Dark Funnel in SaaS: How To Confront Dark Funnel and Make It Work for You?

Dark Funnel in SaaS: How To Confront Dark Funnel and Make It Work for You? cover

Do you receive leads from the dark funnel and are not sure where they originated?

Unfortunately, traditional marketing and sales funnels aren’t enough. The buyer’s journey is not a linear path and that leaves companies and marketers with an enormous attribution blind spot. What we call the “dark funnel” is comprised of these hidden elements.

Whether you’re trying to accelerate customer acquisition or increase product engagement, understanding the dark funnel is necessary.

Let’s learn what it is, why it exists, how it works, and how you can take advantage of it.


  • The dark funnel refers to all the hidden touchpoints a user goes through in their customer journey.
  • The dark funnel exists because third-party content platforms, social media channels, and offline conversations can neither be tracked nor controlled by conventional marketing systems.
  • Industry blogs, social media channels, influencers and subject matter experts, product review websites, and offline conversations contribute to the dark funnel.
  • The dark funnel cannot be eliminated, but it can be controlled to some extent.
  • Use onboarding microsurveys with questions like “How did you hear about us?” to track the source of your users.
  • Make use of branded conference swag to promote your company at conferences and raise positive awareness.
  • Take advantage of employer branding to turn your employees into brand advocates and drive positive virality.
  • Finally, align your data sources across teams to ensure you do not become the source of your blindspots.
  • Book a Userpilot demo to learn how Userpilot can help you learn more about your users and increase user loyalty.

What is the dark funnel in SaaS?

The dark funnel refers to all the hidden and untraceable places where buyers engage with and make purchasing decisions.

Although the digital marketing environment provides insight into this journey, it doesn’t capture visits to third-party sites for research, the influence of social media, or even the word-of-mouth conversations that happen outside your channels.

The concept of the dark funnel can be represented in a dark iceberg as well. Dark iceberg is a part of the customer journey that takes place below the surface, hidden from attribution tools.

The Dark Iceberg.

Why does the dark funnel exist?

The existence of the dark funnel isn’t a mystery. Several factors contribute to it and make it inevitable. Let’s consider the three of them.

Not all touchpoints can be tracked by analytics

From the customer’s need to their awareness of products to their eventual purchase, the buying journey is a zigzag line. Between the point at which a consumer has a need and the point at which they make a purchase, a lot happens.

The complexity of this process presents marketers with a challenge when tracking every part of the buying journey. No analytics can track all of the touchpoints or behind-the-scenes happenings.

The customer journey can’t be fully documented

Much of the buyer’s journey takes place offline, making it hard for customer journey analytics to capture all that takes place before a user makes buying decisions.

Even when they engage in online activities in the pre-decision-making phase, their actions may not progress linearly. Due to the circuitous nature of this journey, analytics may be blind to some critical touchpoints influencing it.

Third-party content platforms and influencers are out of your control

Modern users spend much time on other websites and sources before they arrive at your website. Their research aims to both understand their needs and the products that can satisfy those needs.

This research may take the user to review websites or social media discussion groups which shapes their decisions. Much like what happens offline, insights from the digital marketing environment don’t do justice to what happens on third-party sites.

What are the data sources feeding the dark funnel?

As a marketer, you want to know where your users are coming from and what influences their decision-making – whether via regular or dark social channels.

One way to gain more insight into the dark funnel is to look at the data sources feeding the funnel. Some of these data sources include:

Industry blogs

Industry blogs contain valuable resources, tips, and best practices that many decision-makers on their buying journey trust. These blogs offer actionable advice to their visitors, making them invaluable sources of information.

For instance, users looking to get SaaS-related information may visit any of these 15 SaaS blogs.

SaaSholic Blog
SaaSholic Blog.

There are a variety of industry blogs that can mention your brand, discuss your company, or review your product (positively or negatively). The things they say about your brand are often beyond your control. However, they do influence the decisions made regarding your product.

In today’s hyper-social world, influencers and subject matter experts greatly influence customer decisions. Social media influencers stir “dark social” conversations which impact purchase decisions.

Likewise, subject matter experts gather large and loyal audiences, thus increasing their influence on the customer’s decisions. Any mention of your brand by these influencers could, therefore, impact your brand’s sales performance.

Social media channels

The use of social media is increasingly important in the purchase decision-making process. About 84% of C-level and VP-level buyers admit to using social media for purchasing. Likewise, about 75% of B2B buyers consult social media when making decisions.

These buyers use social media to search for information about brands. They listen to the experiences of others who have used your brand, compare the experiences of others who may have used other brands, and finally make a decision, sometimes before even arriving on your website.

Of course, you can track brand mentions and do social listening for any mentions of your brand. You can also gauge whether these mentions are positive or negative. However, the “dark social” is aptly named because you can’t track or control all that happens within it.

Search Userpilot on Twitter.

Product review sites

Product review sites receive constant traffic from visitors who need to decide whether to buy a product. Users study everything from product reviews to competitor comparisons and reviews from current users before making a decision.

All this information helps them determine whether they’ll get real value by purchasing the product.

G2 Product reviews platform
G2 Product reviews platform.

Unfortunately, despite the influence of these websites over your product, you have no control over them. You also have no control over which reviews the buyer sees and how it influences their buying decision.

Word of mouth or offline

Few sources of information wield as much power as word-of-mouth (WoM) information. Before making a purchase, most users seek out others who have used the product they need. They talk to family members, colleagues, and friends to get their opinion on whether a purchase is worth it.

All of these offline reports weigh heavily when on the final decision. In fact, according to the word-of-mouth report, Chatter Matters, Americans value offline word-of-mouth reports 41% more than the same reports in the online environment.

Examples of dark marketing funnels

Now let’s see how dark funnels can influence someone who wants to buy a social media scheduling tool, for example.

This person first identifies their need and then conducts some research using Google. During their search, they find lots of scheduling software with good reviews. Perhaps they even spend some time on G2, but they find too many products and remain unsure which product to trust.

Sometime later, they attend a networking event where a former colleague talks about how x tool has helped them automate social media post scheduling. The colleague raves about the product’s easy-to-use interface and affordable pricing. Coming home, this person goes directly to the tool’s website, explores its features, and books a demo.

For you as a product marketer, their visit to your site is where their journey begins. From the moment they land on your website, browse the features page, and book a demo, you begin to visualize their journey. But you can’t know the reason why they chose your product.

This is the dark funnel.

Is it possible to eliminate the dark funnel?

Short answer, no.

You can neither eliminate the dark funnel nor gain total control over it. As well as being unknown, this funnel is dark because you cannot predict what will happen within it.

However, you can wield a measure of indirect control over it. To do this, you first have to treat the dark funnel as one of your marketing strategies.

Next, you’ll need to acquire loyal users and brand ambassadors while providing great content. If you do this, you’ll increase the number of people who will praise your product, and you’ll increase your chances of receiving positive feedback wherever your prospects are.

Five strategies to confront the dark funnel and make it work for you

Although the customer journey within the dark funnel may happen beyond the surface, you can make it work for you. Consider these five strategies that help you make the most of this dark aspect of marketing attribution.

Let’s dive deep!

Send a “How did you hear about us” survey to new users

How did you hear about us? Chances are you’ve seen this question at least once when onboarding for a new product.

Although you can’t track what happens outside your marketing funnel, the “how did you hear about us” survey gives you an idea of where your users are learning about you. It allows you to optimize to take advantage of the source and attract more traffic from that source.

“How did you hear about us” survey.

You can embed this question into your onboarding microsurvey (more on that shortly) or place it as a standalone survey of its own.

Use a micro survey in the welcome flow to collect potentially missing data

Do you take full advantage of your welcome screen? The welcome screen in your SaaS product presents you with an invaluable opportunity to collect relevant info on your new customers.

After giving the customer a warm welcome, beckon them to answer a few questions in a microsurvey. This survey should help you learn who the customer is, where they’re coming from, and their goal for the product – among others.

Postfiti’s welcome screen created by Userpilot
Postfiti’s welcome screen created by Userpilot.

Creating a welcome screen does not have to consume a lot of programming time. You don’t need to know any code to create a welcome screen like this one from Postfity above using tools like Userpilot.

Incentivize the dark funnel with conference swag items and make them talk about your brand

Conferences are great for spreading the word about your company. Attendees are more likely to accept industry advice when surrounded by other industry insiders.

To ensure conference attendees leave with your company firmly in their minds, you can offer branded conference swags such as caps, coffee mugs, pens, water bottles, t-shirts, etc. Doing this will grant you visibility while also getting people to talk about you in a good way.

Userpilot team at SaaStr conference with branded t-shirts
Userpilot team at SaaStr conference with branded t-shirts.

Invest in employer branding to drive word of mouth

Employer branding isn’t just a marketing buzzword. It has lots of benefits if you could only tap into it.

From attracting top talent to turning your employees into willing ambassadors for your company, investing in employer branding yields massive returns.

As employees speak favorably about your business, they raise the brand’s reputation before the general public. As the public learns of your favorable working conditions, word-of-mouth marketing picks up the pace, enabling you to achieve product virality.

You can also leverage employees to drive word-of-mouth with webinars and online talks. Here is how our head of content talks about how to drive WOM with secondary onboarding. The talk is from last year’s Product Drive, powered by Userpilot.

Product Drive.

Avoid becoming the main source of the dark funnel

Another important consideration when harnessing the dark funnel is whether your actions are unwittingly putting you in the dark.

Sometimes, you may find yourself in the dark because you failed to track things properly or failed to share data efficiently across teams. Perhaps the marketing team is aware of the data, but the sales reps or customer success teams who need to guide users towards a transaction are in the dark.

Ensuring all your teams are aligned and in sync will enable you to take advantage of all available data sources you can track.


The dark funnel can become a real nightmare for many marketers.

While conventional analytics tools cannot track what happens within the dark funnel, knowing that it exists allows you to influence what happens there.

Wanna learn about where your users are coming from and what they do in the app? Book a Userpilot demo today and get started right away!

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