What is a B2B Sales Funnel?

A B2B sales funnel tracks how potential customers actually buy from you – formalising the path from prospects, to qualified leads, to interested buyers, to converted customers.

It’s an important tool for B2B sales teams to break the buying decision down into a series of organic steps built around the actual needs of the customer. Typically B2B sales funnels cover areas like information seeking, needs definition, solution qualification, provider comparison, social proof and product demonstration.

Many businesses struggle to build B2B sales funnels that convert, either because they over-index on one side of the equation (i.e. their own needs vs. prospects), or they use the wrong techniques and channels at each stage, or measure their success incorrectly.

This guide will show you how to build an effective, customer-centric B2B sales funnel to suit modern times.

Table of contents:

  1. Stages of the B2B sales funnel
  2. Navigating each stage of the sales cycle
  3. Marketing tactics
  4. Alternative B2B sales cycles
  5. Funnel conversion rates
  6. Software and tools

Stages of the B2B sales funnel

The traditional B2B sales funnel is broken down into 4 stages: Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action.

A prospect in the awareness stage has heard of your business for the first time. The awareness stage of the B2B sales funnel is about making first contact with your market with a strong story about their pains, needs and objectives, taking someone from total stranger to known individual.

A prospect in the interest stage is actively assessing your product or service based on how well they believe it can help solve their challenge or pain point. The interest stage of the B2B sales funnel is about building appetite, credibility and curiosity around your offering by solving a problem, exploring functionality and evangelising upside.

A prospect in the decision stage is weighing up the final pros and cons before purchase. The decision stage of the B2B sales funnel is where you should help prospects overcome objections, compare alternative solutions and explore your differentiation.

A prospect in the action stage is deciding whether to convert, delay or abandon the process. The action stage of the B2B sales funnel is where you should help prospects validate their decision with social proof, provide opportunities to experiment with product demos, and make practical plans for post-sale processes.

Navigating each stage of the B2B sales funnel

In order for prospects to become return customers, your buyer’s journey from awareness to action needs to be as smooth, engaging and helpful. The objective isn’t simply conversion – it’s to deliver a satisfying experience that delivers real value.

To do this, you need to apply the right techniques, at the right stage of the B2B sales funnel and execute them effectively. Here are some of the techniques you can use to navigate your prospect through the funnel.

Lead generation (typically used in the Awareness phase)

Lead generation for B2B sales is well-known but often under-resourced, which is surprising given how effective it is at getting the right kind of prospects into the sales funnel.

Lead gen for B2B sales is the process of turning identified prospects into validated leads actively interested in learning about your product or service. This sub-process covers Awareness, Education, Sampling and Conversion (read more about this on our hub page).

Of course, not all B2B leads are created equal. Let’s explore a few different categories of leads by their readiness-to-buy:

  • Cold leads – these prospects have no prior knowledge of your brand or your offering. They usually are generated in-house, or purchased from a third-party lead generation company. Cold leads are proportionally less likely to convert because the broad qualification criteria captures irrelevant prospects – and those that might be interested need a lot of nurturing to get there.
  • Warm leads – these prospects have interacted with your brand before. Whether this be through filling in an online form, repeat visits to your website or engaging with your content, they have a passing familiarity with (and maybe even interest in) your offering. They may be more likely to engage with you and make a purchase down the line
  • Hot leads – Now we get to the good stuff. The leads you want to be seeing. These prospects have either actively engaged with targeted advertising or responded to a follow up from a warm lead. They’ve shown a strong interest in your products or services, and are almost ready to make a purchase.

So how do you create leads to fill your B2B sales funnel? There are no shortage of options, but some common techniques used in B2B lead generation include:

  • Outbound – traditional direct activities like prospecting, database building, emails and phone calls to discover cold leads and nurture them into warm or hot leads.
  • Online – digital marketing (often high-volume) activities like content creation, social media, webinars and email marketing to capture leads. Outsourcing is common here, as activities like content creation require resources and specialist skills that might not exist in-house.
  • Paid – leads generated by third-party lead generation companies and sold in lists to B2B sales teams.
  • Referrals – leads that come from referrals from other, satisfied companies.

We go into detail about all the techniques you can use to build a truly bulletproof lead generation strategy here.

Lead qualification (used in the Interest stage)

Lead generation is just the start of the B2B sales funnel. The next stage is lead qualification, where you assess factors like fit, budget and urgency to separate the “likely-to-buy” from the “just-kicking-tires”.

The traditional methods of lead qualification are the ANUM and BANT techniques.

The ANUM framework prioritises qualifying the contact’s authority to make decisions over anything else.

Authority – does your contact have the influence to make purchasing decisions? Or do you need to identify other contacts?
Needs – what are the company challenges and pain points?
Urgency – how soon is your prospect looking to make a purchase?
Money – will your client be able to afford your offering?

The more traditional BANT framework is largely the same, except it prioritises a prospect’s budget over anything else (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timeline).

Here are the questions you should ask when qualifying your B2B leads, based around these frameworks:

  1. What are your company’s needs?
    As a part of the lead qualification process, you should ask what the exact pain points and company needs of your prospect are. A company with no needs or challenges to overcome has no reason to be sold to.
    Progressive conversations and forms are a good way to drip feed this vital information like needs, organisational structure and their authority to make decisions.
  2. Is our solution the right fit?
    Now you know your prospect’s unique business needs and challenges, you can look at your range of products and services and get in contact with the appropriate contact within their business to introduce them to it.
  3. Who are the right people to talk to?
    Ask your contact who the decision-makers in their company are. When doing this, also try to ascertain what their stake is, what their role is and what their specific pain points are. Prepare your negotiation to address this information.
  4. What is your budget?
    Everyone has their price, including the leads you’ve captured at the top of the funnel, but not all of their prices will suit yours.
    You need to know early on how much a prospective customer is willing to pay for your product or service, so your team can craft proposals based on this. Or, alternatively, if their budget isn’t high enough, you can end negotiations and focus on other prospects.
  5. What’s your timeline?
    This will help the speed and efficiency of your B2B sales funnel, as prospects who require solutions to be purchased and set up sooner will require more immediate attention from your sales team. You can then more easily prioritise prospects and get sales made faster.

Managing sales calls (used in the Decision stage)

B2B sales calls are versatile – you can use them to serve initial informative seeking, through to a more in-depth sales pitch, all the way to a structured product or service demo.

Researchers at Gong analysed 2 million different sales calls and found that the sales calls that ended in the best outcome focussed on 3-4 specific pain points the prospect company faced. Any more and it trivialises the prospects’ challenges.

That said, try to structure your calls around the actual needs of the person you’re talking to. Ask open-ended questions and stay flexible – be ready to move between different kinds of conversation as the opportunity becomes clearer.

For example, a sales pitch may start with qualification (budget, timeline, needs) then move onto demonstrating some product or service features, before following up with pricing and the proposed next steps.

Closing the deal (now we’re into the Action stage)

Your prospect at the precipice of becoming a customer. Now all that’s left to do is close. David Jacoby, Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group, recommends using the ASK system to seal the deal.

  1. Align priorities
    Show the buyer you fully understand the challenges that your offering promises to solve.
  2. Secure commitment
    Reiterate the benefits the buyer will get by using your product or service and address any outstanding issues.
  3. Keep the relationship alive
    Ask for feedback after they’ve made a decision. This maintains a good customer experience for the future if they make a purchase, and keeps a lead warm if they don’t make a purchase.

Marketing tactics in B2B Sales Funnels

The explosion of digital touchpoints in the last two decades has given sales and marketing teams a lot of ways to meet their potential customers. But to ensure that your B2B sales funnel runs smoothly, with the customer at the heart of it, you need to know what channels to use at what stages of the funnel.

Top of the funnel

Here’s what you can use in the Awareness phase to actively engage with your prospects.

  • Content marketing – create high-level content such as landing pages, white papers or blogs that demonstrate what you do and what you sell. Use SEO keywords to establish domain authority around the topics your prospects are searching for.
  • Social media marketing – use social media channels like LinkedIn (the most effective for B2B) to create awareness and brand positioning ads that target your audience groups.

Middle of the funnel

Here’s what channels work best for the Interest stage.

  • Email marketing – create email sign up forms on websites or blogs to add people to a mailing list, then build a nurture strategy that engages potential customers with helpful information about your offering.
  • Retargeting – rekindle interactions with companies that have already expressed interest in your brand and bring them back to your website to re-enter them back into the B2B sales funnel.

Bottom of the funnel

And finally, here are the channels you can use at the Decision and Action stage of the funnel.

  • Phone calls – make sales calls to build a trusting relationship and demonstrate the value of your product or service and answer any final questions.
  • Email marketing – create email messages with incentives to purchase like “buy now” CTAs or discounts and build follow-up emails to prospects who don’t respond to them with more offers.

Align Marketing & Sales in a shared B2B sales funnel

It’s significantly easier to drive value from your B2B sales funnel when marketing and sales teams are aligned towards a shared goal.

However, it’s also common for sales and marketing to drift into silos – where marketing wishes sales would capitalise on the campaigns and data they generate and handle their MQLs consistently well, and sales wishes marketing would pass them more and better quality leads.

To increase Sales and Marketing alignment, you need to facilitate each side to build trust, credibility and collaboration with the other, through activities like:

  • Working together to define your target market
  • Scheduling regular opportunities for transparent communication
  • Building a shared picture of what a high-quality, qualified lead looks like
  • Dedicating time and resources to maintaining clean customer data
  • Leveraging each other’s expertise (like Sales inputting to content, and Marketing running timely campaigns)

We go into more detail about how you can align your sales and marketing teams for guaranteed success here.

B2B sales funnel conversion rates

Ideally, your B2B sales funnel should have an opportunity-to-close rate of >20%.

However, this varies based on the size of your company, industry, offering and price points.

It’s also dependent on how well you’ve built and maintained your funnel, and the quality of data you use to prospect and qualify leads. The truly important thing for your sales team to understand is what your benchmark is.

A good way for sales to do that is to work together with marketing to get full visibility into all their current opportunities and collate them into an easy-to-understand dashboard both teams can share.

Factor this into your weekly catch-ups with the whole sales team. This will immediately give you a better idea of what a normal conversion benchmark looks like for your company, which means you’re more likely to spot any leaks in your funnel.

Software and tools for an effective B2B sales funnel

So, how can you build and manage your B2B sales funnel to ensure it thrives?

We see a lot of solutions out there that offer expertise to create high-converting B2B sales funnels. Although, when it gets down to it, you need a software that provides these things:

  • Bespoke design and management of integrated B2B sales journeys
  • An advanced data analytics capability
  • Sales expertise in the modern era
  • Effective digital demand marketing tools

Transform your B2B sales funnel

So how can you create a high-performance B2B sales funnel?

At Webhelp, we use our experience, reach and modern sales expertise to create lasting value for the world’s most exciting companies.

If you’d like to find out more about what we can do for companies like you, we should talk.