Marketing is the life’s blood of your business. Prospects must be found and—somehow—converted into customers. Fortunately there’s plenty of insight into how to do this, because prospects generally follow a clear pathway in making buying decisions. It’s called the sales funnel.
In this new blog series on marketing best practices, we’ll examine the concept of the sales funnel, what behaviors and interests your potential customers demonstrate at each stage, and the techniques you can use to move them from prospects all the way to customers.
The concept often is illustrated like an actual funnel, or inverted pyramid. Brand-new prospects who first become aware of your company and services—probably via internet searches or by reading your blogs on your or other sites—can be viewed as being at the top of the funnel. They’re merely aware of you, but it’s a critical first step.
It’s now your job to move them from mere awareness to actual interest in what you have to offer, a consideration of your services, and ultimately the intent to buy. The good news is you’re largely in charge of communicating with the funnel specifically—and differently—at each stage of buyer interest.
The essence of marketing
Understanding the psychology of prospective customers, and how your written and visual content plays such an important role, are keys to each stage of the funnel. We’ll explore all this in greater depth in future blogs, but here is a simplified overview of how your content can inspire and convert:
Marketing experts divide the sales funnel into multiple parts or “stages”, sometimes as many as six stages. For simplicity’s sake, let’s examine four main phases: 1) Awareness: prospects become aware of your company and services 2) Interest: they express an interest in what you have to offer 3) Desire: they begin to evaluate what you offer compared to your competitors and 4) Action: they choose to become your customer.
Let’s see how you might effectively communicate at each stage:
• Awareness. When prospects arrive on your website for the first time, they’ve already searched for specific services or solutions, or perhaps have read your blogs on solving their own challenges. Here, you can offer them whitepapers, ebooks, or a free webcast to learn more. Provide some materials without requiring information from them (it’s called “ungated” content), and “gate” content (request that they fill out a short form with their information) for more valuable tools and resources to that you can collect email addresses and continue the conversation.
• Interest. A website visitor expresses interest in your services by consuming the content you’re offering. There are various ways to assess this, via their time on site or downloads, but the most important is when they provide their email address to see some of your gated content. That kind of “payment” demonstrates pretty strong interest, and provides you with a way to proactively communicate with them. Reach out further with case studies, demo videos, and product webcasts—types of content that would be too “pushy” at the awareness stage, but is permissible now.
• Desire. A prospect on the cusp of making a decision typically compares your services and products with your competitors. If they continue to show interest in your content—in particular product offerings and price lists—you’ll know they have a desire to make a decision. Offer live demos and even trial offers so they can really understand the advantages you provide. And certainly try to schedule a sales call. Hopefully, that pushes them to the next stage, which is conversion.
• Action. You’ve closed the deal, congratulations! Your content now can include guidelines for success, and best practices in using your products and services so they stay happy, longtime customers.
Christopher Hosford is editor at large for Target Marketing. Former editor-in-chief of Nielsen’s Sales & Marketing Management magazine, he covers all aspects of sales, marketing, and cutting-edge marketing technologies.