Content Matters

Discussing best practices in marketing automation, content marketing, and demand generation
Leading Your Prospects to Convert

Prospects are in the funnel. Now what?

The coordinated development of persuasive, strategically-designed, digital content ecosystems holistically drives prospects through the early, middle, and late stages of the sales cycle. To illustrate this, let’s consider the stages of a typical digital marketing sales funnel, visualizing each stage and determining actionable strategies for rapidly converting prospects at the top of the funnel into clients emerging from the bottom.

Prospects enter the funnel with general brand awareness, often attained via brand advertisement campaigns or word of mouth, regularly mentioned in social networks. Names are also collected through the “freemium” model in which a product or service is provided at no cost, with a premium charged for advanced features, functionality, related products, or services. LinkedIn is a good example, garnering a massive audience by providing their constituency with both free and paid services.

Many companies also realize an increase in top-of-the-funnel lead generation by creating highly-engaged communities around themselves, which results in an affinity for their brand, and greater participation in thought-leadership communications. This is common, for example, in open source software platforms, with companies creating huge successes by forming extraordinary connections between customers, partners, and developers.

These first, early stages of demand generation are solid, actionable stages of the sales cycle that companies are already accustomed to building. This is also the point in the sales cycle where strategically designed content has the opportunity to nurture leads, with the goal of gently nudging prospects through the process of becoming customers. So, how do you advance potential customers most effectively through a typical sales funnel?

Prospects derived through demand generation become “engaged” when they have some sort of meaningful interaction, for example, downloading a piece of content such as a presentation or white paper, attending an event like a trade show or webinar, or simply sending an email. Automated analysis of these early-stage behaviors is used to increment and decrement prospect status, based on strategic, buyer-persona-specific lead scoring models.

An “engaged” name becomes a “prospect” when there’s both meaningful interaction and qualified demographics, for example the right kind of person at the right kind of company. This stage combines the explicit data gathered by observing their behavior, and the inferred data, automatically added through existing, public information data-append services.

“Prospects” becomes “leads” when they show buying signs or significant engagement. For example, active behaviors that demonstrate buying intent might include repeated visits to pricing pages, deep dives into product specifications, or perhaps repeated views of middle and late stage content.

A “lead” becomes a “sales lead” once they’ve been contacted and further qualified as sales-ready by a company “point-of-contact” (alternatively, if on an ecommerce platform, qualified sales leads are redirected to an appropriate conversion opportunity landing page). Qualified sales leads are then floated to the top of the CRM prospect list, for a salesperson to contact directly and determine whether this is a company that should be pursued in their pipeline, or recycled for additional nurturing.

A “sales lead” becomes an “opportunity” when it is accepted and actively worked by the Sales team until they close the sale, recycle, or retire the lead. Strategic, programmatic content ecosystems significantly increase the quantity and the quality of opportunities, as well as their speed to conversion.

To stage content that most effectively transports prospects through this model, careful attention needs to be focused on identifying consolidated sets of buyer personas, each with its own, individual lead scoring models and content strategies. A stage-specific, content-centric approach can then evolve that tests hypotheses, delivers content, measures performance, then recommends improved strategies, by leveraging historical metrics blended with trending market data to programmatically identify and prioritize the next pieces of content to be developed that will be the most impactful.