The Customer Acquisition Funnel: Keys to Success & Mistakes to Avoid

Successful selling boils down to one common goal: providing value by solving the customer’s problem.

It sounds like a simple and scalable task. But with the increasing complexity and competition of modern business, go-to-market professionals have an unending list of variables to consider.

Most companies offer solutions that address multiple problems to either expand their addressable market, or maximize the lifetime value of their existing customer base. There’s also the increasing complexity of customer journeys to consider.

Let’s go back to basics. We’ve deconstructed the customer acquisition funnel and the buyer’s journey to find the keys to success — as well as common mistakes to avoid.

What Is a Customer Acquisition Funnel?

In essence, the customer acquisition funnel is a map that charts the course of an individual who starts as a prospect, and (hopefully) ends up as a repeat customer.

Prospects enter at the wide-open top, and emerge at the narrow base. The funnel itself is made up of multiple levels, each representing a key stage in the overall process.

So far, this sounds a lot like the typical marketing funnel. However, a customer acquisition funnel pays less attention to the initial contact with a prospect, and provides a wider overview of the customer relationship.

Creating an Effective Customer Acquisition Strategy

Successful strategies for customer acquisition are built on a firm understanding of the sales funnel. Each layer is vital in guiding prospects toward a deal, and each calls for a different area of focus.

1. Awareness Stage

Prospects enter the customer acquisition funnel when they become aware of your brand. This could be through social media, your latest advertising campaign, a Google search leading to your content, or many other customer acquisition channels. 

Only a small minority of the people who enter the customer acquisition funnel will actually convert and become paying customers. As such, reaching the maximum number of individuals who fit your ideal customer profile (ICP) should be a top priority. Search engine optimization and content marketing that covers broad topics can be very effective, though these strategies often take time to show meaningful results.

2. Interest Stage

One step down the sales funnel is interest. This is when a prospect begins researching solutions that could solve their problem, and educating themselves on surrounding topics.

Prospects in this funnel stage typically don’t have any firm opinions yet, so sales and marketing teams have an opportunity to shape the outlook of potential customers. Publishing how-to guides, FAQs, and other educational content can be an effective way of persuading prospective customers why your solution is superior.

3. Consideration Stage

Interest turns into consideration when a prospect starts homing in on specific solutions. Prospects in this stage are very open to the idea of becoming your customer, but they are still gathering information and assessing their options.

Consideration can be declared directly, or detected through behavior analysis. For instance, someone who reads blog posts that compare various solutions within your field is clearly weighing up the idea of spending some money. The same can apply to webinars, FAQs, visits to pricing pages, and whitepaper downloads

Providing these forms of content can be a good way to get ahead of the competition. Remember, though, that prospects in the consideration stage want answers, so now is the time to prove why your product or service is the best.

4. Intent Stage

When a lead indicates they’re ready to make a purchase, they are showing buyer intent. This is a crucial yet delicate part of the funnel, where very valuable decisions are made.

Common indicators of direct buyer intent include regular visits to your website, strong engagement with your marketing campaigns, and demo requests. 

While these signals signify strong commercial intent, they are far from the only signals go-to-market teams should be monitoring. ZoomInfo enables users to observe online activity for other indicators that a prospect is ready to buy, such as brand champions moving into new roles and spikes in online activity related to specific topics, linked to corporate IP addresses.

5. Evaluation Stage

Having narrowed their focus on  one of several particular solutions, potential customers then enter the evaluation stage. This is where brand champions — the ones who know exactly how your product or service will benefit them and are actively campaigning for management to invest — will sell your brand to other stakeholders, and seek approval from those with purchasing power.

Although frontline salespeople have limited influence over the evaluation stage, it’s important for reps to maintain the momentum established earlier in the sales process.  

6. Purchase Stage

After carefully examining your offer, a few potential customers will actually come forward to strike a deal. Closing a new client is obviously a big step, but it doesn’t represent the end of the task list.

Turning one-time purchasers into loyal customers is a challenge for any business, but one that is worth pursuing. Improved customer retention leads to higher customer lifetime value. It also lowers average customer acquisition costs, because satisfied customers rarely need to repeat their journey through the full length of the funnel.

An effective customer acquisition funnel involves 6 stages: awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation and purchase.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Customer Acquisition 

Even with all the tools and technology at their disposal, many companies struggle to acquire customers effectively. With competition intensifying in practically every industry and sector, it’s vital for sales leaders to do everything they can to help their teams close more business.

Here are four common customer acquisition mistakes made by sales teams, and how you can avoid repeating them:

Failure Point #1: Not Properly Identifying Target Customers

Failing to target the right customers is one of the most common failure points in sales and marketing.

Even though this may seem like the most basic characteristic of any lead generation or outreach program, many businesses struggle when it comes to identifying and quantifying their most relevant buying demographics.

There are simple, yet critical questions that every lead acquisition program needs to have answered upfront before prospecting commences:

Who stands to benefit from your solution?

There is a fundamental difference between a total addressable market (TAM) and your true active market. TAM is the total value of all customers in a given market. A company’s active market, however, refers to the number of companies within a business’ TAM that are actively in a buying cycle.

How many of your prospects are truly ready to make the purchase?

Ask most sales and marketing professionals about how they target prospects, and they’ll likely mention customer segmentation. Namely, how they segment their existing customer base based on core firmographic and demographic commonalities that serve as indicators of high-value prospects.

But none of those static data points underscores what’s happening within a prospective account now. What does their budget look like? Are they growing, or focused on cost management? Has anything significant happened at the company — such as new funding rounds, product releases, or executive hires — that indicates this is an advantageous time to target the account?

Are these prospects actively looking for your solution?

Staying connected to your market is no longer limited to having the right contact information for the right stakeholders at ideal accounts. Instead, organizations need to understand that companies are signaling they’re in an active procurement phase of a solution.

Leveraging intent data to uncover relevant content consumption across the web from companies that match your ICP is usually a good starting point for identifying active research happening within your market. Which search terms are your prospects searching for? Which product features are they most interested in? What blog topics are resonating with your audience?

Failure Point #2: Not Attracting Customers With the Right Message

Potential customers today are overwhelmed with marketing messages, both in their personal and professional lives. 

That’s why it’s vital your messaging makes the most of the limited attention it will receive. This can only be done by addressing the prospect’s pain point. 

Here are some of the key criteria businesses need to focus on when crafting effective prospecting messages at various stages of the sales cycle:

  • Being succinct always works: Get to the point quickly.
  • Never lose that human touch: Always try to make your prospects feel like you’re humble and easily approachable.
  • Simplify whenever possible: Whoever makes it easiest to buy wins. From securing time on the calendar for a discovery call or demo, all the way to creating and distributing follow-up meetings consisting of clear action items for each stakeholder after a call, your process and responsiveness needs to put prospects at ease.
  • Remember the golden rule: In the end, the customer should be the hero of the story. Everything should connect back to the core problem your prospect is trying to overcome, and how your product or service can solve that problem better than anyone else. 

Failure Point #3: Distributing Messages Through the Wrong Channels

Once you’ve put your heart and soul into enhancing your offer, you need to make sure you are distributing value through channels that actually reach your target audience.

Some of the most frequently used marketing channels include:

1. Inbound marketing attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them with the intention of establishing and maintaining trust in their brand. Quality content creates loyal audiences and creates strong positive brand associations.

2. Paid digital advertising can be a highly effective method for bringing in traffic to your website and generating leads. However, returns are limited to and dependent on your advertising budget, and paid digital advertising can be expensive, particularly for highly competitive keywords in certain industries and verticals. 

3. Email prospecting is the use of email to create interest and brand awareness among prospective customers that have not yet expressed an interest in or interacted with your brand, typically as part of a cold outreach campaign. 

4. Social prospecting is leveraging social networking platforms to identify, study, and engage with prospects. Social is often among the most important marketing channels, as it allows brands to meet their audiences where they are and drive a level of engagement simply not possible with traditional channels. 

5. Print media can be extremely effective for field sales teams.. For small businesses with local reach, print marketing can help to create local brand recognition and direct customers directly to your premises.

6. Referral marketing is spreading the word about a product or service through existing customers, rather than traditional advertising. Referral marketing can be highly effective, as the trust inherent to a personal word-of-mouth recommendation is difficult to achieve through other means.

Failure Point #4: The Final Sticking Points: Proposal, Product, and Pricing

If you reach consideration and conversion stage, you’re probably in good shape, but you still need to get your deal across the line. You have already established enough value, so your prospects are asking for a proposal in order to scrutinize the finer details.

The first failure of many sales programs in  the consideration and conversion stages is not properly qualifying the buying committee prior to submitting a proposal. 

Once you submit a proposal, there are a few other failure points to consider:

  • Proposal: The first potential failure point  is the proposal itself. Everything from payment and limitation of liability, to termination, enforceability, and indemnification can derail your prospect’s potential to move forward and implement the deal.
  • Pricing: If you are losing deals based on your pricing, it’s likely because you are not qualifying leads sufficiently and solving your prospect’s pain points, or you are pricing yourself out of the market. Ensuring you are effectively communicating and validating your key value to the customer is crucial at this point.
  • Product: Even if your product or service can solve your prospects’ problem, there may still be misalignment between what you’re offering and what prospects want. Ideally, such misalignment should be identified and handled earlier in the process, but it’s possible for product-related objections to derail deals further down the line.

Uncovering each or any of these failures means you’re closer to operating more effectively, since every failure reveals an opportunity. 

Building the Perfect Acquisition Process

As you address these issues and move forward in building a new customer acquisition funnel strategy, there are certain key principles that will guide your business toward success. 

Focus on Customer Experience

Product, proposal, and pricing are certainly three key factors that determine the fate of many deals. However, customer experience throughout the customer acquisition process also plays a vital role in your conversion rate.

For new customers, friction at any stage of the funnel can be enough to dissuade them from continuing, or cause them to look for an alternative solution. Meanwhile, current customers are likely to decide whether to make another purchase based on their previous experience.

When crafting a customer acquisition strategy, think carefully about customer satisfaction. A loyal customer base is invaluable, and low customer churn is the bedrock of any successful business that relies on recurring revenue.

Use Social Proof

Few businesses can rely on word of mouth alone to drive new sales. Yet the same dynamic can play a powerful role throughout the funnel if properly utilized. 

Social proof — recommendations from third-party sources — reassures potential customers about the quality of your product and the trustworthiness of your brand. It can take the form of online reviews, testimonials from happy customers, case studies, user-generated content on social media, and more.

Incorporating social proof throughout your content and sales messaging is a proven way to make prospects feel more comfortable about proceeding towards a deal.

Embrace Key Metrics

In order to understand whether your customer acquisition efforts are paying off, it’s essential to study the data. While there is no fixed list for metrics, some of the most important data points include:

  • LTV (lifetime value) vs. CAC (customer acquisition cost): A ratio of three or higher indicates good profitability.
  • Cost per lead (CPL): It’s important to keep a careful eye on this figure and adjust marketing budgets accordingly.
  • Lead response time: Returning to the topic of customer experience, a lead who has to wait days for a reply from your sales team is unlikely to maintain strong interest.
  • Lead-to-sales cycle length: On a similar note, a lengthy sales cycle is best avoided — both for your business, and because it diminishes customer experience.

Improving Customer Acquisition With Data

Even the most sophisticated go-to-market strategies are unlikely to succeed without a solid foundation of reliable, accurate data. In today’s uncertain economic environment, sales leaders must do everything they can to give their teams a competitive edge, and that begins with data.

As outlined in ZoomInfo’s Customer Impact Report 2024, 95% of ZoomInfo users prefer our data to that of other providers. On average, ZoomInfo users generate 32% more revenue, are 64% more productive, and increase their pipeline by 46%.
Sign up for a free trial to test ZoomInfo for yourself, or speak to sales to learn more about what our platform can do for your business.