Daniel Burstein

Ask MarketingSherpa: Mapping the prospect conclusion funnel [includes free PDF example]

August 29th, 2018

We frequently receive questions from our email subscribers asking marketing advice. Instead of hiding those answers in a one-to-one email communication, we occasionally publish some of them here on the MarketingSherpa blog so they can help other readers as well. If you have any questions, let us know.

Dear MarketingSherpa: Hi Daniel, I’m following up on the conversation started on Twitter about your blog post. My questions are:

– What was the main realization that took you to write this article?

– Do you think that this works for businesses in any industry? For example, some businesses are mostly offline, is it wise to invest time in creating a funnel for those as well?

FYI, this is the article I’m talking about — Marketing 101: What is funnel creation?

Looking forward to hearing back from you.


Dear Reader: I wrote the article because I received questions following the publication of this article: Website Development: How a small natural foods CPG company increased revenue 18% with a site redesign

Yes, the funnel works for any fairly complex purchase. This was true before the internet. Think about buying a car before the internet. First you saw the ad. Then maybe you filled out a business reply (BRC) card. Got invited in for a test drive. Test drove cars at competitors. Get to price negotiations. Etc, etc.

The funnel is a human decision-making phenomenon

I’ll go a step further. The funnel works for any fairly complex human decision, not just purchases, and certainly not just online. For example, you don’t instantly decide someone you meet in college is going to be your best friend. There’s a process.

And that begins with exposure to that person in the first place. You made micro-decisions to attend the same club meeting that person did, you approached them after the meeting, you had a good conversation, you invited them to hang out with your buddies, your buddies liked that person (third-party verification), you hung out more and more, you confided trust in that person (form fill with annual revenue info), that person confided trust in you … 40 years down that funnel, your best friend is giving a toast at your daughter’s wedding (the final purchase).

In a vacuum, the funnel still exists

The reader asked if it is it wise to create a funnel. It’s important to note that the funnel exists whether you choose to actively manage it or not. Take the example above. Your best friend didn’t choose to create a funnel to end up giving a toast at your daughter’s wedding. There were a set of decisions that you naturally made to get to that point.

It’s the same with the buyer’s journey. If you’re selling a car, there are a series of decisions a buyer will make on the path to deciding whether to purchase that car, whether you’ve set up a funnel or not.

What you can do is try to discover what these paths to purchase are, and then how you can use your marketing, sales and other resources to help them make that decision.

Let’s look at an example where we map business activities in a funnel to a set of conclusions a prospect has to reach for a B2B services contract.

Prospect conclusion funnel example

[Click here for an instant, free download of a PDF version of the Prospect Conclusion Funnel Example]

Let’s break down the example.

New website visitor

This example is for a company very focused on inbound marketing, so it starts with a new website visitor.

For your funnel, it might make sense to start with traffic drivers as well, such as search engine advertisements or newspaper/magazine ads that drive people to your website.

The resulting conclusion the example company is trying to reach in the mind of a new website visitor is “I want to learn about what your company can offer me.” It’s not “I want to instantly buy your product.” For a complex sale, it’s not realistic to sell the customer right away.

Returning website visitor

Depending on the length of the sales cycle, over the ensuring days, weeks or months the prospect will return to the website if they have reached the first conclusion mentioned above.

Over that time, there are several more conclusions this company wants a customer to reach, and the company plans its content and marketing messaging to help the customer reach these conclusions:

  • I want to know that you have gotten results in the areas I’m interested in.
  • I want to know that these results are potentially repeatable.
  • I want to know it’s possible that you can help me achieve something.

They may reach these conclusions in a single visit, or over many months. At the end of reaching these conclusions, the company hopes that customer will decide to opt in to its email list.

Lead nurturing

Now that the prospect has opted in to receive email, the company wants the prospect to reach several more conclusions, and plans its drip campaigns and email content accordingly:

  • I want to know how you do what you do and why it’s relevant to my situation.
  • I want to know why it’s important that I focus on what you can help me with.
  • I want to know why it’s urgent that I focus on this now.
  • I want to know that you are the best company to solve my problem/drive performance.
  • I want to know that you can address these specific concerns (concerns vary by company).

Upon reaching that last conclusion, the customer no longer wants to receive mass communication, and now wants to receive communication from the company directly about her specific concerns. So she raises her hand and fills out an inquiry form.

After receiving the inquiry, a lead qualification specialist engages in a series of one-to-one email interactions with the prospect, with the intention of qualifying the prospect to be handed off to a sales representative to continue the one-to-one emails until the prospect is ready to have a sales call with her key decision makers.

Sales call 1

On the sales call, the sales rep provides custom information to let the prospect know all the key information, with the goal of having the prospect reach the following conclusions:

  • I want to know that you clearly understand my problem and can lead my thinking with the best objective to solve it.
  • I want to know exactly how you plan to achieve the best objective.
  • I want to know how much it costs.
  • I want to put together an SOW (Statement of Work).

Sales call 2

A successful first sales call in which the prospect reaches all of those conclusions ultimately leads to a second sales call where the sales rep finalizes the deal with all of the prospect’s decision makers, leading them to think:

  • I want to sign on the line which is dotted.

And the B2B services purchase is made.

Except, sometimes customers don’t always reach these conclusions

If prospects don’t reach even one of these conclusions, they will likely not go onto the next step and will ultimately leave your funnel.

There are two reasons this happens. One, your product is just not the right fit for them. In high school, I had a soul patch. At some point, I reached the conclusion that a soul patch was no longer a fit for me. And so I shaved it off. Soul patches didn’t suddenly become bad. Just not right for me.

When your product truly isn’t a fit, clear marketing messaging that helps customers discover this — is a service. And it’s far better than attracting the wrong customer who you can’t ultimately please, and getting negative word of mouth from it.

However, there is a second reason prospects don’t ultimately become a customer. And this reason is the essential case for proactively mapping out your prospect conclusion funnel.

At any point in the process, the prospect might not perceive the value that really exists for your product. Or the competition might do a better job of communicating its value to help them reach that conclusion.

In this case, you will lose a customer you could truly serve.

But if you’ve mapped out the prospect conclusion funnel, you can see how well your brand is converting at each step. Then you can engage in conversion rate optimization to get more customers moving through the funnel and taking each of the smaller micro-steps necessary to ultimately get to the main action of purchasing a product.

You can follow Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @DanielBurstein.

You might also like …

The Prospect’s Perception Gap: How to bridge the gap between the results we want and the results we have

Marketing-Sales Funnel Optimization: 3 Questions To Ask

Marketing Is Not About Making Claims; It’s About Fostering Conclusions

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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