Understanding the SaaS Marketing Funnel
July 27, 2020

 / SmartBug Media

Ah, the funnel. For marketers, the funnel represents a process that, hopefully, results in a torrent of customers.

The concept of a marketing funnel relies on attracting and securing a whole bunch of leads. Many will drop off along the way, but the ones who can be nurtured through will become customers. For SaaS companies, the nurturing process can seem tedious—why not just give prospects all the information they need about your product and get them to make an immediate decision?

In this modern digital age, sales are rarely so straightforward. The marketing funnel—as well as the next iteration of this process, which I’ll describe later in this article—recognizes that leads are on a Buyer’s Journey toward a potential sale. As a marketer, your job is to pilot that journey’s boat.

 

When the Funnel Isn’t Fun

Some SaaS companies try to make the funnel work but still struggle to convert prospects into qualified leads and qualified leads into customers. Here are some challenges you might encounter as you work to nurture leads down the funnel.

 

The Wrong Content

Many SaaS businesses simply don’t have enough content to support the Buyer’s Journey—and if they do have some content, it’s often bottom of the funnel (BOFU) or reliant on free trials or demos. Marketing calls to action might be focused on booking demos, which are tall orders if leads are nowhere near ready to engage with sales.

What’s often missing from the content equation are more awareness and consideration pieces, or support of all stages of the Buyer’s Journey rather than just the decision portion of the funnel. Thought leadership is an essential part of this content. You want to be seen as an authority in your space, but at the same time, you want to solve your target audience’s pain points and answer the questions people are asking.

 

Lead Nurturing

Unfortunately, SaaS companies also may skip lead nurturing by failing to personally and automatically connect with leads in the funnel. Or they may attempt nurturing manually, which is great on that personal side but consumes far too much time. Segmented nurturing delivers the precise messaging and encouragement that leads need at the right moment—without using up your precious resources.

 

The Cross-Channel

Plenty of marketing channels exist to reach leads and engage existing customers, but SaaS companies tend to focus on just a few. Naturally, you want to devote more resources to the channels that work best for you, but that shouldn’t mean you completely ignore others that your audience might be active on.

 

Stale Content

Similar to a cross-channel rut, SaaS businesses may find themselves producing the same types of content over and over. Diversifying content for various channels is important to support the Buyer’s Journey at all stages. For example, some SaaS companies may not think of producing content for YouTube, but the site is the internet’s second-largest search engine, and people crave video. Shake things up with content like infographics, datasheets, videos, case studies, and webinars.

 

No Blogging Strategy

Blog content must be approached strategically in order to achieve thought leadership, as well as the crucial SEO that gets leads into the funnel. Besides addressing readers’ questions and pain points, blogging builds sustainable brand growth. If your SaaS company wants to establish its reputation as a source of thought leadership and grow its digital footprint, you need a plan to consistently publish blog content that aligns with your marketing and sales goals.

 

From Funnel to Flywheel

A typical marketing and sales funnel might include stages like these, from the top of the funnel to the bottom:

  1. Prospect
  2. Lead
  3. Marketing qualified lead
  4. Sales qualified lead
  5. Opportunity
  6. Customer

 

Although this traditional funnel serves SaaS companies well, consider moving beyond this structure to something more revolutionary (pun intended): the marketing and sales flywheel.

Source: HubSpot

The flywheel recognizes that leads may go back and forth between stages before they are ready to purchase, and that you may be delighting people before they are actually customers. This approach also incorporates existing customers into the process, providing opportunities for upselling, advocacy, loyalty, referrals, and more. Drawing leads into the funnel remains important, but once they’re there, the idea is that content and lead nurturing keep them there because there isn’t a bottom of the funnel for them to exit.

With fewer stages, the flywheel may appear simpler than the funnel. However, the flywheel interconnects your entire strategy because you aren’t going from one step to the next; thus, it opens more potential for your business.

 

Strategies for Stages

Whether you are using the funnel or the flywheel, certain marketing strategies and content tend to resonate more during certain stages of the Buyer’s Journey. Don’t feel limited by the following suggestions, but here are some of the tools that work best for SaaS businesses:

 

Attract or Visitor/Lead Stages

You want to bring leads onto your website and show that you understand their pain. Effective content strategies in these phases include:

  • Blogs
  • E-books
  • Social media posts (especially on LinkedIn)
  • Video
  • On-page SEO and historical blog SEO
  • Third-party review sites (which also provide a big SEO boost)
  • Paid search and paid social

 

Convert/Engage or Qualified Lead Stages

For these stages, you want to create additional conversion opportunities to move leads closer to sales. Strategies include:

  • Thought leadership guides and pillar pages
  • Lead nurturing workflows
  • Pop-up forms on relevant webpages
  • Email marketing
  • Branded CTAs
  • Conversational bots

Remember: When we try to convert visitors to our site, it’s imperative that we provide a next logical step and eliminate the digital dead ends that may prevent someone from converting.

 

Close/Engage and Opportunity/Customer Stages

The deal is close. The right strategy can get you over the finish line to create new and repeat customers. Sales and marketing alignment here is critical because it adds so much value. Optimal strategies include:

  • Lead nurturing workflows
  • Lead management
  • Marketing automation
  • Calculators and online assessments
  • Customer stories and case studies

 

Delight Stage

Delight content is mostly for existing customers but still may appeal to enthusiastic leads. Tactics here include:

 

Unclogging the Funnel

Not every lead reaches the end of the funnel—if they did, you would have a wide drainpipe instead of a true funnel. However, if leads keep stalling at the same stages of the process before you get a chance to turn them into customers, you may understandably become discouraged.

Unfortunately, these clogs sometimes occur because not all involved parties are working together. I can’t stress this enough: Alignment between marketing and sales is crucial for a smoothly flowing funnel. Both sides must be in agreement on how lead/customer lifecycle stages are defined and how content will drive strategy at each stage.

Lead nurturing helps deliver this content to leads and guides them through the funnel. A sample workflow might look like this:

  • Email 1: Related resources (blogs) to reach leads at the top of the funnel
  • Email 2: Consideration content (blogs/e-books) to convert leads into qualified leads
  • Email 3: Customer stories that offer powerful testimonials to engaged leads
  • Email 4: Demos, trial offers, or BOFU “Talk to Our Team” invitations
  • Email 5: Breakup email if the lead fails to engage—important to close the loop on the conversation

Lead nurturing workflows serve another important purpose: They help push people who are not qualified out of the system. After all, leads who never become customers also clog the funnel.

Some other best practices for reinvigorating the funnel include:

  • Re-engaging with closed lost opportunities and cold leads
  • Lead nurturing any and all pieces of premium content you produce
  • Upselling and cross-selling existing customers
  • Placing an emphasis on customer onboarding

For more information about marketing your SaaS business, check out SmartBug’s selection of guides focused on this growing industry.

Tags: Blog
Kristen Deyo
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