Four salesmen sit amidst brimming ashtrays and unused phones. Their eyes are weary and faces tight. A large green chalkboard full of meaningless names taunts them.
“Put that coffee down,” shouts a man as he cuts through the smoky room.
Yes, this is a famous scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross.
Wearing a crisp suit and a gold watch, Alec Baldwin’s character strides to the chalkboard. The man with the plan outlines his winning strategy…
A lead generation funnel.
Wait, hold up…
What is a lead generation funnel?
Think of it in terms of a real funnel. As things enter the funnel they get whittled down into a more purified/clean form. If you just want juice, you strain out the pulp.
A lead generation funnel is no different. It’s the process of starting with, and sifting through, a large number prospects, identifying which ones are viable as sales leads, and then nurturing these qualified leads into paying customers at the end of the funnel.
The lead gen funnel is a tool for defining who your best leads are, understanding where they are in the lead generation process, and outlining how your business will move leads down the funnel and have them come out at the end as paying customers.
It’s the pipeline that feeds your business.
Despite this, 68% of B2B organizations have not mapped out a lead gen funnel!
Because planning and building a successful lead generation funnel comes with a lot of moving pieces. Misalign one, and the whole process is broken.
As a result, marketers don’t get started, because they don’t really know where to start.
And, that’s the impetus for this in-depth guide. You’ll learn how to create a lead funnel that delivers only the most well-nurtured and qualified leads to your sales team.
The result: Less time screening, more time selling.
A taste of what you’ll learn:
- How the buying process has changed (and what it means for your business)
- How consumer psychology impacts the lead generation process
- How to craft a well-oiled lead funnel
- How to engage customers across each stage of the buyer journey
Lead generation funnels are for closers. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s go!
How Does Lead Generation Work?
One of the easiest ways to explain how lead generation works is to highlight how it differs from demand generation.
Now, you could be forgiven for referring to them as the same thing. But, while these roles are often overseen by the same person, and sometimes overlap, they are fundamentally different.
Demand generation is what a brand does to drive awareness and capture attention. It’s what makes consumers engage with a brand without yet having tried a product or service.
It lets people know who you are and what you can do to help them.
Lead generation is how a brand turns customer awareness into conversions and sales.
It picks up where demand generation left off, and focuses on driving interest and inquiry into specific products or services.
Lead generation tactics allow you to advance the attention of your target audience in meaningful ways. From top to bottom of the sales funnel, it’s critical to position your brand as a trusted advisor.
After attracting prospects, your job is to build credibility and nurture the lead further down the sales funnel.
How the New Buying Process is Changing the Lead Generation Process
Almost 3 million blog posts are published each day. Consumers are drowning in information.
Bombarded by endless marketing messages, audiences are becoming more selective.
Studies confirm that 70-80% of today’s consumers ignore ads, while seeking out and prioritizing organic content from trustworthy sources.
Bottom line: Modern consumers are in absolute control of the buying process.
In fact, 93% of B2B buying processes begin with an online search, and 94% of B2B buyers will research online before finalizing a purchase.
Today’s information-rich buyers are becoming less responsive to yesterday’s sales tactics.
Creating a successful lead generation funnel hinges on its ability to build trust and capture the interest of the buyer before talking to a sales rep.
These trends align with the increased budget applied to online lead generation activities, especially website optimization, social media and SEO:
For CMOs and senior level marketing executives, the top priorities for lead generation rest on increased measurable ROI from campaigns:
Basically, CMOs are looking for processes that increase the quality of leads their marketing campaigns are generating, not the quantity.
This means more leads need to be educated and nurtured before ever meeting making contact with sales, especially in a B2B context where there are typically multiple stakeholders involved in the decision making process:
This is a fundamental shift from the “old days” where the concept of lead generation was finding a pool of names and passing them to sales. Buyers expected to speak to sales, and sales expected to speak to uneducated prospects.
Everything about that has changed. The sales cycle is giving way to the modern buyer journey.
Buyers are now more educated than ever before. According to Forester, consumers are now up to 90% of their way through the buyer journey before they ever speak directly to your company. There mind is already pretty much made up.
“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”
– Herbert A. Simon, social scientist and Nobel Prize Winner
A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.
You need to be creating not just content, but an experience, that captures and retains attention. Marketers need to be proactive, to send the right messages and information at the right time.
Vendors need to be seen by buyers as trusted experts in their field, and have a clear point of differentiation in the market.
The Lead Generation Process
The funnel is a tool for defining your leads and understanding where they are in the lead generation process. The end goal is to capture, educate, and nurture leads until you’ve converted them into customers.
When moving prospects towards a sale, there are three stages to consider: top of the funnel (ToFu), middle of the funnel (MoFu), and bottom of the funnel (BoFu).
Let’s examine the critical processes within each stage of the funnel:
#1 ToFu: Top of the Funnel
“The lead generation process starts by finding out where your target market ‘lives’ on the web.”
This is the awareness stage — when you’re attracting the widest audience of potential leads.
Engage ToFu prospects with entry-level educational content suited to specific needs in the discovery phase. Focus on driving relevant traffic but not filtering conversations.
Since these new leads aren’t yet ready for sales, collect customer information, but refrain from direct sales activities. These folks are not ready yet.
This stage introduces your brand and establishes your thought leadership in the space.
To succeed with ToFu lead generation, leverage:
- Interactive video
- Interactive infographics
- Social media
Here are 28 other B2B content examples to get the creative juices flowing :)
#2 MoFu: Middle of the Funnel
Once prospects are engaged, they move into the MoFu stage. The challenge here is continuing to educate leads who are still not fully qualified to buy.
Middle funnel content bridges the gap between initial awareness (ToFu) and the final sale (BoFu). It nurtures the decision-making process, and forms the meat of your conversion funnel.
Middle funnel content is generally more important to B2B companies because the sales cycles are more complex. You need to spend more time building and nurturing relationships with prospects in this stage.
Conversely, MoFu content in the B2C space is more geared towards customer relationship management.
So, what does the right MoFu content look like?
To find out, you need to answer two questions:
- Where do mid-funnel prospects come from?
- What are the goals for MoFu prospects?
The goal of MoFu content is to guide your prospect through the buyer’s journey, providing material that will help prospects evaluate your brand, build loyalty, and establish a preference for your brand over the competition.
While this may seem obvious, only 6% of B2B marketers rate their content marketing strategy as “highly effective”:
There is a clear break in the path between content creation and conversion.
You can have ToFu content pouring in the leads all day long, but if the epicenter of your lead funnel is weak, you’ll fail to educate and build the relationships needed to bolster your close rates.
According to MarketingSherpa, companies leveraging lead nurturing (MoFu) content see 45% more leads over companies not using lead nurturing.
The key to a successful MoFu content strategy rests on audience segmentation. While age, gender, geography and demographics are valuable segments, the secret sauce lies in the behavior-driven segmentation.
That is, connecting with individuals in a relevant and valuable way, at the right time in the buyer journey.
MoFu content comes in many shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples:
- Interactive white papers
- Calculators can quickly show the potential cost and/or time savings a buyer could realize by trying a specific product.
- Case studies are a great way to show, not tell, exactly how you can provide value through the eyes of the consumer.
- Spec/ comparison sheets
- Segmented newsletters can be used to serve content specific to the stage of the funnel the consumer is in. For example, CoSchedule, a WordPress editorial calendar plugin, sends different content to individuals based on their level of activity, or lack thereof:
The middle of the funnel hinges upon engaging leads with consistently relevant content in a timely fashion. By nurturing your most interested leads, you gain trust and move them into the consideration stage.
At this later part of the mid-funnel, you’ve achieved a marketing qualified lead. Clarify which leads should be expedited to sales or need more nurturing by implementing a lead scoring system.
#3 BoFu: Bottom of the Funnel
By now you’ve collected leads with ToFu content and nurtured them with MoFu content. The next stage hinges on acting upon buyer intent to close the sale.
Qualified leads are comfortable with your brand, so be forthright in helping them evaluate your product or service. Sales and marketing should work together to nurture the decision-making process.
Minimize cold feet, emphasize the value proposition, and convince the buyer your brand is the right choice. This often requires a direct interactive experience, such as a demo or trial.
People want to try before they buy.
Some examples of BoFu content:
- Free trials
Ok, so we now understand the core stages in the lead funnel. Now it’s time to build it out.
The 6-step Lead Generation Process
We’ve seen how prospects and leads move through the lead generation funnel. Now it’s time to pull apart the process and show you exactly how to craft your own lead generation funnel.
The first step is planning how you will reach, nurture, and close leads within the funnel. Sales and marketing should draft a detailed buyer journey for each buyer persona and establish what constitutes a qualified lead.
Start by outlining your targets. Then plan how you’ll capture audience attention at the ToFu stage, nurture, educate MoFu leads, and close deals in the BoFu stage.
Detail how you’ll acquire leads and what will happen after they’re in the funnel.
Devise a content strategy to educate leads, plus coordinate conversion strategies that align with early interest and signal buying behavior. Sales and marketing must also align their objectives and goals, as well as KPIs and metrics.
Predict success by planning each stage and how leads will progress down the funnel.
Content that educates buyers and establishes your credibility is essential to generating and sustaining interest from your audience.
Design a holistic content journey to guide leads down the funnel while simultaneously capturing customer data for use in lead nurturing.
For example, start by distributing interactive white papers and blog posts from your website. Then, follow up with drip email.
When making a purchase, 75% of B2B buyers use social media for decision-making. Personality tests, surveys, and interactive contests are effective at driving engagement across both social media and email.
Remember: lead gen means reaching your customers where they are.
Maximize customer education by leveraging the channels and content types preferred by your audience. Infographics are liked and shared 3x more than any other content. Here is an example of how iLevel Solutions used an interactive infographic titled “Risky Business: What Private Capital Firms Need to Know About Using Spreadsheets for Portfolio Monitoring” to show the damaging effects of simple spreadsheet errors:
Sharing interactive infographics on social media is a great way to enhance the impact of your ToFu lead generation and MoFu education stages.
Four times as many people would prefer to watch a video than read about a product. Leverage interactive video to educate leads and capture their information at the later funnel stages.
Education is the cornerstone of the lead gen funnel. To achieve sales, every stage of the funnel must leverage high-level content that progressively engages and converts leads to buyers.
After designing content to attract visitors, capture their information so you can convert them into a lead. Collect customer data from every channel, using:
- Content upgrades
- Gated content
- Landing pages
You can also accelerate your lead generation efforts across all funnel toucnhpoints using interactive content:
Embed CTAs and turn every content asset into a lead generation machine.
Interactive content is 33% more effective at educating your buyers, and generates 2x more conversions than its static counterpart.
But, don’t just take our word for it.
Capturing lead data yields a rich customer profile to assist with lead nurturing. It also improves lead qualification when deciding sales-readiness.
“61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to Sales; however, only 27% of those leads will be qualified.”
While more leads are better, simply capturing leads doesn’t make them sales-ready. Prospects undergo lead qualification to determine if they’re ready to talk with sales or require additional nurturing.
Align sales and marketing to determine what constitutes a lead, a marketing qualified lead, a sales opportunity, etc.
These definitions and agreed-upon thresholds are pivotal at the bottom of the funnel, as both departments act in unison to effectively close a sale.
Prematurely trying to close a customer wastes both leads and resources. Lead qualification is a critical step here—the gateway to knowing when leads are sales-ready, who those leads are, and which leads require more time.
Outline the following metrics to ensure your teams act decisively and capitalize on leads effectively:
A prospect fits your buyer personas but hasn’t expressed interest yet. Determining if a contact is a prospect is the first step in the sales process. Do they satisfy the necessary criteria or are they just browsing?
A lead is an unqualified prospect that’s starting to show buying behavior. Again, marketing and sales should brainstorm about what constitutes buying behavior.
An MQL is a Marketing Qualified Lead, someone who’s expressed interest in your product or service. Lead qualifications will vary but look to engagement history and market fit to determine if a lead deserves further attention.
An SQL is a Sales Qualified Lead, someone who has shown strong buying behavior and has been vetted by marketing and sales for the next sales stage. Only SQLs should get passed to sales reps. These are the individuals with the pain, budget, and authority to purchase.
A sales opportunity has been qualified, entered the sales cycle, and has committed to your brand. These individuals have shown high levels of interest, have been contacted, and directly benefit from your product or service.
A closed sale is someone who’s paid for your product or service. Once you’ve closed a sale, continue to nurture your post-sale customers to encourage them to make upsells, cross-sells, referrals, and provide valuable product/service feedback.
To ensure only the most qualified leads are getting through to your sales team, implement a lead scoring model and a lead nurturing system.
Marketing automation is a critical ingredient in the cultivation process. It will allow you to connect your personas with the right content at the right time.
According to InfusionSoft, if you allow more than 30 minutes to pass before following up with an engaged lead, that lead is 21x less likely to turn into a sale.
According to Demand Gen Report, nurtured leads produce an average increase of 20% in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads. This is because nurturing helps you identify the right buyers and the right time, effectively shortening the sales cycle.
Annuitas Group found that nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads and boost revenue. Since nurtured customers are familiar with your brand, they’re open to making larger purchases.
While automation and lead nurturing at critical to cultivating leads, it is essential to have a clearly defined lead scoring model in place so marketing knows when it is the best time to hand off leads to sales.
(i.e. classify as a SQL)
Lead scoring is a process shared between sales and marketing that ranks qualified leads according to their sales-readiness. Through lead scoring, you will know if a particular contact fits the profile of your ideal lead.
For example, a website visitor receives +1 points for reading a blog post, +3 for citing a product page, and +10 for watching a demo. Account for both demographic data and behavioral history when assigning points.
Assessing leads against your points system lets you fast-track the highest-scoring leads to sales and accelerate your pipeline.
Lead conversion is where you pass SQLs to sales. Once interest has been shown in the previous steps, there’s not much selling to be done. Sales reps look into the leads engagement history prior to the call, noting whether there’s been sufficient buying behavior.
The sales call will assess buyer readiness (pain/ budget/ decision), and determine if your brand is a good fit for the lead.
The key is helping the SQL understand how they can solve a specific problem with your product or service.
Always Be Measuring
Your lead generation process should be constantly scrutinized by both marketing and sales to ensure campaigns are generating a measurable ROI.
Bringing on new leads, nurturing them, converting them, and retaining customers all require constant attention to key touchpoints along the funnel.
Use the metrics mentioned earlier to identify leaks in your lead funnel. Where are people dropping off?
Retool your content to suit buyer personas and lead behavior. Optimization ensures that your lead generation funnel reaches, nurtures, and converts the greatest number of qualified leads for sales.
Closing the Funnel
Congratulations, you’re now prepared to craft an effective lead generation funnel. If you haven’t already been drinking coffee, grab a cup – you’re about to close a lot more deals.
Given the surplus of information swarming the web, today’s consumers prefer to engage with brands who provide the most valuable content resources. Savvy marketers cut through the noise by leveraging interactive content throughout the funnel.
The lead generation funnel allows brands to reach their best leads, nurture that interest, and capture necessary data before delivering truly qualified leads to sales.
Start your lead funnel process by planning a strategy, setting goals and coordinating a cohesive content strategy that aims to educate leads.
Educating leads for a conversion is the funnel’s primary purpose, so invest in premium content assets to nurture and engage potential buyers through every stage of the buyer’s journey. Capture lead data to elevate the impact of your messaging, then use lead scoring to determine which leads are sales-ready.