Close your eyes for a second and imagine your sales funnel. What is it? Where does it live and how does it work? Most of us think of the sales funnel as a collection of possible customers at various stages of commitment to purchase from us. We collect leads, store them and nurture them from our internal database. It’s called a funnel because the wide part is where people become aware of us, and as they become more familiar with what we sell, they start to consider buying, and eventually some of them decide to purchase.
The funnel gets narrower because most people either aren’t ready or aren’t qualified—or maybe they’re just browsing, so those leads remain at higher levels of the funnel or they get discarded. You are, in effect, casting a broad net and picking out the big fish that are your obvious customers at the bottom of the funnel. The problem with this model is that it’s not efficient and it wastes sales and marketing resources. Fortunately, there’s a better way.
Now, close your eyes again and clear your mind of your sales funnel picture. Imagine instead that the world is your funnel. Everybody is a potential customer. They are not just in your contact database being nurtured, but everywhere. Your job is to find people who are ready to buy and are shopping right now. Your target market is a relatively narrow band of the universal funnel that’s in the middle, right above the decision point (or bottom funnel). Instead of casting a broad net, we’re going spearfishing.
Let’s start with search engines. People search for a lot of reasons, but one of the most common is shopping—looking for the best options when they already know what they want. Let’s go talk to them. Instead of publishing a bunch of content that’s educational or entertaining and hoping it attracts a large number of top-funnel leads, let’s try a different approach. Let’s pin down exactly what buyers are searching for when they shop for your products and services. Not when they are learning about your industry, company or products in general, but when they are considering buying from you. Phrases like:
You can find out which phrases to use a number of ways:
Now, let’s increase the odds of making a connection with these qualified buyers using demand generation campaigns. Create ads that use the same phrases that buyers search with, promoting content that addresses those topics in a mid-funnel way. An example would be a video that goes into detail about how to use your products to achieve a specific goal, like mowing your yard in half the time. Or maybe it’s a blog post comparing the features of the top three products in your marketplace. Middle-funnel content doesn’t have to be boring or dry. Spice it up, but be specific. Focus on what the buyer is looking for and what she needs to know to make an informed decision.
Now place your ads where your buyers shop. In addition to Google, you want to be highly visible in Facebook, Twitter and other sites where buyers ask their friends for recommendations and write reviews. Just remember, you’re not looking for visits and likes. You’re looking for conversions from qualified buyers. The metrics might not be as gaudy as other types of campaigns, but we’re spearfishing here. Try looking at MQL-SQL conversion rates instead of traffic or lead volume.
You can also market to the middle of your existing funnel of previously captured leads using the same tactics outlined here. In addition to mid-funnel content and demand generation campaigns, you can also leverage targeted email campaigns. Segment your database based on qualification and behavioral criteria. How often has a lead visited your pricing page? How long do they spend on mid-funnel pages and which pieces of content do they download—top-funnel eBooks or case studies and customer testimonial videos? Increase your chances of success by marketing to people who match these criteria.
I’m not suggesting that we should abandon conventional inbound marketing that emphasizes filling the funnel with top-funnel leads and nurturing them through the buyer’s journey. If you do it right by marketing to well-defined buyer personas, you stand a good chance of capturing qualified leads and gently persuading them to become buyers. By augmenting that strategy with mid-funnel campaigns, you may be able to improve conversion rates and increase sales with a shorter sales cycle. You may also be able to reduce marketing costs by taking a more targeted approach and improve sales efficiency by focusing on leads that are both qualified and ready to buy.