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Is the B2B marketing funnel actually more of a pretzel?

Posted by Pete Hendrick - October 21, 2015

Now let’s get something straight. I have nothing against the marketing funnel, which is so often used in B2B presentations and strategic plans.

The funnel model is a useful way of putting your buyer at the heart of what you do and plotting your campaign’s journey. I just don’t think it’s the most accurate shape for showing the purchasing stages somebody goes through before buying from you, particularly in the world of B2B.

So is the marketing funnel still relevant? I’d say it is, but it’s worth thinking of it as taking a pretzel-shaped narrative before somebody becomes your customer.

What’s the marketing funnel and how does it work?

The marketing funnel is a model that shows the series of steps your customer will go through before purchasing your product.the b2b marketing funnel

The funnel tends to be the preferred shape for the sequence because you start with many at the very top (visitors to your website), and end up with much fewer at the bottom (those who become customers).

People visit your company’s website and become aware of what your company does. If your business is irrelevant to them, then your relationship with them stagnates there. The number who’ll be interested in what you have to say later is lower, but they’re the ones who are more relevant to you.

As the interest in what your company does becomes more detailed and closely aligned to what you sell, the numbers continue to dwindle, but with each stage you’re closer to the people who are likely to become a customer.

The content marketing benefit of the funnel

The great thing about the funnel shape is that you can plan your content marketing and lead generation activity according to the interest level at each stage – all the way from initial awareness at the top to the decision to purchase at the bottom.

Awareness stage Blog posts, infographics, research reports, how-to guides and social media activity related to your industry, designed to attract visitors to your website and turn them into leads.

Consideration stage Comparison white papers and expert guides about your product or service, designed to turn those leads into marketing-qualified leads (as well as filtering out those with a passing interest).

Decision stage Case studies, demos, trials and product literature, designed to turn that qualified lead into a customer.

The pretzel-shaped reality of B2B buying

The buying process can be long and complicated when businesses buy products and services from one another. Technology needs to be explained, budget has to be set aside and stakeholders need to be won over.

The result is that it’s often not linear like a funnel, with each stage happening in a logical flow.

A lot of the time the sequence from awareness to decision is more pretzel shaped.

A lead will hear something about your product and suddenly turn hot, then turn cold, gradually come around to being warm, then cross paths with your competitors, then twist back to the beginning, before joining your customer base.

Untangling the pretzel path to your buyers

While the path from stranger to customer can twist and turn at the decision-making stage, there are compelling events to look out for, which can influence whether an organisation will buy from you and whether it’ll be in a funnel or pretzel-shaped sequence.

Examples of compelling events include:

  • A change in executive leadership
  • A new product to launch
  • Legislative changes
  • The emergence of a new competitor

While those events can speed-up or slow-down the process, the marketing funnel is still relevant for planning a campaign, particularly from a content marketing point of view.

Visually-speaking, the funnel is easy to follow, making it useful for explaining your strategy to others. It’s also accurate in terms of numbers – the amount of people who are aware of your product is inevitably going to bigger than those who purchase.

However, when it comes to B2B, particularly the decision stages of the funnel, be prepared for an unpredictable, twisting, pretzel-style end to it, and during that time you need to be patient and helpful towards your prospect, both from a marketing and sales point of view.

For more advice on B2B lead generation, download our Strategic Customer Acquisition guide

Download our Strategic Customer Acquisition guide

Pretzel image via
Presentation slide image via
Pretzel GIF via GIPHY

2 Responses to “Is the B2B marketing funnel actually more of a pretzel?”

  1. Bob Apollo says:

    The buying process is rarely linear – at any stage in the journey, your prospect can choose to stay where they are, go backwards, go forwards or abandon the process temporarily or permanently. It gets even more complicated when you factor in the number of stakeholders in the process that have to buy-in before anything can be bought. Steely Dan were clearly ahead of their time – there’s a Pretzel Logic to the modern buying process!

  2. I like your analogy to a pretzel as often the B2B sales process is not linear.

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