The sales funnel has long been the industry standard when trying to understand where your potential customers are in their buyers’ journeys. It also clues you into what specific efforts you need to make to drive them further down towards closing a sale. Of course, the key to using the visualization successfully hinges on fully understanding what each layer and, consequently, what each type of lead generated is all about. Given that 68% of companies haven’t bothered to chart out their sales funnels, it’s a good start.
What is a sales funnel?
Any buyer’s journey with you begins with first contact and is charted through all meaningful interactions with you up to the point they either fall out of the funnel or actually buy something from you. As with the funnel that it mirrors, it’s wide at the top and narrows out at the bottom. This implies that while you can net a lot of leads at the start, these are whittled away or even weeded out as they progress along. Ideally, this whittling out results from a better understanding of who’s truly interested rather that frustration at getting information from you.
Top of the Funnel Leads
The leads that you get into the top of the funnel are those that have gained or at least are looking to gain an awareness of what you have to offer. Most times this is spurred on by interest specifically related to pain points that they experience, more times it isn’t so much that as it is mere curiosity at some material your brand has pushed out. This stage is where you do a lot of filtering to draw them down. You do this by presenting more information and pushing a strong call-to-action.
It can be a very challenging stage requiring a lot of effort if only for the simple fact that you have no clue what’s on their minds and what they’re looking for. Most of the material you push out will be understandably very general and not tuned into their concerns. That said, it’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself so to speak and carve out mind space. It’s a laying down of groundwork if you will for future efforts.
Marketing-Qualified Leads (MQLs)
The next step down are leads that have now reached out specifically to engage you and your brand. This is most likely in response to your marketing efforts. They are those that saw or read something that resonated with them and are interested to know more. They likely responded to your calls to action by giving their contact details to reach your gated content—be they ebooks, articles,and other downloadables that are specifically relevant to them.
Leads at this level aren’t quite there yet—few will buy the first time you reach out to them—but they’re widely considered to be the types of leads with the most potential to move further down the funnel for as long as your nurturing efforts are on-point and address what they’re looking for. Given the volume of leads at this stage, you would be wise to already produce and distribute the most needs-specific content to answer questions that they might have about what you offer.
Sales-Qualified Leads (SQLs)
These are leads are those that your sales teams have vetted as being “qualified”. Of course, that qualification depends entirely on your own company’s definitions of “qualified”. Most often, these will be centered around the level of interest expressed, the ability of the lead to make purchasing decisions, and even the need of the lead of what you have to offer, and so on. More often that not, not every one of your qualifying requirements will be hit by a lead at the same time hence the need for further nurturing to advance to the last level.
Occasionally, you will get a lot of paying customers at this level which can be attributed to the soundness of your nurturing strategy as well as the skills of your sales team. Most likely you will need to send out highly personalized content that covers each lead’s specific, individual needs and concerns. That’s why it’s important not to jump the gun but rather to keep your nurturing efforts going. All the better if your overall strategy is far-reaching.
BANT is actually an acronym that stands for what many consider the “ideal” lead. They have the budget to get what you offer, the authority to make the call, the need for your products/services, and—in terms of time—they need it now. Let’s be honest, every B2B business dreams of having all their leads be BANT leads. Won’t life be all that easier? That said, these are few and far between. Focusing on getting these types of leads exclusively wastes time and effort.
They might be shoe-ins in terms of conversion, but considering how unlikely you are to find one “in the wild”, as it were, you’re really better off focusing your efforts on MQL leads where the blend of volume of leads and openness to nurturing actually works in favor of conversions to sales versus just chasing after BANT leads. Want a leg-up in nurturing your marketing-qualified leads? We’ve got the perfect guide for you: