Breaking Down the 3 Stages of the Sales Funnel

Last year, the sales funnel was the talk of the town. How can marketers make the sales funnel more efficient? How can sales and marketing work together to shorten the length of the sales cycle?

Well, guess what — 2014 poses some of the same questions. Sales funnel efficiency isn’t any less important now that the calendar has jumped back to January 1st. If anything, it’s more important, and should be a critical component of your 2014 goals.

To make goal-setting a little easier, let’s break down the sales funnel into three stages: lead generation (top of the funnel), lead nurturing and buyer engagement (middle of the funnel), and customer acquisition and expansion (bottom of the funnel and beyond). Each one of these stages requires a different strategy for optimization, and should therefore have a separate goal and plan of attack associated with it. Let’s take a closer look!

Step 1. Lead Generation

When it comes to bringing in new leads, many top-performing companies rely on events, SEO, social media, and content marketing. Trade shows are great for lead generation, and the combination of SEO, social media, and content marketing lends itself well to an inbound marketing strategy. Now that buyer preferences are changing, marketers are having to provide their buyers with the content they want, when they need it — which means your 2014 goals should take all of the following into account:

  • Is your content and/or website easy to find via search? If not, what could you be doing better? (See our SEO Checklist for additional help here)

  • Are you regularly engaging with your audience through all of your social media channels?

  • Are you gating your content (putting it behind a form) and capturing lead information in exchange for downloads?

  • Are you creating content that addresses your buyers’ needs?

Step 2. Lead Nurturing

Once you have a database of lead information, it’s time to bring that engagement to the next level. While many companies prefer a passive approach to nurturing leads, a more active approach can lead to better results. Instead of relying on your content and social media efforts, you should be reaching out to your buyers via active email campaigns that distribute relevant, personalized information when your buyers need it. To optimize this stage of the sales funnel, consider each of the following questions:

  • Are you running active lead nurturing programs to help move your buyers through the sales funnel?

  • Are you nurturing leads who aren’t ready to buy with relevant content over time, to help your company stay top of mind?

  • Do you have a plan in place for buyers that do engage with your lead nurturing content? What about buyers who do not?

Step 3. Customer Acquisition and Expansion

Marketing doesn’t stop once deals start closing. Top-performing companies continue to market to their customer base well after the initial acquisition of a customer. Not only does this increase the chances that a customer will renew their contract (or in the case of more B2C-oriented companies, continue to be a loyal customer), it also increases the likelihood that your customers will continue to refer new business and move to higher packages or service levels. When making goals to increase your customer retention rates, consider the following questions:

  • Are you actively cultivating relationships with your existing customer base, and not just with potential buyers?

  • Are you running upsell campaigns to encourage your current customers to try different products or services that you offer?

  • Do you have ways to reward loyal customers?

Keeping these questions in mind throughout the next year can help ensure that you’re optimizing every stage of the sales funnel, from lead origination to customer and beyond. Want more information on accelerating the sales funnel? Take a look at our recently released white paper on the topic by clicking on the banner below.

accelerating the sales funnel

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