At its simplest the dark funnel is just word of mouth – where people share their knowledge, experiences or recommendations about a product or service with others.

It can be both positive and negative and is often invisible to tracking by sales and marketing teams. Yet sales opportunities that enter the pipeline because of word of mouth tend to close more often and faster. This is not surprising as conversations start on a stronger footing due to the recommendation coming from a trusted source.

So why the rise of a new term?

This is due to several trends that are creating a need to understand the dark funnel or word of mouth better.

  1. More digitally savvy buyers: decision makers today are more likely to have grown up with the Internet today and are much more comfortable both researching and communicating digitally than ever before. This in turn drives the next trend.
  2. Buyers delay talking to sales: Previously, sales would become involved in conversations with the buyer much earlier in the buying process than today. Now, the total amount of time spent with sales is as low as 19% – across all sellers. This means that vendors that have already engaged with or have strong word of mouth have an advantage over its competitors.
  3. Finally, the ease with which information can be obtained online leads to an increasing desire to not engage with sales at all – though within enterprise companies, while they do not want to be sold to, they do want to be able to speak to someone who understands the product. This forces salespeople to change their approach and also venture in digital spaces that are active among their customers/prospects.

How to shine a light on the dark funnel
With these changes comes a need to understand which companies are researching before they contact vendors. The obvious solution to this is intent data, which tracks company activity across the Internet and highlights which companies are spending time on particular problems or solutions. But you can also increase your visibility within target accounts with advertising, create or take part in social communities or platforms allowing you to engage prospects earlier.

I spoke further on the dark funnel with Jerrel Arkes on the Inbound4Cast podcast which you can listen to below:

You watch other Inbound4Cast episodes here:

Or watch this episode on YouTube here:


[00:00:00] Riaz: If you live in my bubble, it’s brilliant, right? Everybody’s talking about demand generation, the dark funnel, ABM (account-based marketing). The simple reality is though most are not, if you step out of the bubble, and talk to the market, most people, in the UK are not mature in their account-based marketing programmes. They’re at the early stages of demand generation.

[00:00:22] Intro: This is the Inbound4Cast. A podcast series about inbound marketing and organic growth for B2B companies. Here’s your host, Jerrel Arkes.

Hi, yes. Welcome, to my podcast.

[00:00:45] Riaz: Hey, yeah, we’re really good to be here.

[00:00:46] Jerrel: Yeah, thanks a lot. We are here at Brighton for the Brighton SEO Event. And, you have your talk later today.

[00:00:52] Riaz: That’s right. Two hours. Two hours to go.

[00:00:55] Jerrel: Yes. About the dark funnel.

[00:00:57] Riaz: That’s right.

[00:00:57] Jerrel: So, this podcast is a warmup for you.

[00:01:00] Riaz: It is a nice dry run through without the will of the pressure of the crowd.

[00:01:04] Jerrel: It is only the camera. I hope my voice is, people can hear it because, it was a wild party yesterday here, a little bit of a hangover for me, but I’ll try my best. Before we start, can you give a short introduction of who you are?

[00:01:15] Riaz: Yeah, sure. So, my name’s Riaz Kanani. I am the founder and CEO of Radiate B2B. we basically help companies sell to enterprise, their sales development teams. Make sure we, tell them exactly who they should be speaking to right now.

[00:01:30] Jerrel: Yep. All right. Sounds good. And you’re talking about the dark funnel.

[00:01:34] Riaz: That’s right. That’s right.
Can you give a little bit of insight? So, what is the dark funnel?

[00:01:39] Riaz: Yeah. When I was part of Silverpop, 10, 15 years ago, we were building up the marketing automation platform world, if you like, and, setting out the best practices. MQLs, SQLs, all those sorts of things.

And you fast forward to today and a lot of the problems that we were trying to solve back then exist again today. And the major reason for that is, is because people are delaying buy. I don’t mean delaying as in that they’re waiting longer. I mean, as in they are delaying, talking to the vendors.

And so, they will research more online, outside of your bubble, outside of your website.

[00:02:18] Jerrel: And compared to when is this a big change? So, is this, five years ago, 10 years ago?

[00:02:22] Riaz: So, we started to really notice it five years ago. Yep. and it’s what pulled me back into building a new startup.

Must be eight, nine years ago, I said I was never going to do another startup again. And here I am. and that’s when we started to see metrics like, a number of times people would visit a website anonymously before they convert was increasing.

When outbound sales teams were trying to get through, we were seeing they were taking longer to get through to companies. It was harder to get through, harder to respond. And a lot of that’s to do with, not just the delay, but also the demographic of the buyer. And so go back to your question of what the dark funnel is. In the past we’ve always had this period of time where buyers would, you know, send an email to somebody, they knew their mentor or their previous boss, and ask them a question right? About what they should be looking at for this problem.

[00:03:11] Jerrel: Yep.

But because you involved the sales teams earlier, it was never really something to focus too much on. You knew about it, you’d do advertising, et cetera, et cetera. You’d write content. Today though that gap is so big that actually, that timeframe is really important to now focus on.

[00:03:27] Riaz: And so, it’s been called the dark funnel. And basically, the dark funnel is this period before they convert on your website, where they are talking about you on social media, on podcasts like this, in communities, you might as a company put a social post out. You don’t know that company X has seen that post, you’ve got no idea.

You have an even less idea that person screenshotted that post and then shared it with their boss. Right?

[00:03:55] Jerrel: So, the fact that people are visiting the website of companies, less and less is a big part of it?

[00:04:02] Riaz: It’s that they’re visiting companies anonymously, more and more.

[00:04:07] Jerrel: Yeah.

[00:04:07] Riaz: Rather than that, they’re visiting vendors less and less. But also, the part of consuming content in the LinkedIn feeds, things like that?

There’s much more information available. And of course, the lockdown, with Covid accelerated that. The amount of content generated in the last couple of years has just ballooned.

[00:04:22] Jerrel: Yeah.

The easiest way to show that really was the massive increase in CPMs that you saw in LinkedIn over, just from an advertising standpoint, forget about the organic

[00:04:33] Jerrel: All right. And you mentioned a few tactics for, the dark funnel. So, Communities, social, podcast, I think YouTube.

[00:04:40] Riaz: Yeah, that’s right. The fundamentals of marketing don’t change.

[00:04:43] Jerrel: Yeah.

It amazes me to this day, right? I’ve been in marketing 20 years sort of thing, and the concepts that I learned back at university are on the four P’s, right? They really don’t change.

But beneath that, everything changes constantly and that’s the big difference now, right? it’s looking at where people are going. They’re clearly going more to social than they’ve ever done before. It’s clear that, there’s a lot more peer to peer conversations, therefore going on. And I think about 5, 6, 7 years ago, we saw a rise in the larger tech companies buying publishers. Yep. And one of the reasons for doing that is because you can suddenly, have access to an audience that isn’t coming to your website, they’re coming to consume.

[00:05:30] Riaz: Yeah. It’s easier to buy it than to build it yourself That’s right. Not all of us can buy but in the last couple of years, what you’ve also seen is a massive explosion in communities. And so we, last year launched, a B2B sales and marketing pioneers’ community

[00:05:45] Jerrel: Yes. Do you think that’s really a trend? Because communities, 10 years ago you already had them, but I think in the last month everybody is talking about it again.

[00:05:54] Riaz: That’s right, you’re absolutely right. Communities have been around I’m not sure why there’s an increase. I also see it. I don’t understand the reasons behind it.

[00:06:02] Riaz: I think for me, the reasons we did it, and the reasons we see, clients of ours doing it is because again, it allows you to be part of the conversation.

So, for us, I think 10 years ago, there was a huge, surge in communities, but really, they were never very well implemented. I don’t mean that from a technology standpoint and they were obviously huge success stories. But the majority of them viewed it as being lead generation. So, it was a way to get your sales message in front of people. And of course, no one in a community wants to be sold to directly like that.
And they disappeared and never succeeded. Today the technology is certainly better, there’s better measurement. But for us, it’s not really about a tech change. It’s about a-

[00:06:53] Jerrel: Mindset.

[00:06:55] Riaz: That’s right.

[00:06:55] Jerrel: So, building a relationship and learning from your customers.

[00:06:59] Riaz: That’s right. And so, for us, our main KPI I’m a data junkie, so I always measure everything we do, our main KPI for that is the number of conversations that are created by people not connected to Radiate B2B.

And that’s what we want. We want a thriving community where we’re just the host and actually, we don’t host it just ourselves. We host it with another sales agency, who also manages it.

[00:07:23] Jerrel: So, it’s a B2B marketing community.

[00:07:25] Riaz: That’s right. B2B sales and marketing.

[00:07:27] Jerrel: Then I have to join it.

[00:07:30]Riaz: Yeah. You’ll see the QR code on the slides that I talk about later. But you can ping me on LinkedIn, I’ll get you an invite.

[00:07:36] Jerrel: That’s interesting.

[00:07:37] Riaz: And I’ll get you in.

[00:07:38] Jerrel: I will. And how does this compare to, for example, dark social? Is this the same as the dark funnel or? It’s a subset. And in some ways, one of the bigger parts of the puzzle, if you like.

[00:07:48] Riaz: So, dark social is obviously everything that’s happening on social. It’s all the posts that get shared without you seeing it. I remember we did some research back in Silverpop days, so 10, 12 years ago, I don’t know if you remember, the share to social buttons that used to exist everywhere and they still do today but seem to be used less.

When we measured activity, we knew that the majority, the biggest activity was email. It was never shared to social; it was share to email. And most of that was undetected. And that’s the same thing happening inside social is, it’s getting shared via messages. It’s getting shared behind the scenes.

[00:08:28] Jerrel: So, the, the select channels, for example, the internal social media platforms.

[00:08:32] Riaz: That’s right. So dark socially is something that you need to be aware of. Basically, it’s interesting cause for me it all connects together, right? One of the things I talk about is the rise of brand in B2B. I think one of the biggest downfalls of the marketing automation period was it over prioritized data and short-termism. Versus the longer-term brand building capabilities that are just as important in the B2B world.

[00:09:02] Jerrel: And I also think back then, the funnel was also dark, a part of it.

[00:09:07] Jerrel: Maybe we thought we had everything in our HubSpot account or whatever.

[00:09:12] Riaz: That’s right. There was enough, right? the reality was that there was plenty of low hanging fruit that was coming in through inbound, through conversion. The sales process was, it was the early days of content and honestly, you were less likely to be burnt.

[00:09:28] Jerrel: So, what does this mean for attribution? That we have this big black hole in our data?

[00:09:34] Riaz: That’s right. I actually think this is one of the hardest things for a marketer. To get, not so much get their head around, but to handle because we are so trained on MQLs, website conversions, all the metrics that, are black and white.

[00:09:54] Jerrel: Yeah.

[00:09:54] Riaz: Even though most of them honestly are not completely accurate anyway. I sometimes hear people talk about their open rates in email, and the open rate is not actually accurate by any means. But the dark funnel, the rise of the dark funnel means that actually, the metrics we’re thinking about and we’re looking to use to measure the dark funnel are not black and white. They’re grey.

[00:10:16] Jerrel: And we have to accept that we just don’t know a lot of things?
you can get indicators. For example, there’s a couple of big things that we use to shine a light on the dark funnel. So, the first thing is around, asking. So, when someone does convert on the site, how did you hear about us first, right?

I live on LinkedIn, right? So, we do LinkedIn lives on there. We share a lot. We talk a lot about the industry and so we know a lot of people come to us because they’ve heard of us on LinkedIn or seen us on LinkedIn. We can’t measure. There is no metric I’ve got that shows me, that there’s a lot of people who are buying from because of our activity.

[00:10:58] Jerrel: And do you see it in the forms that people mention? Do they also say what? So, a specific post or a live session or just LinkedIn?

We make it simple.

Some people will be more wordy, but most will just type.

[00:11:10] Jerrel: Yeah. And when you analyse it, I think, knowing that LinkedIn is very important is maybe enough.

[00:11:15] Riaz: Yeah, and when it comes to which posts you can get an idea from LinkedIn’s own metrics as to which posts are popular.

[00:11:21] Jerrel: Yeah.
But of course, just knowing that a lot of your inbound direct traffic is where that’s coming from. So, it’s an insight. What is then important for you on LinkedIn? Is it the reach and engagements, or do you still also look at clicks, for example?

[00:11:35] Riaz: Yeah, so I’d say the majority of my posting on LinkedIn doesn’t have a link. And actually, maybe in the SEO community that will go down like a ton of bricks. But the major reason is one of the things that we know, we can post very valuable content in the size of a LinkedIn post and when you add links into a LinkedIn post, it has an impact.

[00:12:00] Jerrel: The algorithm isn’t happy with it.

[00:12:02] Riaz: Yeah, that’s right. and actually, so my current theory, and these theories change all the time because LinkedIn changes all the time, is that links have a domain authority within the algorithm on LinkedIn. And for most of us in the B2B world, that domain authority is extremely low.

[00:12:17] Jerrel: So, you’re saying that when you have a high authority, maybe the reach of the link-

[00:12:22] Riaz: that’s right.

[00:12:22] Jerrel: -is better.

[00:12:23] Riaz: So, we know, when we post certain links, whether it’s sometimes the BBC or Tech Crunch, we’ll see tens of thousands of views. If I add someone else who writes a similar post, but posts to a different, less well-known link. Nothing.

[00:12:39] Jerrel: Yeah. So that’s a problem for a lot of B2B companies.

[00:12:41] Riaz: That’s right. That’s right and but it’s not to say that we then post in a silo, right? So, a lot of my posts will be, reused, repurposed within LinkedIn live and vice versa. It’ll be used in blog posts; it’ll be used in white papers.

It might get written up as a separate thing on the website. It gets reused all the time.

[00:13:00] Jerrel: And then, let’s talk about your software because it’s called the Dark Funnel, but maybe it’s not as dark as we think, because you have, I think intent data.

[00:13:10] Riaz: That’s right. And that’s the second big thing about the dark funnel is obviously a lot of the activity. it’s happening on third party websites that you don’t have access to. So, when you do searches for intent data, you’ll see events come back. Things like G2 for the review, customer reviews, but also people like us where, we partner to bring together over 5,000 publishers. people who are browsing across those publishers, they come back, we partner with companies like Bombora, to tie that data together with other anonymous behaviour.

[00:13:46] Jerrel: Yeah.

[00:13:46] Riaz: To then give our clients a single score of how high that behaviour is to suggest they’d be open to a conversation.

[00:13:57] Jerrel: And that’s on a company level, right?

[00:13:59] Riaz: It’s all at a company level. We don’t go down to individual level for obvious privacy reasons. I’m not sure anyone would quite like their activity to be tracked at an individual level across the internet. I certainly wouldn’t.

[00:14:12] Jerrel: No, me neither. Let’s say that I’m selling, CRM software.

[00:14:16] Riaz: That’s right.

I go to you, and you can sell me data of companies that are in markets to-

[00:14:22] Riaz: Yeah, that’s right. So, everyone wants it to be, a silver bullet, right? So, we take a topic called CRM, which we do have and certainly there’ll be a list of companies that are associated with that.

But most people, when they’re researching a topic, are not just researching CRM. They’ll be researching some of the issues and problems that they have to do with CRM. So, it could be sales acceleration, it could be sales data. So, what we recommend to our clients is that actually, yes, obviously CRM is important, that’s the core topic, but you also look at topics around it to then give you a picture of what that person is.

[00:15:00] Riaz: thinking about. what you’ll get back is, it’s not going to be, a list of a few companies who are actually in market. So, the number everyone bands around, about 5% of companies are in market. We see that all the time.

In fact, some of the stuff we do allows us to measure that. And it holds up.

[00:15:17] Jerrel: So, it’s in the demand capture corner.

[00:15:19] Riaz: That’s right. So, what we were able to do is yes, we’ll identify some of the companies that are buying today. The top 10, 20% of them probably. Then you’ll get the companies that are early on, the ones that are researching still. And you’ll get the ones that are investigating because they know it’s going to be a problem for them. They’re not yet in the buying process, but you’ll get those as well. Our clients are companies who sell, they’re usually mid-size companies that are selling, to, larger companies.
And so, the sales cycles are longer. and anyone who works in that space knows you don’t pick up the phone to the buyer and magically the following day you’ve got a deal.

[00:15:57] Jerrel: Yeah. So, I think account-based marketing for example, is maybe an important approach to use your data.

Account based marketing is certainly one of the approaches. Definitely. Certainly, when you are selling to big enterprise. Most people will have a mix of a demand gen or inbound plus an ABM standpoint. The primary users of the data really is both sales and marketing. So certainly, the sales development teams knowing who they should speak to next.

But also, the marketing team from an activation standpoint. Targeting those companies specifically with advertising can just ensure that when those conversations happen, they’re more likely to have that conversation. We see a 2-3x uplift in companies taking a demo when you combine the intent data with advertising.

[00:16:48] Jerrel: Yeah. So, advertising indeed is a big part of it too, I think. Yeah. The easiest way to reach the list of companies.

[00:16:54] Riaz: Yeah, and that wasn’t possible before, right? Because before you would have to target an entire vertical. And for most B2B companies targeting large verticals is-

[00:17:03] Jerrel: very expensive

Very expensive. But, when you translate that down to specific companies, suddenly you might have a target account list of 500, a thousand. 5,000. At those sorts of levels, you’re able to basically, manage your market and just keep feeding small amounts of adverts and then increasing the frequency based on what you know as a business.

[00:17:25] Jerrel: And what type of ads do you think are then relevant for? Can it be, targeted at your products or surfaces, or should it be more Demand Gen ads.

One of my bug bears in the B2B world is how functional we often are in our advertising. It’s very straight down the line. It’s very standardised if you like. And that’s always a bad thing in advertising, if your ad looks like everybody else, it’s not going to get seen. So, for me, it depends, right? So, if the companies that you’re talking to, putting adverts in front of, are companies that don’t know you, and you don’t know much about them other than you think they’d be an ideal customer, then you want to be feeding your story, right?

Why is it that you exist? And educating from that perspective.

[00:18:12] Jerrel: And then maybe the click isn’t even that important.

[00:18:14] Riaz: No, that’s right and interestingly it varies. So, a couple of interesting stats that we see all the time, right? We sell to companies that sell to enterprise. We do that across lots of different vertical, but across all those verticals, 20 to 30% of the companies we target will magically appear on the website. And in a brand led channel, you screen out consciously those ads when you’re not interested.

So, for somebody to then magically appear on the website, they’re seeing those ads, they’re thinking about that situation, right? It’s interesting to them. But the other thing is what, when you look at level below that and you look at how that 20 to 30% breaks down, in professional services, management consultancies, it’s about 60-40, 70-30, in favour of people clicking.

[00:19:00] Jerrel: Yep.

[00:19:02] Riaz: It’s almost the inverse of technology companies. So, 70% will turn up on the website, 30% will click. So, it’s really interesting to see that. We haven’t gone yet to go and interview some of these different industries to try and figure out some of the reasons, but-

[00:19:14] Jerrel: Yeah, so the idea behind demand generation that people will come to your website if you are. Just be there

[00:19:20] Riaz: Yeah, that’s right. Fundamentally, a lot of marketing is about your share of market voice. And the more share of voice that you have, the stronger, you are in that market. Now, of course, common sense plays a part here just because I get, let’s say, a hundred million pounds worth of funding and I burn all of that in advertising. I’ll have a great share market voice, but there won’t be a strong connection to the audience. They’ll know who we are, but they won’t have any value associated with that. They’ll have a little bit of trust. And so, you have to combine multiple methods to both increase the awareness, but also, back it up with quality value conversations.

Where do you think we are when you look at maturity level of most B2B companies and this approach?

[00:20:05] Riaz: If you live in my bubble, it’s brilliant, right? Everybody’s talking about demand generation, the dark funnel, ABM. The simple reality is though, most are not. If you step out of the bubble, and go and talk to the market, most people in the UK are not mature in their account-based marketing programmes. They’re at the early stages of demand generation. and most are still outbound calling, outbound email.

[00:20:31] Jerrel: Yeah. So even at the stage before we got the whole inbound part, and maybe they will go directly to demand gen, but maybe it will take five years or even more.

The beauty of building a business is you always have more time than you think usually. You think the market’s going to going to dramatically accelerate inside a couple of years and it rarely happens. The exception to that was Covid, right? Where suddenly there was a massive increase in, digital activity that really brought a lot of what we’re talking about today. To the form much faster than it would’ve done otherwise.

[00:21:06] Jerrel: Indeed. Very interesting. Have you missed anything from your talk today that, we should talk about in this podcast? Anything important? Some big takeaways or?

I think the big takeaway for me from the talk today as well as this one is getting a handle on that greyness of measurement. And realising that actually understanding which of your programmes that don’t directly attribute to your pipeline, actually is contributing without you realising it. And the second of course is the intent data piece. So, for me, it becomes something that’s a critical part of any sales and marketing.

[00:21:43] Jerrel: Yeah, so people who want to know more can go to the website, I think, or
Yeah, certainly go to the website, Connect on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to have a conversation on LinkedIn.

[00:21:53] Jerrel: Great. Thanks a lot, and success today, with your talk at Brighton.

[00:21:56] Riaz: Thank you very much. Really good to be here.

[00:21:58] Jerrel: Yes, thanks.

[00:21:59] Outro: Thanks for listening to the Inbound4cast. And don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube or your favourite podcast app.