As modern marketers, we’re all familiar with the lead generation funnel. You know, the one that hasn’t changed since the 90s, the one that shows up in every general marketing deck, created in Microsoft Paint with some sort of awful gradient. Like this one:

sales funnel

The image might be slightly antiquated, however, the concept behind the lead funnel remains crucial in understanding how your leads move from totally unaware of you to being a happy customer.

Understanding that path is the beginning of understanding life from your lead’s point of view, and that’s ground zero for the content you create for them, the offers you make, and the ways you invite them to engage with you. This story is sometimes told horizontally, but most often we see it as a vertical funnel, mouth at the top, narrowing to show how your pool of likely buyers gets smaller over time.

Top of funnel is the beginning of the buyer’s journey

Prospects enter your funnel at the top, where they express general interest in your field or your company. They may have discovered you on social media, seen an ad, or Googled a search term and found you on the search engine results page. They could be researching a problem and found your company listed on a review site, or perhaps a colleague recommended your company to them.

At this early stage, they’re learning, so they may move from page to page on your site, or start with a blog post and click to an internal page. These leads move down the funnel as they begin to show more refined interest in your product (they may download your eBooks, white papers, or attend a webinar). As the leads get close to the bottom of the funnel, they begin to be considered qualified, and perhaps even sales-ready. If a lead is willing to participate in a trial or to sit through a demo of your product, they are probably at the bottom of the funnel.

It’s critical to understand where your leads are in the process

While it isn’t an exact science, understanding which stage your leads are in helps you deliver the most appropriate, timely content to move leads more quickly through the funnel (and closer to purchasing!).

Successfully understanding your leads means you gain the knowledge to get them what they need, when they need it.

  • Leads at the top of the funnel (ToFu) can be quickly turned off by offers of a demo or free trial because that might feel too pushy.
  • Leads in the middle of the funnel (MoFu) are getting more sophisticated, so you don’t want to send them beginner content; that might feel patronizing.
  • Those who are closer to the bottom of the funnel (BoFu) are usually interested in specific things that will help them make a decision (ROI calculators, competitive analyses, etc.) so they don’t need a thought-leader analysis of the problem they’re solving.

In order to cater to the needs of each prospect in your funnel, you must first be able to identify which stage in the buyer’s journey they’re at, and secondly be able to predict what kind of content or outreach they will be most receptive to. This is where the three defined buckets – ToFu, MoFu, BoFu – come in really handy.

ToFu, MoFu, BoFu is a simple breakdown of the lead funnel determined by the lead’s interest level, engagement activity, and potential fit as a customer. By segmenting your leads into these three buckets, your marketing efforts will be more targeted, and so you’ll be more successful readying those leads for sales to convert into customers.

ToFu – Top of Funnel: Provide Education

The “Top of Funnel” leads are first and foremost interested in learning. These leads might enter your funnel through doing general research about how to improve their performance as an individual or as a team.

In this portion of the funnel, your content should be focused on awareness and education. Your efforts during this phase should revolve around giving your prospects access to high quality content that helps THEM, not you. You do not want anything from your leads at this stage, you want only to interest them in the content that you have in relation to their needs. This is enlightened self-interest; your goal is to become a trusted friend.

Since these leads have just entered your funnel, it’s likely they are not ready to purchase, and won’t appreciate being treated as though they are. These leads often enter your funnel by searching for terms on the internet that relate to your product or service. In fact, 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic [not branded] search. Additionally, on average, B2B researchers do 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site. This gives you a great opportunity to serve prospects high-level content that is intelligent, informative, and helpful.

Leads in this stage are most likely to be engaged with:

  • Paid advertising
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social media marketing
  • Blogs

Remember, your goal during the ToFu stage is NOT to sell – it’s simply to educate.

When your ToFu lead is really a BoFu buyer

It’s also possible (if much less likely) that the lead has been searching similar products online for some time and looking at product reviews, comparisons, etc. They may have stumbled across your name relatively late in their exploration, and be almost ready to consider a purchase.

Watch for buyers who move through your funnel much more quickly than usual; they may be ready for the bottom of the funnel, where you speak specifically to what your organization can do for them. If you recognize this buyer, don’t make them wait; meet them where they are with advanced content.

MoFu – Middle of Funnel: Position Your Organization

As your leads move down the funnel, your opportunities to introduce your product or service increases. Leads in the MoFu stage are still mainly focused on education, but are more receptive to hearing about what you have to offer.

These leads may have moved from ToFu to MoFu by signing up for your newsletter, registering for a webinar, or downloading an eBook or datasheet. These leads have expressed some interest in hearing what you have to offer.

The most important thing to remember during this stage is that these leads are not ready to buy your product, and you shouldn’t try to force purchasing decisions. In fact, 50% of qualified leads are not ready to make a purchase – they need to be nurtured. And this is good for you. According to The Annuitas Group, nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. By continuing to offer your leads in the MoFu stage education and high-quality content, you will ultimately be increasing the value of your potential customer.

Email is a great way to nurture these leads and move them quickly down the funnel. Your email communications should be targeted and personalized to offer these prospects the most relevant content for their needs. A high performing email nurture program can be quite successful. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company email is almost 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter.

The MoFu stage is an excellent time to nurture your leads with:

  • Newsletters
  • eBooks
  • Whitepapers
  • Datasheets
  • Webinars

BoFu – Bottom of Funnel: Converting Leads into Customers

A lead should only be considered BoFu once they have shown considerable interest in your product or service. These leads have interacted significantly with your marketing efforts, and are (usually) ready to be contacted by your sales team. Ideally, these leads have also been deemed to be a good fit for your organization; they resemble your ideal customer profile, or they have similar characteristics of your high-performing customers.

Remember that lead generation is not about getting as many leads as possible, it’s about getting the BEST leads, and then making it easy and satisfying for them to move down the funnel. Poor quality customers – the ones who don’t use your product or service well; the ones who soak up lots of customer service resources; the ones who don’t pay or don’t renew their contract are ultimately a detriment to your company, your brand, and your revenue. Getting the right customers in the door is almost as important as keeping them there.

This is why it’s non-negotiable to understand what makes a good customer for your company, and what doesn’t. Don’t qualify leads as BoFu if you are uncertain whether they will be successful as a customer. The overall lifetime value of a customer is truly the most important revenue metric.

What comes after BoFu?

If you’ve successfully nurtured your leads through the funnel and they’ve joined your cohort as happy, paying customers, congrats! But your role as a marketer doesn’t stop there. While your sales and customer success teams now both have relationships with your new customers, marketing was the team that had the initial contact, and the one with continuity across the entire customer lifecycle. Make sure that marketing continues well into the retention and expansion zones.

Automate your onboarding process to make sure customers have access to all of your great content and resources, and that they get what they need at every step.

Continue to nurture your customers with communication through customer newsletters, meetups, and user groups. Continue email programs to notify customers of new products, features, or updates. Make sure they are connected with and supported by a great customer success team, and that they always have access to help when they need it.

If you do these things, you will be rewarded. According to Gleanster, top performers, on average, invest 30% of their budget and 25% of their time to expand existing customer relationships — and these investments yield 50% of their total revenue. Your customers are an incredible source of continued, predictable revenue. They are a well that most marketers don’t tap … but you can, by expanding your marketing practices through every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Focusing on the entire customer lifecycle really pays off. Top performing companies are beating their revenue goals and have higher levels of customer satisfaction. These results are a rallying cry for marketing leaders to seize the opportunity to own the end-to-end customer lifecycle. Download this comprehensive study from Gleanster and Act-On, “Rethinking the Role of Marketing” to learn about the state of customer lifecycle engagement and how top companies are taking control of the full customer lifecycle with new metrics, technology, and a refined focus.

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