Goals for marketers tend to focus on generating leads. Goals for salespeople tend to focus on closed sales. Caught somewhere in between are the processes that develop top-of-funnel marketing leads into serious, sales-ready prospects. This intermediate step is arguably the most challenging and important step in the marketing-sales funnel.
Here’s a hypothetical: You’ve got a search engine optimized website, you’re turning out great content, and you’re active on social media. Potential customers have no trouble finding you. You’re generating a steady stream of inbound leads and you’re supplementing your efforts with some outbound lead generation. You’ve got a pipeline full of qualified, but not quite sales-ready leads. What do you do now?
For a lot of companies, things start to get hazy right about here. Some companies feed leads into a CRM system and run them through an automated nurture process. Others pass leads on to be manually contacted. In either case, the system is dependent on a set of user-generated rules and logic. Too often, these processes don’t get the same scrutiny as those at either end of the funnel. The effectiveness of these processes – and by extension your marketing-sales funnel – depends on three primary factors.
1. Response Time
A study from Lead360 (now Velocify) found speed-to-contact was the single biggest influence on lead conversion rate. The study found that lead conversion rate improved 391% when contacted within a minute of generation (download, form completion, etc.). This initial improvement was found to decay quickly over time, diminishing 50% at two minutes and 75% at three minutes. Though leads contacted within 24 hours still enjoyed 17% higher conversion rate, this number was only a fraction of the impact of more immediate responses. The graph below (from MarketingCharts) shows the study results in full.
When you think about it, the findings make sense. Reaching out to a lead soon after they express interest carries several benefits. First, you catch the lead while the subject is fresh in their mind. Over time, it’s easy for leads to lose interest or even forget they downloaded. Contacting leads quickly eliminates this factor. Additionally, contacting leads quickly reduces the chance that you catch leads at a bad time. If they had time to download an asset or fill out a contact form, the lead probably has time to answer a call or email. At very least, you know they’re not in a meeting or on vacation.
Getting it Right:
Improving response time is a matter of delegation and qualification. After collection, lead information should be automatically routed to a relevant sales person. It’s important that organizations have enough sales personnel to effectively handle the anticipated volume of leads. You can ease the burden on your sales team by weeding out unqualified leads. Especially in the case of inbound leads, not every lead will be a good fit for your company. Qualification can done automatically using additional qualifying questions (company size, budget, etc.).
2. Buyer Alignment
It’s fairly well–documented that today’s buyers are choosing to educate themselves, moving farther in the sales process before reaching out to a salesperson. On one hand, more educated buyers allows salespeople to better leverage technical benefits of the product. On the other hand, salespeople have to accommodate leads entering at all stages of the sales process.
One lead might fill out a form as a snap decision after reading a blog post. A different lead might have followed the company for months, read several whitepapers, and compared alternatives before filling out the same form. The salesperson has to educate early stage leads without boring those farther along in the process.
Discovering and adapting to the needs of your lead is crucial to the success of your communications. Delivering relevant information keeps the lead moving forward in the sales process, while restating previously-known information has the opposite effect. Similarly, delivering technical information to a buyer without the requisite product knowledge causes confusion and delays the buying process.
Suppose you were shopping for a laptop. You do some research and decide that you’re interested in a MacBook Pro. You watch a video and thoroughly read the product page – you’ve got a pretty good understanding of the product and the features, but you can’t decide between the basic model and the ultra HD display. You decide to reach out to a sales rep for some help. You get on the phone and the rep immediately jumps into a pitch about all the cool features of the product. The problem is, you just read all these things on the website – all you really want to know is whether to get the basic or enhanced screen.
At this point, you’re wasting your time, the rep is wasting his time, and you’re no closer to buying a computer. A more effective approach would have been for the rep to collect some information about you and your needs before proceeding. He could have found your question, talked you through the decision, and gotten the sale.
Getting it Right:
The first step in aligning to your buyer’s stage in the sales process is to understand your sales process. You should understand the buyer’s mindset, needs, and level of education at each stage of the process. This will help you to identify common entry points and prepare accordingly. More importantly, you have to ask the buyer questions. Assume nothing. Find out what they’ve already read or watched. Check to make sure you’re not telling them something they already know, but also confirm they know the basics before you move on.
3. Middle-of-Funnel Content
Most of the content marketing buzz is around educational, top-of-funnel content – things like how-to blog posts, webinars, and issue-driven whitepapers. What often gets neglected is intermediate content that helps to tie these high-level issues to your product or service. Where top-of-funnel content is almost exclusively industry or situation-focused, middle-of-funnel content incorporates offering-specific information. Middle-of-funnel content usually addresses how your offering helps the customer to take advantage of a known trend or negate a known risk. It can take the form of whitepapers, case studies, and videos.
As its name implies, middle-of-funnel content isn’t designed to generate leads, rather it’s designed to develop leads who have expressed interest in a topic. Middle-of funnel content plays a key role in any sales process. Effective middle-of-funnel content ties a high-level issue to the company’s solution, highlighting the benefits of the offering along the way.
This type of content serves the dual purpose of supporting lead nurture and enabling deeper self-education. It helps to solidify the value in the mind of the lead and drive them toward further engagement. A library of effective middle-of-the funnel content allows a company to serve content closely aligned to the situation and concerns of the individual lead, streamlining the sales process.
Getting it Right:
Middle-of-funnel content has the difficult job of aligning with the high-level issue, the offering, and the lead. Variety is key to middle-of-funnel content. The greater the array of topics and content types, the more closely content can be matched with the lead and the situation. Obviously, this content also needs to serve its function – clearly and effectively imparting the benefits of the offering.
Delivery is also important for middle-of-funnel content. On the nurture side, it’s vital to make salespeople aware of the available content and incorporate this knowledge into automated logic.
Likewise, visitors who engage with top-of-funnel content have to be made aware of related middle-of-funnel content. HubSpot does a great job of this. On the HubSpot blogs, a widget (pictured above) at the end of the post notifies viewers of related middle-of-funnel ebooks and whitepapers.
Let us know what you think:
- Do you use an automated or manual lead nurture process?
- Which factors have you found to be most important in lead conversion?
- How could you improve your process?