Marketing Funnel vs. Sales Funnel: A Complete Guide

Tom Jacobs Demand Generation, Marketing Strategy, Sales Enablement

Have you ever wondered how sales and marketing fit together? How the messaging is similar but also different? What someone meant when they talked about the funnel? Well, we’ve put together a complete guide for you to learn all about the two different types of funnels we utilize daily.

What is a Marketing Funnel?

A Marketing Funnel is a tool/visualization that marketers utilize to understand the process of interaction with their audience. The funnel leverages messaging, intent, and consumer mindsets to match with their creative assets. A marketing funnel is the journey that your audience goes on through their research, education, information and decision making process.

If you think about the shape of a funnel, the top being the widest point and narrowing down to the bottom, all stages can be aligned to marketing channels and messaging. It mirrors the buyer journey, sales intent levels, and all things between introduction to your brand up to conversion.

Marketing Funnel Stages: Top vs Bottom

There are a few ways to look at the different stages of the funnel. Each company will tell you something a bit different that works for their strategy. They both line up to the same points in the funnel.

  • Top of Funnel – Middle of Funnel – Bottom of Funnel
  • Awareness – Consideration – Conversion

The first version is a bit simpler version of the funnel. Saying something is top of funnel (ToFu) or middle of funnel (MoFu) will resonate with probably about 30% of the marketing world. We’ve used this with a few clients as the basis for content creation and messaging, but the more common version is the awareness/consideration/conversion. It helps let the client easily learn the mindset of the user and where they fall in their decision.

Top of Funnel / Awareness:

Goal: Be helpful, show competitive advantage of your product relative to the market, educational, relationship building

Channels: Content marketing, Referrals, Trade shows, Events, SEO, PR, viral campaigns, Programmatic, Google Display Network, Facebook Traffic Ads, LinkedIn Sponsored Post, any Social Media engagement plays (page likes, post comments, etc)

Content Examples: Blog posts, videos, podcasts, helpful articles, etc.

Avoid: Trying to get the user to make a decision, purchase, or sell to them.

  • The top of the funnel or awareness phase is the furthest out from the user taking action. A lot of times this marketing strategy is heavily branded, ungated, unassuming pieces of content, informational landing pages, helpful videos, or anything that lets the user learn more about the product/service without asking for anything in return. 
  • This awareness stage is great with display ads, content engagement, traffic social media campaigns which encourage brand awareness plays for new products, your introduction to the market, any blog/article assets, and any other material that is easily accessible, and referenced.

Middle of the Funnel / Consideration:

Goal: Give the user social proof your product/service is worth selecting over something else, prove why it’s the best in the market, technical specs and justification

Channels: Programmatic, Google Display Network, Facebook, LinkedIn Sponsored Post, any Social Media engagement plays (page likes, post comments, etc), monthly newsletter emails

Content Examples: Whitepapers, case studies, reports, webinars, Ebooks, Gated Blog Posts, Guides, Competitive Comparison Charts

Avoid: Directly asking for the purchase without providing any content or benefit, the ask has to seem like an afterthought

  • In the consideration phase, users will know either your brand or your subject matter. They’ll start to have an idea of the problem and begin to formulate HOW to solve it. At this point they are starting their consideration set as to WHO or WHAT will help them.  
  • Try not to gate your consideration content. Your prospect will not only get actionable advice without having to think, but they’ll also not have to give up too much to get it.

Bottom of the Funnel / Conversion:

Goal: Get users to join your pipeline, purchase your product, utilize your services

Channels: Facebook Lead Gen Form, LinkedIn Sponsored Post (lead gen form), LinkedIn InMail, paid search, any type of CTA retargeting

Content Examples: Audit, Free trial, access to tools, FAWs, customer testimonial, Demo Request

Avoid: Getting too fluffy with your offer or just asking generic questions, this audience is ready to commit! 

  • In the conversion phase, users should be qualified and comfortable with who you are, what your business does, and what they’ll get in exchange of information. Make sure it’s clear if your team will reach out, they get a free trial, demo the product or something else. 
  • This is it, your most viable audience, prospects ready to spend money on your product or service. Ensure you also have a retargeting audience collecting everyone that gets to the final step and abandons the form or cart.

How to Qualify a lead in the Marketing Funnel

  • Connector.

    Utilize custom form questions:

    Use custom outputs to qualify the lead by using answers that filter leads into different tiers. Whether that is giving job functions, company size, anticipated service interested in, etc.

  • Connector.

    Take a look at which keywords drove the lead:

    Branded vs. Non-branded: Even being as high level as a user searching your company name or not, this can help sales understand where to start and how much information they may need to begin with. Qualifiers: different qualifiers can flag what the MQL is looking for originally, whether that be comparison chart, pricing information, competitor alternative, etc.

  • Connector.

    Dual CTA Landing Pages:

    Utilizing multi-option forms that choose a specific path for the user to self-select what kind of information, action or response they’d like, helps customize the approach

B2B vs B2C Marketing Funnel

When it comes to differentiating B2B vs B2C marketing funnels, it merely comes down to the length, content strategy and CTA ask. So essentially they behave very similar in principle.

The B2C funnel will be very product eCommerce focused. Informational about the product/service, offering value and benefits of choosing that company. You have less of an opportunity to catch the attention of the user since the buying journey is much shorter in most cases. When a user is in the market for a product/service the intent is high and the conversion can take hours or days.

B2B funnels are more deal focused. Many deals and conversions can take serious consideration, negotiation, internal discussions to even engage. There are more opportunities to mix and match different funnel stage content to touch a user multiple times. You can even retarget users based on reaching top or middle funnel to serve a bottom-funnel message. The journey from the top to the bottom of the funnel could take days, weeks, or even several months to get to the point of asking for information.


What is a Sales Funnel?

Let’s switch gears to the Sales funnel. Think of a user as having gotten to a conversion point. Once that user raises their hand and provides information to your business, they can enter the sales funnel. The sales funnel can take prospects, leads, conversions from slightly interested, to qualified and add a revenue/LTV value to their unique ID.

The sales funnel becomes incredibly valuable to an organization because it helps forecast revenue figures, ROAS, and helps digital marketers isolate which channels, keywords, creatives, targeting audiences, or any number of inputs are most profitable.

Sales Funnel Stages

Every business identifies their sales funnel stages a bit differently, but we’ll try to identify the most common that we’ve used. We have seen anything from:

  • Untouched > Contact Made > Qualified > Proposal Presented > Negotiation > Won
  • Lead (Suspect) > Prospect > Qualified Prospect > Committed > Transacted > Fruitful Sales Opportunity
  • Marketing Accepted Lead (MAL) > Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) > Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) > Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) > Closed/Won

First Stage – What is an MQL?:


An MQL is a marketing qualified lead. This is where the sales funnel begins. We forgo the prospecting/lead/MAL phase because our digital channels bare minimum goal is to touch the user, drive leads (accepted), and hopefully through optimizing around lead quality, qualify the leads. Most organizations take this MQL figure and make it any conversion or lead that comes through marketing activity and meets a minimum threshold. To become an MQL a user must demonstrate interest by signing up for a newsletter, filling in a form, downloading content, etc.

  • Metrics for MQL: Company size, stage of marketing funnel content engaged with, keyword-driven from, branded vs unbranded campaign, etc.

Second Stage – What is an SAL?:


An SAL is a sales accepted lead. This stage of the funnel is the first step dictated by the sales team. When a lead reaches the MQL phase it is automatically put through and assigned to a sales rep. The sales team will vet this lead and deem them ready for further sales attention. Leads rarely stay in this stage for a long period of time as users have an idea of whether or not they are intending to complete the process.

Third Stage – What is an SQL?:


An SQL is a sales qualified lead. Once SALs are deemed ready to advance in the funnel, they are progressed to the SQL phase. In this stage, the sales rep will reach out and contact the MQL/SAL to have a conversation, get an idea of what the user is looking to spend (deal size) and obtain a solid timeline to follow up. This is the final stage before the deal is closed.

Final Stage – Closed/Won:


This is when the lead becomes a revenue line item. The deal is completed, the spend level actualized and the prospect becomes a customer. Keep an eye on the percentages between each stage for future optimization, pipeline acceleration and key improvement metrics.

The sales funnel will help transform your business. By creating a pipeline of leads & prospects, you can budget the entire quarter and optimize towards return on ad spend. Then, in times of uncertainty, you can monitor how full your prospect pipeline is and gauge how users are progressing through the funnel. During this COVID-19 period, we have seen sales pipelines soften, deal sizes shrink, and average lengths extending. This helps adjust approach and strategy and load the pipeline with users that might close in the future.

How do we combine marketing and sales funnels?

So knowing a bit about both the sales and marketing funnels, let’s explore how one benefits the other. If you consider the messaging, creative asset types, and CTA item as the marketing funnel, dropping users as close to conversion is the most ideal situation. Marketing & Media’s job is to do as much as possible to qualify the lead so that when it enters the sales funnel, sales knows as much as possible.

By combining your approach to marketing and sales funnels, you allow the ability to optimize down to the keyword level for revenue.

Optimizing Both Funnels for Revenue

When taking a look at the entire path from research to sales nurture, we’ve built models that will map out (down to a keyword level) how much each funnel contributes to the overall return. The more visibility, the better.

Your media teams or agencies can then start to identify your top keywords, ad copy, site links, campaigns by the amount of revenue it is driving.

Once you start optimizing towards higher deal sizes and creating a high volume of quality leads, your performance will really start to accelerate. With your lead qualification process, you will also be able to create a strong negative keyword strategy based on different keywords sending the lowest quality (possibly consumer) leads through.

How does Growth Marketing Fit in?

Putting these two funnels together starts to build the infrastructure to this Growth Marketing theory. While on the surface, this new trending term implies combining channels and capabilities in order to drive business growth (which is completely accurate), but has started to morph into the “Revenue Engine”. This term really starts with the partnership between sales and marketing departments.

Once these two teams collaborate more about lead quality, disqualification reasoning, pain points, any frequent concerns the leads are expressing, or any other number of factors that media may not see from the marketing funnel, the better marketing can qualify the leads and optimize towards highest quality.

Role of Chief Revenue Officer in the Growth of Both Sales & Marketing

The role of Chief Revenue Officers is to optimize the Revenue engine, drive growth to companies and oversee the bottom line acceleration. The CRO should have a solid understanding of what content in the marketing funnel is being spoken to which audience and how each is progressing through the sales funnel. Check out a bit more about the CRO role and expectations here.