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The B2B Sales Funnel: NOT the Same as the AIDA Funnel

B2B Sales Funnel Definition

If you clog a funnel with trash, nothing’s going to come out from the other side. So, let’s get rid of that trash and unleash the true potential of your B2B sales funnel.

Let’s start with the basics—

What is a B2B Sales Funnel? 

The B2B Sales Funnel is a visual representation of the hierarchical stages of sales interactions involved in a lead’s B2B buying journey. 

But, every single one of the top 10 results from a Google search on “B2B sales funnels” will lead you to believe it is the AIDA funnel or some other form of marketing funnel:

NOT a B2B Sales Funnel - AIDA Funnel

Now that struck me as odd because we discuss pipeline metrics at Slintel all the time and the funnel looks completely different.

When you look at your sales team’s CRM analytics or Salesforce report, you’ll see something that looks like this instead:

CRM B2B Sales Funnel

But time and time again, when people say “sales funnel”, what they’re really talking about is the marketing funnel. They then write lengthy posts around the AIDA funnel so they can rank on search. This spawns another generation of people that think marketing and sales funnels in B2B are the same and can be used interchangeably.

This needs to change. 

Let’s start by defining things correctly

The Marketing AIDA funnel = A visual representation of all the different stages that leads go through before turning into customers

The B2B Sales funnel = A visual representation of the different stages of sales interactions involved in a lead’s B2B buying journey

For all sales-related intents and purposes, the AIDA funnel isn’t useful 

A B2B sales funnel needs to be built on the framework that sales teams use to map their prospects’ journey across the buying cycle, and understand where each prospect is within that journey.

Now if AIDA can’t do that, then you want to build a funnel that can. So allow me introduce you to my dear friend:  

The 4-Stage B2B Sales Funnel

In B2B sales, there are 4 personas you can use to classify people based on their intent to buy. Each persona must be treated and prioritized differently. The 4 stages or personas are:

B2B Sales Funnel

Lead

“Leads” can be defined as people that have a use for your product or service but are yet to realize their need for it. Leads are also yet to be acquainted with your brand, however, they are part of your ICP. They are not aware of your company, but might be interested in buying from you if they know about it.

Your lead should also satisfy some basic parameters. A name, at least one form of contact information (preferably an email) and a reason validating their classification as a lead, are fundamental. These validations can include engagement history and other buying intent parameters. Other details such as last name, organization, and position can also be handy to have. Also, if it’s an inbound lead, you want it qualified by both your marketing and sales teams.

You can check out our post on what an ideal CRM lead should look like to learn more.

Anything less than a lead doesn’t get a place in your sales funnel (let them stay in the Marketing AIDA funnel!). If someone doesn’t have a use for your product or service they most definitely aren’t a lead. 

Prospect 

A lead converts into a prospect when they become aware of your product/service (thanks to your SDRs’ efforts) but haven’t yet expressed any concrete interest in purchasing it. Prospects may need a fair bit of convincing in order to realize their need for it. They are the people you want to nurture, engage and schedule discovery calls with.

Prospects might sometimes drop off, ghost you, or be disinterested in your product/service for various reasons (don’t have a real need for it, budget issues, etc.). As long as there’s a real possibility of them coming back and becoming a customer for you in the future, they can stay a prospect in your funnel. If not, you can disqualify and eject them from the funnel.

Buyer 

Once prospects realize their need for your product, they become buyers. Buyers are people that are actively in conversation with you, taking demos, and evaluating purchase decisions which they can be nudged into making.

Anyone that’s actively in the opportunity stage of your sales funnel is a buyer. Your Account Executives need to work on making sure they have everything they need to convince a buyer into making the transaction with your company, soon.

Customer 

Once a buyer purchases your product, they become customers. Hereon, they should ideally become the responsibility of your Customer Success team that can nurture them towards an upsell.

How Leads Need to be Treated in a B2B Sales Funnel

To better understand how prospects and target accounts need to be treated, here’s a drinking water analogy:

Treat prospects like you would treat the water you drink — if there’s dirt in your water, you sure as hell ain’t touching it. Then why expect your reps to drink it?

Inbound leads are like a state-run freshwater supply. Drink away, little to no filtration necessary for your inbound reps. 

Conversely, your outbound reps are chasing an ocean of outbound leads out there. So if ocean water isn’t your drink of choice, you’re going to want to get a desalination plant.

Your inbound and outbound reps deserve to be treated equally. If one’s getting fresh water to drink, so should the other.

Also it’s not the 1800s, so funnels aren’t going to cut it. We use colossal filtration plants in the modern day. So if you want to be inclusive towards outbound leads, you’re going to want to oust the archaic funnel.

Most of the AIDA funnel is mapped to inbound activities like content consumption, CTA clicks, form submissions, and not the buying intent or sales interactions of the prospects that are in your sales funnel.

For example, your outbound sales motion generally involves going out and cherry picking leads with quite literally the entire internet as your playground. And when they’re able to successfully schedule a meeting with your company after that, the prospect may not perform the inbound activities that your standard AIDA funnel covers at all. So, is it effective to look at these prospects based on where they fit into your AIDA funnel?

And where’s the representation for the several different phases prospects and buyers go through within the Desire + Action phases of the AIDA funnel?

That’s why looking at everyone in your system in the context of the 4-stage B2B Sales funnel and segmenting how you should treat each of those leads makes a lot more sense.

Which brings us to our next point.

How to Build A Modern B2B Sales Funnel (The Lead Filtration Plant Framework)

Firstly, a modern B2B sales funnel or in this case, a B2B sales filtration plant, is one that holistically accounts for all types of leads.

A highly productive sales funnel also has a good balance of inbound and outbound leads. A good qualification process for your sales funnel focuses on filling it up with accounts that have a high propensity of converting to a customer. 

The Lead Filtration Plant Framework takes care of all of this through a two-step filtering process before passing it into your funnel. 

It’s important to note that the basis for the framework is buying intent, so make sure you know the basics of that post to implement this effectively.

The Double Filter Approach

In the double filter approach, filtration takes place across two stages — the filter and the funnel.

B2B Sales Funnel Schematic

The filter consists of two components — the inbound filter and the main filter. The inbound filter is the lead qualification criteria you set to ensure that low-quality inbound leads don’t get passed on to sales. The main filter, on the other hand, detects and intercepts both inbound and outbound leads that are of low quality (junk form-fills, people that aren’t in your ICP, etc.). 

But why do inbounds get filtered twice? Because inbounds come from marketing and need to be qualified using both marketing and sales metrics (MQL, then SQL). 

After your inbounds and outbounds are filtered, they can now be passed into the 4-stage B2B sales funnel.

To understand this better, let’s  revisit the drinking water analogy.

The filter’s function would be to identify and remove the majority of the contaminants, leaving you with reasonably clean water. This is before it can go into the funnel so it can be turned into tasty water that’s fit to drink. 

Switching back into the sales world, the filter will help you clean up both your inbound and outbound leads big time. The 4-stage B2B sales funnel will then help you further streamline these leads, ensuring only those that will turn into customers are assigned to your reps.

Now considering that this framework calls for a change in approach, we also want to bring in a large inflow of outbound leads that was previously missing. To do this, we’ll also need to filter lead data by passing it through the main filter.

The Inbound Filter

Your inbound filter will help you understand your leads’ inbound actions much like the AIDA funnel. But to create a powerful inbound filter, you’ll also need a solid inbound strategy, captivating content, and an efficient way to track your leads’ activities.

Once everything is in place, it is essential that you remove junk and low-quality leads from your system and build nurtures or drip campaigns for them. This paired with good activity-tracking will help you prioritize who your reps need to reach out to, catching them right time. Tracking inbound actions using a marketing automation tool will help you identify where your inbound leads are in the buyer cycle.

The Main Filter

Running your lead data against some key buyer intent signals will help you get rid of the fluff to a great extent. Here’s 4 main indicators that are a must when filtering your inbound leads and cherry picking your outbound ones.

B2B Sales Filtration

Firmographics

Firmographics are a great place to begin your B2B lead filtration process. Scouting for firms that give out certain indicators signifying their readiness to buy is a great way to gain a macroscopic view. This way you can check whether a particular business is worth pursuing or not. 

Firmographic indicators such as company financials, number of employees, mergers, acquisitions and fundings are an accurate measure of buyer intent. For example, a company that recently got funded, is clearly looking to continue their growth and now has a budget to be convinced to buy your product. 

So, if a leads’ firmographic stats look promising, then they might be worth adding to your funnel. But WAIT! Most companies stop at firmographics but there are 3 more indicators to help you understand a prospect’s buying propensity.

You can check out our article on firmographics to learn about it in more detail.

Technographics

A business’s tech stack can give you a clear indication into their purchase decision making. Businesses that currently use products similar to yours, your competitors products or products that supplement/complement/integrate with yours, already have a use for your product. Such prospects may already be familiar with a product like yours. As a result, they could be great additions to your B2B sales funnel.

Check out this article to take a deep dive into technographics. Slintel’s technographic tool can also come in handy when segmenting your prospects.

Thematic Analysis

Businesses emit pain areas across the internet that denote a need for your product’s use-case. They might be talking about their pain areas in their job postings, blogs, social media, or anywhere on their digital real estate. Once you’ve found the keywords that resonate with your business model which prospective businesses identify with, you can then scour the internet to find these prospects. If you run your leads through a thematic check you’ll know whether they slot right into your sales funnel or not.

Competitor Analysis

The greater the urgency to buy, the quicker your sales team needs to intervene. Nothing shouts urgency like the impending expiry of a contract. Expiring contracts of your competitors’ customers are a great occasion for your sales team to get them to switch over to your product. Slintel provides contract renewal data and helps your reps reach out to your competitors’ customers at just the right time.

Four is Great, But More is Better

While building a powerful lead filtration system can be very effective in improving your sales team’s efficiency, implementing this manually is an impossible task. 

A product like Slintel automates the whole main filter for you, determining buying intent at scale and automatically enriching your CRM records with relevant insights, helping thoroughly filter what goes into your funnel.

So now that we’ve gone through the ideal blueprint to what a modern B2B sales funnel looks like, there’s no looking back. No more settling for AIDA funnels, no more settling for marketing/ pseudo-sales funnels. Stick to just your transformative B2B sales funnel that deserves no less than to be the industry standard. Do so, and be assured that a change in fortunes is well on the cards.

Let’s Bring An End to This Deception

No more shall we be plagued by the unholy imposture of marketing funnels as B2B sales funnels. Scream it. Shout it. Share it with everyone, for this treachery must carry on no longer. If you stand for all that is true and righteous in the world of B2B sales, then it is upon each and everyone of you to be the bearer of this great message. May truth prosper!

Vasisht Nagarkatti

Vasisht Nagarkatti

Vasisht Nagarkatti handles content marketing at Slintel. A content ninja, Vasisht relishes any opportunity to get his creative juices flowing. Marketing, journalism, music, photography, filmmaking and web design are a few trades that Vasisht may find himself dabbling in.

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