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“By understanding how the sales funnel works, you can learn how to target leads, find the best ones that are most interested in your company, and convert them into long-term customers.”

While inbound marketing might be a newer concept, the traditional sales funnel is not. Companies that want to develop a successful inbound marketing strategy including sales, must understand the sales funnel and what happens from top to bottom.

The funnel model is simple enough to follow once it’s broken down clearly. The purpose of a sales funnel is to systematically qualify visitors as potential leads or customers by moving them through each stage of the sales process. For example if you try to push someone to buy who is only interested in learning more, your efforts will be wasted.

Therefore, the inbound funnel helps deliver the right type of information to the visitor at the right time in their “buyer’s journey.” Best of all, creating a well defined inbound sales funnel enables you to manage a large pool of potential prospects, and easily identify which ones are legitimate leads and qualified prospects without having to hire a massive sales force.

Attract Leads and Build Awareness with the Funnel Mouth

sales-funnel-exampleJust as you would with a real funnel, the most traffic goes into the funnel’s mouth, only to come out narrower and more concentrated at the end. With inbound sales funnels, the process is very much the same. You’ll handle the greatest amount of leads here, some of which may not even eventually lead to customers. One critical way to do this is to increase your website’s visibility and thus presence. Having social media profiles which you use to promote content and build a following, a blog to publish content and establish credibility, and becoming familiar with SEO are all ways to bring in leads.

Content marketing is one of the most powerful  ways to do generate better leads. This goes hand-in-hand with SEO, which can generate better results for your website in the search results as well as get your content found for considerably more keywords and relevant searches. Through content marketing you can utilize specific keywords that resonate with your target audience. These keywords make it easier for customers to find you, but they’re inserted into your content naturally so that readers aren’t distracted. Eventually, with enough time and practice, your blog and social media accounts will have loyal followers. Always create content for your audience, not for the search engines.

With time, as you progress down the sales funnel, you’ll discard some less promising leads that may not be as relevant to your company’s long-term success. For now though, don’t discriminate. That’ll happen later and often on it’s own if you set up your inbound marketing strategy properly.

Cutting out the Fat with the Middle of the Funnel

Now that you’ve reached the middle of the sales funnel, you can begin to browse through the leads that you’ve generated with your targeted blog posts and social media approach. Think about what kind of audience that you want and see which leads best fit that description. While a bakery may want foodies as leads, those that are more interested in savory foods and not desserts aren’t the best people to try to appeal to.

At this stage of their journey, your leads are starting to think about their likes, dislikes, and if they might want to buy or keep browsing. It’s important to keep their behaviors and interests in mind when approaching them during this stage. Being too pushy can be a real turn off, but not furthering the inbound sales process further can also result in the lead looking elsewhere.

The most effective way to cut out the figurative fat of your inbound leads is to go lead by lead and reach out to customers individually. While this may be time-consuming the first time around, as you get more comfortable with the process, it won’t take nearly as long. If you are dealing with massive lead lists you can also consider marketing automation. This will narrow down your leads based on their behavior and other criteria that you can set. This also enables you to deliver on-going marketing communication with groups of customers without investing time on each individual lead just yet. (we are big fans of marketing automation)

Make sure to routinely check any automations you have in place, if you decide to go that route. Remember, in the end, you’re not focusing on the sheer amount of numbers of leads. If you have a bunch of potential customers that aren’t interested in your product, the better alternative is to have a smaller amount that your products could appeal to. Change the automation filters any time when they’re not working for you.

Targeting Leads with the End of the Funnel

You’ve finally reached the end of the sales funnel. The leads that you should have left are those that best fit your intended audience. You can break down leads further based on demographics or any other relevant metrics so that you can come up with a targeted marketing approach that should lead to better conversion rates than you’ve had prior to using the inbound sales funnel.

However, this isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. Make sure that your marketing strategies are as targeted as possible. Leads should feel as if the content or marketing they are receiving is catering directly to their needs. The value and design of your marketing efforts at this stage need to be top-notch. This will increase your chances of lead conversion, but not guarantee it.

Additional Funnel Options

On-Going Content

Once you obtain customers through lead conversion, it’s crucial that you keep their interest going in your company over the long-term. By posting regular content, and setting up on-going communication with customers you can achieve this. Customers who buy once often buy again if they are happy. Do everything you can to keep them engaged with your business.

Never forget your SEO practices like using relevant keywords and generating quality links to your content, since this allows customer traffic to increase. Existing customers will continue to use you as a resource if you deliver relevant answers and solutions to their needs. You’ll also find you’ll get new leads, in which case you can start the sales funnel process all over again.

Make sure to break down your content and topics based on keywords that appeal to certain parts of your demographic. This also helps naturally filter leads.

Landing Pages

Landing pages are also a useful component of the sales funnel. Landing pages are designed to collect information and “bucket” or segment leads into relevant groups for your business. These pages also introduce leads to your company and inform them of what products you sell, offers you are giving away, or any other relevant and enticing information they may want to dig into.

Landing pages are often the destination page for Call-to-Actions (CTAs) you insert within other pages or blog posts on your site. For example, if you develop a blog post about “The Sales Funnel” like this one, you may want to have a relevant call-to-action inviting the reader to learn more about inbound marketing, download an eBook or white paper, or schedule an assessment call.

Leads that don’t take the step of filling out these forms or click over to your landing pages are not ready to buy or are not interested in buying. Therefore, these pages act as a great lead filter truly separating buyers from browsers, and potential customers from “tire kickers.”

Consider using multiple landing pages to appeal to various segments of your leads or landing pages that relate to each stage of their buyer’s journey. For example if they just hit your website for the first time, entice them with a free eBook. If they bite, consider automating an email marketing sequence that will push them towards scheduling an assessment, or downloading an additional higher-level piece of content.

Worst case scenario, if they do provide their contact information but do not respond to further sales pushes, they are now on your list, and most professional online marketers will attest to the fact that many customers can take years to bring on-board, which is why continuing to deliver relevant and engaging content to all leads no matter where they are in your inbound sales funnel is so critical.

Sealing the Deal

Now that customers are ready to buy, and you know they are an ideal fit for your business, don’t leave them hanging. Consider adding a testimonials page to your website and share references, recommendations, or case studies from previous clients you’ve helped. And, now that you know customers are closer to purchasing you can offer discounts and other incentives to make the deal that much sweeter.

Use deals and discounts sparingly. You’ve spent a great deal of time on your inbound marketing strategy, and nurturing your leads through the inbound sales funnel. You’ve established credibility, professionalism, expertise, and rapport with your potential customer. They should already see the value in what you offer and understand that their investment is worthwhile. Otherwise, why in the world would they still be hanging on through your sales process? Do not cheapen your efforts at the last moment.

Final Thoughts

By developing a solid inbound funnel, your ROI will increase, your revenue will reflect a greater number of quality leads, and your customer base will grow exponentially since everything you produce, say, and promote is catering directly to their needs and providing great insight and answers. Take the time to think about each stage of the funnel and what you can do to refine your leads from start to finish.

Developing an Inbound marketing strategy is challenging and many of the steps we mention above require a great deal of expertise and an investment in time on a regular basis to see steady growth and success. We can help assess if inbound marketing is a good fit for your company and even make some suggestions on how you can improve your sales process and lead generation.

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci is a Small Business Consultant and Strategic Branding Specialist. He calls Monterey, CA home and is a life-long musician who spends his free time writing, composing, and producing music. He has also co-authored two books, and is working on his own upcoming book titled, “Small Business Pricing Mastery – Creating effective pricing and defining value for today’s products and services.”

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