Understanding how to generate and nurture top of funnel leads

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Whether you’re a large business or small, trying to refocus a floundering company or a startup finding your footing, no matter the industry you’re in, you’ll soon discover that you’re going to need one thing above all else to make sales—leads.

If you can’t generate leads, you can’t make sales. It’s that simple!

Thankfully, there are proven tips and tricks for lead generation that can help you quickly reap a return on your investment. It all starts with the sales funnel.

However, once you have those leads, you’re going to need to nurture them in order to see results. Leads left to lie where they are will only expire and, sadly, go on to some other company’s sales funnel.

Avoiding this can be easy, but it can also be a lot of work, and a lot of work that most brands don’t want to put out. With the right methods, however, you can greatly see an increase in attracting potential buyers to your sales funnel and converting them from leads to sales.

So what’s the sales funnel? 

Good question. If you’re relatively new to the world of sales, you’ll come across this word, often referred to as the prospecting funnel. Sometimes, it’s simply referenced as the AIDA funnel (using an acronym for the four simple stages a consumer undergoes therein— awareness, interest, decision, and action).

It can seem like an odd concept, but it’s an important one to understand.

Think of your business as a giant funnel. Potential customers are at the very top of the wide open mouth, while your sales are at the itty bitty end.

The sales funnel helps you to weed through the good and bad leads; the ones who make it all the way to the bottom are your customers.

At the top of the funnel are all the people who know you, but you don’t really know them. They may have just happened to come across your brand online, or they’ve read about you somewhere. No more, no less.

As they descend downwards, they become a named prospect, but not really a sales-worthy lead. They haven’t engaged with you, but maybe they’ve signed up for an email list, or something similar.

Moving down the sales funnel 

Then, it’s time for them to get engaged. At this point, they’re still creeping downward, slowly but surely. This person is in some kind of conversation with you, and their information is in the database.

Next, they’re a target. They’ve engaged with you and you’ve determined that they’re a qualified lead.

So, yes, at this point, they are indeed a lead. It’s time to stop trying to market to this individual, and instead, try to sell them on something.

Almost at the end of the sales funnel, the lead becomes an opportunity, as a salesperson in your company is genuinely going after them, building a relationship and trying to get that sale.

That lead hovers over the very bottom of the funnel until they finally drop—and become that customer you’ve been craving. It’s a long process, but a necessary one.

To make it a little bit easier on yourself, you can group all of this into three different areas of the sales funnel. The top is all about generating leads, the middle is about nurturing those leads, and the bottom is about converting those leads into sales. If each is done correctly, then a lead will proceed easily to the next level.

So where to start?

Before you can begin nurturing, you have to start with generating. This is as easy or as hard as you make it. It’s all about collecting information from prospective clients and customers, so you can determine if they’re a good fit for you.

You can generate leads from a variety of sources, but make sure that those sources make good sense for your particular business.

Also, keep in mind that these top-of-the-funnel leads that you’re generating aren’t going to be buyers in the very first stages of their shopping process. This means that some of them—actually, most of them—won’t buy at all.

Keeping the focus on your brand

The main idea through this stage is to increase interest in your brand, and to keep folks interested, so that when it’s time for them to move on down the sales funnel, they’re ready for that stage.

There are a few things you can do to keep them aware of your brand, without overwhelming them too much.

  • Make sure that your website, social media and online presence as a whole is comprehensive and impressive.
  • Be sure that your branding is consistent throughout, and that you’re selling one key message across all platforms, so as to not confuse your potential consumers.
  • Differentiate yourself from other brands from the start. Why should consumers choose you over another?
  • Engage brands and influencers through any possible partnerships, to show potential consumers that you’re someone they want to follow and trust. (This is an excellent way to fill your sales funnel quickly, as you gain an audience already built by a similar, yet non-competing brand.)

Then what?

Once you actually have your leads, no matter where you’ve sourced them, from a partnership, social media or wherever, it’s time to nurture them. This means that you show them the proper amount of attention to keep them moving further down the sales funnel.

One lead nurturing theory that’s being growing in popularity is about individualization. Every consumer is different, and approaching them differently will help you to gain momentum. However, it’s usually not possible to design a unique marketing approach for every lead.

Enter segmentation 

That is why segmentation can be very handy. Not only will segmenting leads allow you to tailor your marketing efforts, but it will also help you to discover which groups of leads are most likely to buy into your brand.

Throughout the nurturing stage, you’ll want to continue to track every effort and every segmentation. Measure how and when you’re successful, to further decide what works best for your company.

Want to know more specifics for nurturing your leads? Like, what kind of marketing should you really be testing on your segmented groups?

Time for Great Content 

Content marketing and email marketing are both highly effective options you can use for nurturing leads.

Content marketing incorporates a lot of written content that’s both useful and educational to your potential customer, and it also pushes your brand in a non-sales-y way. According to the Direct Marketing Association, featured articles increases the ROI by a whooping 62%!

When it comes to email marketing, you’ll want to follow some nurturing guidelines. Make sure that you’re both relevant and trustworthy in your efforts, and that you have an actual strategic plan.

Don’t just send out a bunch of emails because you can. There must be a reason and a purpose.

Just like you generate leads through your social media, you can also do a fair bit of your lead nurturing on social media. Match your social media content to what your segments are talking about, or what they are interests in.

Whatever you do, always remember that to properly move a lead through the sales funnel, you’ll have to really work for it. This is more than just one touch and you’re done.

In fact, many prospects undergo 10 or more touches during their entire time in the sales funnel.

Mix up your touches and remember that you must try and try again. Use a multitude of media, from email campaigns, to direct mail, to white papers, to blogs, to social media and beyond.

Then, always make sure that you follow up, and that you’re personal about it!

When do I pass them on? 

While you should be keeping the entire sales funnel journey in mind when nurturing your top of funnel leads, you’ll also want to recognize when your leads are ready to go to sales, and when they’ve been nurtured enough by marketing to be a successful score for the entire company.

Too often, marketing and sales teams work against each other, rather than with one another, always blaming the other for failures.

If a great prospect doesn’t buy, the sales team says it’s because the marketing team didn’t properly qualify the lead, while the marketing team says the sales team blew it.

Your sales and marketing teams should be working together to make the pass, so that those healthy, nurtured leads continue down the sales funnel and out.

Before passing leads between these two groups in your company, make sure that marketing and sales teams know what to expect of one another, and that they’re communicating effectively.

Ensure that the marketing team is providing all necessary information to sales, and that sales has set proper expectations for marketing.

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