Plugging The Leaks – Addressing The Early Stages of the Funnel

Our good friend Ardath Albee and I have recently had a series of conversations about the standard funnel that is used by many organizations.  (If you don’t know Ardath I highly recommend you follow her: @ardath421.) This post is a result of those discussions.

The standard sales funnel for most organizations is linear with several stages:

  • Inquiry
  • MQL
  • SAL
  •  SQL
  • Closed

These defined stages which have been brought into the mainstream by Sirius Decisions are great for tracking and ROI measurement.  However, to effectively make sure leads do not “leak out” of the funnel, a further look beyond these definitions must occur.  Let me explain.

According to MarketingSherpa, 70% of first time responders are not in “ready-to-buy” mode.  So that makes them an “Inquiry” according to the funnel definitions, right?  But what if they download another offer, yet still are not ready to buy?  They’re not really still an “Inquiry”? But they’re not yet an MQL? Depending on how your lead qualification process is developed, this contact (assuming it is) is somewhere between an inquiry and MQL which begs the question, just what is it?   What do you call the leads that are in this “funnel purgatory”?  And more importantly, what do you do with them?

Many companies, even those with a strict MQL definition, run the risk of losing these types of leads at the top of the funnel because they have not done two basic things:

  1. Defined the purgatory stage between Inquiry and MQL
  2. Developed the proper nurture strategy to move an Inquiry through to MQL and beyond

Defining the Unknown

Making sure that you have advanced definitions for the “purgatory” stage is one of the key steps your organization can take to keep your funnel from becoming filled with holes.  Here’s how we built this out for one of our clients:

Response:  A contact who takes any marketing action (inbound or response to outbound) and provides contact details

Valid Response:  An inquiry that has been validated as having accurate contact data, within our target demographic and does not have a personal email (Yahoo, Hotmail, Google, etc.)

Nurtured Response:  A valid response that is not yet ready to buy based on behavioral actions and qualification score – will be nurtured until such time their behavior indicates MQL status. It is also important to note that some valid responses may be delivered right to sales and bypass this nurture stage.  Why?  They have indicated an immediate need and should be routed right to sales.

MQL:  A valid and/or nurtured response that has a qualification score, or that has taken an action that indicates qualifying interest and is ready to be routed to sales for acceptance. 

You can see here that in this model, there are two stages – Valid Response and Nurtured Response – that come before the MQL stage.  For our client, having these definitions as part of their Lead Management FrameworkSM ensured that these potential prospects were not ignored and wasted in the organization’s system

Engage in Nurturing

As important as the defining these stages is, it’s not enough.  An organization must deploy a nurture engagement strategy that occurs before a lead becomes an MQL. Doing so will ensure these potential buyers move through the funnel.  If you look at the graphic below, you can see that nurturing takes place in stages prior to the MQL stage.  In some instances, Valid Responses may stay in this stage for quite awhile. The key here is to make sure that through the nurturing process, engagement with the Valid Response buyer occurs. Otherwise, they will leak out of the funnel.

How an organization defines and nurtures the contacts that sit in Lead Purgatory i.e. pre-MQL stage, can make huge differences in your marketing return on investment.  Be sure to include this stage in your lead taxonomy, then develop engaging nurture campaigns that include the right content for this stage. The results will be significant.