The evolution of the B2B buyer’s journey has challenged go-to-market teams to think outside the box regarding how to reach in-market accounts. This is especially true for B2B organizations focused on enterprise-level sales to meet their growth goals in 2023. The biggest of these challenges is identifying what marketers often call the dark funnel.
What is the Dark Funnel in Marketing?
The dark funnel in B2B marketing refers to the time in the buyer’s journey before any account has been identified – whether by filling out a form by marketing or contacting a salesperson.
This period often occurs when a buyer is in the research stage but has increasingly crept into later funnel stages. While it has always been present in the buyer journey, the changes in the buying preferences of B2B buyers have elongated it. All is not lost, but this does require sales and marketing teams to adjust their go-to-market strategy.
How the B2B Buyer Journey Created a Marketing Dark Funnel
The passing of the generational torch from baby boomers to millennials in recent years has significantly uprooted the way B2B buyers research and purchase solutions. Gartner states that as millennials continue to shift into decision-making roles, “a digital-first buying posture will become the norm.” This digital-first buying posture has already created an entire web of activity that can’t be tracked with a traditional attribution model, and that activity level continues to grow.
Buyers have access to a whole network of online and offline resources to help them formulate what they want and, most importantly, whom they want it from without having to schedule time with a salesperson. In fact, modern buying committees spend up to 70% of their research stage online. While some of these activities happen on vendor websites, increasingly, more of these activities happen within the dark funnel and offer no clear attribution that sales and marketing teams can reference when identifying in-market accounts.
The Case for Account Signals Over Leads
In traditional marketing tactics, teams were oriented toward obtaining inbound leads as the main buying signal. But with the evolution of the B2B buyer’s journey, leads aren’t what they used to be. I won’t go as far as to say that leads are dead, but how we should look at leads is.
B2B buyers aren’t filling out forms at the same rate they used to for two reasons – they can find the information from un-gated sources just as easily, or they’re not ready to talk to someone yet. Software providers Unbounce and 6sense found that only 3-3.5% of unique site visitors will generally self-identify via a form fill. Meaning that 97% of the remaining website traffic on your website is still anonymous.
Even if they’re considered qualified, relying on this lead information alone only accounts for one person within the buying committee. It wrongly assumes that those anonymous visitors are unqualified simply because they did not give up their personal information. This shift creates friction in the sales process, making assigning attribution to the working marketing channels difficult.
The anonymity throughout the dark funnel further fuels this paradigm shift. Leads for B2B SaaS companies are just one component of what’s happening within the buying journey and can help provide insight into where the account is within that journey. This is why we look at leads as an account signal in an account-based marketing strategy.
How to Influence the Dark Funnel
So how can go-to-market (GTM) teams adjust to this new buyer landscape? Besides educating your team on these changes so that they can adjust their goals to reflect this shift in the buying journey, the biggest thing GTM teams can do is diversify their digital efforts. Even if you’re not directly speaking to the personas at these accounts, you can position yourself as part of the buyer’s journey by being a resource.
- Drive Organic Awareness: Create awareness in your space by improving your SEO. A foundational marketing tactic, good SEO can help add your company’s name to a list of potential vendors – especially when a buyer’s first step is to perform a Google search for a solution. Consider your market, industry, and brand positioning, and ensure you’re on their radar.
- Position Yourself as a Resource with Un-gated Content: Your SaaS company exists because there was a problem that you could solve better than someone else. Use your expertise to educate potential accounts hungry for trusted resources throughout their digital journey. Rather than create a piece of content to drive leads, create content with a purpose to drive the buyer down the funnel by un-gating it. While you lose the ability to identify the contact immediately, you gain trust from the buyer and increase the likelihood that they’ll consume your resources meaningfully through the consideration process.
- Harness 3rd Party Proof: Take your company off-site by harnessing the power of 3rd party review sites and industry directories. Millennial buyers increasingly trust these resources, which are often the first step to determining which vendors they will consider when looking for a solution. In fact, 85% of B2B software buyers say they trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendations.
- Provide Hands-Off Demo Opportunities: According to a report by HubSpot, the average linear B2B sales cycle is 83 days long. That’s 83 days of emails and sitting through calls to get a look at the product or solution. Buyers are crunched for time, just like you, and don’t have the time or patience to deal with the back-and-forth of a traditional sales cycle to determine if the product is right for them. That’s where you can get ahead of your competitors with unique offerings down the funnel, such as interactive product demos or on-demand demo webinars that don’t require you to sit face-to-face with a sales rep.
- Make Noise: Be present where relevant. B2B buyers want to see your brand where they live, especially on social platforms like LinkedIn. By being active with a consistent message across various channels where buyer personas live, you greatly increase your credibility with the buying committee and can create value by simply being part of the conversation.
Uncovering the Dark Funnel
Buyers aren’t the only ones with access to a new world of digital assets and software to help them – marketers and sellers do too. Especially in digital activity, strategic GTM teams can use various martech tools and resources to help uncover and map out accounts that are in-market for their solution before they fill out a form on their website.
Unfortunately, many tools that shed light on these digital breadcrumbs come at a cost. The biggest hurdle will be determining which pieces of tech you’ll need to invest in to make a true impact on your bottom line. These platforms and tools are increasingly part of a company’s ABM program, and teams reaping the biggest benefits are those that mastered what these account-based software tools offer.
As an ABM agency, we often recommend that a growth-stage B2B company prioritize selecting an ABM tool that supports uncovering account signals and intent and can segment and target based on those data points. Software like RollWorks or 6sense allows your GTM team the ability to track some of those digital breadcrumbs on the account level and help align sales and marketing on which accounts they should prioritize based on in-market signals.
Image Source: 6sense
However, there are some ways to encourage accounts to reveal themselves and the channels they use earlier in the buying journey by getting creative across channels you’re likely already using.
- Create sharable content that speaks to your target personas.
- Track brand mentions across social platforms and discover who’s evaluating your software.
- Survey your audience on LinkedIn and other channels with topical questions to see who’s engaged.
The goal here is to become a trusted resource that prospects engage with regularly. When they’re ready to move into the next step of their buying journey, you will be the first vendor they reach out.
Preparing Your GTM Team for the Dark Funnel
Cracking the buying journey today is hard, but it isn’t impossible. The biggest way for you to support your GTM team is to create an account-based experience that’s customer-centric.
As an account-based marketing agency, RenderTribe works with growth-stage B2B companies to create this customer-centric journey. Whether you need help with putting together an ABM strategy, building an ABX tech stack, or implementing account scoring, our team of ABM experts works directly with clients to create a strategy that is personalized to their needs.