Demystifying Sales Funnel vs. Marketing Funnel: Understanding the Differences

Demystifying Sales Funnel vs. Marketing Funnel: Understanding the Differences

As a business owner, we’re willing to bet you wake up with a singular, powerful goal pulsing in your mind: escalating your top-line revenue. It’s your lifeblood, your north star, the sweet glimmer of prosperity that keeps you grinding day in and day out.

But it’s not just about making a quick buck. You’re in this for the long haul. You want sustainability, a steady stream of income that keeps flowing, no matter what the business climate looks like.

You can’t just run ads and send emails en masse and hope you bring in a few out of the thousands you blast out. You have to convert more from the pool of potential customers you’re targeting. That’s where sales and marketing funnels come into play.

Understanding the concept of sales funnel vs. marketing funnel is essential to success in the modern business landscape. Knowing how to use both effectively is key, so let’s dive into what each one means for your business growth strategy.

Sales funnels vs. marketing funnels: What’s the difference, exactly?

Sales and marketing funnels essentially share the same goal. They both aim to convert potential customers into paying ones (who, ideally, continue to buy from you).

But their approach and the stages involved make them distinct. They cover different points of the conversion process, with marketing funnels covering the expansion and activation of an audience and sales funnels focusing on the customer-facing activities a sales rep carries out.

To further clarify the differences, it helps to understand the start-to-finish processes sales and marketing funnels represent.

Sales funnel stages

A sales funnel is a step-by-step process aimed at helping you turn prospects into customers after they’ve come into contact with a sales representative from your company. It’s more narrow and pointed, primarily focusing on the customer’s journey from the point of initial contact to the final sale.

It is a direct, transactional process, often characterized by the following stages:

  1. Creating awareness — Sellers research prospects, create segmented lead lists, and conduct cold outreach via email, cold calls, and social media. The prospects may or may not already be aware of the company’s product/service offering.
  2. Fostering interest — Prospects who find the product/service offering of interest further engage sales reps. Reps deliver presentations or demos to show buyers the product in action, and they spend additional time learning about their prospects’ pain points. Sometimes, these prospects come from the marketing funnel. Others are leads the sales team produced in stage one.
  3. Pitching your offer — The sales rep pitches the buyer on a product/service. This is usually a formal process, involving some sort of human-to-human relationship building on both sides of the coin. It happens after the prospect has already seen a demo and becomes a sales-qualified lead (SQL). It typically involves a quote or proposal, which the potential buyer will either accept or reject.
  4. Consideration and negotiation — Prospects review the quote, weigh their options, and potentially negotiate terms. Sales reps work with their buyers to address objections, share buyer enablement content (which they probably have done already), and drive home the benefits.
  5. Closing the deal — The prospect agrees to purchase from your company and a contract is drawn up. This marks the end of the sales funnel process and the point at which they become an official customer.
  6. Retention — The sales rep follows up with their customer to ensure they’re satisfied and continue to be a repeat buyer. This is more of a function of the customer success team, which will cross-sell/upsell customers and renew/upgrade their contracts.

Not every organization will have a sales funnel. They’re more commonplace in B2B sales, which require a more hands-on approach. B2C companies may not have a formalized sales funnel, instead relying on inbound marketing to bring in customers and sales funnels to close them. The only exception to this would be high-ticket B2C sales (e.g., solar energy contracts).

Marketing funnel stages

A marketing funnel has a broader perspective. It not only involves converting a lead into a customer but also emphasizes nurturing relationships with potential customers. It’s a longer-term process, with multiple touchpoints and points of contact.

It is an indirect approach that involves :

  1. Building awareness — Marketing teams create content to drive interest in their product/service offering (e.g., blog posts, social media posts, PPC, email campaigns). They capture leads through various channels and build relationships with prospects before they become customers.
  2. Nurturing leads — Marketing teams use automated emails, webinars, and other content to engage leads and keep them warm until they are ready to purchase. They send out content and blogs that educate and inform. As the customer consumes more of the company’s content, their experience generally gets more personalized.
  3. Consideration — As a lead learns more about their problems and sees your product as a potential solution, they’ll be presented with opportunities to make a purchase. These could come in the form of promotional offers, discounts, or free trials. In the case of B2B sales, they’ll reach out to a rep (thereby entering the sales funnel).
  4. Conversion — At this stage, the lead becomes a customer. This could happen through an online purchase or if they contact a sales rep and complete the transaction.
  5. Retention — Companies use post-purchase emails, automated messages, and other engagement campaigns to increase customer loyalty. This could involve discounts or exclusive offers for loyal customers.

Marketing funnels either work in tandem with sales funnels (such as with B2B sales) or independently (i.e., if the company doesn’t have a sales team). Since all companies run marketing campaigns of some sort — or, at the very least, have a website —they will all have a marketing funnel.

Final thoughts

Understanding the differences between sales and marketing funnels is key to crafting a successful customer acquisition strategy. Each serves a unique purpose, and they can be used in concert with one another to maximize conversions.

Ultimately, it’s all about making sure you have a plan to help your customers move effortlessly from one stage of the conversion process to the next — whether it’s through sales or marketing efforts.

The key to finding success is in how well you can optimize each step of the funnel with the right content and incentives at the right time. Understanding your buyers’ needs and pain points and tracking their journey and engagement throughout both funnels will help you craft a more effective strategy for turning prospects into loyal customers.

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About the author



Tom is a gizmo-savvy guy, who has a tendency to get pulled into the nitty gritty details of technology. He attended UT Austin, where he studied Information Science. He’s married and has three kids, one dog and 2 cats. With a large family, he still finds time to share tips and tricks on phones, tablets, wearables and more. You won’t see Tom anywhere without his ANC headphones and the latest smartphone. Oh, and he happens to be an Android guy, who also has a deep appreciation for iOS.