Imagine if we always knew how B2B buyers would act. If their decision-making always followed a predictable sequence. Like some fundamental law of the universe.
At the start of my marketing career, I was introduced to something called ‘the funnel’. And to my eyes, it seemed to make that promise. Here was a tool that showed me how buyers think and act at different stages on the path to purchase.
There was something wonderfully inevitable about it all: deliver the right message at the right time, and you could influence a buyer to move from one stage to the next.
Obviously, it was always more complex than that. But today, B2B buying has changed so much, that the traditional funnel isn’t just ineffective – it can be actively misleading.
Why the funnel can lead us in the wrong direction
Here’s a version of the funnel you’re probably familiar with:
Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Purchase > Growth > Advocacy
The beauty of this model lies in its simplicity. It breaks down the complexities of human buying behavior into discrete stages that reliably follow one after the next.
But as we know, the reality is very different.
The B2B buying process is influenced by a long list of factors — budget cuts, shifting stakeholder priorities, changes in customer preferences, new industry regulations.
With so many potential bumps in the road, it’s wishful thinking to imagine buyers can be led through the funnel in one unbroken linear journey.
Yet so many organizations and marketers try to create perfect user flows and customer journeys based on that very notion. And there’s a price for that: the wrong message at the wrong time can make buyers feel hurried, confused, or simply like they’re not being understood.
So what’s the answer?
Most obviously, marketers need to stop treating the funnel as linear. Yes, there’s a general direction of travel (nobody ever went from purchase to awareness), but buyers typically hop back and forward between different stages. Or skip certain stages altogether.
Given this disjointed journey, what’s the answer?
Position yourself as a problem solver
B2B buyers are often looking for answers to complex problems. They might want help understanding a new industry trend, advice on overcoming an entrenched organizational roadblock, or a simple explanation of how your product can give them a competitive edge.
If you can answer their most pressing questions (across the funnel and across channels), you’ll build credibility, simplify their buying journey, and encourage them to seek you out as a reliable source of information.
In fact according to Gartner research, customers who received supplier information that helps advance their buying journey are 2.8x more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and 3x more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.
Establish a culture of collaboration
A successful funnel strategy hinges on true internal collaboration. Instead of the traditional hand-off from marketing to sales, all your teams should be working together towards the one thing that really matters — delivering the best possible customer experience.
This is where a Digital Revenue Team comes in. It brings together sales, marketing, product, and customer services into a single unit that’s dedicated to maximizing customer lifetime value.
Instead of operating in silos, a Digital Revenue Team encourages your teams to continually work together, share customer insights, and create personalized, persuasive messaging at every stage of the funnel.
This approach helps you build the kind of relationships that live long beyond the sale, turning one-off customers into lifelong Forever Customers.
The funnel doesn’t flow in one direction
The funnel is an approximation of how buyers act, rather than a perfect reflection. And if you only see it as flowing in one direction, your messaging will always risk sounding irrelevant.
As buyers jump from stage to stage, often in a haphazard fashion, you simply need to be there — with the information they need, using the channels and formats they want, at the times that suit them best.