Lead Generation: What Is Your Sales Funnel?

After you have a good idea who your best leads are, the next step to defining your lead generation process is to define your sales funnel — knowing where a prospect is in his buying journey so that you can align it directly to your marketing and sales processes. Mapping your lead generation efforts to your funnel is extremely important as it dictates your campaigns, messaging, and expected metrics.

Many companies typically define the sales process as a funnel. (The top of the funnel is where you get the broadest amount of leads and the bottom of the funnel is where a lead turns into a customer.)

Take a look at the following figure as an example of a typical sales funnel.

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By tailoring programs and messages to this process, you can move leads down the funnel starting from the top of the funnel (early awareness) to the bottom of the funnel (late-stage buyers).

Every company has a different funnel depending on its sales processes. However, for the sake of simplicity, the following details one of them.

  • Awareness and Friend: This stage covers all leads who might know you're your company is but that are not known in their database. The company understands that a lead might be visiting their website or downloading an ebook, but has not formally identified himself. These leads are curious about your organization; they are often brought in through inbound marketing efforts such as social media and content.

  • Name: This is when an individual has officially entered your company's database. A name is just a name; it is not yet a lead at all. Why? Because names have not yet engaged with the company. Remember, just because someone gets scanned at your tradeshow booth doesn't mean she wants to communicate with your company in a meaningful way. Therefore, she is not yet considered a lead.

  • Engaged: Your company doesn't move names to the next stage in the funnel until they have had some sort of meaningful conversation with the client. An engaged individual knows he is in the database, he has maybe attended a webinar or downloaded an ebook, and he expects your company to email and communicate with him.

  • Target: Once an individual has engaged with your company in some way, you can use lead scoring to determine whether that person is a qualified buyer. That means she is a fit for their ideal demographic and behavioral criteria.

  • Lead: Finally! A target becomes a lead. Not until this moment does marketing pass a lead to sales. To become a lead, a person has to show sufficient interest in your company. Maybe she has downloaded a few whitepapers, attended a few events, and responded to a direct mail campaign. This person has a high lead score.

  • Recycled: Sometimes a prospect won't actually become a lead yet. She may have downloaded a few ebooks, but when she's called by sales, she is not ready to buy. Instead of leaving that potential future lead in a black hole to dry out and die, you want to make sure she is recycled into your lead nurturing database. That way, you can continue sending your prospect relevant and educational materials in hopes that one day soon she will indeed become a viable lead.

  • Sales lead: If the lead is truly qualified and he has had a good conversation with the inside sales team, he is passed on to an Account Executive (AE). The AE also speaks directly with the lead and has seven days to either turn the lead into a true sales lead, or send him back to marketing for lead nurturing, where marketing adds that lead into a campaign to re-engage him over time.

  • Opportunity: From there, a lead becomes an opportunity when sales has qualified the lead and it is an active selling opportunity.

  • Customer: Woot! You now have a full-blown customer and your lead has converted to a sale.

Every company's sales funnel is going to be different, so take some time to speak with your internal sales and marketing teams to come up with your own definitions (or feel free to use the previous model).

After you have mapped out your sales funnel and have a good idea of what happens to leads when they come into your system, spend time mapping your lead generation efforts to buying stages. You can define a buying stage by how close a lead is to making a buying decision — and it's critical to create lead generation programs that resonate to where buyers are in their purchasing decisions.

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