When you have a well-constructed sales funnel, it becomes easier to see your customer journey and refine elements to drive sales.

However, many B2B companies do not follow traditional B2C sales methods. This means that tried and tested methods are being ignored in favour of a gamble. Creation a sales funnel is vital to capturing those prospects that begin a journey, but move away for some reason. If you cannot identify the reason, how can it be corrected?

There are 5 key stages of the sales journey:

  • lead generation
  • lead nurturing and qualification
  • the first meeting
  • closing the sale
  • retention and referrals

Your basic B2B sales funnel

At its core, the sales funnel is a way to help businesses visualize and easily understand the key steps involved in turning a total stranger into a paying customer. There is no standard model or single way to create a sales funnel. It is part of your business model. It should be constructed from your data, your expectations, your customer persona. Your goal is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your sales approach.

The classic funnel:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Preference
  • Purchase
  • Loyalty

By understanding what your sales funnel looks like, your business can identify the key stages where you’re losing customers and figure out the best way to move a prospect into the next stage of the sales funnel.

Every B2B sales funnel should include these critical steps:

Lead generation

At the very top of your sales funnel, you have the stranger: someone who knows nothing about your company or what you have to offer. They might not even know that they’re looking for a solution yet.

Your goal at this point is to attract as many leads as possible. However, this is different from as much attention as possible. Your potential leads need to be a defined and well-established persona, otherwise, you can spend money chasing leads that are not interested in your product or service.

Your high-quality leads can only be generated through a real understanding of who your target audience is. First, create an ideal customer persona.

Lead nurturing and qualification

This is the step that many B2B businesses will skip, much to their detriment.

Timing is an important part of sales. Too early and the customer does not feel confident that they know enough, too late and they don’t feel valued by your company. That is why the next part of the sales funnel is to further educate leads who aren’t ready to buy and to identify those who are.

Depending on how complex your sales process is, the time it takes to move a lead from this stage to the next can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, and according to some researchers, it takes an average of 84 days for a B2B lead to progress through this stage.

One of the most effective ways to go about lead nurturing is developing a drip marketing approach, where (usually through email) you consistently engage leads with content that they find valuable.

According to Forrester, the average B2B customer will look at five or more pieces of content before making a purchase.

Your CRM can automatically evaluate the quality of a lead based on their individual attributes and what actions they take so that your salespeople are only spending their time engaging with high-quality prospects.

The first meeting

At this point in the funnel, your new prospect should be interested in what you have to offer, but still in need of final action before becoming a customer. This is when your salespeople make contact.

If all goes right, you should be able to end the conversation with a clear path to purchase, or, at the very least, be able to set up another meeting in the near future to speak again.

Closing the sale

This is the point of the sales funnel; leading your customer into this final stage of the sales funnel. As the narrowest point of your funnel, this is the stage where your customer is making a final decision about whether to do business with you, but something is holding them back.

They may have many reasons, including comparing you with your competitors, questions that need to be answered, or they could be examining your value proposition.

When it comes to dealing with indecisive buyers, ASK:

  • Align priorities – Based on your prior customer research and the information you’ve gathered from your sales calls and meetings, start by demonstrating that you understand the buyer’s specific needs, and how you can address them.
  • Secure commitment – Reinforce to the buyer the key benefits of doing business with you and how you can help with their specific challenges.
  • Keep the relationship alive – Ideally, you’ll get a firm “yes” from the buyer, and can start moving them onto the final stage of your funnel. However, you won’t be able to successfully close everyone. However, a ‘no’ is no reason to lose the relationship.
    They might return to you at a later time, and importantly they will give feedback about your company to others, so it is vital that you continue to nurture the relationship.

Retention and referrals

The classic mistake that many business owners make is assuming that the relationship with the customer ends once the sale is over. However, 84% of B2B buyers start their buying process with a referral from a friend or colleague. Moreover, leads generated from referrals are 3 to 5 times more likely to convert than leads gained from any other channel.

While gaining a referral can be as simple as asking existing customers if they know anyone who would be interested in your product or service, you can create a formalized referral program through your CRM.

Create an automated email drip campaign to continue sourcing new customers, and offer incentives for referrals. You can even automate your referral program by using your CRM to help you identify and reach out to your happiest customers.