The lines between marketing and sales are increasingly blurred. The two departments work hand in hand to drive business growth and customer satisfaction. Since most of the customer journey takes place online, companies are focused more and more on creating customer-centric digital strategies that can help convert prospects into leads (and, eventually, customers).
Knowing the differences between a marketing funnel vs. sales funnel is essential for any business looking to optimize their return on investment (ROI) from digital channels.
What is a marketing funnel?
A marketing funnel illustrates the start-to-finish process a customer goes through from the time someone discovers your product to when they finally make a purchase. It maps the process of turning a vast number of “aware” potential customers into a select few who are interested enough to make a purchase by breaking it into distinct stages.
The main goal of a marketing funnel is to help marketers and business owners understand their customers’ buying behavior and identify areas where there might be friction in the conversion process.
What is a sales funnel?
Similar to a marketing funnel, a sales funnel is an in-depth visualization of the buyer’s journey from the first point of contact to the eventual sale. It’s a systematic approach to selling a product or service, beginning with identifying potential prospects (leads), nurturing them into interested prospects (opportunities), and finally closing them as customers (sales).
The sales funnel covers all the customer-facing aspects of a conversion. For a company to have a sales funnel, they first need a sales process (and a team to carry out that process). For the most part, it’s only B2B companies that need this function (though some B2C industries, such as solar, also use sales funnels).
How do marketing and sales funnels work together?
The marketing funnel is almost always the starting point for the customer journey. Companies create content (e.g., blog posts, webinars) with the aim of capturing leads (potential buyers). Then, they nurture those potential buyers with increasingly personalized experiences — product suggestions or emails with helpful content, for example. This process is usually referred to as lead nurturing.
If the sale requires the help of a sales rep, interested buyers eventually enter the sales funnel. This is where leads talk to a company representative about their individual needs and interests. The salesperson or account manager can qualify the leads at this stage by asking open-ended questions, delivering demos and presentations, and engaging multiple decision-makers. The goal here is to determine whether the prospect is a good fit for the product or service.
While a customer is moving through the sales funnel, they’re still part of the marketing funnel as well. They will continue to do their own product research (which involves viewing the company’s marketing collateral), and the seller will share buyer enablement content with them to guide their purchase decision.
Key differences between sales funnels vs. marketing funnels
While both sales funnels and marketing funnels trace the customer’s journey, they differ in their goals, stages, and tactics.
- Goals: A marketing funnel’s primary aim is to generate awareness and capture leads, while a sales funnel focuses on converting these leads into customers.
- Stages: The marketing funnel stages are typically characterized as awareness, consideration, conversion, and loyalty. They’re tied to marketing activities like content marketing, ad campaigns, and social media marketing. The sales funnel moves leads through pipeline stages — prospect, lead, opportunity, and vustomer. It’s only concerned with the sales process, although marketing activities will typically support each stage.
- Tactics: In a marketing funnel, tactics might include content creation, social media marketing, and SEO to attract and engage potential customers. A sales funnel might use techniques such as direct communication, demonstrations, or special offers to convert leads into customers.
- Use cases: While marketing funnels apply to every company, including B2B and direct-to-consumer (DTC) businesses, a sales funnel is only used by companies with an active sales team.
Tips for optimizing your sales and marketing funnels
To maximize lead conversion and customer retention, your company’s sales and marketing funnels should work together in an integrated way. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of both:
- Align the goals of sales and marketing. Start by getting everyone on the same page and setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals. Share the same customer data and reports between teams.
- Automate lead nurturing. Use marketing automation software to automatically send content and offers that are relevant to the customer’s stage in the funnel — without you having to lift a finger. You can also use a customer data platform (CDP) to create ultra-personalized customer experiences based on their behavior on your website.
- A/B test everything. Different messaging, offers, and sales/marketing channels can produce different results. Test everything you do to see what works best for your particular customer base.
- Track and analyze data continuously. You won’t know how effective your sales and marketing funnels are until you track every aspect of them and analyze the data. Use third-party analytics tools such as Google Analytics or Mixpanel to understand where leads are dropping off in the
- Think mobile. As many as 60% of online sales take place on a mobile device, so make sure your funnels are optimized for smartphones and tablets. Consider using in-app messages or push notifications to reach customers on their devices.
Final thoughts on marketing funnels vs. sales funnels
Creating an effective and integrated sales and marketing funnel is essential for maximizing customer conversion and loyalty. By optimizing each stage of the buyer’s journey — from lead generation to purchase — you can ensure that your customers have a seamless path toward becoming lifelong fans of your brand. With the right structure in place (and, of course, testing and iteration), you can grow both your revenue and brand loyalty far more efficiently.