age-old marketing funnel.

4. Optimizing for the funnel and not outcomes

With a ‘convenient’ funnel in place, B2B marketers tend to optimize their efforts for funnel-based metrics such as:

  • Number of leads
  • Number of MQLs
  • Number of SQLs
  • Lead to MQL conversion
  • MQL to SQL conversion

Though these metrics are leading indicators, finetuning marketing activities around them might not result in fruitful business outcomes such as pipeline or revenue. So, it’s time we look beyond the ‘ordinary funnel’.

The multidimensional B2B marketing funnel

The old funnel is unidirectional and assumes a particular flow of events before a prospect becomes a customer. But to meet the needs of new-age buyers, the funnel has to have a new form. And this is what I call the Multidimensional Marketing Funnel. It is illustrated in the image below:

Modern B2B marketing funnel

This modern funnel is characterized by:

  1. Demand Generation and Demand Capture are the new funnel layers.
  2. Multiple touchpoints at a single layer.
  3. Different (and non-sequential) entry and exit points.
  4. Broken journeys.
  5. ‘Invisible’ channels and dark social.
  6. Mixed attribution.
  7. A different approach to content-funnel stage alignment.

Let me explain each of these characteristics in detail.

1. Demand Generation and Demand Capture are the new funnel layers

In the modern B2B buyer journey, demand generation and demand capture are the two funnel layers. The two stages are the most logical way of defining a funnel. Demand can be captured only if it’s created at some level. On the other hand, for a sustainable marketing engine to run effectively, there has to be a proper mechanism that succeeds the demand gen layer to capture the demand.

2. Multiple touchpoints at a single layer

This is something all of us understand. There are multiple studies out there stating that the number of touchpoints you need to have as a business with a B2B buyer before he/she makes a purchase decision is too many (the number varies from 6 to 30+ depending on which study you are looking at).

In a nutshell, no buyer makes a decision by looking at just one channel or a single piece of content. There are always multiple touchpoints, that too at a single stage – whether it’s demand gen or demand capture.

3. Different (and non-sequential) entry and exit points

The traditional funnel had only one entry – the top of the funnel. It also had a sequential exit, which means that a prospect had to go through the funnel stages in a particular order before he/she exits.

The Multidimensional Marketing Funnel defies both.

A prospect can have multiple entry points at different points in time (as in the case of the example we discussed earlier in the section ‘B2B customer journeys are not continuous in reality’).

It also has non-sequential exit paths where the prospect can have the first touchpoint with a salesperson and then consume some content (related to the product/service offered by the company) before moving out of the funnel.

4. Broken journeys

This doesn’t need an explanation. We already discussed that customer journeys are disjoint. And the new funnel is designed keeping this in mind.

5. ‘Invisible’ channels and dark social

The new funnel takes into account the influence of ‘invisible’ channels at every stage of the journey. It admits the existence of ‘dark social’ and how elements like the below can influence the purchase decision as a prospect travels through the funnel:

  • A recommendation for the product a thought leader in the space wrote on LinkedIn.
  • A video review by a frequent and unbiased user of the product.
  • A positive feedback about the product by an ex-colleague.

While the existing funnel takes into account only the traditional channels (both digital and offline), the multidimensional funnel acknowledges the contribution of dark social as well.

6. Mixed attribution

In line with what we have discussed till now (broken journeys, dark social, inaccurate attribution), it’s absolutely important to have a new method of attribution to adapt to the new ways of B2B buying.

And this new model called the Mixed Attribution Model is well explained in the below article. I highly recommend you check it out:

Why B2B Revenue Attribution Is Broken And How To Fix It

7. A different approach to content-funnel stage alignment

The natural tendency for us is to build a content marketing funnel along stages such as awareness, consideration, selection, etc. However, the new funnel demands an alignment of content with demand gen and demand capture (as shown in the Multidimensional Marketing Funnel diagram),

But the traditional content marketing funnel is not irrelevant either. It still holds good for most businesses. The best approach would be to add an additional layer where you categorize your content items into demand gen and demand capture. This will help refine the funnel (and your marketing strategy).

Skalegrow – a new-age B2B marketing agency

With marketing getting tougher and tougher, every wrong foot you make might hamper your growth. What you need is the right guidance and a helping hand. This is where Skalegrow can make a sea of difference.

Skalegrow helps IT, tech, SaaS, and embedded systems companies leverage new-age marketing tactics to grow their business. From creating an end to end content distribution strategy to building a customer-focused content repository, we can help you with everything content.

Check out the below intro video to learn more about what Skalegrow brings to the table:

Alternatively, you can visit our services page or write to us at info@skalegrow.com.

About the author

Naseef KPO

Naseef KPO is the Founder and CEO of Skalegrow. He comes with rich experience across multiple areas of B2B marketing including content marketing, demand generation, SEO, account-based marketing, marketing analytics, revenue attribution, marketing technology, etc. He writes thought-provoking and relevant articles on The Skalegrow Blog and his weekly LinkedIn newsletter Elevate Your Marketing.

Prior to starting Skalegrow, Naseef led large marketing teams in multi-million dollar B2B organizations where he made significant contributions to the topline growth of the business. He has also appeared on numerous podcasts where he shared his thoughts on trending marketing topics such as the application of AI in marketing, startup marketing, ABM, and B2B content marketing, just to name a few. Being the founder of Skalegrow, he is currently focusing on helping its clients stay ahead of their competition by using innovative yet practical marketing tactics.

You can connect with Naseef KPO on LinkedIn.