What Is a Sales Funnel?

The sales funnel is an abstract concept marketers and sales teams use to explain the process of turning your leads into customers. It’s represented as a “funnel” because as your audience moves beyond awareness of your brand and closer to conversion, the number of people you’re talking to gets smaller.

Ideally, your sales funnel should be at least somewhat automated—so that your lead magnets naturally feed into lead nurture campaigns, which either convert those leads or set them up for a pitch from your sales team.

Like gravity, pulling them down a funnel. Leads go in, customers come out.

What’s the point of a sales funnel?

Many brands make the mistake of generating a bunch of new leads, slamming them with sales pitches, and assuming the leads that don’t convert weren’t valuable. This can make brands feel like they’re getting a quick win, but it ultimately means they get the lowest return on investment (ROI) on the work they put into generating those leads.

According to Forrester, a person consumes an average of 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase decision. If you follow up a lead-gen campaign with three sales pitches, you’re wasting your leads.

The sales funnel helps you decide what to send to who. It ensures every piece of content is relevant to the people you’re sending it to and appropriate for how familiar they are with your brand and your products or services.

Stages of a sales funnel

Sales funnels include three stages: TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU. That’s top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel. Each stage represents a different segment of your audience and requires different kinds of content.

In their excellent guide to sales funnels, BuzzSumo suggests the TOFU stage is about raising awareness of your brand, MOFU is about developing relationships with leads, and BOFU is where you finally convert your audience into customers.

TOFU: top-of-funnel

The top of your funnel is the broadest possible representation of your audience. These people aren’t even leads yet.

They may not have even heard of you—let alone discovered your expertise or learned how you can help them solve their problems or reach their goals. They just found you on Instagram or stumbled into one of your well-designed social posts. Maybe they’ve seen an ad, or read a blog post.

Your top-of-funnel content is about creating brand awareness and driving traffic to your website. It should be valuable, and it should help people see the value of your expertise.

At most, top-of-funnel content should invite people to begin a relationship with you by doing something like subscribing to your blog, signing up for your newsletter, or following you on social media.

MOFU: middle-of-funnel

The middle of your funnel is the section of your audience that has begun a relationship with you. They’re at least somewhat familiar with your brand and the ways you help people solve problems and achieve goals.

A good lead-gen campaign should quickly lead people from the top of your funnel to the middle, because the right lead magnet immediately shows them the value of your brand, and paired with the right follow-up approach, familiarizes your leads with your brand fast.

This is where you want to provide a lot of free value. The more you give your leads here, the more effective your eventual pitch will be (at the bottom of the funnel).

BOFU: bottom-of-funnel

The bottom of your funnel is the moment you’ve been waiting for. It’s your chance to make the pitch and close the sale with qualified leads who already see your brand as valuable.

Many brands jump straight from lead-gen campaigns to BOFU content, which is frustrating for both your leads and your sales team. Until your leads progress to the bottom of the funnel, they’re not ready for BOFU content. They haven’t learned to see your brand as valuable yet—they hardly even know you. And that makes a sales pitch feel tone deaf.

But once they’re here, you can build on the relationship you’ve already started, using what you know about your audience and referring to what you’ve already been teaching them. It’s like continuing a conversation, instead of asking strangers for money.

Is it time to define your sales funnel?

A lot of brands don’t take the time to map out how their content works together, who it’s for, and what each piece is intended to accomplish. If you’re investing in lead-gen campaigns, paying for sends to email partners, or creating content, you need a strategy to make sure every piece has a purpose. And a sales funnel is a great model to help you define and outline that strategy.