Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2019. It was updated in 2021.
Whether you know it or not, if you are reading this RIGHT NOW, you are in our sales funnel.
Scared? Don’t be.
Most likely, whether you’ve known it or not, you’ve been a part of other businesses’ sales funnels.
The purpose of this article is to show you exactly how a digital sales funnel should be set up and what you need to know to do it yourself for your organization.
From a 50,000-foot view, at this exact moment, you are here:
First, let’s get on the same page with regards to the definitions and goals at each stage of the sales funnel as they relate to what you are experiencing…
Top of Funnel = Cold Lead
- Most of the time, these leads don’t know you exist and have not engaged digitally with your company. (Did you know we existed before clicking on this post?)
- Cold Lead Goal – Get them to show INTEREST in a topic related to your company, products or services by providing helpful, non-salesy, clickable content with a great headline. (Again, if you are reading this right now, that means this blog was of interest to you.)
Middle of Funnel = Warm Lead
- These leads now know that you exist because they progressed from the top of the funnel down by engaging with your content. (You are here, so that means you are now a warm lead.)
- Warm Lead Goal – We aren’t trying to close the big deal here… we are simply getting warm leads to show INTENT by responding to a low-commitment offer related to the cold lead/top of funnel content that requires them to trade deeper contact information in exchange for your offer. (Our warm lead goal is to prove to you how we can help increase your inbound leads by building your company a digital sales funnel for free.)
Bottom of Funnel = Hot Lead
- These leads have expressed both INTEREST & INTENT by engaging with your content and by providing deeper contact information in exchange for a low-commitment offer.
- Hot Lead Goal – Now, it’s time to build value in your products & services and get that warm lead offline and converted into a paying customer.
Ok, now that we are on the same page with regards to definitions and goals at each stage of the sales funnel, let’s get into the strategic & tactical approach… again, using the example you’re currently experiencing as you engage with our sales funnel.
Top of the Funnel / Cold Leads:
Here, we are going to talk about:
- Channel Selection & Audience
- Content Offering
- Cookies & Triggers
Channel Selection & Audience:
Unless you’re selling to a remote civilization on the North Sentinel Island in India, when it comes to channel selection, no matter how niche your business, your audience resides online.
And you guessed it… they have email, they search Google and according to Pew Research Center, over 80% of them use at least one form of social media and access it frequently.
So, what channels make sense for your business? The easy answer is: as many as your bandwidth and budget can afford.
And keep in mind, your goal isn’t to convert a sale on the channel delivering your content… your goal is to harvest eyeballs and move them off paid platforms and onto your own digital properties.
We suggest trying, testing & tracking as many channels as possible to see which has the best ROI. We have the most success utilizing Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, email & Google Ads, and we know this by utilizing in-platform reporting & advanced Google Analytics tracking with UTMs (to learn more about UTMs, click here)
“But my target audience isn’t on Facebook, and even if they are, they aren’t on it for business,” says the voice inside most B2B salespeople’s heads. I’m not in the business of telling people they’re wrong, but… in this case, they are wrong.
Your audience is on Facebook!
70% of U.S. adults say they use Facebook daily.
And while it’s true that your audience may not be on Facebook for business reasons, think about TV, Radio, Direct Mail & Email… are people watching their favorite show, listening to their favorite station, walking to the mailbox or opening their inbox hoping to see your propaganda and learn about your company, products or services? Sadly, no. But just like TV, Radio, Direct Mail & Email, we know the target audience is there, and it’s up to your content & offering to persuade them to take action and move off-platform and onto your own digital properties.
Ok, so hopefully we can agree the chances are pretty good that most of your target audience use email, Facebook, LinkedIn & Google. Ours sure does… after all, YOU ARE HERE reading this article right now.
Here are some examples of how we built our audience on each channel.
If you came in off Facebook, it is because you fit the audience criteria below.
If you came in off LinkedIn, it is because you fit the audience criteria below:
If you came in off Google Ads, it is because you searched one of these keywords & phrases:
The best way to think of cold lead content offerings that will establish INTEREST and get your target audience to click is to put yourself in your target audience’s shoes. What pain points, interests, news or opportunities relate to them? For us, it is our awareness that many B2B marketers are perplexed by how to effectively leverage digital marketing for lead gen, which is why we wrote this blog, “How to Create the PERFECT Digital Sales Funnel [AND WHAT TO AVOID]”
Steps to Creating Cold Lead Content:
- Determine Blog Post Topic
- Create a “Clickable” Headline
- Tease Your “Warm Lead Offer” in Your Post
Determine Blog Topic:
As a reminder, the goal here is to get cold leads to show INTEREST in a topic related to your company, products or services by providing helpful, non-salesy, clickable content. Some popular blog post formats are:
- List Posts – List posts are everywhere and for good reason… they flat out work. Create a list of books, tools, resources or any other thing your target market will find useful.
- How-To Posts – The How-To post is another staple blog post idea. Describe how to execute a process and use images, video or audio to enrich the post and make it as easy as possible for your visitor to take action.
- Case Study Posts – The term “case study” carries more perceived value than the term article, blog post or video. Outline and unpack the details of something like a project, event or process.
- Research Posts – Conducting your own primary research around a topic in your niche is one of the best ways to build blog content that gets attention.
- Checklist Posts – If the content you are delivering can be broken into a “checklist” it will often perform better. People like the checklist format because it’s easy to digest and take action when the content is itemized in this way.
- Stats Posts – This post, like the research post, works best when you can use statistics that you have produced. That said, consider curating and pulling together stats from multiple locations to create a good statistics post.
No matter what blog post format you choose, just remember to make it helpful, informational and non-salesy… don’t worry, the time for selling will come as you progress the leads down the funnel.
Create a “Clickable” Headline:
The best way to create the most effective headline is to start thinking about what makes you click. Start looking at advertisements through a new lens…
- Did you get an unsolicited email with an enticing subject line?
- When scrolling your social feeds, was there a headline that made you stop scrolling?
Good headlines typically follow 1 of these 4 elements:
- Self Interest – They are usually direct and speak to a specific benefit your audience will gain by opening the email. Self-Interest headlines also help pre-qualify openers by giving them a clue about your email’s body content.
- Curiosity – If Self-Interest headlines work because they give information, curiosity-based ones succeed for the exact opposite reason. These peak interest without giving away too much information, leading to more clicks. Be careful though, because curiosity-based headlines can get old fast and are the most likely to miss their mark.
- News – Keeping your audience informed about new developments in your field builds authority and keeps your open rates high. These headlines often work well when combined with a curiosity element.
- Social Proof – A fundamental characteristic of humans is that we look to the behavior of others when making decisions. You can leverage this in your headlines by mentioning individuals’ success stories, familiar names, or highlighting how many people are already using a product or service.
For more inspiration and data on headlines, check out this blog by BuzzSumo, which analyzed 100 Million Headlines and broke down their findings.
Tease Your “Warm Lead Offer” in Your Post
If you think I am beginning to sound like a broken record, it’s because this is important. If your audience clicked through to your blog post page, they have INTEREST in the topic that is related to your company, products or services. By clicking, they (and you) will progress down the funnel as a warm lead and receive the next level of digital marketing ads & engagement on Facebook, LinkedIn and Email.
Now is the time to set the tone for what you want them to do next by teasing your warm lead offer in the body of your post, like this:
Because you clicked on our article, we assume you have an interest in digital lead generation, and our hope is that you may want an expert to build your sales funnel at no charge. Here, we are setting the table for what’s to come and showing our hand that we are more than just a source for helpful content…
Ok, great. You’ve created content with an amazing, clickable headline and you are getting traffic on your blog page! But how do you refine your marketing, messaging & ads to now ONLY hit the audience that displayed interest? I hope you’re hungry because it’s time for some cookies…
Cookies & Triggers:
A cookie is a small piece of data sent from a website and stored on the user’s computer by your web browser. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to track and remember a user’s browsing activity.
Facebook & LinkedIn’s advertising platforms offer tools to track, remember users’ browsing activity, and… wait for it… build custom audiences based on user behavior. That’s right. You can build a custom Facebook or LinkedIn audience based on website visitors, visitors of a specific page on your website or by specific event triggers like button clicks or form submissions.
Facebook calls their tool Pixel. Learn more about it here.
LinkedIn calls their tool Insight Tag. Learn more about it here.
By installing the Pixel & Insight Tag on your website, you can create rules & parameters within each platform to save audiences based on website behavior.
You visited our blog page (the one you are on now), which means if you have a Facebook or LinkedIn account, you are now in our custom warm lead audience which will be used on the next level of our sales funnel.
Triggers, as they relate to this post, refer to the rule-based events tied to a user’s digital behavior as they engage with an email and/or landing page. These are built within your email marketing and/or automation platform. If someone reached your cold lead content article via email marketing, the rules you set up would trigger the next round of deeper “warm lead” engagement.
From the Top of the Funnel, Down:
The logic and tactics behind the Cold Leads (Top of Funnel) described above can be applied to both Warm Leads (Middle of Funnel) & Hot Leads (Bottom of Funnel) with a shift in messaging and offers. Remember, the vast majority of warm leads are still NOT ready to buy… we know they have INTEREST because they clicked on your blog, but as of right now, they do NOT have INTENT. Your warm lead offer should establish intent and get them to trade contact information in exchange for a higher-value offer.
Once they’ve accepted your warm lead offer, it’s time to shift the messaging and sell!
Focus on the value your company can provide and how you can improve their results, alleviate their pain points or make their lives easier.
With the right digital sales funnel… your sales team can expect a steady flow of leads!
BUT WAIT… YOU HAVEN’T TOLD ME WHAT TO AVOID…
When it comes to digital marketing, there are 2 mistakes we continue to see over and over…
Going for the Close Too Soon
If someone were to ask for your hand in marriage before a first date… or even directly after, you’d presumably be creeped out, say “no” and potentially explore a restraining order. That reaction holds true in marketing. Many marketers talk to and expect responses from cold leads like they’ve known each other for years. Take this article for example, instead of writing & sharing this topic with you, what if I had come out of the gates with our hot lead offer to build a completely custom marketing plan for $995 (which is a great value!). You wouldn’t have even entertained a click, and I wouldn’t blame you!
So be patient, establish INTEREST with cold leads, INTENT with warm leads & CONVERT the hot leads.
Assuming Marketing Alone (without sales) Will Increase Business
Marketing AND sales… Sales AND marketing. They belong together. They need each other. They can’t survive without each other.
Yet, many organizations invest time and resources in marketing solutions that they expect to be the end-all-be-all. They think (or hope) their latest marketing deployment will make leads line up, ready to empty their pockets. Spoiler alert – this doesn’t happen. Your sales team is and should be an intricate part of your business’s marketing. B2B sales is and will always be a people-to-people business, and expecting or relying on your marketing efforts to do all the heavy lifting is a mistake!
Your sales team should understand the program you plan to deploy, participate in its creation and know where they fit in the equation… after all, they know the target market best.
And remember, good marketing will aid your sales team by nurturing and warming up the cold leads so your sales team can focus on converting the hot leads!
To see how we (a marketing agency that specializes in B2B marketing) can help increase your inbound leads, let us build your company’s digital sales funnel for free!
Best of luck!
Have additional questions about digital sales funnels or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.