The sales funnel (variously referred to as the consideration cycle, or buyer’s journey) is a familiar way of understanding how your customers may come to buy your product or service, from just beginning to learn about your brand’s offerings through making the purchase.
It is possible to break the sales funnel down into several stages, depending on your business; At its simplest, however, the sales funnel can be described in the following steps:
- Awareness: leads are just learning about your product or service, or have identified a need that your business can address
- Consideration: leads are actively weighing how your product or service might fulfill their need, or if you are the best provider for that solution
- Conversion: leads are at the point of making a purchase
How Lead Nurture Drives the Sales Funnel
Content marketing agencies understand the journey that customers take and they create content that encourages them forward along that path. However, not every person who reads a blog post or attends a webinar is ready to take the next step. That’s where lead nurture comes in: creating ongoing opportunities to present engaging content until leads — in their own time — are ready to move forward.
In short: use content to move leads forward, and lead nurture to bring them back to the table.
Considerations for Lead Nurture at Each Stage of the Funnel
For each of the following stages, we will take a look at audience needs, content recommendations, and the lead nurture approaches that pull them together.
Individuals in the awareness stage are just beginning their buyer’s journey. They have a need or interest, but are still early in their decision making process. Content for the Awareness stage involves explaining your product or service and answering common questions or objections, such as:
- How much will it cost?
- Do I need it right now?
- What options should I be looking at?
Content should focus on educating consumers about your industry, and giving them the confidence they need to feel they’re making an informed decision.
Depending on your business, prospects at the top of the funnel may take a good amount of time before they’re ready to actively consider who they want to purchase from. They key during this period is to provide a way to keep providing those prospects valuable content while presenting them opportunities to move further with you toward a sale.
As a great source for fresh, educational content, blog updates delivered via email or RSS feed reader are the perfect non-interruptive way to keep your brand on the mind of consumers. In particular, the ability to cover a range of topics means over time you can eventually find the angle that resonates with a given audience.
Be sure that blog posts have relevant links to more service or product-focused pages so that interested readers are only a click away from taking the next step.
A regular newsletter — be it monthly, weekly or every few days — provides the consistency of a blog update with the additional benefit of custom formatting and incorporation of non-blog content. Unlike RSS feeds, you have the opportunity to curate which content you feature and have clear calls to action (CTAs).
It is important to remember to deliver email newsletters consistently enough to be expected, but not so frequently as to be annoying. Again, having a solid mix of content topics and considerations helps ensure you are engaging a range of prospects to click through and learn more.
Often overlooked as a lead nurture tool, social media channels are a fantastic way to keep top-of-funnel audiences in the mix until they move forward to the Consideration stage. Like email marketing, social media allows you to put your content under the noses of those who have opted to be a follower.
In particular, consider ways that social platforms allow you to segment and promote to specific demographics. For example, if you know homeowners are more likely to purchase your interior design services, you can target them in social when sharing relevant content and promotions.
Finally, be sure to add social media follow links to your email marketing. The more channels you can create for lead nurture, the more likely you are to be in front of the right prospect at the right time.
In the Consideration stage, leads are sure enough in their need that they are at least tentatively looking to brands who can deliver on that need. In particular, they’re asking “why you, and not the next guy?”
Content for the Consideration stage involves building on the trust you’ve developed earlier in the funnel. This more active engagement requires providing a deeper dive on subject matter knowledge, while offering a clear path to conversion for those ready to act.
Free Guides and Whitepapers
These downloadable guides are a perfect opportunity to showcase a more extensive expertise in your field, while identifying leads who are more actively considering their purchase.
The value of these kinds of content pieces are such that they often merit their own email marketing campaign. For example, if you provide a guide on dishwasher repair, a smart follow-up would be a limited series of emails providing additional resources around that topic, as well as calls to action to the repair service or new dishwasher that your brand offers.
Timing here will be key. If a week with your free guide and a broken dishwasher doesn’t produce the desired results, a lead will be looking for additional assistance.In short, help first but provide a timely offer on your product or service as a Plan B. Be sure to pace any email follow-ups to the expected process that a prospect will be following. Don’t try to sell them while they’re likely still trying to go the DIY route.
Webinar and Event Updates
Live events, such as webinars and presentations, are a great opportunity to interact with engaged leads. Such events showcase both your expertise around a subject area, as well as field specific questions from real-world prospects.
- First: lead nurture to get them there. I’ll admit, despite my good intentions, I attend about 25% of the webinars I sign up for. My attendance record is directly proportional to how well the webinar host emails me reminders.
- Second: find other avenues to get the information to those that didn’t attend. Customers are busy, but providing a follow-up email with a link to the presentation video or slide deck allows them to still enjoy the insights on their own time.
- Remember, if someone is willing to invest their time to attend a virtual or in-person presentation, that is a stronger signal of intent than any form field you can capture.
The Conversion stage is the “dare me to say no” part of the process. By this point, the lead understands their need, and feels your business is the best provider of a solution.
Demos and Free Trials
For service providers, a no-risk trial or preview can be the hands-on validation that a prospect needs to feel comfortable purchasing from you. Whether you’re offering software on a freemium model, have a live demo they can explore, or have a no-cost trial period, featuring it in lead nurture is a fantastic way to keep leads moving toward a conversion. However, be sure to continue to answer questions they may have, and have a follow-up campaign planned if they don’t move forward with a paid engagement.
Promotions and Discounts
If price is the ultimate decider here, offer a smart financial incentive to make it happen. This is where understanding your audience will be key. Too many brands throw out discounts and coupons to customer segments that are likely to use them anyway. At that point, they are merely subsidizing their customer base.
By analyzing email marketing metrics around cost-focused lead nurture campaigns, brands can identify the leads that are truly price-minded and create strategic segments solely around those individuals.
Guarantees and Warranties
It is amazing how much commerce is driven by (or stifled by) fear. We as consumers fear what we don’t know that we don’t know. While useful, informative content in the earlier funnel stages can mitigate that doubt, so can assurances that making a purchase is not signing away your life. Be sure to explain to leads any return, cancellation or exchange policies in emails.
Measurement and Next Steps
The addendum to any recommendation is always “… and measure it to make sure it works.” While the above sales funnel is broadly applicable to most brands, there will always be particular quirks to how a company or audience behaves.
As such, it’s important to measure how your lead nurture performs with your audience. Is it behaving better or worse than expected? What is the open and click-through rate of emails to different segments? Are onsite conversions increasing in the way you’d expect?
With any sales funnel, improvements in one stage should feed the next. Therefore it’s important to note that positive engagement higher up in the cycle ultimately drives more conversions. By continually thinking of offsite ways to drive leads back to onsite engagement and movement down that funnel, your content marketing campaign can build a sustainable model of growth and ROI.