What Is the Marketing Funnel and How Does It Work

The phrase "The customer is always right” may have started simply as a department store’s slogan in the early 1900’s, but it has evolved into the core motto of the current humanist society we live in. You may have put your heart and soul on starting a business and creating a website to offer your services or products, but if the results are not as expected, it’s you, not your customers, who needs to change.

This means you need to be able to identify every pain point of the customer journey to figure out where people are losing interest in your offering. Then, you’ll have to come up with an alternative and assess whether the problem is solved. The marketing funnel will give you all the tools and data you need to do so. Read on to learn all about this powerful process and why you should implement it right away.

What is the marketing funnel?

The marketing funnel is a visual representation of all the steps a visitor has to go through before they purchase a product or service. Its origins date back to 1910, when American philosopher John Dewey introduced the five stages consumers go through before, during, and after purchasing a good or service.

This buyer decision process included the following stages: Problem/need-recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision, and post-purchase behavior. Over time, this idea evolved into the contemporary marketing funnel, which focuses on the different stages from the moment people first hear about a business to the moment they make a transaction.

But why is it named funnel? Marketing efforts start with as many leads as possible, which are later nurtured through the journey until they purchase a service or product. As people advance through the different stages, many abandon the process and the crowd thins. Thus the resulting visual representation takes the shape of a funnel.

Benefits of the marketing funnel

Now that you know what the marketing funnel is, you’re probably wondering if you should start using this system for your business. Ask yourself the following question: Do I have a service or product I intend customers to purchase? If the answer is yes, then you should definitely do so.

As a business, your success does not only depend on the quality of your offering but also on the way in which it’s presented. Everything from your website layout and color scheme to the microcopy and navigation of your site also plays a huge role on your customer’s journey through the marketing funnel.

Having a clear view of the customer journey will allow you to identify roadblocks and improve your conversion rate. Based on this data, you’ll be able to redesign your website to offer a better user experience, create successful sales campaigns, and find the best places to promote your business.

Stages of the marketing funnel

While the basics of the marketing funnel have remained mostly unchanged for more than a century, there isn’t a global consensus on what the different stages actually are. Below, you’ll find a visual representation of the most commonly used marketing funnel stages, as well as a description of each of them.

Other highly popular marketing funnel versions include:

  • AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action

  • TOFU-MOFU-BOFU: Top of the funnel (generate leads), Middle of the funnel (generate prospects), Bottom of the funnel (generate sales)


Awareness is the highest-level stage of the marketing funnel. This is the point where customers first learn about your brand through market research and targeted marketing campaigns. Here is where lead generation takes place, as potential customers’ information will be used to guide them through the rest of the marketing funnel and into sales.


Leads who show an interest in your business and services move onto the next stage of the marketing funnel, aptly known as interest. At this point, lead generation turns into lead nurture as brands start working on establishing a connection with all the contacts gathered during the previous stage. Email marketing is one of the most common practices in this stage, as it allows business to reach out directly to leads with relevant, branded content.


In the consideration stage of the marketing funnel, leads start getting treated as prospective customers. At this point, businesses start using marketing automation to send targeted email campaigns with actionable intent. These can include anything from free trials and sales announcements to exclusive access to webinars and forums.


Once a prospective customer demonstrates a clear intent to purchase a product or service, they move down the marketing funnel to the “intent” stage. Ever left something on your online shopping basket and received an email about it a day or two after? That’s what entering this stage feels like. For businesses, this is the time to prove why their offering is the best option for the prospective customer.


Lead nurture meets sales in the evaluation stage of the marketing funnel. This joint effort is meant to convince prospective buyers to take the leap and make a purchase. Much like the previous stage, the focus is kept on positioning the business’ offering as the ideal choice.


The pot of gold at the end of the marketing funnel rainbow is known as the purchase stage. This is where prospects finally decide to buy the service or product.At this point, sales teams take over to manage transactions.

B2B vs. B2C

The main difference between the B2B and B2C marketing funnel is the amount of people involved in the process and the level of interaction between businesses and consumers.

In the majority of cases, B2C consumers navigate through the funnel alone with little to no direct interaction with the business. Customer outreach efforts are conducted by targeting large buying groups or by using automation tools, and very few customers actually interact with a representative.

On the other hand B2B consumers usually include more than five people from different departments. While the uppermost stages of the marketing funnel follow the same pattern as that of B2C consumers, in lower stages sales representatives establish direct communication with B2B consumers.

Nonlinear marketing funnel

While the cone-shaped marketing funnel has been the default for many decades, experts argue that the market has evolved beyond linear buying processes. Many businesses have started to leave behind the traditional cone in favor of one resembling a bowtie or hourglass. This nonlinear marketing funnel aims to tackle the fifth and last stage of Dewey’s consumer decision processes: Post-purchase behavior.

The upside-down cone shape starts with the few buyers who made a purchase and finalized the traditional marketing funnel. From there, businesses look at the post-purchase customer journey, taking into account factors such as satisfaction, testimonials, and feedback.

The goal of this new funnel approach is to create strong relationships with customers, not only to ensure they don’t move to your competitors’ services, but also so they’ll eventually become advocates of your brand and help empower your lead generation efforts.

While there isn’t a consensus about the different stages of the nonlinear marketing funnel, it nonetheless remains a valuable way to gauge consumer behavior and optimize your marketing efforts.

By Judit Ruiz Ricart

Blog Content Expert

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