Your Sales Funnel Isn’t Telling You The Full Story. Understanding Your Marketing Channels Can Help.
A sales funnel is a helpful way to understand aggregate conversions over time, but they ignore the unique journey that each buyer is on.
Keeping up with buyer demands for hyper-relevant content at every touchpoint requires a dramatic mindset shift from traditional B2B marketing. Demographic-based segmentation, for instance, often oversimplifies the complexity of self-directed buyer journeys, and ignores how your prospects actually behave on their path to purchase. This isn’t a static variable: buyers interact with your content differently depending on their relationship with your organization, as well as the channel they find the content. The two are inherently linked: just like longer view times, higher binge rates (viewing multiple assets in one session), and greater account visibility indicate a prospect moving deeper into the funnel, so too do the channels they’re engaging with in the first place.
It’s important to take the time to understand these variations in visitor behavior, and then optimize each channel accordingly. Although benchmarks will differ by organization, there are some broader trends you can take advantage of when establishing a more holistic view of your content throughout the buyer’s journey.
Here’s what you need to know:
Marketing channels can provide important insights about your audience
In PathFactory’s 2021 Content Engagement Report, we saw a significant range in average session times, overall view times, views per visitor, and binge rate, depending on the channel. Websites averaged 2.2 page views per visitor and a session time of 4:34 — compared to display ads, which averaged 1.1 page views per visitor and a session time of just 28 seconds.
It makes sense that a prospect who just discovered your organization through a Google ad wouldn’t stick around as long as someone diving into the latest whitepaper on your website. However, nudging visitors from one to the other can feel like rolling a boulder up a hill. That’s because traditional funnels are driven by marketers: you serve a display ad to drive visitors to your site, then put a gated asset in their way to extract their contact information, then “nurture” them according to your schedule, your campaigns, your content calendar. Here’s why this approach doesn’t work anymore:
- It adds a lot of friction to the buyer’s journey: It’s no secret that B2B buyers have adapted consumer-style expectations for effortless and self-directed content experiences. Using hard-gated assets is akin to installing a speed bump on the Autobahn, deterring prospects who may have otherwise accelerated through your content like they would their favorite Netflix series.
- It relies on assumptions, rather than data: It doesn’t matter if your latest asset was “personalized” for a particular industry, job title, or even account. If the entire thing is locked behind a form, you’re essentially treating everyone the same, based on when you think they’re “aware” enough to be interested — rather than leveraging real-time visitor data to ensure certain engagement criteria are met before asking for contact information.
- Visibility doesn’t always indicate sales readiness: Buyers aren’t just directing their own content experiences. They’re also staying anonymous for longer — and know how to hack your “tried and true” funnel if you push for visibility before they’re ready. How many of your “leads” are named Harry Potter, or are unreachable because their emails always bounce? Low quality MQLs are a common complaint on sales teams, but these are inevitable when you try to push prospects through a rigid, marketer-controlled content experience, rather than optimizing each touchpoint to build on your relationship and ultimately help them make a purchase decision.
So, what’s the alternative? Put more focus on the touchpoints your customers have with your content, regardless of its place in the funnel. But remember: different marketing channels require unique approaches.
Display ads and paid social:
Display ads and paid social don’t perform as well as other channels when it comes to average view times and binge rates. Interestingly, PathFactory’s 2021 Content Engagement Report reported a spike in overall binge rates in the early months of the pandemic, when budget cuts forced marketers to prioritize organic channels over paid. Binge rates dipped in 2021, when paid channels were reintroduced into the mix.
This makes a lot of sense when you think about engagement in terms of relationship status, rather than a more abstract awareness stage. With display ads and paid social, you’re basically paying for someone to hang out with you. You know you have a lot to offer — visitors just need to get to know you better, and trust that you’re actually trying to help them solve a problem, rather than fixing them up with a sales rep.
Earning their trust via scheduled blog posts or slow-drip campaigns (assuming you can get your hands on their real contact information in the first place) takes time. A lot of time. Instead, make it easy for visitors to tap as much of your invaluable knowledge and insight as quickly as possible. Using AI-enabled solutions like PathFactory makes it possible to adapt to visitor behavior in real-time, and recommend the most relevant assets. It’s important to engage with these visitors the moment they land on your website: PathFactory’s 2021 Content Engagement Report found that 26.5% of asset views originating from a dynamic content recommendation happened as the second view in session.
Visitors who engage with your website already trust that you have relevant information to share. The problem — for many buyers — is actually finding it. Sprawling resource hubs or disorganized blogs make it difficult to determine where to go next. Content intelligence not only points visitors in the right direction as soon as they arrive, but also prompts deeper engagement and binging — viewing multiple assets in a single session. PathFactory’s 2021 Content Engagement Report revealed that visitors who interacted with dynamic content recommendations engaged 5.3X longer, and had 3.6x more asset views per session than those that didn’t. Businesses should use content as a way to guide the visitor through the journey you want them to take, as opposed to leaving them to their own devices and giving them an opportunity to abandon ship.
Email marketing is a smart choice for companies working with limited marketing budgets because it’s an owned channel that can help gauge the interest readers have in your content. While any email marketing platform can tell you how many people opened your email, or clicked through to the blog post you were promoting, fewer platforms take it one step further and report on metrics like average asset views and average session time once the visitor clicks into your website. This is where content intelligence comes in and gives you the ability to track deeper engagement metrics, so you can see just how much (and how often) your visitors are consuming content you produce.
PathFactory’s 2021 Content Engagement Report revealed that visitors who interacted with content that was served up in an email had the highest average views per visitor (2.5) compared to the other three channels. In addition, email resulted in visitors that had the second-highest average view time per visitor (5:27), average session time (2:40) and binge rate (17.5%). All things considered, a well-executed email campaign has the capacity to bring a quality and engaged customer to your website.
Before you kick your marketing channel optimization strategy into high gear, take note of other factors that may be deterring visitors from interacting with your content.
- Are you using content intelligence to track behavior within PDFs? Without content intelligence, PDFs are a black box and can lead visitors to a dead end (or worse: encourage them to leave your website). If you do choose to use static PDFs, there are a couple ways to mitigate the risk of losing valuable customers (and information about these customers) at this touchpoint. Consider an optional content gate to access the PDF, or a form asking for customer information before the customer closes the page. Even though you won’t have engagement metrics about them, you’ll be able to follow-up with them at a later date and keep the relationship warm. The key is to ensure you’re giving the reader access to the information they need, while providing an optimal experience.
- Are your nurture campaigns more ‘catch and release’ than ‘catch and convert’? If you’re getting interest in your marketing campaigns but very few conversions, you can try re-engaging prospects through email marketing. Also consider sending an email to your least-active visitors to either “re-activate” them or identify lost subscribers so you can ensure your email list is always up to date.
- Review how you’re tagging and organizing your content. Rethink the notion that shorter content belongs at the top of the funnel, and longer assets towards the middle or bottom. There is value in testing and experimenting to determine the best “mix” of long and short content for both known and unknown visitors as they progress through the buyer’s journey. Similarly, start bundling assets together by specific topics, rather than broader categories or types. This will make it easier for visitors to self-educate with as little friction as possible.
So while a sales funnel is a helpful way to understand aggregate conversions over time, they ignore the unique journey that each buyer is on. Every buyer on the search for information will have had multiple touchpoints, so it’s important to give equal attention to optimizing your marketing channels, as well as lead generation. Understanding exactly how the buyer is engaging will enable both your sales and marketing teams to take relevant actions and impact the velocity of revenue more than the typical black box of pipeline.