Article

Lead funnel definition, stages, and strategy

Learn how to organize your lead funnel and streamline your prospective customer journey for higher conversions and easier sales.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published January 28, 2022
Last updated March 8, 2022

All companies are aiming for more revenue and customers in 2022. With millions of companies still struggling to bounce back from the financial hits of the past two years, locating and acquiring new (and loyal) customers is a must.

But where will these customers come from? And how do you get them to buy from you? Ads and social media strategies are fantastic for boosting your brand, but ads alone rarely close deals.

If you want more customers, you need an organized lead funnel.

In this piece, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of a successful lead funnel and why your job doesn’t stop at lead generation. For a larger customer base, you need to undertake the journey with your prospects, not just wait for them at the cash register.

What is a lead funnel?

A lead funnel is the process through which a potential customer becomes aware of your product, expresses interest, and then moves through your funnel to become a paying customer. There’s a lot of talk about funnels and pipelines in sales, but it’s important to understand that your lead generation funnel, your sales lead funnel, and your sales pipeline are all distinct processes that require unique approaches depending on your sales style, company size, and types of products.

Before we talk about how lead funnels work, let’s clarify the differences between lead generation funnels, sales lead funnels, and sales pipelines.

Lead generation funnel

As a rule, all sales funnels are about moving a consumer closer to a purchase. However, not all customers are created equal, and not all customers are in the same place in the funnel. That is the key difference between lead and sales funnels. Lead generation funnels deal solely with prospective customers who have never purchased from your company and who you hope will move into the sales lead funnel.

Sales lead funnel

While it does overlap with the lead generation funnel in some aspects, your sales lead funnel is a repeatable process that can apply to both new customers and repeat customers from product awareness to product purchase. Ideally, all prospects in the sales lead funnel are either current customers or qualified leads from the lead generation funnel. Separating the two funnels is all about using the right tactics on the right prospects at the right stage of their buying process.

Sales pipeline

While they overlap with lead and sales funnels, sales pipelines are more focused on the sales rep instead of the customer. For example, if a prospect is in the awareness stage of the sales funnel, then the sales rep is in the corresponding contact stage in the sales pipeline.

SALES FUNNEL


sales funnel stages

SALES PIPELINE


Now that you have a better idea of what lead funnels are, let’s take a look at how they work.

How does a lead funnel work?

Lead funnels primarily work by organizing your entire lead process (from marketing to sales) so that leads can be converted more easily and efficiently. That doesn’t mean every prospect gets the exact same treatment—personalization in marketing and active listening in sales are still essential to customer conversion—but it does mean that all prospects will go through similar steps during their buyer journey.

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Not all prospects will make it through the entire funnel on the first try; some may never make it through. That’s okay. The most important aspect of the funnel is that it aligns the efforts of everyone on the sales and marketing teams so that every customer is presented with a unified vision of a brand and sales style.

Lead funnel stages

The lead funnel stages differ depending on who you ask, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to break them down into three sections:

  • Top-funnel leads (Awareness)
  • Middle-funnel leads (Consideration)
  • Bottom-funnel leads (Conversion)

Your company or sales team may want to break those down further in order to assign specific sales rep actions, but on average, most prospects will always fall into one of these three categories.

Top-funnel leads (Awareness)

Your prospects might not know this, but their journey to your company starts long before they’re even aware you exist. Customers aren’t on the hunt for products; they’re on the hunt for solutions to problems. If you’re a marketing firm looking for clients (let’s call you Angie’s Marketing), you’re probably not going to be discovered by a prospect searching specifically for Angie’s Marketing online.

Instead, you’ll be discovered through top-funnel advertising.

If a small business needs marketing, they’re going to head to Google and type in something along the lines of “affordable marketing services” or “top marketing companies for small businesses.” This is where you get on their radar. Through blogs, social media, webpages, and other lead generation channels, you strategically position your company as a solution to your prospects’ common problems, and those prospects can start investigating what you have to offer.

This is also the stage where you’ll want to use prospecting tools and lead generation software to gather basic customer contact information. If someone clicks on your website or ad based on their search, you want to be able to follow up with them. Add a simple and concise CTA on your landing page (such as “learn more” or “sign up for a trial”) to capture their email.

Now you’re ready for your team to start reaching out.

Middle-funnel leads (Consideration)

Middle-funnel leads are in the consideration stage of the funnel. That means that they know your product exists and they are considering it as a possible solution to their problem. Note for your own sanity that this is often the longest phase of the funnel. Studies have found that it takes an average of 84 days to move through the consideration phase, so be prepared for the long haul. This is where personalization and tactic variation is key.

It takes an average of 84 days to move through the consideration phase, so be prepared for the long haul.

You want to nurture middle-funnel leads as gently and as carefully as you can. Here are a few tips for nurturing:

  • Maintain a steady but not overwhelming email campaign. You have your prospect’s attention. You’re trying to keep that attention, not scare them away.
  • Customize your messages so our prospect knows you want to work with them. Even something as simple as inserting their name into the opening line goes a long way toward building trust.
  • Keep your interactions short and to the point. Repeat customers or customers closer to the buying stage may want to talk finer details, but right now you just want your leads to move into the buying phase. There’s no need for a product manual yet.
  • Research your leads before speaking to them. Especially for B2B sales, your leads likely entered a work email as their contact. Take a moment to look up the most promising leads on LinkedIn and familiarize yourself with their company and their potential struggles. If they work for a startup, you don’t want to pitch them your most expensive product.
  • Use a CRM or other pipeline software. These tools will help you track prospect clicks, interactions, and so on.

The best thing you can do for a middle-funnel lead is build trust so that when you pitch, they come with you into the conversion stage.

Bottom-funnel leads (Conversion)

You’ve done it. Your lead is interested in the product, has the means to purchase it, and is ready to buy.

But the journey is far from over.

This is often where sales are tragically lost. Just because someone is primed to buy doesn’t mean they’ve decided to make the purchase, so don’t stop nurturing them yet. People are easily distracted. It’s up to you and your sales team to guide a prospect all the way through the funnel until the transaction clears.

Remember, the journey doesn’t end with the lead funnel. Ideally, you want this prospect to make a purchase and then move through the sales funnel as a repeat customer. If you stop interacting with a prospect during the conversion stage, chances are they’ll feel like you’re only after their money, and they’ll take their business to a company that cares.

The journey doesn’t end with the lead funnel. Ideally, you want this prospect to make a purchase and then move through the sales funnel as a repeat customer.

A good customer relationship not only helps prospects through their first purchase, but also increases the likelihood of referrals, upsell success, and overall brand credibility.

How do you make a lead funnel?

lead funnel

Now that you know the stages, how do you make a lead funnel that works for your company?

There isn’t a single foolproof strategy, but the best place to start is by identifying specific actions you want your prospects to take in each of the three stages. Then, look at how your sales pipeline can support those actions.

For example, your list of prospect actions might resemble the following:

Awareness:

  • Click on a sponsored ad
  • Read blog content (at least two pieces)
  • Submit contact information through prompted form
Consideration:

  • Request a demo or start a free trial
  • Consistently open and interact with marketing emails
  • Reach out to speak to a representative
Conversion:

  • Ask specific questions about products and pricing
  • Make first purchase
  • Set up a loyalty account

Not all prospects will follow this exact set of actions, but let’s say that is the goal. How do you get there? Look at what you need to do to prompt these actions. If you’re not getting enough ad clicks, scrutinize your marketing strategy. If you’re getting contact info but no one is opening emails, perhaps you need to rethink your blast timeline or your subject lines. Most of all, follow lead funnel strategy best practices.

Lead funnel strategy best practices

Just like any other aspect of sales, lead funnels come with their own set of strategies and proven best practices. Let’s take a look at a few ways to improve your lead funnel:

  1. Set clear goals. If you’re working off of prospect actions, you’re already halfway there! You can also use sales rep KPIs as goal markers, but make sure you’re encouraging the right customer behavior before going to your reps as the problem. Whether it’s increased email clicks or doubling the number of demos requested, having goals helps clarify what success looks like.
  2. Track your lead movements. You need to know where your leads are in the funnel, who’s handling them, and what the next steps are. Don’t make this harder on yourself or your team. Invest in sales funnel software for simple communication and data tracking.
  3. Listen to your prospects. You might have a brilliantly developed pitch, but someone in the awareness stage simply isn’t ready to hear it. Work your product information at your prospect’s level. Sometimes, they just want to know you understand their problem before you start pushing a solution.
  4. Know when to let leads go. Not every lead is going to make it all the way through the funnel. That’s okay. You can’t convert every lead, so don’t worry if a few get lost. Just make sure the ones you want to keep remain at the forefront.

Track your lead funnel with strong CRM software

The best thing you can do for your lead funnel is align your teams with CRM technology. All-encompassing software solutions like Zendesk Sell help you automatically capture and respond to leads. When you can manage your leads through a unified software solution, it eliminates confusion between departments and keeps the process moving smoothly.

Zendesk’s sales CRM helps you identify, nurture, and track prospects as they move through your lead funnel and become loyal customers. It also generates regular funnel reports and tracks KPIs so you can fix trouble spots in the moment, not at the end of the year.

Request a demo today and create a high-speed customer connection from awareness to purchase.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

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