Funnels have been a focal sales strategy for decades, serving as a general model for anyone looking to get the most out of a given lead pool. By breaking down the sales process into a series of steps, starting at the wide end of the funnel and working to the narrower end, salespeople can more effectively target their potential customers and see higher sales growth as a result.
Today, inbound marketing has replaced many businesses’ sales efforts altogether. Instead of hiring a dedicated sales force to sort through leads and juggle them through the stages of a sales funnel, companies are dedicating their resources to building and preserving a highway system that can accommodate multiple inbound streams of web traffic and put them in the best position to eventually convert. Part of that conversion-optimization process depends on a funnel system that can ultimately produce the most qualified pool of potential leads.
The Mouth of the Funnel: Capturing the Most Attention
The widest part of the funnel demands the greatest amount of possible leads to work with, and as a result, you should step up your efforts to appeal to the greatest number of people. Gaining visibility on the web is a somewhat straightforward process, but it does take a significant amount of time — usually on the order of months just to break into the scene.
Most inbound marketers are already using a large-scale strategy to produce this volume of visitors and potential leads. Through content marketing, you’ll build a name for yourself and increase your authority with major search engines, through SEO, you’ll optimize your website for a series of industry- and topic-specific keywords, and through social media, you’ll build and grow a network of followers who read your content and visit your site regularly.
The more users you have coming in through the mouth of the funnel, the more users you’ll eventually have coming out the more relevant, narrow end. Pay attention to your key demographics at this stage, but don’t try to sort your leads; let your automated funneling tactics do that work for you.
The Middle of the Funnel: Filtering the Most Relevant Audience
The middle of the funnel is responsible for sorting through the first stream of leads and filtering out some of the less-relevant audience members. For example, if a pet supplier is looking to sell cat-specific products, it might want to filter out all exclusive dog owners and instead focus on the cat owning portions of its inbound audience.
This stage of the funnel requires attention and setup, but once in place it should be fairly effective at filtering out your inbound leads. Traditional means of middle-funnel sorting might require individual contact, lead by lead, while the automated means creates a situation that naturally predisposes your different audience segments to behave in specific ways.
Here, you won’t necessarily be focused on volume. The success of the middle portion of your funnel is dependent on how successful it is at filtering out the audience segment you have intended to filter out. You’ll need to run occasional diagnostics to ensure its effectiveness and make tweaks if necessary.
The End of the Funnel: Appealing to the Most Interested Leads
At the end of the funnel, you’ll introduce your now highly-qualified leads to a purchase (or simply a conversion opportunity) they may be interested in. At this point, your lead pool should consist exclusively of your specific target demographics, and as a result, your potential to achieve conversion should be much higher than through an ordinary system.
In order to be successful, the end of your funnel must be compelling. Even the most qualified leads won’t convert if they’re not interested in what your selling. That means you’ll need to step up your efforts in terms of design, copy, and value if you want your audience to have the highest propensity to convert.
Using Content as a Funnel
Content is going to serve as the best and easiest funneling system for your campaign. It provides an excellent introductory mouth, since it will generate large volumes of traffic from increased search engine rankings and returning readers, but more importantly it will give you the opportunity to easily filter your audience through topics and suggestions.
For example, if you’re a pet supplier and you’re looking to focus on cat owners for a specific campaign, you can use cat-related content as an introductory means to filter your audience. Exclusive dog owners likely wouldn’t click on your cat-focused article, so you can be assured that your primary reading audience for these articles falls within your demographic specifications. Your demographic needs may be more complicated than this, but you can use the same principles to write appropriate content for each segment of your audience.
Once you’ve got your topics in place, you can use helpful leads in the middle or near the end of your articles to guide your leads to relevant places. For example, if you’re trying to appeal to cat owners who are concerned about the dental hygiene of their cat, you can link to cat dental health articles, resources where people can learn more about feline dental health, or if you’re ready to end the funnel, your feline dental health product directly.
Using Landing Pages as Funnels
You can also set up landing pages to do the funneling work on your behalf. Rather than simply producing a line of content to be syndicated and eventually discovered, you’ll be pouring leads to your landing pages and letting the rest take care of itself. For example, you could set up four separate landing pages (each intended for a different segment of your audience), and use careful wording to syndicate appropriate links to those landing pages on social media or through a paid advertising program.
Your landing pages could ask your users for some basic information — such as name and age — if you wanted to funnel your leads further, but the fewer steps your leads have to go through, the better. Instead, try to use your landing pages to qualify your inbound leads on their own, and then direct them to the appropriate funnel ending.
Make an Offer
Once you’ve got your highly-qualified lead pool confronted with an opportunity for conversion, you’ll need to finalize the deal. The best way to do this, especially for B2B companies, is to make a valuable offer. Most people won’t hand over their personal information voluntarily, so you can offer something worthwhile — such as a whitepaper or a research report — in exchange for that information. If you’re offering something more tangible, like a product, you can use testimonials or persuasive copy to increase the perceived value of the item you’re selling. The point is to make the deal as valuable to the user as possible — this will ensure that the greatest number of filtered leads end up converting at the end of your funnel.
Creating a funnel that can complement and enhance your current inbound marketing efforts should increase your total number of eventual conversions and thus, your total ROI. By using automated funnels instead of a manual step-by-step sales procedure, you’ll save yourself the time and stress of the procedural formality, and your potential leads will practically sort themselves.