Sales funnel

Most people call it the sales funnel but I think that is wrong.  It’s a “marketing-to-sales” funnel.  And it needs to be seamless for the prospect who is making the journey.  Here’s my quick (ok, a little cheesy) graphic on what the funnel looks like:

Funnel image 1

The funnel is loaded primarily with content items but also with events like trade shows, possibly telemarketing (not sales) phone calls for qualification, even free trials if you have the ability to do that (like many software firms I’ve worked for could do).  Anyway, the idea is to take a “marketing lead” (someone who has stepped up and expressed interest) and turn it into a “sales lead” (someone sales wants to talk to). Marketing needs to work with sales to define what a sales lead is (another topic).  You (marketing) need to move them from one end to the other  through a series of coordinated and planned out steps that take the prospect from realization of a problem/opportunity to solution/implementation to achieve it.

Marketing managers generate the interest by using both outbound and inbound marketing to drive prospects to a piece of content like a whitepaper.  That’s the hook that gets them into the funnel.

Before I move to the next graphic, one thing I want to point out because many firms don’t do it, it to turnback leads.  If a lead gets passed to sales because it is deemed worthy but sales can’t close the deal (for any number of reasons like the budget just got cut), that lead needs to go back to marketing for a nurturing program.  Marketing has spent a lot of time and money to get that lead to the point of purchase.  By nurturing it (read my previous post) , you keep yourself top-of-mind when the prospect is back in the market for your solution.

Now the next graphic:

Funnel image 2

This is the same as before but looks at the stages in the funnel at a high level. At the beginning, you are striving to get people interested by introducing them to a problem they may have, a way to cut costs, a way to become more efficient, etc.  But the key is, this content needs to be educational , not salesy. Once they raise their hand and say “I’m interested,” you need to now qualify them to see if they are worth the time and effort of your sales team.  Sales people’s time is valuable.  They shouldn’t be talking to someone who just stopped by your booth or read a whitepaper.  They should concentrate on leads that meet certain criteria that your organization needs to define.  That is a “sales lead.”  To read more about content, check out my blog entry.

Although I generalized content types (like a whitepaper as educational), it’s really up to the content itself to determine where it fits in the funnel.  A webinar can easily be educational; or it can be all about your solution and hence more qualifying.  Typically, trade shows are all three stages.  You probably get a handful of “hot leads” that should go straight to sales, some leads who know you but need more qualifying (maybe send them to a solution webinar), and the majority which are educational (just stopped by the booth to see what you do or maybe you have a neat giveaway) and need to enter the funnel at the beginning.   The point is that you don’t need to let the content type dictate the delivery mechanism.  Although items like whitepapers (by definition) should be educational, other items like webinars, podcasts and videos can fall anywhere in the funnel based on the content.

This blog is getting long so I’m going to bullet a few more thoughts.  They may end up being blog posts on their own in the future.

  • Put yourself in the place of a prospective buy and try to align your content items and marketing activities with your buyer’s journey.
  • You also have to realize that, although you may plan for a person to move from left to right, in real life, your prospects are jumping in and out of your funnel at any stage.  They may find out about a webinar (you placed half way down the funnel) from a colleague. This shouldn’t upset your plans for a funnel, just realize it happens.
  • If you can, use marketing automation to help you qualify interest to sales qualified lead. You can use surveys to gather info on prospects as they move through the funnel (such as job title, purchase timeframe, budget, etc.).
  • I mentioned using both outbound and inbound marketing. There’s lots of buzz about inbound marketing and social media nowadays. I think it’s great! But as a marketing manager, I see them as new arrows in my quiver. I’m adding them to my (I guess it’s now called “traditional”) marketing activities such as email, purchased lists through firms like TechTarget, direct mail, even print ads. Not everyone digests information in the same way.  Some like to read it in traditional trade magazines; others like podcasts; others recorded webinars. The point is, you need to be active in all.
  • Lastly, you need metrics.  I have two posts already on this (post one and post two) and will likely add several more in the future. You need to measure each content item/marketing activity to determine how effective it is. And you need to do it consistently over time. For example, you may find that a whitepaper that works great for 6 months starts to fall off.  They content may be getting stale. But you won’t see that unless you are measuring.

Please let me know your thoughts and comments on this framework.  It is a work in progress!

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5 comments so far

  1. […] funnel – which my friend, colleague and drinking buddy Greg Donahue explains at greater length here. Uncategorized blog comments powered by Disqus var disqus_url = […]

  2. […] have said it better. Content needs to be mapped to the buyer’s progression through the sales process. You need to make sure you have quality content that moves your prospect from interest to buying […]

  3. […] hundreds of pieces to content all designed to generate awareness and push prospects down the marketing-to-sales funnel. Then, I used media outlets to place my “educational” content out there so people (my target […]

  4. […] I have over ten years of experience at high-tech firms and have successfully leveraged case studies for all phases of the marketing to sales process. […]

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