Understanding the basics of a lead funnel

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You're about to start your own business, or trying to grow your existing one, and while attempting to research how to grow you've become inundated with industry jargon. There are sales and marketing terms that are bandied about mercilessly, and no one ever seems to explain what they are. One of the most heavily overused terms? "Lead Funnel." What is a Lead Funnel, and what are its basics?

The sales process is often visualized as a funnel, with awareness of your brand at the top and closing a sale at the bottom. There are a million different depictions of the funnel, with different labels and captions and bars and levels of granularity, but here's one that you will find helpful as you work your way through this e-book: Visitor > Lead > Qualified Lead > Opportunity > Customer.

This book will specifically help you direct new visitors into the funnel, turn them into leads, and nurture them through the process. Here are some key terms you'll come across:

• Visitor

• Lead

• Qualified Lead

• Opportunity

• Customer

Visitor

Anyone who first comes to your website is considered a "visitor." This is someone who may not have known about your company previously, and is still in a casual research phase. Ideally, your content needs to be visible enough and engaging enough that you inform them of your product (or service) and strike their interest enough to encourage them to move on to a lead.

According to the most recent PCW Global analysis (1) of online shopping trends, "for consumer electronics and computers, 62% of global shoppers prefer researching [their]purchases online." What does that mean for your business? If you're not engaging and catching the attention of your visitor from the outset, then you're much less likely to retain that visitor and convert them into a customer. Remember: the ideal end goal is to lead someone through the sales funnel and into a paid conversion.

One way to accomplish your goal of making the visitor aware of your business is to have a well-designed website that immediately addresses or goes into detail on what your product is or service does. That way, the visitor will spend more time researching you, and less time researching your competitors. Once you've gained a visitor, your goal is to guide them into becoming a lead.

Lead

What exactly is lead, you might be asking? A lead is someone who has opted in to receive information from your company, and/or to be contacted by your company. This person is in the initial phase of the selling process, and needs to be nurtured in order to move further down the funnel. In this phase, the lead is someone who is, in general, interested in your product or service, but their purchasing intentions are still indefinite.

A lead might be someone who filled out a form online (like one of our handy custom forms (2),) or entered their contact information into a different type of gathering service. In either event, they're someone who has signaled their interest in your product.

Your job is to pique the lead's interest enough that they're willing to go on to the next step – to develop a deeper interest and begin to engage with your product or service. Your first step in garnering that interest and potential engagement is to provide them with information or to encourage them along the lead funnel process, either with an email sign-up or an SMS text service or other outreach that gathers and collects that information.

Qualified Lead

A qualified lead, or prospect, is someone who has demonstrated the ability and likelihood to desire and purchase your product or service. These are people who have demonstrated this achievement by entering in predetermined qualifying levels, like income, willingness to purchase similar items, a history of purchasing similar items, and so on.

First, you need to separate out the "haves" (or those who have the money and inclination to purchase your goods and services) and "have-nots" (or the people who have no intention of actually purchasing your product.) The people who will actually purchase your product are those you will nurture, moving along to the next step in the sales funnel. The others, or those that just want information delivered to them for forever but won't purchase, can be retained in an "email-only" pool or passive candidate pool.

A qualified lead is when you begin to initiate two-way communication, reaching out to the prospect and beginning the personalized communications that will lead to trust in your product or service. These are the people that will move on to opportunities.

Opportunity

An opportunity is a person or business who is willing and able to buy your product or service. Your beginning nurturing steps are integral in leading a consumer to this point. This step – and every step (see Chapter 9 for more information) up until this point – are meant to do one thing: build a relationship.

Your goal is to find out why and what information the prospective opportunity needs and or wants from you. You need to provide the necessary information that they want or need to make their purchase from you. Remember: Most people make decisions based on emotions, and then back those decisions up with logic. Your job is to develop that emotional relationship.

An opportunity is an active selling opportunity. This will probably be the most demanding and critical stage of your funnel. At this point, you have verified the consumer's need of your product or service, and it's time to make a deal. You are fleshing out a budget, confirmed that you're working with the decision-maker, and establishing a timeline. This might also be the longest stage of your lead generation funnel. This is the time to close the deal, and create a customer out of the opportunity.

Customer

You know who or what a customer is. These are the people who have taken action and who have purchased your product or service. You know they already like what you are offering – so that's it, right? Not quite – now, your job is to continue to engage them, and continue to nurture them.

Once someone has reached this level in your lead generation funnel, you want to encourage them to take action again (buy the product over and over); to expand their initial purchase (upsell by purchasing more products or even more services); and to refer you and your product or service to everyone they know.

One way to encourage a customer to take action again would be to integrate different apps or services into your existing forms (see our ever-growing catalog of options for ideas (3)). Another would be a subscription service, where the product they liked was auto-refilled. One more example would be if you sold software for accounting, and maintained the relationship so well they wanted to renew for the next 3 months or 6 months or year.

Since these are consumers who have already indicated interest in your product and purchased it, you can also leverage that sense of trust and dependability to offer more of your goods and services. From the software example, you could expand to accounting and bookkeeping. Or perhaps if you're a beauty supply store, and someone enjoys your foundation, you could also pitch to them your mascara. If you're a motorcycle dealer, you could offer a discount on matching gear or a maintenance plan.

Finally, don't forget:
One, if not THE, most important parts of nurturing the consumer is the referral. A recent Nielsen survey says that 9 in every 10 consumers trust recommendations from people they know online and people are four times more likely to buy a product when referred by a friend (4). What should you do with this information?

Engage your customer and solicit a referral. Use a custom form, utilize Google, utilize Facebook, utilize it all or a singular one – just make sure to gather that referral. You have already won the trust of your customer, and already qualified them as someone who can and wants to purchase your product or service. Now, you can skip some of the previous steps and have your customer bring new qualified leads to you – pre-vetted people who already have an interest in your product and are significantly more willing to buy. They have an emotional connection to you – their friend just vouched for your product – and you have a lead that can move towards the final "customer" phase faster.

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