The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Funnels

What the Funnel: The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Funnels

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Marketing funnels are all the rage these days. They are a critical element for marketing your small or microbusiness, but they are not nearly as confusing or convoluted as you may think. It’s marketing, not magic.

What are marketing funnels?

Let’s kick it old-school. Back in 1910, philosopher/psychologist John Dewey {not the decimal point dude} introduced the five-stage decision process that we humans go through before making decisions: problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, choice, and outcomes.

We go through this process every day. You’re standing in line at the grocery store, and you see chips. Suddenly, you’re aware that you’re hungry. So you look at the chips available. Then you think about the time of day, is dinner soon? 

It’s the way our brains work. 

In the 1960s, savvy marketers applied a modified version of the psychological concept to the sales and marketing process. I totally envision a Don Draper-type going through each of the stages trying to sell a few more Lucky Strikes. 

A marketing funnel uses the natural decision-making process to create a roadmap for a lead to become a customer.

Why it matters? 

Human beings don’t buy products or services, they buy solutions to problems. Some problems are obvious: I am hungry, my car won’t start, I don’t have toilet paper. And some problems are less obvious: I am bored, I want to feel a certain way, I want to experience something. 

Every purchase starts with a problem. 

Think back to the last purchases you made, and you’ll find a problem you were solving. 

  • Why did I buy Girl Scout cookies? Because I wanted to be a good neighbor.
  • Why did I buy a baby shower gift? Because I wanted to be a good friend. 
  • Why did I buy overpriced mascara? Because I wanted a killer cat-eye.
  • Why did I buy my husband a new watch? Because I wanted him to be happy.
  • Why did I buy a scratching post? Because I want my catholes to leave my grandmother’s mid-century chairs alone.

Digging a little deeper, we can see:

  • I didn’t buy cookies, I bought a friendly relationship with my neighbor.
  • I didn’t buy five onesies, I bought love for a friend.
  • I didn’t buy mascara, I bought a cosmetic aspiration.
  • I didn’t buy a watch, I bought strengthening my marriage.
  • I didn’t buy a scratching post, I bought safety for a treasured family heirloom.

It all starts with a problem and a solution.

Stages in marketing funnels

The traditional marketing funnel has four distinct stages.

Traditional Marketing Funnel


Your buyer persona is out their living her best life when she becomes aware of you and your solution. This is known as the top of the funnel and includes the largest number of people. People who visit your website or lurk on your public presence are in the awareness stage.


In the Interest stage, your buyer persona is actively looking for solutions to her problem. She’s visited your website AND subscribed to your email list or is interacting with your public presence. 


In the Desire stage, your buyer persona is considering her options. She desires a solution, and she’s researching all possible options. She’s checking out your different packages, scheduling a discovery call or attending your webinar.


In the Action stage, she’s pulling the trigger and sending that cold hard cash your way.

Modern times call for modern marketing funnels

The traditional marketing funnel was created in 1898 by Elias St. Elmo Lewis {not the Fire guy, shout out to my fellow Brat Pack fans}. And while it follows the human decision-making process, a lot has changed in the last 123 years.

A traditional funnel makes some assumptions that are not necessarily accurate in today’s marketplace.

  • Customers are able to develop awareness on their own.
  • Customers go through a linear journey.
  • Customers go through each stage equally.
  • The marketer can control the flow of available information.
  • The sale is the end of the customer journey.

Thanks to technology, modern marketing funnels are more circular than linear. 

Modern Marketing Funnel


Awareness is still the key entry point, since every purchase starts with a problem.


The Interest and Desire stages are consolidated into one Consideration Stage where your buyer conducts a Research and Discovery Loop.

Your buyer persona is aware she has a problem, so she:

  • Goes to the Googles for a solution
  • Reads some blogs and watches some videos
  • Asks her friends for recommendations
  • Searches social media 
  • Reads company reviews

Why a Loop?

The prospect has unlimited access to information. She isn’t relying solely on marketing to make her decision. Her decision-making process may change based on information she finds during her search. 

Imagine you wanted to buy a new couch. You go online and search furniture stores near you. You do a bit of online browsing and find a style you love from Company A. So you check out their online reviews and see complaint after complaint. You start your search over. 

Your prospect wants to make an informed decision and she’s willing to use every resource available to her before making her choice.


Cha-ching! Here comes that money.


In the old-school funnel, the purchase was the end of the road. Thanks for the cash, byyyeeeee. 

Nope, nope, nope.

Once a prospect becomes a customer, your goal is to activate her as a stealth marketing ambassador and engage her in a loyalty loop. By sharing positive reviews, referring friends and family, and sharing User-Generated Content, she becomes a part of your marketing team. That content becomes part of the Research and Discovery Loop for the next prospect. 

After they’ve done business with you one time, they completely bypass the Research and Discovery Loop for future purchases. And each subsequent purchase drives up their Lifetime Customer Value.

Building your first marketing funnel

Your marketing funnel is designed to make it easy for a prospect to select you as the solution to her problem. To create your funnel, put yourself in her shoes, ask the questions she is asking and have a presence where she is, using different marketing strategies

Most people enter the awareness stage using search engines. Make sure your blog or microblog is using SEO best practices and answering the questions your buyer persona is asking. 

In the consideration stage, she is gathering data to make an informed decision. She’s reading blog posts, watching videos, and reading reviews and testimonials. Use your blog, online video strategy, email marketing and customer review site, like Google My Business to guide her to the next step. 

In the post-purchase stage, ask for reviews and testimonials and have a follow-up strategy so you keep her in your funnel.


Marketing funnels are simply a marketer’s way to envision the path a prospect takes in becoming a customer and uses the natural decision-making process they go through to provide the most helpful content.

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