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How Conversion Funnels Create a Better Customer Journey + How to Optimize Yours

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How Conversion Funnels Create a Better Customer Journey + How to Optimize Yours

Conversion funnels are a fundamental concept in sales. Personally, I like to visualize the funnel as that big scary slide you wanted to try as a kid. You saw your friends whizzing down, which sparked your interest. You watched how much fun they were having, doing your research. And then the benefits of having fun outweighed your fear, so you climbed up and flew down.

Customers take a similar journey through your company’s conversion funnel when evaluating whether or not to buy from you. You have to pique their interest, build trust, and encourage them to take action.

In this post, I’ll explain what conversion funnels are and how they impact your customer journey. Then, you’ll learn how to optimize your funnel to increase the number of people who make it to your conversion point at the bottom.

All leads begin at the top of the funnel. As they learn more about your business, they move down and get closer to purchasing your product or service. This conversion process is called a funnel because companies often have more leads than they do customers, making the top of the funnel a larger pool of people than the bottom.

Understanding how people flow through your conversion funnel is essential to being an effective marketer or salesperson because it helps you engage leads, answer questions about your business, and address concerns. It also lets you organize leads into categories and create customer touchpoints that can entice each group to convert.

That’s why every funnel should be designed for how your customers buy, not how you sell. The focus is on providing such a great experience within the customer journey that you convince them to convert.

Before diving into the details of how to analyze and optimize your funnel, we need to talk about an important aspect of this process: the customer journey.

Customer Journey

The customer journey complements the conversion funnel, but it’s not the same thing. Unlike the generalized, linear conversion funnel, customer journey maps show the individual and circuitous paths people take from the moment they discover your brand to the time they make a purchase.

Let’s say you’re a food blogger who sells cookbooks. Here’s how your customers’ journeys can differ.

  • Customer A sees and clicks on your banner ad, visits your blog, reads an article, signs up for your newsletter, gets a discount email, and purchases a cookbook.

  • Customer B sees your cookbook in a bookshop, buys it, makes the recipes, visits your blog, and subscribes to your newsletter.

The outcomes for Customer A and B are essentially the same, but the journeys and touchpoints are different. So if you know the different ways people enter your funnel, you can optimize for those entry points. That way, you can meet potential buyers where they are and entice them to convert.

That said, most funnels have similar points that ultimately lead to conversion. Let’s take a closer look at each stage of this process.

Conversion Funnel Stages

The top-middle-bottom funnel is a classic model used by sales teams, which focuses on sparking interest, informing potential customers, convincing them to purchase, and building loyalty so they become repeat buyers.

Traditional Conversion Funnel Stages

  • Top of the funnel (TOFU): This is the awareness phase. A potential customer enters the TOFU when they engage with your brand, oftentimes through your website, an ad, an email, or social media.

  • Middle of the funnel (MOFU): This is the consideration phase. The potential customer knows about your brand and engages with it in order to learn more. They may sign up for your email newsletter, follow you on social media, or download guides and templates.

  • Bottom of the funnel (BOFU): This is the conversion phase. A prospect is here right before they purchase, which means you’ve given them good information and relevant touchpoints. Help them convert by making it easy to purchase, offering a trial, outlining pricing, or sending a discount for their abandoned shopping cart.

Let’s see what this looks like visually in the examples below.

Conversion Funnel Examples

HubSpot started off with the traditional conversion funnel structure, using marketing efforts to serve as the top of the funnel. Those leads were then passed further down the funnel to the sales team.

While some conversion funnels are simple, others can be incredibly complex. There are several conversion models you can use to suit your business needs, ranging from a simple three-stage funnel for smaller operations to complex, multi-stage sales funnels for enterprise-level companies. Let’s explore some of the most common models.

Three-Stage Marketing Funnel

Conversion funnel example basic

  • Awareness: Get visitors to your website. Attract them with quality blog posts or through social media.

  • Consideration: Use that great content to entice your new visitors to sign up for your newsletter.

  • Conversion: Now that prospects are familiar with your brand, persuade them to make a purchase by offering a discount code for first-time buyers.

AIDA Funnel

Conversion funnel example AIDASometimes called a “purchase funnel,” the AIDA model expands on the basic three-stage structure.

  • Attention: In addition to blog posts and social media, you can use targeted ads to draw visitors to your website.

  • Interest: Pique the prospect’s interest in your product by showcasing the goods. Use case studies to show how your product has helped other businesses. Have notable press mentions? You’ll want to showcase those as well.

  • Desire: Your prospects like you, now you must make them want you. Gain their trust and create an emotional connection. Continue to serve them content that helps them visualize how your product would fit into their lives and why they need it.

  • Action: Now’s your chance to get them to convert. One way is to offer a free ebook, trial, or tool that’s only accessible if they fill out a form with their contact information. If your goal is to get them to purchase a product, you could give them a promotional offer to persuade them to buy.

The detail of your funnel depends on your sales process — the longer your sales cycle, the more complex your funnel. If you have a short sales cycle, your funnel tends to be simpler.

Think about how long it takes to sell $2,000 B2B software versus a $20 t-shirt. The software purchase usually requires months of sales calls, marketing materials, FAQs, and demos. Each of those is a specific point in your conversion funnel. But potential buyers may only need five minutes to figure out that the t-shirt is the right color and fit before purchasing. The touchpoints required here are taking it off the rack and trying it on.

To figure out how complex your funnel is, you can look at the data and perform an analysis. This will help you flush out each part of your customer journey to create a unique visual representation of your funnel.

Conversion Funnel Analysis

Funnels are full of barriers and friction. Analyzing your funnel helps you visualize the flow of potential customers across each point.

You can see key traffic sources and high-exit pages to get a feel for how people end up in each stage of the funnel.

It’s also a way to discover barriers that cause people to leave a page before they convert. If you see a high drop-off rate on one page, for example, you’ll know to prioritize that as you work toward optimizing your funnel.

To understand your funnel, follow these steps for in-depth analysis:

1. Look for high-traffic pages with high drop-off and conversion rates.

High-traffic pages hold a plethora of useful information. Not only are these the pages people see the most, but they’re also where people decide to stay or go. Look at the pages where people drop off (aka leave) and where they convert (take your intended action). Some metrics to collect are:

2. Discover where your best customers come from.

Not all leads are the same. Some people drop off near the top of the funnel while others make it all the way down. That’s why tracking leads is so important. When you know where your high-quality leads come from, you can analyze that touchpoint or channel to see what you’re doing right. Ask yourself:

  • How is this touchpoint different from other touchpoints?
  • What information is resonating with people?
  • What are the barriers or friction (if any)?
  • How many steps do people have to go through before converting?

Identifying what you’re doing right in your funnel is just as important as figuring out what you’re doing wrong. If you need help digging into the data, check out these sales funnel tools or look into heatmap and session recording tools for information on how people navigate your pages.

3. Create an optimization plan.

After you figure out where people are dropping off and converting, it’s time to make an optimization plan. This should include the goals you want to focus on (i.e., more leads, newsletter signups, demos, or software purchases).

Goals let you determine what you want from each touchpoint within your funnel so you can measure whether it’s working or not.

After your funnel analysis, you’ll have a list of priority touchpoints that need to be optimized. Make sure to focus on the areas with the biggest drop-off rates first.

Conversion Funnel Optimization

Every part of your conversion funnel can be optimized to increase the number of people who turn into customers. Think of conversation funnel optimization as finding out what motivates, blocks, and persuades people so you can give them the best experience possible on their unique journey.

To optimize effectively, you need to think about how to give each customer what they want at each phase of the funnel. Using the phases outlined above, here’s what to consider at each step along the customer journey.

1. TOFU: Awareness

Issues at the top of your funnel? Take a look at how you attract new leads. Compare every channel that brings in customers (i.e., social media, search engines, your blog, and paid ads) to see which attracts the most people.

If you’re unsure how customers found you, send out a survey to ask. Look for trends in how people find new brands and put more effort into your best channels. Just make sure you’re attracting the people in your target audience.

2. MOFU: Consideration

Potential customers made it to the middle of your funnel, but it’s your job to keep them moving toward the bottom.

If you’re having trouble with this phase, look at how people learn about your business and engage with your site. Is it easy for people to navigate your site? Or sign up for your email list? Do you have relevant, rich content? Do you offer pricing and product information? Is it easy to get questions answered?

Depending on your barriers, consider these ideas for improvement:

  • Product videos and photos
  • FAQ page
  • Whitepapers, case studies, or blog posts
  • Filters and search options
  • Newsletter capture
  • Discounts
  • Check pages for loading speed and broken elements

3. BOFU: Conversion

As the final stop for potential buyers, this is the phase to turn them into customers. You should remove as much friction as possible and encourage people to take the final steps to convert.

Some ways to optimize this final part of your funnel is to make sure product or service pages are fully built out with interesting descriptions, videos, and photos. Consider your checkout process to see if people have issues with payments or abandoned carts. Make it simple for people to compare pricing and clearly outline all product features. You can also send specific BOFU emails or create ads to remind people of their desire to convert.

Think your job is done once a customer converts? Wrong. While you may have pulled a customer through your conversion funnel, there are plenty of opportunities to re-engage them. Not only is customer retention essential for growing your business, but it’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain a current customer.

So, once your customers make it through the funnel, invite them to sign up for a new webinar series, download additional templates, send promotions, join a loyalty club, or follow you on social media.

Conversion Funnels Shouldn’t Be Business Models

While conversion funnels are very effective for demonstrating the customer journey for a one-time purchase, they are not a substitute for creating a holistic business model. Relying on a funnel as your business model creates a lack of alignment between each stage of the customer experience.

HubSpot transitioned to thinking of the customer journey as less of a funnel and more of a flywheel — building more momentum as customers move through it.

With the flywheel model, the momentum of your happy customers is used to drive referrals and repeat sales. It’s not a linear beginning and end, but rather a continuous cycle that allows you to generate more business.

Tailor Your Funnel to the Customer

While the customer journey is more complex than my slide analogy, understanding how conversion funnels work can improve this flow. It can help you optimize your funnel, attract more leads, convert them to customers, and boost your bottom line. But all that requires reducing as much friction as possible.

Find what makes sense for your particular sales cycle and use your existing content and channels to stay in touch. Make sure customers value your business and want to come back because you never know who they’ll introduce to the top of that funnel.

This article was originally published May 5, 2021, and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To1716755163 789 Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To
  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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