If you’re in B2B marketing or demand generation long enough, you probably have come across the standard B2B Marketing Funnel, which many see as the dominant guiding framework for B2B marketing.
The traditional funnel has merit, and it’s a good starting point for anyone trying to increase demand and grow their B2B SaaS business..
But here’s the problem: The traditional funnel no longer reflects the way B2B buyers engage with your brand and make buying decisions today.
To keep up with these changes, it’s time to move past the traditional B2B Marketing funnel, and re-think our best practices and strategies for engaging and converting audiences.
In this article, we’ll take a deep look into the most common B2B Marketing Funnels that have worked for the past decade, and then we’ll show you where these strategies fall short in 2022 (and beyond).
Finally, we’ll discuss how you can adapt your B2B marketing funnel for the modern buyer.
The Most Common B2B Marketing Funnels
Before we can discuss the ways the B2B marketing funnel has changed, it’s important we understand what many in the B2B world consider to be the fundamental funnels.
The Traditional B2B Marketing Funnel
The “traditional” or “classic” B2B Marketing Funnel consists of five different stages of the customer buying journey.
Many businesses and marketers use these points on the journey as a roadmap for their customers and content, and use different marketing channels to engage their customers and (ideally) push them down the funnel. (More on why that’s a flawed idea later in this article.)
For now, let’s look at the different stages of this funnel, and the different marketing tactics and KPIs people typically put in place when using this structure.
|Buying Stage||Common Marketing Tactics||Common KPIs|
At the very top of the funnel, B2B customers are hunting for answers and solutions. The goal at this stage is to provide answers and education, to increase potential buyers’ awareness of your brand and products/services.
SEO to capture organic search traffic
Long-form & video content to educate and inform
Educational webinars & interactive content
Organic traffic growth
Landing page engagement
Brand mentions on social & elsewhere on the web
As awareness of your brand grows, more people will show deeper interest in your specific approach, products, and services.
|Gated Ebooks and whitepapers Product-led content (like landing pages, feature exploration, etc.)|
Social media (organic & paid)
Product-based webinars & interactive content
|Organic & referral site traffic|
Email signups Number of inquiries
Your potential customers are aware of the solutions you offer, and are considering their next course of action, weighing their options.
Remarketing & paid social
Free trials & samples
|Number of inbound leads|
Number of inquiries
Conversion actions (like requesting a quote/demo)
Qualified inbound leads
In this stage, customers are approaching the conversion stage, and need nurturing to get across the line.
|Direct sales pitches|
1:1 calls and consultations
Discounts and giveaways
Retargeting through email and social media
|Conversion actions (like requesting a quote/demo) |
Qualified inbound leads
This is the ultimate goal of your sales funnel, when qualified leads convert into paying customers.
Onboarding and training
Testimonials and case studies
|Conversions (sign-ups, purchases, etc.) |
New customer feedback
For years, this particular B2B marketing funnel has been the standard—and it’s true, these stages and tactics have worked for over a decade.
But for nearly as long as this funnel has been around, there have been critics who say it doesn’t go far enough.
In the second half of this article, we’ll explain how this simple marketing funnel is flawed for the modern buyer, and how you can adapt some of these principles to enhance demand generation for 2022.
The SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall
The SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall is another format of the B2B Marketing Funnel first introduced nearly 20 years ago. The waterfall was created to bring order and structure to the customer journey and provide marketers with clearer guidance and methodology as they create demand among their target audience.
When it was originally introduced, the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall consisted of five core stages, with a focus on qualifying leads. Using this system, sales-qualified leads are passed directly to the sales team, freeing up the marketing team to focus on bringing in more leads.
Since then, the Sirius Demand Waterfall funnel has gone through two new interactions. The first one, in 2012, emphasized the roles of teleprospecting and inbound marketing, and provided granular advice on how businesses can attract, segment, and convert marketing qualified leads.
The second update, in 2017, took a different approach to who is considered a “buyer” in the B2B world. Rather than focusing on converting a single individual, the updated Demand Unit Waterfall argues that more often than not, buying decisions are made by multiple individuals within a singular business.
The framework divides these buyers into groups, and addresses the needs and strategies that will best convert each segment into paying customers.
Each version of the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall has been an improvement, and like the traditional B2B marketing funnel, it contains excellent guidance for businesses trying to efficiently create demand and convert customers.
Even though 2017, when the latest version came out, was only a few years ago, so much has changed in B2B since the Demand Unit Waterfall was unveiled.
We’ll go over how those changes have affected the Demand Waterfall framework later in this blog, but first, let’s look at a few other perspectives on the B2B Marketing Funnel.
The Hubspot Flywheel
Hubspot is one of the leading voices in the B2B Marketing world, so it’s no surprise they’ve developed their own funnel, known as the Hubspot Flywheel.
This funnel was created to address the flaw in the original funnel that ignored the power of customer retention and upsell to fuel new business. This B2B Marketing funnel has three phases:
Attract. This phase uses useful, informative, and engaging content to get the attention of your target audience. This might include long-form SEO content and social media marketing, among other brand-awareness tactics.
Engage. During the engage phase, focus on building relationships and removing friction points for prospects and newer customers. To achieve this, you’ll use things like segmented audiences, enhanced customer service, and other lead nurturing tactics.
Delight. The third stage of the Hubspot Flywheel turns its attention to existing customers. With tactics like top-notch customer service, surprise perks, and smooth onboarding, you can retain more of your customers and turn them into brand evangelists.
The more tactics you employ to each stage of the Hubspot Flywheel, the faster your wheel will “spin.” You’ll gain more customers, who in turn become advocates for your brand and bring in more leads, and the cycle continues.
The Terminus Flip the Funnel method
If you’re at all familiar with account-based marketing (ABM), then you may have already heard of the Terminus Flip the Funnel perspective.
This funnel was created to address a flaw in the traditional marketing funnel: Broad, scattershot marketing approaches to target large groups aren’t effective (or so they claim); instead, marketers should tailor their strategy for specific targets (referred to as accounts in ABM).
The ABM Flipped Funnel has four stages:
Identify. Marketing and sales teams work together to compile their target accounts. This can only be done if you have already done the legwork to define what your ideal customers look like.
Expand. Once you have a list of targets, you expand each account by adding more information about each company, listing out the individuals or job roles you want to connect with.
Engage. Now that you know who you want to target, you can create engaging content for those individuals or groups. Customized content, direct social media connections, and live events or webinars can all make a difference.
Advocate. Similar to the Hubspot Flywheel, the final stage of the funnel focuses on client retention, and turning your existing customers into advocates for your brand and services.
Ideally, when you create a more targeted funnel like this, you’ll be able to allocate your marketing resources on higher-value prospects, rather than spending your budget trying to cast too wide of a net at the top of your funnel.
Splitting the B2B Marketing Funnel
In recent years, many marketers have brought up the concept of “splitting the funnel” as a response to the realization that when marketers design programs to solely bring in high quantities of leads, they often end up mis-aligned with revenue generation goals of the business. Splitting the funnel is a method for prioritizing activities and better aligning marketing metrics to business results.
Proponents of this concept suggest that business prospects can be divided into two large groups:
High-intent buyers are those who show serious clear and serious interest in a product or service. These are buyers who have requested a demo, started a free trial, contacted the sales team, or in some other way demonstrated intent to convert into a customer (not to be confused with intent data).
Low-intent buyers are those who don’t demonstrate a strong intention to convert. Perhaps they engage with content on your site, but they may be doing this simply out of curiosity, not necessarily because they intend to make a purchase.
This B2B marketing technique splits leads into these buckets and aligns marketing goals on the quantity of high-intent buyers. The resulting tactics focus on capturing more high-intent in-market buyers by driving them to a demo or trial conversion point because they close at substantially higher win-rates.
For low intent buyers, you transition your budget towards building awareness with ungated,educational focused content. As buyers see more of your brand content overtime, and as they recognize their pain, your brand will be top of mind. They then will become a high-intent buyer and you will be poised to capture that demand.
While there is some truth to that statement, there’s some flawed logic when it comes to splitting the funnel.
At first, focusing on buyers who have demonstrated some kind of intent makes sense, and doing so may help you push a number of sales across the line, but this method plateaus quickly. Demos will become harder to come by without spending more budget.
The split funnel may also put too much value on “high-intent” actions. A demo or download is not guaranteed to result in revenue, especially if you aren’t putting in the work to engage and excite your audience before and after those high-intent moments.
Rethinking the B2B Marketing Funnel for 2022
Now that we understand what the fundamentals of B2B marketing funnels have been in the past, it’s time to consider how things have changed in recent years.
Here are some of the biggest shifts and trends we’ve seen in the last few years, and what they mean for how you structure and maintain your funnel going forward.
The buyer funnel is no longer linear
The concept of the traditional B2B marketing funnel has always been rooted in a marketer’s fantasy.
In an ideal world, potential customers would all start their journey at the very top of your funnel, and thanks to your content and marketing tactics, they would get smoothly pushed down the funnel through lead qualification and conversion.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how things work in the real world. In reality, customers jump from one part of the funnel to another, and this causes the lines between different segments of the traditional funnel to blur.
Here’s an example—imagine you are working on building out the portion of your sales funnel that deals with engaged leads. These are folks who already know about your business and are considering making a purchase. At this stage, you give them customer testimonials and a few case studies to help them make the decision.
As they are reading this case study, they come across a term they’re unfamiliar with. This sends them to Google, where they start looking for more information on that term—in other words, now they need educational content to help make that decision.
If you follow the traditional B2B marketing funnel, all of your education content will be targeted at people at the top of your funnel. This particular buyer will be lost, because the content they need to move toward conversion doesn’t speak to them. (And you can bet one of your competitors has a content piece that does resonate).
This isn’t necessarily a new flaw with the traditional marketing funnels, but in 2022, it’s more apparent than ever.
The rise of “dark social” changed the game
Every single popular social media platform offers a private chat function. And newer social media services like Slack, Discord, and WhatsApp are entirely based on private interactions.
These “invisible” channels, often called “dark social”, is where a lot of buying decisions are happening. People use these channels to share feedback and experiences, give advice, and voice their anger and frustration.
Even if you have a presence on these channels, the odds are that most of the time, you won’t be there when these conversations are happening. This is why it’s so important to invest in creating a frictionless user experience and content that delights and engages your audience.
If your audience is genuinely pleased with the value you provide and the solutions you offer, those conversations they’re having in these dark social media channels will work in your favor.
Buyers have more power and less trust
In 2021, 84% of companies said they had a content marketing strategy, according to SEMRush. That is a lot of B2B content, and most of it is trying to nurture customers and move them through the funnel.
As a result, customers are spoiled for choice when it comes to content consumption. Their tolerance for subpar content is at an all time low—why would they engage with something that is low quality, when they have so many other options just a Google search or social post away?
Today’s customers are savvier as well. They have seen it all—every call to action, marketing email, and sales pitch—and they have no tolerance for irrelevant or pandering marketing.
The case studies and testimonials you relied on in the past to move people down your funnel are no longer persuasive. Consumers have been burned by exaggerated case studies in the past—not to mention, they can and will fact check any claims you make through their own research into your product and brand.
Customers also have very little patience for friction in the marketing funnel. With so many options to choose from, any roadblock that stands in their way—from a slow website to off-target marketing messages—will drive away potential leads.
To overcome this, rigorously analyze your marketing funnel to root out these points of friction. Ask your existing customers about their purchasing and onboarding experience, and run regular market testing on the conversion processes within your business.
When you build in deeper forms of trust (beyond case studies), coupled with a continually refined conversion process, you’ll have a much easier time moving your prospects through your funnel.
Introducing the Updated Buyer-Lead Marketing Funnel
The best B2B marketing is about changing minds, not naming pain points
“To convert your customers, you must address their pain points throughout the entire marketing funnel.”
You’ve probably heard an adage like this at some point, but this common belief is fundamentally flawed.
While acknowledging and addressing pain points for your customers is an important part of the middle and bottom segments of your funnel, customers at the top end of your funnel are far less likely to respond to this kind of messaging.
Customers who are unfamiliar with your product or services are likely unaware that they have a pain point at all. The primary job of the top of your marketing funnel should be to make them aware that this pain point exists so that they can then begin to see your business as the solution to the problems they didn’t even know they had.
This approach, called buyer-led marketing, is at the heart of our content playbook. Our methodology focuses on three approaches for three different audience segments:
Segment 1: Cold Audiences that don’t know about you or your product need you to meet them where they are now.
Strategy: Create Demand. To connect with them, your messaging needs to center on their existing beliefs, not on where you assume they are or where you want them to be later in your funnel. From there, use content to illustrate the pain points they’re unaware of, building the foundation of a narrative that will eventually position your product or service as the perfect solution.
Result: Shifted Beliefs. As buyers start to believe the narrative their beliefs will change over time and they will realize they have pain points.
Segment 2: Warm audiences have begun the necessary mindshift to recognize the issues you’ve illustrated through your content.
Strategy: Capture Demand. Now, you’ll need to encourage them to change their behavior, so they can get into the right position to engage on a deeper level with your business.
Result: Changed Behavior. Buyers in this segment recognize their pain points, are familiar with your narrative and have begun to educate themselves on the benefits and value of solving their pain points.
Segment 3: Hot Audiences, who are fully aware of the issues they have and how you can solve them, need conversion-oriented content to bring them through the rest of your pipeline.
Strategy: Product Marketing. Similar to the traditional B2B marketing funnels, this is where you bring forward your customer success stories, case studies, and testimonials to encourage that final stage of conversion. This is also the segment of customers your product marketing content will help as they seek to understand how your product actually works to solve their problems.
Result: Help them win. This segment continues past the point of purchase and extends to your customer base. Content for this segment can also include new ways of using your product (use cases), how-to content and tutorials to deepen their knowledge and turn your best customers into customers for life.
Using this structure, you’ll reach your buyers at a much higher point in the funnel—and despite what traditional funnels lead us to think, the top of the funnel is where many of the buying decisions are taking place.
Generating demand has never been a simple process. To keep your B2B marketing funnel healthy, you must adapt your approach and tactics with the changes happening among your target audience. Achieve this, and your business is destined to grow exponentially through 2022.