In general, people don’t make snap decisions — they need to do research, gather information, compare options and get validation before they make a purchasing decision. Going through this process is often described in sales and marketing as going through “the funnel”. Most have three basic stages (some use four) referred to as Top of the Funnel, Middle of Funnel and Bottom of the Funnel. Sometimes these are also labeled more generally as awareness, consideration and decision.

Although services and product decision-making timelines and marketing can be different, the basic stages are the same. The illustration and explanation below is specifically for a service-based business that would rely more on content to aid in the consideration stage. It also includes the type of marketing activities that work best at the each stages for that type of business. The goal is to help guide the prospect through a decision making process to a final outcome. Those who make it to the bottom of the funnel are the best prospects for conversion or purchasing.

Top of the Funnel – Awareness

This stage is usually first contact with a prospect who is looking for a specific solution or product and likely the first introduction to your business. To reach new prospects, marketing activities usually focused on lead generation, such as advertising, social media promotions, events, presentations and webinars, valuable content or blog posts.

You might hear the term “lead magnet” used in marketing at this stage. It is a piece of valuable content, a promotion or offer that is enticing enough to ask someone for an email or other information  to add them to a contact list for follow up. Businesses often have multiple lead magnets with different topics for different buyer personas.

Middle of the Funnel – Consideration/Education

This stage is for research and learning. It is generally the longest of the three stages and is different for everyone. In this stage, you are building a relationship of trust and confidence. You need to show them that you are the right choice and will provide the solution they need. Give them information about the benefits you offer, how you can help their business, what makes you different, and showcase your expertise.

Marketing activities in this stage are general focused on informative content, competitor comparisons, videos, case studies, testimonials, etc.

Bottom of the Funnel – Decision

This stage is a final step toward making a decision to move forward — either to buy or not. Too often companies jump right to marketing in this stage without helping the prospect through the earlier ones and conversions are slow. They constantly as for the buy before a prospect is ready. You need to give people time to become aware and consider, before they make a decision. They have to have gained your trust.

Providing a compelling offer such a free trial, free consultation, schedule a demo, new customer promotion, discount trial, or value added service to a prospect at this stage. This will  more likely lead to them becoming a customer, but only if you don’t push them to make a decision before they are ready.