Read our article to learn how to write a sales email from start to finish that gets opens, reads, and positive replies from your potential buyers.
A lead generation funnel maps the journey of a lead from brand awareness to action and represents the systematic approach salespeople and marketers take to generate quality prospects. Lead generation funnels are therefore broken down into stages that mirror your unique lead generation process, with more qualified leads moving further down the funnel to the bottom. Leads who make it through your lead gen funnel are marked as prospects for further nurturing.
Lead generation funnels are typically used to map a lead's online journey but can also be used for manual outreach. Effective lead generation funnels are usually broken down into three broad stages: top-, middle-, and bottom-of-funnel. At each stage, you identify a specific action leads must take to advance to the next stage toward qualification. For this reason, lead generation funnels are considered "leaky," with only a small percentage making it from top to bottom.
From a high level, these are the three stages of a lead generation funnel:
Breaking up the funnel into these broad stages is crucial for many reasons. One, it helps you map the lead's journey and identify the desired actions you want them to take as well as the touchpoints required to move them down the funnel. Two, you can track the number of leads in your pipeline who are likely to convert to a prospect, and three, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your lead generation process by tracking the conversion rate of each funnel stage.
There are two main types of lead generation funnels you can create and optimize — online and outbound. An online lead generation journey might look like this: blog post > lead magnet in the post > landing page > email opt-in form > thank-you page > email nurturing. A sales prospecting journey could look more like this: email one > email two > response > discovery call for qualification.
To create your own lead generation funnel, first map the systematic stages necessary to move a lead from awareness to action. Then, identify the actions the lead must take at each step to move down the funnel as well as the touchpoints necessary to spur them into action. With this in mind, let's take a look at the common lead generation funnel stages to help you get started.
As we mentioned above, there are three main lead generation funnel phases — top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, and bottom-of-funnel — each of which contain specific stages. There are typically five of these more granular stages that map the buyer’s journey through your lead generation process: awareness, interest, desire, action, and qualification. Let’s go over how leads move through the five sub-stages:
When a lead is qualified, they've left your lead gen funnel, and next steps depend on your sales process. If you sell products or services that don’t need contact with a sales rep, marketing might nurture them via an automated email sequence. If you sell a B2B product or big-ticket consumer item, a salesperson might schedule a meeting. Or, to invest your time wisely, you might further qualify the lead before spending time selling them.
When creating your funnel, the steps you take will directly follow the five stages above. First, you'll decide how to create awareness of your brand, then you'll set up a system to inspire interest and desire. Next, you'll plan how to entice your leads to take action, as well as how to qualify them when they do. Once your funnel is set up, you'll put it to work and start driving traffic to it.
The steps to build your funnel will differ slightly depending on whether you use online (inbound) lead generation or outbound lead generation (sales prospecting), so let's walk through how to create both types of funnels.
An online lead generation funnel maps a lead's online journey from awareness to conversion. Typically, awareness is generated through the creation and distribution of free content via social media platforms or search engines. Once interest and trust are built, leads are offered a valuable lead magnet in return for their contact details. From there, marketers typically qualify the lead as a marketing qualified lead (MQL) before passing them to the sales team for further qualification.
To create your own online lead generation funnel, first map the stages of your lead's journey from awareness to interest to action. Then, identify the activities each lead must take to advance to the next stage, including the touchpoints required by your team or brand. From there, devise a lead scoring framework to automatically mark qualified leads as prospects for further nurturing.
Follow the below steps to create your lead generation funnel:
Let’s now go over each step more in depth to help you build a lead funnel that brings you more qualified leads almost automatically.
Your lead journey is the steps a person takes to become a lead. To lay it out, examine your current system and note every touchpoint a typical lead currently has with your brand as they progress to conversion. This enables you to audit the current journey and ensure that all marketing collateral people see is poised to enhance their experience and facilitate conversion.
You can map this journey in two main ways:
When you understand your current lead journey, think about ways to enhance it. Decide how you want each lead to think and feel at each stage in the funnel, and how you can evoke those feelings. For instance, you can edit your landing page to highlight more benefits of your offer, or you can include another article recommendation on your thank-you page. This brainstorming will come in handy during the rest of these steps.
Think about what you want from each lead so you can craft your funnel accordingly. If your goal is to collect email addresses, you might put an opt-in form at the top of your home page that trades their email for your newsletter. If your goal is to gather more information, create a more valuable lead magnet and an opt-in form with more fields. Generally, the more information you want the lead to submit, the more valuable your lead magnet must be.
In online marketing, a successful funnel is typically one that collects email addresses from high-quality leads. That’s because once you have their email address, you have the means to reach out to them directly and ask for a meeting or a purchase, or to continue nurturing them through an automated email sequence.
Now it’s time to create free content or ads that make your ideal customers aware of your brand and act as a gateway to the lead magnet you’ll create in step four. This content should be educational, helpful, and/or inspiring, and it must resonate with your target audience — if these leads like your content, they’ll continue returning to it, which will increase the chances that they’ll click on your lead magnet.
Here are some examples of free content you can offer:
Paid content, such as social media or pay-per-click (PPC) ads, can also be effective, as it can boost your brand's visibility and build awareness quickly. Regardless of the type of content you choose to create, the more you produce, the higher chance you have of reaching your audience. So start creating and sharing your free or paid content wherever it makes sense for your business. Then, you can start planning out a lead magnet, or content upgrade, to promote within it.
A lead magnet is a free asset that you tease within your content. To receive the lead magnet, your audience must provide their contact information. The lead magnet could be an ebook, guide, discount offer, free demo, or similar item. We talk about about how to create one in our article on how to make irresistible lead magnets.
Offer this lead magnet in places that will get a lot of traffic from middle-of-funnel leads — those building interest and desire in your brand and offering. For example, a blog post might embed a link to your lead magnet. Your social media account might plug your lead magnet in a quarter of your posts. At the end of a YouTube video, you might tease the lead magnet and then tell people to click the link under the video to access it.
Here’s an example of a lead magnet and how to present it well and make it enticing:
After a lead clicks on a lead magnet, they should be swept away to an impressive landing page you create with a landing page builder. The page will usually advertise your lead magnet further, giving the benefits the lead will receive from downloading it, thereby building desire in the lead magnet and your brand. It will also state what they must do to get it — usually to fill out an opt-in form hosted on the page.
Here’s an example of a landing page where visitors can download a lead magnet:
An opt-in form is a form on your landing page that users must fill out and submit to access the gated lead magnet. In the form, include different fields like name, email address, phone number, job title, and/or any other information that will help you qualify the lead’s fit and conduct and personalize your sales messaging later on.
You want the opt-in form to be an easy and quick experience for the visitor, so designing a clean form layout and limiting the number of fields to only necessary ones is crucial. Typically, your landing page builder will assist you in creating a customized form, but you can also use separate lead capture software.
Here’s an example of an opt-in form that pops up from the landing page in the previous step:
To ensure your new leads stay infatuated with your brand while you qualify them, build a thank-you page that they’ll land on after filling out the opt-in form. This will make them feel appreciated and will tell them how to get the lead magnet. When you’ve successfully encouraged a person to give you their contact information, they’re officially in the bottom stage of the lead generation funnel, but you must show your appreciation and prevent them from slipping out.
An effective thank-you page will have the following:
While your thank-you page is used to make a good impression, also use it as an opportunity to motivate the lead to continue engaging with your content, or to spread it. Include invitations to follow your social accounts, social share buttons, or refer-a-friend bonuses. GetResponse wrote an article about 15 thank-you page ideas to help you use your page wisely.
Before you begin investing marketing dollars or sales time into nurturing these leads, you must qualify them to MQL status. This is usually done through lead scoring, email engagement, or both.
Quantitative lead scoring takes into account a lead’s demographics and behavior to give them a score. Only leads with scores above a determined threshold (typically 80/100) are considered MQLs. Read our article on lead scoring to learn how to create one of these systems.
You can also send an email sequence to the lead until they show interest. Create an autoresponder that arrives in their inbox right after they submit their information. Draft a welcome series that sends them 4–7 emails over 1–3 weeks. After the series, start sending them the emails the rest of your list receives, like your newsletter. In all emails, include CTAs with instructions that can qualify the leads who follow them (e.g., click a link, book a call).
For more on qualifying leads as MQLs, read our article on lead qualification. There, you'll learn the stages of qualification, how to qualify leads the right way, and top tips to keep in mind.
Now that you've set up your funnel, it's time to help people see your content so they can become aware of your brand and enter into the funnel. There are three main ways to drive people on the web to your content:
It’s best to use a diversified approach to drive traffic to your content. That way, you’re reaching people with different web preferences. One potential buyer might love social media, while another only uses Google. Of course, reference the map of your lead journey to see where your highest quality leads are coming from. Which traffic source brings in the most customers? Invest the most into that type of traffic.
To make an outbound lead generation funnel, you'll map the interactions your leads have with your brand from initial outreach to qualification as a sales qualified lead (SQL), which typically occurs over a call. This type of funnel is only important to those with an outbound lead generation process — usually B2B or high-price B2C products and services.
To build this funnel, decide on your touchpoints to create awareness and get leads interested in your brand. Then, determine how leads will advance to the next stage and how you'll inspire them to take that action. When they do, have a plan in place to qualify them for further nurturing.
Specifically, these are the steps to follow when creating your oubound lead gen funnel:
Let's look at each step in more detail, from awareness to qualification.
The leads in the top stage of your outbound funnel will be those already on your prospecting list. The best way to ensure these people convert is to make them aware of your brand before reaching out directly. You’ll typically already have found their email addresses and phone numbers, either from buying the data from a lead database or from doing manual research.
Here are three ways to increase leads' awareness of your brand:
After a lead is sufficiently warmed up, shoot your shot with direct outreach. When you introduce yourself and state your company name, they’ll feel comfortable having heard of it, and therefore will be more open to listening to or reading what you have to say in your sales message.
Make the person interested in your product or service by reaching out to them directly. This first touch should focus on mentioning specific problems or frustrations they might be dealing with, and informing them you have a solution to it.
Here are a few ways to directly reach out:
A specific example of this type of initial outreach might be an email introducing yourself, mentioning three pain points, stating one line about your product, and ending with a CTA for a reply by asking “Are you interested in learning more?”
Building interest and desire may take a few cold outreaches before you get a positive response. So create a cadence of emails and calls that accounts for this. When the lead finally replies positively, it’s time to get them to take action.
After they’ve expressed interest, call the lead to action by requesting a longer conversation. Explain what you hope to accomplish on the call: to learn more about their needs and assess fit.
After they’ve agreed to a time, send them a calendar invite with a message briefing them on what will occur in the meeting or on the call, and consider including any materials you'd like them to review beforehand if they have time. You could also upgrade the CTA by including a way for them to auto-schedule time with you for a short call via Calendly.
Now it’s time to ask this lead some questions to assess their level of fit with your product or service. Typically, sellers use a lead qualification framework, like BANT, where they ask questions to uncover details about a lead’s budget, authority, needs, and expected timeline. The lead’s answers are then weighed against those of typical customers. If they match, the lead is converted to an SQL, and they enter into a sales pipeline for further nurturing.
To learn more, read our article on how to conduct a discovery call that effectively qualifies leads, where we give you concrete steps to follow.
Once you've built your lead generation funnel, be sure to optimize it early and often by testing your funnel and conversions, optimizing your content, and relying on software. Doing so will increase the chances that the hard work you've put into the funnel pays off and results in high-quality leads that are fans of your brand and interested in your product or service. Here are a few specific ways to optimize your funnel:
When creating and optimizing your lead generation funnel, use software such as a CRM, landing page builder, and/or lead generation funnel software whenever possible rather than doing it all manually. They can help you build the most effective funnel possible and continue monitoring it for potential improvements. Next, we'll look at a few lead generation funnel software options that you can choose from.
One of the best ways to build an effective lead generation funnel is to use quality software. The top lead generation funnel tools are all-in-one marketing platforms that help you build landing and thank-you pages, web forms, email drip campaigns, and other key components of a successful lead generation funnel. Some funnel software offer features specific to niche industries, such as abandoned cart management for ecommerce companies.
These are some of the best lead generation funnel software available:
To choose the right lead generation funnel software for your business, first plan out your funnel using the steps we've laid out in this article. Then, ensure the software you're considering offers features to help you build and execute each part of the funnel. If you're comfortable with the price, features, and reviews you find online, try out the software, and you'll find that it'll make building your funnel much quicker and easier.
A lead generation funnel maps the adventure a person takes with your brand on their way to becoming a qualified lead. It outlines where they come from, what content they see and interact with, and how they finally become qualified. A strong lead funnel will supply your salespeople with healthier pipelines filled to the brim with high-quality leads who trust and admire your brand.