For many organizations events and trade shows have historically played a significant role in lead generation (ie. filling the top of the lead funnel). Depending on industries and size of events, it might be a single annual conference or several throughout the year that support lead generation needs and efforts. Either way the goal is simple: generate enough leads and hopefully your organization can sell to some of them.
There’s no single approach to do this, but most sales and marketing teams will have some kind of process — ranging from clumsy/undefined to extremely tight — to understand their prospect’s challenge(s) and propose a feasible solution to resolve it. And when everything goes according to plan, boom, you’ve got yourself a new customer!
Simple, right? Well, not so fast.
While events and trade shows play the heaviest role in filling the top of the funnel, other things like re-marketing, nurturing, and qualification have to happen after initially generating the lead as part of this process. In the past, organizations could get away with sloppy or poor process on the strength of an in-person meeting or high enough lead gen volumes that ensured some level of sales.
With events no longer part of your marketing mix for the foreseeable future, there is even greater emphasis now placed on the design of your funnel and how you are generating leads. You can no longer rely on a dynamic event/meeting to fill in parts of your process. To be successful in lead generation today, organizations will now be forced to have greater structure and strategy around lead acquisition.
The New Digital Marketing Funnel Design
Most understand the concept of the sales funnel – the different stages that make up the beginning-to-end journey of becoming a customer. When looking more granularly at marketing activities, there’s certainly a multi-stage funnel view that can be applied within lead generation. We look at three simple stages that make up the lead generation funnel:
Acquisition > Nurture > Qualification
When it comes to lead generation or lead acquisition, it’s critical to figure out which channels/mediums work best and what each channel represents for your leads. In other words, it’s all about understanding how to weigh each channel. Some channels may generate greater volume but less immediate quality while others might be the opposite. The key is to recognize which channels can indicate clear need/intent and which can put you in front of “wheelhouse” organizations you typically aim to speak with.
From there, you’ll need to understand what each category of lead requires in terms of messaging and follow ups. An “intent” labelled lead can probably be fast-tracked into immediate qualification while a “wheelhouse” or target profile lead maybe rely on persona-driven content to speak to sets of challenges the prospect may be experiencing.
Depending on where this prospect may be in their buying journey, it’s possible s/he may not fully recognize their true challenge and what specifically is required to solve it.
For example, a prospect might think they have a lead generation problem, when really the actual problem is poor use of marketing automation (landing pages, email follows ups, lead scoring, etc.). That’s simplistic, but it makes the point that initially pitching a marketing automation solution might fall flat in this scenario. Showcasing stories around lead generation challenges, taking what is known about this lead’s responsibilities, and showcasing similar customer stories/use cases will certainly resonate much more.
It’s likely email marketing — both html and text-based emails — will become the primary channel for communication and engagement here. Outside of email, other digital marketing mediums could include retargeting ads and social media (LinkedIn primarily). Another avenue, albeit non digital, could be direct mail for high value prospects.
The biggest key in this stage is to correctly identify the right message for your audience. Most organizations can sell to leads to who are ready to buy and have a clear process to identifying suitable solutions and vetting vendors. That said, in my mind the difference between good and great marketing campaigns are processes that can unearth sales qualified leads through effective nurturing.
Not all leads are made equal. While there may be similarities, there’s always some unique aspects to each lead, whether its one with clear intent behaviours or a “wheelhouse” lead that neatly fits into your target audience.
You’ll require key qualification criteria you can evaluate every lead by. Is that criteria documented and unanimously agreed upon across all sales and marketing team members? While intent-based leads are more obvious, is that “wheelhouse” lead fit to be sold to? There’s a big difference between a lead being qualified (fits the target profile) and being sales ready (fit to be sold to, now). Basic qualification criteria like “is there an existing budget in place for [ technology 123 ]” and “when do you intend to select/launch [ technology 123]” go a long way here.
In the event your audience requires multiple communications and longer nurturing cycles, how do you measure engagement? Lead scoring becomes a valuable tool here. First, you are using scoring as a way to separate leads with no perceived needs/motivators to connect with you. Second, you are trying to create levels of engagement with nurture emails to identify those “wheelhouse” leads who might be willing to accept a sales reach out, even if the true challenge isn’t readily acknowledged.
There’s a lot of information to digest in this article. To start, our recommendation is to place these two buyer types into a simple messaging matrix to identify and highlight the right message required at each of these three lead generation funnel stages. Even a simple exercise like this can go a long way in creating valuable content for all of your leads, regardless of how mature or ready they might be.