Marketing funnel: the ultimate guide to funnels (with a step-by-step plan)

by Marcel Nanning | Last Updated: February 6, 2024

The successes of entrepreneurs fly by. One sales record after another is broken if you can believe your LinkedIn timeline, and it seems as if literally everyone around you has a ‘passive income stream’. Although there is no such thing as an overnight success, those successful entrepreneurs do have something in common: they have their marketing funnel in order.

You launch a new site and sit back. Let those orders come. But after that one announcement, hoping that your website visitors will click the add to cart button with cramp in their fingers is naive. Did you know, for example, that potential customers need an average of 7(!) contact moments before they decide to buy? You don’t see the hard work on the back end when you read about all those successes.

You, therefore, want to present the right message to the right people at the right time. No ‘look at me’ screaming sales pitch, but offer a solution for the problem of your target group. Especially in B2B with complex sales processes. To do this, you need to map out the customer journey and build a marketing funnel for it. Also in Account Based Marketing, marketing funnels are certainly indispensable.

Marketing funnel for direction

After all, you don’t usually drive blindly to the Costa del Sol in summer without a navigation system either. Your navigation system gives you the quickest route and prepares you for traffic jams and road works so that you arrive at your holiday destination as quickly as possible. This also applies to your marketing funnel.

This article is a complete guide to the funnel: what is it? How do you set it up? And which tools do you use? At the end of this article, you might have square eyes, but the reward is great: you have a complete step-by-step plan to build your own funnel.

What is a marketing funnel?

If you drive to the sunny south on Google Maps, the route planner will give you the quickest suggestion. The information is updated en route. Due to unforeseen circumstances such as traffic jams or road works, the route is longer or you are rerouted.

You can compare the marketing funnel with the route and its adjustments. For each phase of the customer journey, you make route suggestions with the aim of ensuring the lead arrives safely at its final destination: the checkout button on your website. This is how the lead turns into a customer. And with this funnel, you win the trust of your lead step by step.

A marketing funnel is therefore a collection of activities that influence the various phases that target groups go through in their journey to purchase (customer journey).

The 4 stages of the customer journey for marketing funnels

While your potential lead is on his way to his final destination, you want to stand out to this person. To do this, it is important that you first know exactly who your customer is and what problem you are solving. You do this by creating a target group description and persona. Once you have that insight, you start determining the message per phase in that customer journey or buyer journey.

There are various methods for mapping out the customer journey. You are probably familiar with the AIDA model (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action). You adapt your message on the basis of the phase of the customer journey.

marketing funnel example

1. Attention

In the attention phase, you want to be in the spotlight of your ideal customer. In this phase, it is again important to realise that people only decide to buy after an average of eight contact moments. Many entrepreneurs make a big mistake here: they immediately go into sales mode. This is the same as giving your colleague at a speed date a big hug. You scare the person off and that first impression is irreparable. Get to know your customer (or your date 😉 ) first and build a relationship. Some examples of communication in the attention phase:

In many cases, social media and Google Ads are the best channels for appealing to a large audience and standing out in the crowd. In addition, there are plenty of targeting options on the platforms, so you are not shooting with buckshot. Your potential lead may not even be aware of a problem or a certain need. It’s time for you to tell them about it. Use frustrations, fears but also humour in your communications: messages based on emotion work best and linger longest.

2. Interest

Ha! You have captured the attention of your dream customer. You stand out because you have a solution for holidaymakers who sweat at the baggage carousel at their destination in the sun, because they fear that their suitcase is still at Schiphol. Or you’ve impressed them with your article on the increasing back pain of people who work hunched over their laptops all day. Now it’s time to pique their interest further. Some examples of communication in the attention phase:

3. Desire

While you had resolved not to buy anything for a whole month, you find yourself daydreaming behind your laptop, while a small drool seeps onto your keyboard, longing for that one pair of shoes in the digital shop window.

Checkout! That’s exactly what you want your ideal customer to do: long for your product. You can’t achieve this with a simple newsletter that you send out once every quarter to your dusty e-mail database. But a well-oiled marketing funnel will. A number of examples of communication in the desire phase:

4. Action

While wiping the corners of your mouth and keyboard, you see that today only, you get a discount on a pair of trainers. You throw all your principles overboard and before you know it, the pair of shoes is in your digital shopping basket and you pull out your credit card.

Strike while the iron is hot’ is a well-known saying. And this is the moment to turn your lead into a customer. Here are a few examples of communication in the action phase:

Just like the cheap clothes on AliExpress, marketing is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The above communications are just an example of what is possible. You always take into account the needs and touchpoints of your target group.

As an entrepreneur, do you stoically post a tip on social media every week, without any interaction (not counting your parents)? Then it’s time to change your plan of action. Think about all the communication you put out into the world: does it contribute to the main objective, the conversion?

Alternative to AIDA: Google’s model

There are many different customer journey models out there. In my workshops, I like to work with Google’s model that is based on these phases:

Whichever model you choose, you will often find similarities in the various phases. There are always exploratory phases, the phases in which the target group first becomes acquainted with a topic or with your organisation, and phases in which the purchase comes closer. After that comes the ‘customer phase’ in almost all models. Here, the focus is on binding and retaining customers and the ambassador role.

12 steps to build your own marketing funnel

Now that you know the theory, it’s time to put it into practice. In 12 steps, you build your own well-oiled marketing funnel that no WD40 can beat.

  1. Define your goal
  2. Define your KPIs
  3. Define your Target Group
  4. Define the touch points of your target group
  5. Determine what message you will convey per phase of the customer journey
  6. Determine which marketing tools you will use
  7. Draw up a content calendar and appoint a chief content officer to supervise the planning
  8. Set up your marketing tools and campaigns
  9. Monitor your KPIs monthly and see if you are still on track
  10. Eyes on the price: only prioritise the tasks that contribute to your ultimate goal
  11. Stop with what does not work, continue with the things that give you good results
  12. Optimize

The goal is to design a journey for your target group that is as smooth and frictionless as possible. The combination of the right message, use of channels and form has the best chance of achieving results.

marketing funnel friction

The advantages of a marketing funnel at a glance:

  1. Your message connects with every stage of the customer journey
  2. You are more concerned with the needs of your dream customer, instead of going straight into sales mode
  3. You sell a solution instead of a product or service
  4. Your lead becomes warmer, increasing the likelihood of conversion
  5. Peace and quiet: your marketing will be clear, structured and systematic
  6. You will gain more insight into your results

These marketing funnel tools are indispensable

Setting up marketing funnels or doing funnel marketing go hand in hand with tools. The rise of marketing automation and other tools has boosted the popularity of funnels. Besides tools to support the set-up of funnels, analysis tools and other resources cannot be missing from your toolbox. We empty our own toolbox and go through it with you.

Tooltips for funnel marketing


You have undoubtedly heard of ActiveCampaign. Not surprising, because it is the fastest growing tool many marketers use. Marketing Automation, email marketing and your CRM system come together at a very friendly price.

👉 Check out our ActiveCampaign review here.


HubSpot. You can’t ignore it if you’re in the marketing profession. It is one of the market leaders in marketing automation. Especially suitable for large organisations that have e-mail marketing and marketing automation at the top of their priority list. Also interesting for setting up your website, analysing results, scoring leads and capturing leads in CRM.

👉 Check out our HubSpot review here.

Google Analytics

The holy grail for every marketeer: Google Analytics. All your data from your various platforms comes together in this. Calculate the ROI from your various marketing channels and make adjustments to your marketing funnel accordingly.

Trello, Asana, Onenote and Monday

Manage your tasks or create your content calendar for the coming year: Trello helps you keep track. Create lists per theme (or for example month) and assign tasks to your team members. Focus is essential to create a well-oiled marketing funnel and productivity tools like Trello will help you do just that. Alternatives are Asana or Milanote (my personal go-to productivity tool) or Monday. OneNote, by the way, also works great as a collaborative tool.

👉 Check out our Monday review here.

SE ranking

A lead has specific questions for each phase in the customer journey. In the attention phase, he mainly wants to find out more about a particular solution or product, while in the action phase you want to convince him that your company is the best match. On certain searches, you want to show off in the search engines. With SE Ranking, you can monitor your SEO results.

👉 Check out our SE Ranking review soon.


Pipedrive is a fairly young but very successful player on the CRM market. The tool is aimed at supporting teams working on a sales opportunity and provides a visual representation of the status of a deal. Lead scoring allows you to manage potential leads in your marketing funnel.

👉 Check out our Pipedrive review here

💡Tip! Compare CRM solutions with our CRM Comparison Tool


Shopify is a popular all-in-one e-commerce solution. If you are at the beginning of your entrepreneurial adventure and want to set up a marketing funnel for your solution, then one of the things that will make your adventure a success is a good webshop. It includes everything you need for a successful e-commerce platform: hosting, a website builder, payment processing and more. You can create orders manually and let customers use discount codes and gift vouchers.

Criticism of funnel marketing 🤔

leadgeneration marketing funnel example

As good as all this sounds, there is also criticism of marketing funnels. There is no holy grail for marketing, and funnels certainly are not.

Marketing funnels are too far removed from reality

Like all models, funnels are a tool, a simplification of reality. It is an illusion to think that people move through their journey exactly as you have described it. The psyche of a person and all the influences to which the DMU is exposed make the reality more recalcitrant.

Customers don’t think and act linear

The linear representation of funnels is therefore often criticised. People go back and forth and stumble on all kinds of thoughts in their route to a possible purchase. I have experienced this often enough myself. After some deliberation and an already filled shopping basket, I decided to sleep on it just before making the payment. The next day, I flew back into a kind of orientation phase where I tortured myself with questions like: ‘Do I really need this item now? Can’t I go on without it for a while? And if I do need it, shouldn’t I consider the alternative again?

The linear nature of marketing funnels is also not so easy to solve with circular models. The underlying challenges remain in circular customer journey models, the complexity increases and the applicability decreases.

Solution: Growth Marketing

That is why we often see a lot of testing when designing and setting up funnels. Growth marketing is completely based on this: we set up a funnel based on a hypothesis, we test and measure what we can and then adjust the funnel accordingly.

Demand Generation

Another answer to using funnels is the use of Demand Generation. There are many definitions about it and we prefer not to use this word at all. Demand Generation capitalises on the fact that 95% of the target audience is not currently in the market for your product or service (on average). This group, however, is worth reaching.

So here we assume that people do not necessarily go through a funnel, after all, they have their own rhythm in the buying process. Therefore, it is better not to try to get them into a funnel but simply to work on brand awareness and brand knowledge (i.e. loading your brand).

You can cultivate this group and make sure you become top of mind. Then, as soon as there is a product demand, your brand will be part of the selection list. In this case, we prefer to talk about branding or working on brand awareness and brand loading. This is what we used to call ‘above-the-line’ advertising.

Frequently asked questions about marketing funnels

What is a marketing funnel?

A marketing funnel is a marketing model that ensures that potential leads become customers. By sharing the right message at the right time and by communicating on the basis of a need rather than a product or service. Based on the phase of the customer journey, you make route suggestions with the aim of having the lead arrive safely at the final destination: the checkout button on your website.
marketing funnel flow

Why do I need a marketing funnel?

A marketing funnel allows you to better empathize with the customer and communicate on the basis of needs, instead of immediately shooting into sales mode. Sharing the right message at the right time, in the right place, and with the right person improves results.

What is the difference between a sales and marketing funnel?

Some marketers see the sales and marketing funnels separately. The marketing funnel is intended to catch the eye of the lead, with a sales funnel you make sure that the lead actually makes a purchase. The AIDA model includes all aspects, from ‘attention’ to ‘action’. In our view, marketing and sales cannot be seen separately, but as one. Let sales and marketing work together and create one process to bring in new customers.

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