Illuminating the Dark Funnel: 7 Ways to Use it to Your Advantage [+ Examples]

Kelli Diffenderfer
May 31, 2022
min to read

Illuminating the Dark Funnel: 7 Ways to Use it to Your Advantage [+ Examples]

Kelli Diffenderfer
May 31, 2022
min to read

These days, it’s not just close friends or people you know in real life who share advice or ideas with you — and vice versa. 

You respond to posts on LinkedIn offering your insights. 

You forward interesting newsletters. 

You post screenshots of cool ads in your company's Slack channel.

And it all happens behind the scenes. 

Unless companies are paying close attention, they may never even know it’s happening. 

But marketers who are aware of what’s happening have a distinct and significant advantage. 

They can generate leads, drive intent, and increase brand awareness using a little thing called the dark funnel.

In this article, we’re going to help you understand the dark funnel by providing real-life examples, and give you the tools you need to use it to your advantage. 

So put on your night vision goggles and follow us into the unknown.

​​

What is the dark funnel?

Or, as it’s also called — dark social.

The dark funnel, or dark social, is made up of all the untrackable intent data and research that came before a person converted to being a customer. 

John Wall, Founder at Impactfulli

The dark funnel is called the dark funnel for a reason… it’s murky, and often confusing, but it’s filled with vital buyer intent data. 

The kind of data that revenue teams would kill to get their hands on — if only they could grasp it before it slips through the sales funnel and out of sight.

But for most companies, that information remains just out of reach. Unseeable and cloaked in mystery. 

How do we access that gold mine of information?

Whether they know it or not, B2B buyers leave behind digital breadcrumbs as they scour the internet, conducting their research. Their intent signals are scattered across the hundreds of web pages they visit — bursting with useful data. 

The information exists, but how do we utilize it when we can’t see it?

The key is to know what you’re looking for and understand how to replicate it — by bringing those seemingly random intent signals together into a clear picture.

What role does the dark funnel play in the straight-to-meeting imperative?  

Why is it so vital to understand the dark funnel? 

Because, nearly 70% of people conduct their own research before making any B2B purchasing decisions. Buyers visit countless websites and online resources when deciding what to purchase.

Once they’ve filled out a form on your website, it’s likely that they’re pretty far into their buyer journey and considering a purchase. If you’re not able to convert those visitors immediately, chances are you’ll lose them for good.

“You're going to do as much research as you can on their domain,” Sidney Waterfall, VP of Demand Gen at Refine Labs said about buyer behavior. “Because when you're ready, and you raise your hand, you know, like okay, this is it.”

It directly relates to, what we call at Chili Piper, the straight-to-meeting imperative. 

People aren’t going to sales reps for product info anymore, they’re doing their own research.

You need to assume that they’ve seen your posts, read your blogs, listened to your podcast, and heard about you from their peers.

David Blinov, Managing Partner, Growth Marketer at The F Company

Thanks to the dark funnel, they already know you. Your job now is to convert them once they’re on your website. 

Take a look at this email we received from someone quoting one of our ads (a great example of how the dark funnel works):

What’s the difference between word of mouth and dark social? 

Are they the same thing, just packaged differently?

You may be inclined to think of it as word-of-mouth marketing… but it’s so much more than that.

“The dark funnel is the same spirit as word of mouth, but cranked up to 100 in our connected age,” Andrea Wunderlich, Market Intelligence & Strategy at SaaSOptics said. “Back in the day, you'd have to wait for a quarterly in-person event to have the same kinds of conversations people are now having daily on LinkedIn, in Slack groups, over text, you name it.”

In the spirit of dark social, we took to LinkedIn to answer this question.

Here were some of the best responses:

Zoe Hartsfield, Community Manager at Spekit

Adam Holmgren, Head of Demand Generation at GetAccept

Justin Rowe, Chief Marketing Officer at Impactable

Nemanja Zivkovic, CEO and Founder at Funky Marketing 

Sidney Waterfall, VP of Demand Gen at Refine Labs, recently joined Demand Gen Chat and shared her take on dark social.

“I think that the difference is the distribution,” Sidney said. “For example, I think dark social fuels word of mouth. There are other things that are word of mouth, like meeting up with a coworker or peer and talking about a solution. That's pure word of mouth, but that's not necessarily dark social.” 

“Dark social is having LinkedIn DM conversations,” She continued. “You know, even personal posts that I post on social that people just view, but they don't like or engage with — they're consuming that information. That's dark social. I'm educating somebody about something who knows what I'm talking about.”

She emphasized that even if people aren’t clicking on your posts, or actively engaging with them, they’re still consuming that content. 

Even if people are just scrolling past your videos or podcasts, they’re still taking it in. You might not be able to measure it or track whether that person comes to your website and converts, but it was an important touchpoint. 

She also pointed out that the dark funnel is driven by demand. Demand for information. Demand for knowledge. Demand for unique and interesting content.

“How do you create demand?” Sidney prompted. “You need to be in dark social to get people into there, to drive them into intent, and drive them into more capture channels.”

How do you tie a data-driven approach to dark funnel marketing?

A big dilemma with the dark funnel is attribution. 

Or a lack thereof. 

Alex Burlingame, Director of Sales and Marketing at Fringe

You need both a data-driven approach and dark funnel strategy to win in marketing today… but can they work together?

“I think the concept of dark social is how buyers consume information on the internet. And it can’t be tracked. [Chili Piper] does a lot of great dark social — like this podcast, right? I've seen your video clips, and I've even seen them in ads, and I've seen them just on organic.”

Despite Sidney having consumed that content, we might never have known if she hadn’t come on the podcast and told us directly.

A prime example of the dark funnel in action.

“I know that you guys are also very involved in communities, different Slack communities, things like that,” She continued. “All of that's dark social — sharing information peer to peer. That can not be tracked.”

Sadly, a lot of people don’t bother with dark social because they can’t track it. They just want the click or the proof. They choose what channels they’re on based on the short-term success they’re able to show rather than planning for the long game.

But the goal of harnessing the power of dark social is to educate people in the channels they’re already in. 

According to Sidney, that means you need to move your metrics of success.

By doing so, you'll no longer be handcuffed to how many clicks you're driving to the website or how many form fills you're getting from a certain campaign. 

You're then free to actually market. To push out content where people are consuming it and where it’s easily shareable. 

Take Slack for example: 

“How many times have I sent, ‘hey, this ad's really cool or this product's awesome’?” Sidney said. “That's just how people share these days. So when we move the metric for success and we kind of reframe the funnel for people, they're more engaged.”

Is there a solution to the dark funnel’s inherent lack of attributable data? 

“You know, people think that everybody at Refine Labs is so against attribution,” Sidney said. “We're not, we just need to have another way to capture dark social attribution. And I think you have to understand that there's stuff that you cannot track — that no technology can track.”

There’s not one product going to solve for it on its own. So you have to ask yourself, ‘how do I understand what I can't track’? 

One way to understand what's going on is by asking. 

“You could do that with the self-report attribution field,” Sidney said. “You could ask your customers on Gong calls. You can ask them after they've become customers — you can literally just ask. So that's a touchpoint. Then you can understand, okay, of all the other things that I could track, how does that fit in? So that's kind of how I look at it.”

“I think what people need to be focused on is the conversion source,” She continued. “And when I say conversion source, I don't care what touch it is. I don't care if it's the first touch or the seventeenth touch. All I care about is it's the point where they raise their hand. And I want to know what happened there.”

“We love to over-complicate things. I think that's been bred into us. So, just simplify when you can — simplify, simplify, simplify, I would say.”

Adam Enright, Sr. RevOps Consultant & Demand Gen Strategist at Go Nimbly shared his advice on how to solve the dark funnel’s attribution problem:

How to give the dark funnel equal footing as your attribution software:

1. Ask people how they found you in a sales call

2. Generate a list of dark funnel keywords like "Podcast" "LinkedIn"

3. Listen for these keywords in Chorus or Gong and set automation in SFDC to stamp "Dark Funnel" as lead/meeting source - OR - ask open ended questions in your demo form

4. Look at qualified meetings and pipeline source to prove that the dark funnel is real

In the example below, the person who requested a demo mentioned “podcast”. If that was one of the dark funnel keywords you’re on the lookout for, you’ll be better equipped to attribute this lead to dark social. 

At Chili Piper, we’re also using something called a booking context. It’s part of our “all-in touch” attribution model.

“We're actually shifting our model into what we're calling booking context,” Tara Robertson, Senior Manager of Demand Gen at Chili Piper said. “What caused [prospects] to fill out any form on our website? Really looking at what happened right before they booked that call. Whether it was the channel, the campaign source, and just figuring out how granular we can get.” 

Tara stated that while there’s no need to track 20+ touchpoints, we do need to know what caused people to raise their hand. 

What was that final thing that moved the needle? 

How to “win” in the dark funnel: Move the metric of success

To “win” in the dark funnel, you need to rethink what success looks like.

“You can't optimize for conversion because you're in the wrong intent mode,” Sidney said. “You're then just doing it to get something out of it. And to make dark social work, and even just content and pushing your brand out there, creating demand, you have to come at it from an angle where you're not expecting a direct conversion, or you're not even expecting something immediate.”

First and foremost, you have to understand what content performs well on what channels. 

Take LinkedIn for example… people scrolling through LinkedIn’s news feed aren’t going to click off to other articles, and they don’t want to watch a 10-minute video. 

They want quick, curated content tailored to where they’re at in the buyer journey and what information is relevant to them. 

Knowing what channels your customers consume content on, and how they share information, is a vital first step. From there, you can begin to utilize dark social to drive intent and generate leads.

How can you find out where your audience lives?

Conduct a survey. 

We surveyed demand gen marketers since that’s our ideal customer. The goal was to better understand where our ideal customers are spending time online, and where they go when looking for new tools.

Here's an example of the questions we asked and the responses we received: 

What's the first place you go to when you're evaluating a new tool to purchase?

What's your favorite way to consume marketing-related content? 

Where do you go to keep up with marketing trends?

Without further ado, here are our top tips for harnessing the power of dark social:

1. Ask prospects how they heard about you 

This tip is one that we would bold and put in all caps if we could (we can, it would just be a little dramatic). 

Anytime an individual fills out a form or requests a demo… ASK THEM HOW THEY FOUND YOU. 

Okay, we couldn’t resist — it’s just too important. 

It may seem like a small thing, but you might just get an answer that genuinely surprises you and can help inform what you focus on going forward.

Check out this example:

One of the best places to ask is on your main conversion page. For us this would be our book a demo page.

Through some trial and error (and talking to Sidney), we’ve pulled together some best practices around self-attribution form fields:

1. Put your “how did you hear about us?” field on your demo request form, NOT your thank you page

One of the mistakes we made with self-attribution was putting the field after the fact. Like many, we were worried about conversion rates dropping, so we didn’t want to put it on our demo page.

Once someone successfully got through the flow, we’d ask how they heard about us on the ‘thank you’ page, but we got very few responses. 

At that point, you can bet people are sick of giving their information. They’ve booked the demo, they’re done. 

Sidney wasn’t shocked to hear we didn’t see great results: 

“I'm not surprised that you're getting minimal information on the thank you page,” She said. “We've had probably four to five customers implement that the same way against our recommendation and then they later switched and just put it on the form.” 

Instead, put it in your demo request flow, and *gasp*, make it required. 

2.  Make it required

Now, don’t freak out.

And don’t be scared about screwing up your conversions.

“It's the number one objection we get,” Sidney said.

But, according to research from Refine Labs, there are no significant differences in conversion rates when it’s required. 

“Phase one is always make it required,” Sidney said. “We've tested it and we didn't see any difference in conversion rates across a couple of different clients.” 

Tip: Instead of adding an additional field, replace one you don’t really need (like job title — do you really need that upfront?). Instead, use an enrichment tool like Clearbit to get that information.

3. Make it an open field, not a dropdown

The problem with the picklist?

Often, people will select the first option or whatever comes to mind first — even if it wasn’t really how they heard about you. An open field allows for more granularity and helps you really see into the buyer journey that led them to you.

“One of the first clients that ever implemented this, it was a picklist,” Sidney said. “And over 28% of their close won, and over 35% of their qualified opportunities said ‘other’. And it's like, hmm, not helpful. So, we actually tested it. They're both required fields — one free text versus one picklist — and they didn't see a noticeable difference in their conversion rates over the time we A/B tested it. And now they're getting much more insightful data.” 

Sometimes you’ll even get responses that influence your marketing strategy. 

For example, Sidney had a client who received a response saying they found them through a webinar. 

“It wasn't even a sponsored webinar,” She said. “It was just something that our brand happened to get mentioned on. And now it's like, ‘hey, let's go explore some partnerships with that brand’. Because if your audience is already there, that's a win.”

4. A/B test for a couple of weeks to ensure you’re not messing with your conversion rate

Chances are, you won’t see a difference in conversions by implementing these suggestions.

But to be on the safe side, always A/B test for a couple of weeks before making any permanent changes.

“We don't tell our clients to go out there and just start changing their main conversion point and seeing what happens,” Sidney said. “It's bad advice. We're like, let's roll this out in A/B test for two or three weeks just to ensure we're not tanking the conversion rate.” 

2. Develop a “bulls-eye” list of top prospects and follow their activity

LinkedIn is a huge driver of dark funnel action. 

But it’s impossible to track everything that happens on social media. 

Instead, identify a top 100 list of marketers, sales leaders, rev ops professionals, or anyone in your industry that you would want as a customer or who inspires you.

Your very own vision board. 

Try to influence this list and win their attention. It’s much easier to track the activity of 100 target people and see what and who they interact with than to try and track everyone on LinkedIn.  

What posts do they engage with?

What piques their interest?

It feels like a victory whenever someone from your list shares something or interacts with you on social media.

Your bulls-eye list is likely made up of people who are highly respected in their fields and have a large following. Getting their attention means getting the attention of all their followers as well.

It’s all about working smarter, not harder. 😉

3. Send swag — but like, cool swag

Let’s be real, there’s plenty of swag that get’s opened… and immediately thrown out. 

People can tell when swag is just a stunt. 

The trick is to be creative. Make it personal to your brand, and if you can, useful

Take our hot sauce for example. It’s a huge crowd pleaser but also makes sense for our brand (people even email us to ask where they can buy it… it’s that good 🌶), and something that is fun to post on social media.

You can read the full convo here.

Swag can do unexpected things. It builds feelings of goodwill, creates buzz around your brand, and in this case, it can spark a conversation about marketing best practices.

While a small thing to send, that little bottle of hot sauce got people talking in a big way.

All the while influencing people and building brand awareness without forcing it — even if people didn’t necessarily interact with the post. 

4. Get your employees active on social media

This is also a great way to utilize your SDRs

Empower them to get active on social media, and most importantly, be themselves. 

Why? The more people recognize someone, the more they trust them.

Some easy things you can do are:

  • Send LinkedIn connections (especially to your bulls-eye list)
  • Endorse people’s skills
  • Engage with posts
  • Share your company’s content (blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.)

Here are a few great examples of how a social media presence can directly benefit sales: 

Example 2:

Example 3. 

Whether you’re actively engaging with posts, or simply posting useful or insightful content, the more recognizable you are, the more people will trust what you have to say.

And the more likely they are to share your content and even become a customer down the road.

5. If you find someone's outreach useful or insightful, respond and let them know

Now, this tip may not be based on heavy data, but we like to think the “law of reciprocity” is at play here. 

Is that a thing? I’m not sure but it sounds good to me. 🤷‍♀️

By responding to someone's newsletter, you also stand out to them and generate a sense of goodwill. Now, the next time you share something, the more likely they are to engage.

Plus, they might even share your response in their company’s #dark-funnel Slack channel 😉. It’ll give you an extra boost of visibility.

Like this (which was shared in our Slack channel):

“This email was especially cool to receive because I first heard of the Daily Carnage newsletter through our survey to newsletter subscribers and decided to test out some ads in it!” Tara said. 

Or this (which was also shared in our Slack channel):

Or this (you guessed it, also shared in our Slack channel):

If these people hadn’t sent us emails, we might not have ever known that they had read our newsletter or listened to our podcast, let alone, were positively impacted.

#darkfunnel

6. Create a #dark-funnel Slack channel for your team to share their wins

Slack is so great in so many ways, but one, in particular, is being able to share cool things with your team. 

“We have the #ad-labs channel where we share really creative, cool ads, cool different things,” Sidney said. “Our whole creative team shares all the creatively produce for our clients. Just so everybody sees the great work that they do. So, yeah, that's one of my favorite channels.”

At Chili Piper, we have a Slack channel where we’ve compiled all of our dark social examples or anything we see that’s dark funnel-related.

“The most marketing to marketers example I could think of is to have a great marketing channel on Slack,” Tara said. “Pretty much every marketing team I've been on has had that where we just of have a place to dump like, ‘oh, I saw this great ad. I saw this great interaction online’.”

“I got a screenshot from a friend of his marketing channel and one of our blog posts was there.” She continued. “So, I shared that on our marketing channel. And there's no way we could have possibly tracked if that opportunity ever closed.”

7. Get involved in communities 

“Since they came out, communities have just blown up,” Sidney said. “Not that they didn't exist before, but I can't even tell you how many Slack communities I'm in. And that just didn't exist five, ten years ago.” 

Aparna Kulkarni, Chief Personifier at Personifiers

“You don't go to a company's website anymore,” Sidney said. “I'm just going to ask the community.” 

Or if you have a question about a company, you’re going to email someone from one of your communities who uses the product. Or DM them on LinkedIn.

Not only do you trust their opinion, you know they won’t harass you for a demo for the next year.

Communities can almost act like buyer enablement. That’s why you need to know which ones your audience is in, and how you can reach them.

How do you get buy-in on dark social?

Many people find themselves getting push back by those at a leadership level when it comes to dark social. 

Sometimes simple because they don’t understand the dark funnel.

Or think because they can’t track it, it’s not valuable.

And often because they’ve just purchased fancy automation software — or they really want to buy fancy automation software

But bringing in self-reported data, showing them the gaps, and proving that you can marry data-driven marketing with a dark social strategy will help greatly. 

Self-attribution will help give you the qualitative data you need to get buy-in and have those in leadership positions understand how the dark funnel works. 

See how Chili Piper can help you convert hand-raisers right to meetings booked

These days, it’s not just close friends or people you know in real life who share advice or ideas with you — and vice versa. 

You respond to posts on LinkedIn offering your insights. 

You forward interesting newsletters. 

You post screenshots of cool ads in your company's Slack channel.

And it all happens behind the scenes. 

Unless companies are paying close attention, they may never even know it’s happening. 

But marketers who are aware of what’s happening have a distinct and significant advantage. 

They can generate leads, drive intent, and increase brand awareness using a little thing called the dark funnel.

In this article, we’re going to help you understand the dark funnel by providing real-life examples, and give you the tools you need to use it to your advantage. 

So put on your night vision goggles and follow us into the unknown.

​​

What is the dark funnel?

Or, as it’s also called — dark social.

The dark funnel, or dark social, is made up of all the untrackable intent data and research that came before a person converted to being a customer. 

John Wall, Founder at Impactfulli

The dark funnel is called the dark funnel for a reason… it’s murky, and often confusing, but it’s filled with vital buyer intent data. 

The kind of data that revenue teams would kill to get their hands on — if only they could grasp it before it slips through the sales funnel and out of sight.

But for most companies, that information remains just out of reach. Unseeable and cloaked in mystery. 

How do we access that gold mine of information?

Whether they know it or not, B2B buyers leave behind digital breadcrumbs as they scour the internet, conducting their research. Their intent signals are scattered across the hundreds of web pages they visit — bursting with useful data. 

The information exists, but how do we utilize it when we can’t see it?

The key is to know what you’re looking for and understand how to replicate it — by bringing those seemingly random intent signals together into a clear picture.

What role does the dark funnel play in the straight-to-meeting imperative?  

Why is it so vital to understand the dark funnel? 

Because, nearly 70% of people conduct their own research before making any B2B purchasing decisions. Buyers visit countless websites and online resources when deciding what to purchase.

Once they’ve filled out a form on your website, it’s likely that they’re pretty far into their buyer journey and considering a purchase. If you’re not able to convert those visitors immediately, chances are you’ll lose them for good.

“You're going to do as much research as you can on their domain,” Sidney Waterfall, VP of Demand Gen at Refine Labs said about buyer behavior. “Because when you're ready, and you raise your hand, you know, like okay, this is it.”

It directly relates to, what we call at Chili Piper, the straight-to-meeting imperative. 

People aren’t going to sales reps for product info anymore, they’re doing their own research.

You need to assume that they’ve seen your posts, read your blogs, listened to your podcast, and heard about you from their peers.

David Blinov, Managing Partner, Growth Marketer at The F Company

Thanks to the dark funnel, they already know you. Your job now is to convert them once they’re on your website. 

Take a look at this email we received from someone quoting one of our ads (a great example of how the dark funnel works):

What’s the difference between word of mouth and dark social? 

Are they the same thing, just packaged differently?

You may be inclined to think of it as word-of-mouth marketing… but it’s so much more than that.

“The dark funnel is the same spirit as word of mouth, but cranked up to 100 in our connected age,” Andrea Wunderlich, Market Intelligence & Strategy at SaaSOptics said. “Back in the day, you'd have to wait for a quarterly in-person event to have the same kinds of conversations people are now having daily on LinkedIn, in Slack groups, over text, you name it.”

In the spirit of dark social, we took to LinkedIn to answer this question.

Here were some of the best responses:

Zoe Hartsfield, Community Manager at Spekit

Adam Holmgren, Head of Demand Generation at GetAccept

Justin Rowe, Chief Marketing Officer at Impactable

Nemanja Zivkovic, CEO and Founder at Funky Marketing 

Sidney Waterfall, VP of Demand Gen at Refine Labs, recently joined Demand Gen Chat and shared her take on dark social.

“I think that the difference is the distribution,” Sidney said. “For example, I think dark social fuels word of mouth. There are other things that are word of mouth, like meeting up with a coworker or peer and talking about a solution. That's pure word of mouth, but that's not necessarily dark social.” 

“Dark social is having LinkedIn DM conversations,” She continued. “You know, even personal posts that I post on social that people just view, but they don't like or engage with — they're consuming that information. That's dark social. I'm educating somebody about something who knows what I'm talking about.”

She emphasized that even if people aren’t clicking on your posts, or actively engaging with them, they’re still consuming that content. 

Even if people are just scrolling past your videos or podcasts, they’re still taking it in. You might not be able to measure it or track whether that person comes to your website and converts, but it was an important touchpoint. 

She also pointed out that the dark funnel is driven by demand. Demand for information. Demand for knowledge. Demand for unique and interesting content.

“How do you create demand?” Sidney prompted. “You need to be in dark social to get people into there, to drive them into intent, and drive them into more capture channels.”

How do you tie a data-driven approach to dark funnel marketing?

A big dilemma with the dark funnel is attribution. 

Or a lack thereof. 

Alex Burlingame, Director of Sales and Marketing at Fringe

You need both a data-driven approach and dark funnel strategy to win in marketing today… but can they work together?

“I think the concept of dark social is how buyers consume information on the internet. And it can’t be tracked. [Chili Piper] does a lot of great dark social — like this podcast, right? I've seen your video clips, and I've even seen them in ads, and I've seen them just on organic.”

Despite Sidney having consumed that content, we might never have known if she hadn’t come on the podcast and told us directly.

A prime example of the dark funnel in action.

“I know that you guys are also very involved in communities, different Slack communities, things like that,” She continued. “All of that's dark social — sharing information peer to peer. That can not be tracked.”

Sadly, a lot of people don’t bother with dark social because they can’t track it. They just want the click or the proof. They choose what channels they’re on based on the short-term success they’re able to show rather than planning for the long game.

But the goal of harnessing the power of dark social is to educate people in the channels they’re already in. 

According to Sidney, that means you need to move your metrics of success.

By doing so, you'll no longer be handcuffed to how many clicks you're driving to the website or how many form fills you're getting from a certain campaign. 

You're then free to actually market. To push out content where people are consuming it and where it’s easily shareable. 

Take Slack for example: 

“How many times have I sent, ‘hey, this ad's really cool or this product's awesome’?” Sidney said. “That's just how people share these days. So when we move the metric for success and we kind of reframe the funnel for people, they're more engaged.”

Is there a solution to the dark funnel’s inherent lack of attributable data? 

“You know, people think that everybody at Refine Labs is so against attribution,” Sidney said. “We're not, we just need to have another way to capture dark social attribution. And I think you have to understand that there's stuff that you cannot track — that no technology can track.”

There’s not one product going to solve for it on its own. So you have to ask yourself, ‘how do I understand what I can't track’? 

One way to understand what's going on is by asking. 

“You could do that with the self-report attribution field,” Sidney said. “You could ask your customers on Gong calls. You can ask them after they've become customers — you can literally just ask. So that's a touchpoint. Then you can understand, okay, of all the other things that I could track, how does that fit in? So that's kind of how I look at it.”

“I think what people need to be focused on is the conversion source,” She continued. “And when I say conversion source, I don't care what touch it is. I don't care if it's the first touch or the seventeenth touch. All I care about is it's the point where they raise their hand. And I want to know what happened there.”

“We love to over-complicate things. I think that's been bred into us. So, just simplify when you can — simplify, simplify, simplify, I would say.”

Adam Enright, Sr. RevOps Consultant & Demand Gen Strategist at Go Nimbly shared his advice on how to solve the dark funnel’s attribution problem:

How to give the dark funnel equal footing as your attribution software:

1. Ask people how they found you in a sales call

2. Generate a list of dark funnel keywords like "Podcast" "LinkedIn"

3. Listen for these keywords in Chorus or Gong and set automation in SFDC to stamp "Dark Funnel" as lead/meeting source - OR - ask open ended questions in your demo form

4. Look at qualified meetings and pipeline source to prove that the dark funnel is real

In the example below, the person who requested a demo mentioned “podcast”. If that was one of the dark funnel keywords you’re on the lookout for, you’ll be better equipped to attribute this lead to dark social. 

At Chili Piper, we’re also using something called a booking context. It’s part of our “all-in touch” attribution model.

“We're actually shifting our model into what we're calling booking context,” Tara Robertson, Senior Manager of Demand Gen at Chili Piper said. “What caused [prospects] to fill out any form on our website? Really looking at what happened right before they booked that call. Whether it was the channel, the campaign source, and just figuring out how granular we can get.” 

Tara stated that while there’s no need to track 20+ touchpoints, we do need to know what caused people to raise their hand. 

What was that final thing that moved the needle? 

How to “win” in the dark funnel: Move the metric of success

To “win” in the dark funnel, you need to rethink what success looks like.

“You can't optimize for conversion because you're in the wrong intent mode,” Sidney said. “You're then just doing it to get something out of it. And to make dark social work, and even just content and pushing your brand out there, creating demand, you have to come at it from an angle where you're not expecting a direct conversion, or you're not even expecting something immediate.”

First and foremost, you have to understand what content performs well on what channels. 

Take LinkedIn for example… people scrolling through LinkedIn’s news feed aren’t going to click off to other articles, and they don’t want to watch a 10-minute video. 

They want quick, curated content tailored to where they’re at in the buyer journey and what information is relevant to them. 

Knowing what channels your customers consume content on, and how they share information, is a vital first step. From there, you can begin to utilize dark social to drive intent and generate leads.

How can you find out where your audience lives?

Conduct a survey. 

We surveyed demand gen marketers since that’s our ideal customer. The goal was to better understand where our ideal customers are spending time online, and where they go when looking for new tools.

Here's an example of the questions we asked and the responses we received: 

What's the first place you go to when you're evaluating a new tool to purchase?

What's your favorite way to consume marketing-related content? 

Where do you go to keep up with marketing trends?

Without further ado, here are our top tips for harnessing the power of dark social:

1. Ask prospects how they heard about you 

This tip is one that we would bold and put in all caps if we could (we can, it would just be a little dramatic). 

Anytime an individual fills out a form or requests a demo… ASK THEM HOW THEY FOUND YOU. 

Okay, we couldn’t resist — it’s just too important. 

It may seem like a small thing, but you might just get an answer that genuinely surprises you and can help inform what you focus on going forward.

Check out this example:

One of the best places to ask is on your main conversion page. For us this would be our book a demo page.

Through some trial and error (and talking to Sidney), we’ve pulled together some best practices around self-attribution form fields:

1. Put your “how did you hear about us?” field on your demo request form, NOT your thank you page

One of the mistakes we made with self-attribution was putting the field after the fact. Like many, we were worried about conversion rates dropping, so we didn’t want to put it on our demo page.

Once someone successfully got through the flow, we’d ask how they heard about us on the ‘thank you’ page, but we got very few responses. 

At that point, you can bet people are sick of giving their information. They’ve booked the demo, they’re done. 

Sidney wasn’t shocked to hear we didn’t see great results: 

“I'm not surprised that you're getting minimal information on the thank you page,” She said. “We've had probably four to five customers implement that the same way against our recommendation and then they later switched and just put it on the form.” 

Instead, put it in your demo request flow, and *gasp*, make it required. 

2.  Make it required

Now, don’t freak out.

And don’t be scared about screwing up your conversions.

“It's the number one objection we get,” Sidney said.

But, according to research from Refine Labs, there are no significant differences in conversion rates when it’s required. 

“Phase one is always make it required,” Sidney said. “We've tested it and we didn't see any difference in conversion rates across a couple of different clients.” 

Tip: Instead of adding an additional field, replace one you don’t really need (like job title — do you really need that upfront?). Instead, use an enrichment tool like Clearbit to get that information.

3. Make it an open field, not a dropdown

The problem with the picklist?

Often, people will select the first option or whatever comes to mind first — even if it wasn’t really how they heard about you. An open field allows for more granularity and helps you really see into the buyer journey that led them to you.

“One of the first clients that ever implemented this, it was a picklist,” Sidney said. “And over 28% of their close won, and over 35% of their qualified opportunities said ‘other’. And it's like, hmm, not helpful. So, we actually tested it. They're both required fields — one free text versus one picklist — and they didn't see a noticeable difference in their conversion rates over the time we A/B tested it. And now they're getting much more insightful data.” 

Sometimes you’ll even get responses that influence your marketing strategy. 

For example, Sidney had a client who received a response saying they found them through a webinar. 

“It wasn't even a sponsored webinar,” She said. “It was just something that our brand happened to get mentioned on. And now it's like, ‘hey, let's go explore some partnerships with that brand’. Because if your audience is already there, that's a win.”

4. A/B test for a couple of weeks to ensure you’re not messing with your conversion rate

Chances are, you won’t see a difference in conversions by implementing these suggestions.

But to be on the safe side, always A/B test for a couple of weeks before making any permanent changes.

“We don't tell our clients to go out there and just start changing their main conversion point and seeing what happens,” Sidney said. “It's bad advice. We're like, let's roll this out in A/B test for two or three weeks just to ensure we're not tanking the conversion rate.” 

2. Develop a “bulls-eye” list of top prospects and follow their activity

LinkedIn is a huge driver of dark funnel action. 

But it’s impossible to track everything that happens on social media. 

Instead, identify a top 100 list of marketers, sales leaders, rev ops professionals, or anyone in your industry that you would want as a customer or who inspires you.

Your very own vision board. 

Try to influence this list and win their attention. It’s much easier to track the activity of 100 target people and see what and who they interact with than to try and track everyone on LinkedIn.  

What posts do they engage with?

What piques their interest?

It feels like a victory whenever someone from your list shares something or interacts with you on social media.

Your bulls-eye list is likely made up of people who are highly respected in their fields and have a large following. Getting their attention means getting the attention of all their followers as well.

It’s all about working smarter, not harder. 😉

3. Send swag — but like, cool swag

Let’s be real, there’s plenty of swag that get’s opened… and immediately thrown out. 

People can tell when swag is just a stunt. 

The trick is to be creative. Make it personal to your brand, and if you can, useful

Take our hot sauce for example. It’s a huge crowd pleaser but also makes sense for our brand (people even email us to ask where they can buy it… it’s that good 🌶), and something that is fun to post on social media.

You can read the full convo here.

Swag can do unexpected things. It builds feelings of goodwill, creates buzz around your brand, and in this case, it can spark a conversation about marketing best practices.

While a small thing to send, that little bottle of hot sauce got people talking in a big way.

All the while influencing people and building brand awareness without forcing it — even if people didn’t necessarily interact with the post. 

4. Get your employees active on social media

This is also a great way to utilize your SDRs

Empower them to get active on social media, and most importantly, be themselves. 

Why? The more people recognize someone, the more they trust them.

Some easy things you can do are:

  • Send LinkedIn connections (especially to your bulls-eye list)
  • Endorse people’s skills
  • Engage with posts
  • Share your company’s content (blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.)

Here are a few great examples of how a social media presence can directly benefit sales: 

Example 2:

Example 3. 

Whether you’re actively engaging with posts, or simply posting useful or insightful content, the more recognizable you are, the more people will trust what you have to say.

And the more likely they are to share your content and even become a customer down the road.

5. If you find someone's outreach useful or insightful, respond and let them know

Now, this tip may not be based on heavy data, but we like to think the “law of reciprocity” is at play here. 

Is that a thing? I’m not sure but it sounds good to me. 🤷‍♀️

By responding to someone's newsletter, you also stand out to them and generate a sense of goodwill. Now, the next time you share something, the more likely they are to engage.

Plus, they might even share your response in their company’s #dark-funnel Slack channel 😉. It’ll give you an extra boost of visibility.

Like this (which was shared in our Slack channel):

“This email was especially cool to receive because I first heard of the Daily Carnage newsletter through our survey to newsletter subscribers and decided to test out some ads in it!” Tara said. 

Or this (which was also shared in our Slack channel):

Or this (you guessed it, also shared in our Slack channel):

If these people hadn’t sent us emails, we might not have ever known that they had read our newsletter or listened to our podcast, let alone, were positively impacted.

#darkfunnel

6. Create a #dark-funnel Slack channel for your team to share their wins

Slack is so great in so many ways, but one, in particular, is being able to share cool things with your team. 

“We have the #ad-labs channel where we share really creative, cool ads, cool different things,” Sidney said. “Our whole creative team shares all the creatively produce for our clients. Just so everybody sees the great work that they do. So, yeah, that's one of my favorite channels.”

At Chili Piper, we have a Slack channel where we’ve compiled all of our dark social examples or anything we see that’s dark funnel-related.

“The most marketing to marketers example I could think of is to have a great marketing channel on Slack,” Tara said. “Pretty much every marketing team I've been on has had that where we just of have a place to dump like, ‘oh, I saw this great ad. I saw this great interaction online’.”

“I got a screenshot from a friend of his marketing channel and one of our blog posts was there.” She continued. “So, I shared that on our marketing channel. And there's no way we could have possibly tracked if that opportunity ever closed.”

7. Get involved in communities 

“Since they came out, communities have just blown up,” Sidney said. “Not that they didn't exist before, but I can't even tell you how many Slack communities I'm in. And that just didn't exist five, ten years ago.” 

Aparna Kulkarni, Chief Personifier at Personifiers

“You don't go to a company's website anymore,” Sidney said. “I'm just going to ask the community.” 

Or if you have a question about a company, you’re going to email someone from one of your communities who uses the product. Or DM them on LinkedIn.

Not only do you trust their opinion, you know they won’t harass you for a demo for the next year.

Communities can almost act like buyer enablement. That’s why you need to know which ones your audience is in, and how you can reach them.

How do you get buy-in on dark social?

Many people find themselves getting push back by those at a leadership level when it comes to dark social. 

Sometimes simple because they don’t understand the dark funnel.

Or think because they can’t track it, it’s not valuable.

And often because they’ve just purchased fancy automation software — or they really want to buy fancy automation software

But bringing in self-reported data, showing them the gaps, and proving that you can marry data-driven marketing with a dark social strategy will help greatly. 

Self-attribution will help give you the qualitative data you need to get buy-in and have those in leadership positions understand how the dark funnel works. 

See how Chili Piper can help you convert hand-raisers right to meetings booked

Kelli Diffenderfer

Kelli Diffenderfer is a Content Marketing Manager at Chili Piper. She is passionate about the power of words to tell stories and bring ideas to life. A Michigander at heart, she spends much of her time traveling to the mitten state, spending time outdoors and enjoying sunsets over the water.

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