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Define Your Lead Funnel

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This is the third in a series of blog posts about Lead Nurturing, the essential marketing process for turning leads into sales-ready prospects.

Lead Nurturing Step 2:
Lead to Revenue: Defining Your Lead Funnel

Greetings, fellow marketers! If you’ve been following this series on Lead Nurturing, you may have noticed that we’ve skipped “Step 1: Get the Tools” and moved right on to Step 2: Define your Lead Funnel. That’s because in 2012 we published two posts that cover Step 1: “Automation Magic” and “Marketing Automation.”

So let’s get right into Step 2. We need to create a process for nurturing leads from initial awareness of your offering to closed sales opportunities. This process identifies the various stages of the buying process and how we should engage with the buyer at each stage. The process also incorporates a “taxonomy” or way to refer to each stage that your marketing and sales teams can standardize on for tracking and action purposes.

But first off, why are we using the “funnel” metaphor?

Enter the Marketing Funnel

As far back as 1898, advertising and sale pioneer E. St. Elmo Lewis conceived of the now often cited “AIDA” model of tracking the consumer buying cycle. AIDA stands for: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. It is often depicted as a funnel, demonstrating the narrowing population of potential buyers as we progress from all folks who are aware of your product to those who actually purchase your product.

Marketing Funnel Diagram

Source: Proven Models 

This model has undergone many evolutions and alterations in over a century, but the basic concept and visual metaphor are still very much in use today. The funnel goes by many names too: Purchase Funnel, Marketing Funnel, Demand Funnel, Customer Funnel and Sales Funnel to name a few.

Now: The Lead Funnel

The Lead Funnel takes the AIDA model to the next level, defining not only the stages buyers go through on the path to purchase, but how we marketers should classify them on our end as they take this journey, and what corresponding actions we should take. Here is the funnel graphic again, expanded to become our Lead Funnel:

Lead Funnel Diagram

Let’s define each of the labels on the left side of the chart, from the marketer’s perspective. These are the stages a lead goes through on the journey through the funnel.

  • Name: this is a person about whom we really know nothing more than a name, and perhaps some piece of demographic information that hints that this person might be in our target market. Until this person takes some kind of action to indicate interest, he/she remains simply a name to us, even if that person can be shown to have awareness of our offering and brand. Names can come from many sources, including referrals and purchased lists. At this stage, marketing engagement with leads typically includes advertising, direct mail and emails.
  • Suspect: This is a person who has progressed to showing some amount of interest in your brand and/or offering. He/she may do this by visiting your website, attending a webinar, participating in a contest or promotion, filling out an online form to download a white paper, or subscribing to your blog. At this point, this person should now be on your long-range radar as a potential future sales opportunity, and entered into one of your drip marketing programs to entice desire. Your drip program can include a series of emails offering educational content and promotional giveaways to build interest. Your program will also benefit from a multichannel approach, including direct mail and even SMS where appropriate and desired by the suspect.
  • Prospect: A person moves from being a suspect to being a prospect when he/she has done three things:
    • 1) shown enough interest by virtue of his/her interactions with your brand (website visits, webinar participation, participation in promotions, white paper downloads, etc.);
    • 2) fits your demographic profile for being squarely in your target market; i.e. someone who can truly benefit from your offering; and
    • 3) engages in a personal, bi-directional conversation with you, allowing you to assess his/her level of desire.
      (We’ll cover 1) and 2) – lead scoring (measuring their activity level) and lead grading (demographic fit) – in a subsequent post.)
  • MQL – Marketing Qualified Lead (also known as “Sales Ready Lead”): In your direct, personal conversations with each prospect, via personal emails and phone calls, you’ll be able to gauge if he/she is ready to engage with one of your salespeople. If you determine that that prospect is indeed interested in talking to your sales team, you can label that person as “Qualified” and transfer him/her to Sales.
  • SAL – Sales Accepted Lead: When your salesperson accepts the qualified lead from you, “ownership” of the lead passes from you (marketing) to your salesperson, who will then follow up with the lead directly.
  • Opportunity: Your salesperson has identified a specific sales opportunity with the lead and will pursue it to “closed” (hooray!) or “lost” (oh well, better luck next time). If the opportunity is “lost,” take heart. Perhaps not all is lost…it might just be a matter of timing. You may wish to recycle this lead, entering him/her into another drip program to maintain contact with him/her until the timing is better down the road.
  • Customer: Congratulations! You’ve won a customer. The funnel is complete. Or is it? Winning a customer is one thing. Keeping the customer is even more important. Closing the sale is only the beginning of the relationship, not the end. Now you need to continue to delight the customer, over and over. That’s why we’ve included one more stage in the funnel.
  • Advocate: Because you’ve done such a good job of keeping the customer happy over time, the customer has become your advocate, telling others how great your company is and cementing his/her loyalty to you. Great job!

Mapping Actions to the Funnel

As you nurture your leads from being names through to being advocates, you will need to engage your leads with appropriate messages, content and contact methods. To do this, it is helpful to build a process matrix that looks something like this:

Lead Funnel Process Diagram

Keep in mind, not all leads are alike. You may have several different types of folks who either influence the buying process or make the final decision, particularly in a B2B context. So you’ll want to make a chart like the above for each buyer type, or buyer persona. Each persona has its own needs, desires, pain points, problems to solve, interests, inspirations and motivations. Logically, you’ll offer different content to different personas based on their needs and wants. Not to worry. We’ll cover content mapping to buyer personas in the next blog post in this Lead Nurturing series.


Stay tuned as we cover content mapping, lead scoring and grading, designing and implementing drip programs, and measuring lead nurture program ROI in subsequent posts.

Until then, here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.