Re-imagining the Funnel: Lead Generation Pipelines

Re-imagining the Funnel: Lead Generation Pipelines
Identifying & Resolving Lead Nurturing “Clogs”

What do you picture when you hear the phrase “lead generation”?

For many, the immediate answer is a marketing funnel. We imagine leads and prospects flowing in, converting, becoming customers, with a small percentage continuing to become long-term clients. Marketing funnels are one of the most used ways to visualize lead generation, and are constantly evolving.

Although this visualization seems to work for most, it’s flawed. Funnels aren’t perfect. When thinking about your lead generating efforts as “a funnel”, you’re imagining them to:

  • Begin with ample opportunity and end in little opportunity.
  • Allow for “spills”, as in lost prospects, lower conversions, and limited long-term customers.
  • Always result in a diminished percentage of prospects converting.

We’re not alone in this assumption. Many marketers identify the marketing funnel as outdated or ineffective. Christopher S Penn, Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, discusses how the marketing funnel was inspired by the 1898 AIDA method. This method focuses on a customer’s actions, which Christopher explains, “which makes it difficult to measure effectively.” Other marketers have a similar perspective, and have refined the funnel to more efficiently gain leads.

Instead of continuing to revise the funnel, we’re proposing that we ditch it. In the past, the funnel has been successful, but following that model doesn’t result in 100%. So as lead generation evolves, so do ways to visualize it.

Shouldn’t we envision generating leads in a way that pushes us to strive for 100%? Although it may seem like an unrealistic goal, envisioning the finish line at 100% pushes us to create the best content, curate the best leads, and ensure that every single customer will continue to convert.

According to a Marketing Automation Report sponsored by OMA, 64% of individuals polled said that lead nurturing was the most important function of their marketing automation tool. So as the most crucial automation function, and a vital part of most marketing outreach strategies, we should all strive for that 100%.

From bringing in new leads to nurturing them into brand advocates, instead of a funnel, we imagine a pipeline.

Here’s why:

  • We’re aiming to win 100% share of our market.
  • The pipeline allows us to clearly identify and acknowledge the chance of “clogs”.
  • Pipelines don’t allow for “spills”.
  • Lead funnels foster shorter term thinking, lead pipelines establish you as a long term promoter.
  • Pipelines always end with the same amount of “flow” they started with.

Here’s how we break down a lead generation pipeline:

pipe-graphic-01

From prospects to brand advocacy, let’s walk through the vital steps of a lead generation pipeline. Additionally, we’ll introduce potential clogs in the strategy and how to resolve them utilizing our very own tools and resources.

Prospects

We all know this part. The first step in acquiring new prospects and generating leads is creating a dynamic, innovative campaign. You want fresh eyes on your product or brand, so you go about assembling a marketing campaign to grab their attention. If it’s successful, you gain a steady stream of prospects. But if it doesn’t, you may already have a clog in your pipeline.

Potential Clog: Lack of Prospects

When marketing campaigns don’t take off as expected, tired and tried sales techniques can be to blame. Traditional marketing techniques are often tossed aside for fashionable, yet ineffective ideas. In our experience, there may be:

  • A mismatch between what you’re offering and where you’re getting traffic from.
  • Not enough ways to turn a visitor into a prospect, to get them into your pipeline.

So when re-evaluating a failed campaign, or constructing a new one, ask yourself:

  • Do I feel compelled to share this content with family, friends or coworkers?
  • Is this ground breaking, in concept, design and functionality?
  • Has this idea been “done” before – am I being unique?
  • Are you offering something that’s highly interesting and relevant to the user.

If your answers are disappointing, stale marketing techniques may be to blame. In a Sept. 2012 article from Business Insider, author Jim Edwards accused Apple of launching a stale marketing campaign for the iPhone 5. He compared the 2012 iPhone 5 ads to the very first iPhone ads, determining that they were too similar. Lower iPhone 5 sales further proved his point.

So where did Apple go wrong? Their repetitive iPhone ads failed to inspire customers. The ads, and seemingly, the product, wasn’t groundbreaking, it was predictable.

A year later, Apple’s ads and products still seem a bit stale. Nokia poked fun at Apple’s inability to innovate with the tweet head around the world: “Thanks, #Apple”, with an image that featured Nokia’s brightly colored phones with “Imitation is the best form of flattery”.

Resolution: Refresh Your Strategy

To evaluate where changes need to be made, consider social listening tools. Our Sentiment Analysis Tools scan the mentions of your brand or product, and identify if it’s a neutral, positive, or negative comment. That data can be crucial to retooling failed product launches, new branding, or unsuccessful sales. In order to gain a better perspective about your industry, you can also compare yourself to your competition and see what’s working for them.

 

Contemplation

The most crucial time in our pipeline is contemplation – the time between when a prospect arrives and when they convert into a customer. After prospects hear about your product or service, they arrive at your site. From there, we wait to see if they’ll convert. Often, conversion is halted before a customer even considers your services because they don’t find what they’re looking for. If your products and services are top-notch, your site might need a facelift. Common contributors to a negative user experience could simply be poor SEO, an outdated site design or an overly complicated checkout process.

Potential Clog: User Has A Poor Experience

What prevents customers from having a great user experience? There are various factors that contribute to low conversions. When analyzing your own website, ask yourself:

  • Is my site easy to navigate?
  • How many steps does the customer take before finding the product?
  • Do I have too much/too little/ or irrelevant content?
  • How quickly do pages load?
  • Do I have broken links or missing meta info?

If your site has any of the above issues, you should understand why customers bounce during the contemplation stage. If it’s too difficult for a customer to use your site, they’ll leave. Even popular websites are guilty of a poor user experience. In a case study about Gawker Media, digital marketer and entrepreneur Neil Patel outlines how beefing up internal linking, removing duplicate content, adding meta tags, and decreasing site loading time all contributed to driving five million visitors to Gawker in just three months.

Resolution: Get Fresh Eyes

With site design and functionality, it’s productive to get a second opinion. Consider hosting a unbiased focus group to test out your site. Comprehensive feedback about the user experience such as site navigation, the purchasing process, blog content and site speed will enable you to make improvements. Try a self- site audit to identify ways your website needs to improve. Our on-site optimization tools also provide actionable ways to quickly and efficiently identify SEO hangups. We’ll find broken links, missing meta descriptions and title tags, and other common errors.

 

Conversion

What determines if a prospect will become a client? As many marketers know, there’s many reasons why a customer chooses to buy, and even more reasons why they decide not to. Nowadays, customers have an arsenal of tools and resources at their disposal to make an educated decision. If your prospects flee before converting, the issue could simply be that you got outsmarted.

Potential Clog: Customers Won’t Convert

Thanks to the large volume of companies using email marketing and social media marketing automation tools, customers have become sales-savvy. They can see a canned email from a mile away and don’t respond well to over-selling. Before purchasing anything, they will weigh their options and check with your competitors.

Carrie-Ann Skinner of PC World revealed that 51% of retailers spam users with unsolicited emails. These retailers fall into a majority of companies that abuse marketing automation tools, hoping that quantity trumps quality in email marketing. Along with sending out too many emails, companies are also guilty of too much self-promotion, and failing to check out their competition. Fast Company wrote a fantastic piece addressing the dangers of too much self-promotion, declaring that thanks to social media, we can “promote whatever we want, whenever we want”. Although it’s tempting to push out frequent promotions to bait customers, it often alienates them instead.

Resolution: Get A Step Ahead

Fast Company hit the nail on the head – self promotion isn’t necessary when have a positive, productive relationship with your customers. Instead of spamming customers with sales emails, OMA’s outreach management tools allow you to find more effective ways to communicate with your customers. Our email templates, for example, allow you to A/B test ways to get in touch with influencers and get positive responses.

Get a step ahead of your customers by conducting competitor research. OMA helps you understand your market by giving you access to your industry. Our competitor research tools find sites that are outranking you, determine what sites are being talked about on social, and uncover keywords that are related to your brand. This data enables you to meet the expectations of clients, resulting in positive reviews, social chatter, and referrals.

 

Loyalty

When you’ve moved past new prospects and conversion, you’ve moving towards brand loyalty.
Once customers convert, it’s tempting to take that sign of relief – but you shouldn’t, not yet. Gaining customer loyalty doesn’t happen after one or two conversions. It’s an ongoing process. So after customers have made that one conversion, what can you do to ensure they’ll make another? A potential clog in the loyalty part of the pipeline is that after one or two conversions, the customer doesn’t return.

Potential Clog: Customers Don’t Come Back

Gaining loyal customers isn’t easy. In traditional marketing, gaining customer loyalty was accomplished manually. Following up with clients with calls, mailers, and face to face interaction were the keys to keeping their loyalty. In today’s more competitive business place, it’s become increasingly difficult to do. When your customers are unsatisfied, there’s always another product or service they can turn to.

Resolution: Get Personal

The key to keeping your lead generating pipeline flowing is not taking your customers for granted. Brands with the highest amount of customer loyalty – companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Zappos, focus on personalizing the customer experience to keep customers coming back. Curt Richardson of Inc.com outlined ways that top businesses gain customer loyalty. In addition to learning as much about your customer as possible, Richardson also attributes the relationship you create with a customer with brand loyalty.

“Today’s consumers want more than the product they are purchasing,” Richardson says. “They are looking for an experience.”

How are you improving your customer’s experience? From the dynamic, innovative campaign they experience as a prospect to the action you take after they first convert, it’s important to maintain a constant connection to your clients. A budget-friendly way to begin is with a welcome email. After a customer converts, send them an email welcoming them to your brand.

 

Brand Advocacy

The final stage of our lead generation pipeline is brand advocacy. We don’t want customers to stop at being loyal, we want them to love our brand so much, they can’t help but share us. Gaining that emotional connection with a client is crucial to obtaining brand advocates. So how do you move beyond loyalty to advocacy?

Potential Clog: Not Enough Brand Advocacy

Brand advocacy enables your product or service to sell itself. When a company or organization lacks customers willing to promote on its behalf, they’re forced to self promote. As we discussed during the conversion portion of the pipeline, this can actually turn customers off to your brand. Customers are generally attracted to companies that have a lot of word of mouth, positive social buzz, and unsolicited reviews.

Resolution: Find Advocates

Rob Fuggetta, author of “Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force”, calls this strategy advocate marketing. While the concept isn’t entirely new, (companies such as Fiskars have built up extremely successful brand advocacy strategies), many B2Bs haven’t tried it.

“Advocate marketing is gaining traction because it’s effective and inexpensive,” explains Fugetta. “Companies can reach millions of prospects with relevant recommendations for a fraction of the cost of paid media.”

Nurturing brand advocates begins with customer referrals. Invite your customers to recommend you to friends, family members, or co-workers, offering them a small incentive in exchange. By analyzing how many of your customers are willing to recommend your product, you can assess the strength of your current brand advocacy. You can also conduct influencer research to find potential brand advocates. Using OMA’s influencer research tools, you can browse influencers by topic, keyword, and groups of keywords.

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