Email nurture campaigns are an effective way to engage leads. Learn sales experts' 14 best practices for successful email nurture campaigns.
A sales funnel is a visual representation of your business’s customer journey from cold lead to customer. It’s usually broken into six stages — awareness, interest, evaluation, decision, sale, and renewal or repurchase — but businesses might call them different names (e.g., discovery for evaluation). Dividing it into stages gives you insight into a lead’s state of mind and behavior, which helps you pick content and sales techniques that will best move them into the next stage.
In the awareness stage, your potential customer is aware of your brand, product, or service. Perhaps they saw your company name in a social media post or heard a friend reference it in conversation. At this point, it’s unlikely they’re considering buying anything from your business. They know too little about your brand and the problems it solves. Therefore, to get them into the next stage (interest), use marketing strategies that educate them about your business’s value.
Because this potential buyer isn’t in the buying mindset, avoid making direct offers at this stage and instead focus on showing them free and educational content that opens their eyes to problems they have and the possible ways to solve them. Give your target audience members advice and ideas about how to succeed in their profession or area of interest. Consider using online lead generation to move them through the awareness stage.
Here are some strategies for moving leads from the awareness stage to the interest stage:
Once you’ve built their awareness to a sufficient point, some leads will drop out, deciding this isn’t for them, and quality leads will stick around and engage with your brand. It’s crucial to define an action that leads must take to transition into the interest stage. For most businesses, a lead moves into the interest phase once they’ve given their contact information, often in an online form in return for a lead magnet such as a newsletter subscription or an ebook.
Imagine that Joe is a potential lead for your business who finds your brand by googling “how to save money on small business taxes” and clicking on your blog post. He reads it and is happy with the five strategies your brand recommends, so he decides to keep exploring your blog. At the bottom of your website’s blog page, he sees an option to sign up for your newsletter:
Intrigued, he submits his contract information to reserve his spot. Over the next few weeks, he reviews some of your other blog posts concerning small business finance, watches a few of your YouTube videos, and starts to realize that his problems don’t end with taxes. He has an invoicing system that’s outdated and inefficient. He resolves to find some ways to fix this and signs up for a webinar with your brand that goes over how invoicing is changing.
Now that you understand the awareness stage, let’s go over the interest stage, what leads are doing and thinking in it, and how to nurture leads through it.
Leads in the interest stage are now interested in your brand, and perhaps even a specific product or service. They consider your business a useful source of guidance in some area of interest, and they’re possibly consuming your brand’s blog content and subscribing to its social media pages. In this stage, they also know the problem they want to solve and have some ideas for how to do it. Marketing strategies that highlight your offerings are effective in this stage.
At this point, your primary goal is to provide leads with content that educates them about a specific product or service relating to their needs. Make them so interested in the solution that they want to start researching it in-depth. A secondary goal is to boost your credibility as an expert in this space so that they trust you. The strategies here become more personalized and targeted than in the awareness stage since you know more about their interests and needs.
Here are some strategies to build interest and move leads into the evaluation stage:
The transition from interest to evaluation stage usually occurs once a lead has suggested through their actions some serious consideration of an offering. This could happen when a lead asks a chatbot about a specific tool, signs up for a free trial, or responds positively to a cold email from a sales rep.
Continuing with the example from before, imagine that Joe has been consuming your content and enjoying your newsletter for a few weeks now, when he sees an email about your invoicing software and clicks on a link to learn more. He watches a video introducing the software and, intrigued, browses its product page. From first impressions, it seems like a cool solution, but he’s a bit confused about which pricing tier is right for him, so he asks a chatbot.
Satisfied with the chatbot’s guidance, but still curious for more tailored information, Joe asks the chatbot to connect him with a sales representative, via live chat software. They message for a few minutes and both decide that it’d be valuable to schedule a consultation call where the rep can learn more about Joe’s current invoicing processes and struggles. He’s excited to keep exploring this tool because it seems like it’ll save him a lot of time and mental energy.
After leaving the interest stage, leads enter the evaluation stage and start to deeply explore a specific product or service that they think will solve their problem.
Leads in this stage are researching one or multiple of your business’s offerings in order to find the one that best fits their needs and budget. They’re doing things like reviewing product pages, checking prices, and watching customer testimonial videos. They might have questions and decide to reach out to one of your sales reps for guidance. In B2B sales, this stage is often the stage where sales team members become major characters in the customer’s journey.
Your goal is to use sales and marketing that facilitate the lead’s research process. Often, this involves sales reps initiating conversations with leads. Your strategies should be focused on making it easy for these potential buyers to learn about your products and services. Give them the information they need to feel comfortable buying your solution.
Below are some great strategies for pushing leads into the decision stage.
Often, a company will move a lead from the evaluation stage into the decision stage when they take an action that indicates they’re considering a specific product tier or service package. This might be asking a sales rep for a pricing breakdown, asking them to draft a business proposal, or agreeing to a sales rep’s request for a formal sales presentation with the decision-makers.
Your business’s lead, Joe, participates in a consultation call with your sales rep and concludes, based on the rep’s recommendations, that the Silver Tier package is his best option. Several days later, he attends a live demo with a sales rep to see how the software works. Although he’s pleased with its functionality, he’s still hesitant about the ROI, so the sales rep sends him a video case study about a customer that runs a small business in the same industry as Joe:
The lead enjoys the case study and reads more of them. Then, confident in the tool’s ability to save him money, he reaches out to the sales rep and asks for a sales proposal outlining the product, pricing, terms, and more. He’s now entered the decision stage of the sales funnel.
Next, leads move into the decision stage and start to consider purchasing a solution. Read on to learn about this stage and its qualities.
In the decision stage, prospects have collected enough information about a product or service to feel almost certain that it’s right for them. It’s likely they’ve asked you to send a proposal or a contract. However, they may still have some hesitations or concerns about moving forward with a purchase. They might worry about such things as whether the ROI justifies the price. Further, they could also be considering competing companies they explored during the evaluation stage.
This stage is where salespeople have to overcome objections, negotiate the deal, and convince prospects that their product or service is the prospect’s best option. Your goal is to get them to buy your solution and sign the contract. Strategies in this stage often revolve around face-to-face interactions where you talk over their concerns and provide reassurance of your value to them.
Here are some great strategies for encouraging prospects in this stage to make a purchase:
The transfer from the decision stage to the sale stage of the sales funnel is simple to pinpoint and pretty much the same for every business. It occurs when a prospect makes a purchase from your business, either by signing a sales contract or submitting their first payment. It’s when you successfully close the deal.
A few days after asking for a business proposal, Joe receives a business proposal outlining the scope of work, software implementation timeline, pricing, training sessions, and other details about the product he’s considering purchasing. It also goes in-depth about how the solution will solve his specific issues.
He reads it closely, finding most of it exciting and reasonable. A few days later he attends a proposal review meeting with the sales rep, who first explains the proposal’s major points, and then opens the floor for discussion. They decide to go forward with the sale, and the seller sends Joe a contract outlining the legal terms of the agreement, which he signs.
After agreeing to buy the solution, your prospects will become customers and enter the sale stage, where they’ll receive your product or service.
In the sale stage, the prospect has purchased your product or service and is now expecting your business to fulfill its obligations and meet their expectations. They also want a smooth transition into the partnership, which might mean product training and introductions to a customer success representative. In addition to enjoying its benefits, customers might also be running into problems with your solution and asking for assistance at this stage.
After the sale is made, your goal is to delight your customer and give them that satisfying feeling that they made the right decision in choosing you. Deliver the product or render the service, and provide support throughout the buyer’s transition period from prospect to customer. Also, give them any training or information, like passwords, they need to start using your solution. Also, any content you send them should focus on helping them use your solution.
Below are some strategies to use in the sale stage of the sales funnel:
Businesses often use time-based rules to determine when a customer enters the renewal stage. A subscription-based business might move customers into renewal two months before their contract expires. Other businesses might enter them into the renewal stage immediately after the product is delivered or the one-time service is rendered. As a rule, move leads to the next stage when you believe it’s appropriate to start talking about a future together.
Joe meets his charming and helpful customer success rep and sets up the tool so that he can start using it. He spends the first few months just using the basic functions, and doesn’t have much trouble. It’s all sunshine and rainbows. But, when he tries to set up an automation, he runs into some difficulties and heads to the company’s online knowledge base to get some answers. After doing a search, he finds a helpful step-by-step guide walking him through how to do it:
After reading the guide, and following its instructions, Joe solves his problem, and is delighted by how easy it was to find an answer. Over the course of the next nine months, Joe uses the platform frequently and is satisfied with not only the tool’s performance but also the competence and swiftness with which the support team answers his questions. His contract term is ending in two months, and he’s now in the renewal stage of the funnel.
After the sale stage comes the final stage, renewal or repurchase, where your customers will hopefully remain indefinitely, buying more and more from your business as the years pass.
Customers in this stage are in the period of the relationship where they have to decide whether or not to keep using your product or service. For example, this could occur when a contract comes up for renewal, or when a product’s life cycle ends and the customer needs to replace it. At this point, the customer is reviewing their relationship with your brand, asking questions like “Was I happy?,” “Did they meet my needs?,” and “Would I be happier with someone else?”
It’s your job at this stage to remind the customer about all the great things you’ve achieved for them, manage any new rounds of contract negotiations, and provide them with any information they need to make their decision. Many of the strategies involve proving to the customer that you were of tremendous value to them and that continuing the relationship is in their best interest. Also, you might want to use this time to mention new offers they’d like as well.
Customers stay in this stage forever unless you lose them as customers, either by failing to get them to sign a renewal or by going a defined time period without selling them anything new. You define what a lost customer is. When you do lose a customer, it’s important to re-engage them with targeted emails, phone calls, and other strategies that remind them of your value and update them on new products and offers that you think they’d find exciting.
Two months before his contract expires Joe receives an email from his customer support staff that includes a report detailing his product usage statistics as well as efficiency increases. Joe’s happy to see the progress he’s made and ascribes a lot of it to the software. A month later, he receives an email reminding him to renew his contract, attached to which is a contract extension agreement form for him to sign:
Joe reviews it and happily signs it because he’s loved his service with the company. For five years he’s a happy customer, until his business fails because the economy tanks. Persistent, Joe starts building a new company, and one of the first things he does is call the invoicing software company to initiate a new contract, this time with the Gold tier package. He’s a frequent listener to their podcast and raves about their brand to all his friends.
Breaking a sales funnel into six stages, each with their own requirements for entry, helps you use the appropriate sales and marketing techniques for the customer’s current position in the lead nurturing journey. To learn more about this topic, check out our ultimate guide on sales funnels, where we show you how to create one that fits your sales process.