Converting with content: moving leads through a sales funnel

Written by Professional Academy guest blogger Nicki Hayes

Part 1: The What and Why

In a previous blog, social media specialist Charlotte Britton explained why a new Google patent means we’re all going to have to be thinking far more strategically about how to move prospects through our online sales funnels. This post, as promised, is the first in a series aiming to equip you with the know-how to do just that.

First we’ll look at what a sales funnel is, and then we’ll take a quick look at how different types of content work for different stages of the sales funnel. In future posts we’ll provide case studies, tips and templates enabling you to create relevant, interesting and compelling content for each stage of your sales funnel.

So, what is a sales funnel?

A sales funnel is a visual and practical marketing tool; a process that helps convert leads to prospects, prospects to customers and customers to repeat customer.

The aim is to filter as many leads as possible into the top of the funnel, then to strategically use content to increase the percentage of people moving from one level through to the next.

The sales funnel is not new. It has been around much longer than online marketing yet online marketing has elevated its place in the sales and marketing toolkit. Why? Because websites, email marketing and social media speed up the customer journey whilst also making it more transparent. As such, nano-nurturing your potential customer base and measuring the impact of your efforts becomes really, really simple and extraordinarily effective.

Indeed, it is widely accepted that, as marketplaces become increasingly competitive the companies that will continue to thrive will be those with well-defined sales funnels: i.e. those who know what each customer is worth to them in the long term (thanks to refined metrics calculated at each point of the sales funnel) and equally strategic content plans.

So, how does content help move people through the funnel?

It may not surprise you to learn that the idea of using a funnel as a metaphor for sales and marketing processes in business stemmed from the classic marketing communications (as content used to be called) concept of AIDA (a mnemonic based template for communicating with customers by attracting Attention, triggering Interest, creating Desire and ultimately leading them to Action.)

Consider the two funnels side by side and the potential relevance of content style to sales funnel place, so: leads’ attentions have been captured (but they have not yet expressed an interest); prospects’ attentions have been captured and they have expressed an interest, but not yet, perhaps desire; customers have expressed desire (and actually potentially taken action to buy); repeat customers have indeed taken – and continue to take action.

Planning your content to reflect such a process makes sense. Fresh leads hit your website because their attention has been captured (or land there by mistake and their attention is captured). They possibly arrived because of a lead magnet. A lead magnet is something of value to site visitors that they can get for free in exchange for the first name and email address. For example, a fitness company might offer a free healthy eating ebook; a specialist small to medium sized enterprise (SME) intelligence (BI) company might offer a free report relevant to the use of BI by SMEs; a business coaching company might offer a free online character assessment; a professional training company might offer a 100% pass rate or your money back guarantee (if they were good enough to), or a free e-course.

Once said company has said leads contact details, thanks to the lead magnet, the leads become prospects. Targeting them with exclusive content that delivers interesting and relevant information, classically in the form of, e.g., electronic newsletters, surveys, limited offers, white papers and other special reports and providing them an opportunity to subscribe for more will create a desire to purchase among some, moving them through to the customer segment of the funnel.

At this point, you can begin to analyse the data you have about your prospects and customers and segment your content plan accordingly to offer them well targeted products and services and related content. Such content could be in the form of infographics, case studies, blogs, videos, memes or a variety of other communication tools. Done well this will convert your prospects to customers. Continue to offer your new customers interesting and relevant information that engages them emotionally and logically and they become repeat customers. 

In the next part of this series, John Chacksfield, Professional Academy tutor and founder of the Worcester based digital strategy agency Sharpmonkeys, and freelance storyteller Nicki Hayes, collaborate to share when and how to share content designed to attract attention. Part 3 looks at triggering (or maintaining) your new prospects’ interest; Part 4 at creating desire and making that final call to action; finally Part 5 looks at how to reiterate the types of relevant and interesting calls to action that lead to brand loyalty and repeat business.

Interested in learning more about content strategy in the mean time?

Here are some links to recent content that we think you’ll find compelling:

  1. The Content Marketing Matrix
  2. 5 key takeaways from the Data Storytelling Conference 2015
  3. SEO is not dead

If you would be interested in learning more about Digital Marketing why not look into a CIM Marketing Qualification (with Digital Marketing Electives) or if you are interested in developing your sales knowledge the ISM offer accredited Sales Qualifications from an introductory to a strategic sales management level. If you would like to speak to someone about the best qualification for you one of our advisers would be happy to help, contact us today