First, a common language needs to be set up to ensure marketing knows when a lead should be moved from marketing’s control, and placed in the sales funnel. There are two terms, "marketing-qualified lead" (MQL) and "sales-qualified lead" (SQL) or “sales-accepted-lead,” which all sales funnels must embrace to keep both teams aligned. When marketing has a lead ready to talk to sales, the lead should be marked as an MQL, meaning marketing has gotten it to the point where they believe sales should take over. If sales agree the lead is sales-ready, they accept the lead and move it from MQL to SQL (or SAL), and the handoff is complete. If not, the lead goes back to marketing.
We’ve written a bit about defining your target audience, but suffice to say that if you still haven’t done this, then don’t bother moving on to the next steps in the sales funnel. You must have some idea of what people are interested in your topic, where they are hanging out online and what motivates them in order to begin creating awareness of your course at the top of the funnel. If you just start sending out emails and tweets willy nilly with no real plan, your efforts (and you will read later on that it is a lot of effort) will be wasted. You need to know that you are creating the right content for the right people.
Say you’re into cycling and you’ve decided to purchase Trek’s latest Emonda line road bike. You read a few less-than-positive reviews online, but brush them off on the understanding that all Internet comments should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, people only review products and services that they absolutely love or absolutely hate – but most customers fall somewhere in between.
Eric Siu is the CEO of digital marketing agency Single Grain, which has helped companies such as Amazon, Uber and Salesforce acquire more customers, and co-founder of ClickFlow, an SEO experimentation tool that helps you increase your Google ranking. He also hosts two podcasts: Marketing School with Neil Patel and Growth Everywhere, an entrepreneurial podcast where he dissects growth levers that help businesses scale. Follow him on Twitter @ericosiu
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Customers move on to Stage 5 when the sale is complete. Try sitting with your team and brainstorming upon the kinds of information these customers are going to need, as well as how you’ll provide it as part of a cohesive onboarding process. Although at this stage you don’t really need to worry about customers finding you or moving on to the next option, it’s still vital to address their needs so that they walk away feeling good about their purchase decisions.
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If you’re running an accounting business, at this stage your customers would be evaluating different potential service providers. They might need resources like pricing guides (so they know what ballpark rates are), how to evaluate the landscape of accounting services (i.e. whether to hire a solo accountant, an agency, etc.), or how to choose an accountant.
Make no mistake, creating a sales and marketing funnel using the process described above is no easy feat. This isn’t a project you’re going to complete in one afternoon — it’s a pursuit that you’ll want to actively address as long as your company is in business. It’s not a simple undertaking, but it’s one of the few opportunities you have to drive significant improvements in your efficiency and effectiveness when closing deals.
One quick word of caution, though. With every piece of content you create for every stage of your funnel, you’re generating data. Though all of it is useful to your sales process in some way, it’s easy to get bogged down in data and metrics tracking instead of focusing on the few key performance indicators (KPIs) that will actually give you the information needed to make meaningful improvements.
There are email warming sequences that include things like personalized value-driven stories, tutorials and even soft pushes to webinars, and of course product suggestions that happen over days or even weeks. The truth is that most prospects won't buy from your website at first glance, especially if they're only just becoming aware of you today. It takes time. Thus, the funnel is a multi-modality process, as there are a variety of relationship-building experiences and "touches" that occur through several stages.