Strategy & Lead Gen

How to Create a Digital Marketing Funnel

The old sales funnel is breaking in a big way. Marketers can lead the sale by understanding how content plays a role.

The sales process has been breaking in a big way.

You know how it goes: 

Sales reps do the selling, and marketers get a little slice of the pie — attract people to the brand... then, let sales do the rest.

This worked in the past. But with digital research rising, consumers are catching on — and they're tuning out of traditional sales pitches.

To fix the broken sales funnel, a marketers' role in the sale needs to change dramatically.

As a marketer, you must now play a crucial role in making the sale.

It's time to reclaim a piece of that sales pitch: You must be present when the customer makes decisions on what, where, and when to buy.

Blurring the hard line between traditional "marketing" and "sales" roles is good for marketers, sales professionals, and customers.


We'll explain the "zero moment of truth" and show you why (and how) you need to create your own digital marketing funnel.

The traditional marketing to sales handoff

Typically, marketers place emphasis on acquiring the lead, and then merely passing leads off to sales. 

AKA, somebody gives you your contact information, and whoosh, they're sent to a sales development rep.

There are various reasons marketers pass leads ASAP:

  • Some were taught that marketing is solely about attracting people to the brand.
  • Some have high lead quotas to meet
  • Some have antsy sales teams to satisfy

If you're nodding your head and thinking, "Yeah, that's me," then keep reading.

This quick "hot potato" handoff isn't great for leads or for sales.

Handing a lead off too early places too much emphasis on the bottom of the sales funnel — "Hi, here's our great business. Buy from us!"

It’s all about “Talking with a sales rep” or “Requesting a demo.”

It seems to makes sense, right? The sales follow-up is most likely to result in immediate revenue.


Nobody likes this mad dash to the finish line. And passing a potential buyer to your sales team too early can statistically ruin your chances of a sale.

In fact, 79% of people considered "leads" never buy from a company, according to MarketingSherpa, and it's often due to lack of education and lead nurture.

Lead nurturing, aka the process of educating and building trust with a buyer to encourage an eventual sale.

It sounds warm and fuzzy.

But why does that matter?

The answer: the zero moment of truth.

"Zero moment of truth" and the sales funnel

The internet has opened up a lot of things to our world: Cat videos, forum trolls, and digital marketing.

It's also given buyers a whole new realm of research, review, and comparison in the marketplace. No longer are they bound by TV or newspaper ads, billboards, or cold calls. They're going out digitally to find what they want.

The entire buying decision can happen at the intersection of their fingertips and a keyboard.

zero-moment-of-truth.pngWe call this the "zero moment of truth."

These days, buying happens in a series of micro moments:

  • The moment you realize you have a problem: "I really need to keep my cell phone more secure."
  • The moment you start thinking about your options to solve it: "Woah, there is software I can download to keep my phone safe."
  • The moment you decide what to purchase: "This brand and its security products seem like a great fit for me."

These moments might happen on your website — but they might not. Cue the new role of marketers.

Marketers must be present throughout the entire online buying process: when consumers identify a problem, seek solutions, and finally choose a vendor.

How can you be present for the zero moment of truth?

By making yourself present at every early stage of the sales funnel.

If you provide helpful information to solve problems, suggest solutions, and offer guidance in the decision process, you're golden.

Easier said than done, right?

It takes a lot of work to be present throughout this process (what we call the buyer's journey), but you're at a clear competitive advantage if you do so.

Helping people with the buying process makes you top of mind during that critical "moment of truth." And then, it’s more likely they'll choose you to solve their problems.

The zero moment of truth isn't just a genius concept. It's a call to action for marketers! We need to change the way we look at typical "sales funnels," and adopt a funnel of our own.

The marketing funnel helps lead the sale

So, how does the zero moment of truth affect the sale today?

Think about the last time you were shopping for something significant — a new TV, for example.

  1. First, you might read something about the optimal TV size for your home.
  2. Then, you may have Googled "best 55" TV models."
  3. From those lists, you may have read reviews on each suggestion.
  4. By now, you're close to making a decision — and you haven't even visited a website like Target or Amazon, places that actually sell TVs!

Each of these experiences is a micro moment. That is, you moved through the decision process, aka the "funnel," on your own.

Imagine if you sell TVs and your brand had been present from the start.

If you had provided a useful tool for calculating "best TV size for my living room." If you had created comparison charts for different models on your website. You'd be ahead of the game, and top of mind when it came time to finally decide.

That's why each stage of the funnel is important for you as a marketer. Let's break it down.

What are the sales funnel stages?

The sales funnel stages are:

  1. Visitor/Subscriber
  2. Lead
  3. Marketing Qualified Lead
  4. Sales Qualified Lead
  5. Opportunity
  6. Customer
  7. Evangelist

It might feel a little inhuman to classify people in these categories. But thinking about about marketing in this framework can actually help you appear more relevant, and therefore more like a real human! 

No more unsolicited sales calls or emails. Just relevant information, when it's needed.

Now let's talk about how, as a marketer, you can be present for each of these milestones.



At the top of the marketing funnel, the goal of marketers is to capture the attention of as many people as possible.

More specifically, you want to draw in people who have problems related to your business.

How can you do this?

Write and publish useful resources (like blog posts, guides, tools, and charts) that are purely helpful — leave your business out of it!

It might sound counter intuitive, but in the awareness stage, you're only helping people solve their problems, not passing them off to your sales colleagues.

(It's like that calculator that tells someone which size of TV they need for their space, for example. It doesn't sell anything. It just helps them on their buying journey.)

In the inbound marketing methodology, we call this the "awareness" stage, because people are just becoming aware of their problems.

You can increase the reach of your helpful content by:

  • Optimizing it for keywords, so people Googling a problem like "How big should my TV be?" can find it
  • Sharing it on social media, so people can find it on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Promoting it on different related websites with link building strategies
  • Writing good, unique stuff, so people will take note and start discussing your article

When a website visitor reads your content and thinks, "Hmm, this was helpful," they might become a "subscriber" — somebody who opts in to hear more from you from a subscription.

The more micro moments you can create at this stage, the more likely they'll come back on their buying journey.

One example of great helpful content comes from HostelWorld, a directory service of hostels in foreign countries that young adults can reserve.

They send me helpful emails like, "10 budget travel destinations for October!" Since I like the content, I am a subscriber to their email newsletter — and if I ever decide I want to travel to one of those places, I'll jump right in to their website!

Lead and Marketing Qualified Lead

One of the hardest marketing tasks is moving subscribers further down the proverbial funnel. People like the free resources you're creating... but do they really want to start hearing about your brand?

The most important thing you can do is be present when they start really considering solutions. 

In the TV example, you helped somebody realize they needed a certain size TV. Now, you're helping them as they consider different solutions. (Keyword: "Helping"... not "telling.") 

They want a certain size... but can they buy or rent that TV? Are there different display features they'd find exciting, or should consider first?

These questions are important to their buying process. Help them with useful content: A guide that explains buying vs. renting. A cool video or chart that explains different display features.

While middle-of-funnel content isn't selling anything yet, it's still helping people move down their purchase path.

You can put this useful information behind a "gate," or a landing page that requires them to fill out information first.

If you choose to gate, you can have people enter brief information like their name, budget, etc. Things that will help you target to and help them better. Once they've provided this information, you can consider them a "lead."

But, wait:

Don't pass them to sales just yet!

As you provide useful content and gather information, you'll get a better idea of how interested and qualified this person is to buy. Is their budget low? Are they not your true target customer? You'll start identifying these things early... which means you can suggest better-fit people to your sales team when the time comes.

When somebody engages with a few micro moments on your website and shows that they'd make a good customer, you can qualify them as a marketing qualified lead — this fancy term simply means that you can start mentioning your brand specifically.

Here, quality and fit of your leads is better than quantity: Having a ton of people who never make it close to buying simply won’t help your business.

Sales Qualified Lead

This is the final stretch of the race, where you’re ready to make that consideration a final decision.

At this point, your buyer knows the solution to his problem — the zero moment of truth is near.

Now, the person just needs to make that purchase decision. You can help at this point by providing case studies about your business, price comparison charts, and more.

You want to show your differentiators, nice and clearly.

When somebody reads a resource like "What It's Like Working With ABC Company For Mobile Security," you can consider them "sales qualified."


Well, at this point, they're clearly ready for your sales team to pursue them — they want to know if you'd be a great fit.

A sales rep can follow up with this person and consider them a sales opportunity... and hopefully move them to become a customer eventually.

If everything goes smoothly, the person will also become an evangelist for your brand — somebody who actively talks about how great you are in social media and to their friends.

You can help them get to this point by creating special offers and content for your customers (and not "re-marketing" to them!)

Your new marketing job title: "Funnel expert."

Brands who are present for the entire marketing funnel have a clear edge over competitors.

The marketers at these companies know that their role isn't just brand advocate, even if it's traditionally been so — it's now brand educator.

Many sales funnels are super scrunched down: Person finds brand, brand tries to make the sell. But with the new digital landscape and the zero moment of truth, the sales funnel needs to become longer, wider, more customer-focused.

As a marketer, you can be present for the entire buyer's journey (the heart of what we call inbound marketing), and you'll find that it's a lot more human, too!

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