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Understanding the Marketing Funnel Stages and Why it Matters

The marketing funnel is made up of several stages through which would-be customers move from first awareness of your brand to post-sale evangelism. It’s essentially the process of converting a visitor into a paying customer. One of the hardest challenges in any business is having your marketing team and your sales team on the same page when it comes to moving prospects through the funnel. This is actually a big part of the funnel process- getting both sides of the team to work as one.

Top of the funnel

The top of the funnel is where the marketing team shines. In the first part of the funnel, your company tries to gather as many prospects as possible with the goal of identifying qualified prospects that could potentially become customers. Marketing has to be creative in this first stage of the funnel process, developing engaging content that captures the reader’s attention and encourages them to further engage with the organization via downloads, videos, etc.

Engaging content is crucial to attracting prospects who have never heard of your company before. Fulfilling the reader’s desire for crafty headlines and information is also critical in this step. The initial encounter is the hook that lures the reader in and allows them to immerse themselves in all the knowledge you have to offer to help them solve their problem. Once the prospect has clicked through to the next step of the process, they have become a prospective lead.

Prospective leads

In the lead section of the funnel, your prospect has read the first email and has clicked through to your website, blog or social media sites, in order to learn more about what your company has to offer. Utilizing a marketing automation platform you can track who clicked through your site, where they clicked, and more. The next stage involves entering names into your database, although these are not yet considered real leads. These are names your marketing efforts landed in a variety of ways, getting their contact information as well as their permission to communicate or market to them further. Getting the names and contact information is the precursor to prospective leads.

It is important that your prospects go through this stage before you move them through the funnel. Ensure your prospects knows that you are marketing directly to them and that they are open to your future communications and engagements with them. Once your marketing team has ensured the contacts are engaging, then the process through the funnel can continue. From here teams should perform lead scoring to establish viable leads. Once your team establishes a lead through scoring, you can begin the next steps further down the funnel.

Middle of the funnel – marketing qualified leads

The marketing team has now started to separate out prospective leads, which it sends into the Marketing Qualified Lead section of the funnel. In this section of the funnel, the marketing and sales teams come together to determine if the contact qualifies as a lead and has been scored high on the lead scoring process. Then you can qualify for this particular lead for further marketing.

After the lead scoring process is done to determine marketing qualified leads, the marketing team will then hand over the prospect’s information to the sales team who will then determine if the MQLs are sales qualified leads.  An account executive will then take over the MQL list and engage directly with this sales qualified lead. They will then and make an assessment and determine if the prospect is truly a sales lead or would need further lead nurturing from marketing.

The sales team has now determined that these prospects are SQLs and in turn has started the process to go through opportunity marketing. In the opportunity stage, it is important to understand that engaging with leads will incur a cost, which includes the cost of engagement, conversion and opportunity marketing.

Bottom of the Funnel – customer stage

The final stage of the funnel, or the bottom of the funnel as it is naturally called, is the customer stage. At this point, the lead you have engaged with and educated with further marketing has turned into a paying customer. It is important to restate that every company has unique attributes and targeted personas, so it would be best to identify which stages are suitable for your niche and make adjustments accordingly.

When going through the funnel process, remember that not all prospects can become a certified lead and customer right away. Recycling your lead database allows continued contact with potential prospects and allows them to be possible leads in the future.