confusion about inbound methodology, sales funnel and buyers journey

Sales Funnel, Buyers’ Journey and Inbound Methodology – The Difference

This blog is for those of us that can’t tell the difference between “Sales Funnel” “Buyer’s Journey” and “Inbound Methodology.” If for no one else, it’s for myself. For a while I had no idea what the difference was between these three words. Considering a lot of the blogs I’ve read over the past couple of months, there are other people in the same boat.

Let’s check it out…

These three different terms all describe the same process, but from different perspectives: the process that every buyer goes through. For this reason, the buyer’s journey is the most foundational to understanding all three of these terms.

The Buyer’s Journey

This is the journey that buyers go on throughout the buying process. Check out the diagram below:

The B2B Buyers' Journey

The buyer’s journey is the journey that the buyer goes on whether or not they ever hear about your business (they will realize a need, consider options, and make a decision with or without your help). In other words, the buyer’s journey is from the buyer’s perspective. They don’t care about whether or not a company gains a new customer, they just want to move from the awareness stage to the decision stage as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Sales Funnel

The sales funnel has been around for awhile. It is a visual representation of the journey that buyers take from strangers to customers and evangelists of your company that the Smarketing team (marketing and sales team working together) uses to categorize contacts. The top of the funnel represents people who are farther away from buying (strangers, visitors, subscribers) and the bottom of the funnel represents people who are closer to buying (SQL‘s, Opportunities, Customers, Evangelists).

Here is HubSpot’s sales funnel:

The B2B Sales Funnel

This term is from the company’s perspective. The company cares about transforming the buyer from a stranger into a delighted customer as quickly and efficiently as possible. The sales funnel allows a company to do this. While the buyer’s journey maps out how close a buyer is to buying, the sales funnel looks at how close a buyer is to buying from that certain company.

Inbound Methodology

This term obviously very closely related to inbound marketing, and similarly was coined by HubSpot. This term is a hybrid between the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel. It is the process that inbound marketers use to attract strangers to their business and eventually turn those strangers into happy customers that advocate their business to other strangers. This process contains stages. Inbound marketers use different tools for contacts at each stage of the process to encourage them towards becoming happy promoters. Check out the diagram below:

The B2B Inbound Methodology

The inbound methodology was created to help marketers interact with buyers that come in contact with their company. It is the journey that you as the marketer hope you can guide the buyer through using inbound marketing.

While the buyer’s journey is buyer centric in that it is focused solely on the buyer’s goals, the sales funnel is company centric and often times doesn’t focus on the needs of the buyer. The inbound methodology takes into account both the goals of the buyer and the company and is a map for aligning those goals. The inbound methodology completes this by helping marketers know which kinds of content are right for buyers in each stage of the sales funnel.

I hope this clears things up for you. If you would like to access a comprehensive list of b2b buzzwords check out this post.


Inbound Marketing 101: 5 Keys to Generating Leads on Your Website

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