The sales funnel metaphor is somewhat misleading; in real life, the process never goes as smoothly as liquid down a funnel. In the last decade, digital marketing, artificial intelligence (AI), and CRM have drastically changed the process of converting new leads into customers. Given this, it’s increasingly important that business-to-business (B2B) sales and marketing teams are aligned in their views on a sales funnel strategy and lead generation as a whole.

Focus on the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). This is the crucial handoff point between marketing and sales, so it’s essential that the teams agree on the terminology. Every company’s definition of an MQL will vary, but it should reflect a combination of traits and actions that indicate a lead is both a good fit for your company and ready to talk to a salesperson. Here’s one way to examine your funnel to assess lead quality and determine whether a lead is ready for sales follow-up:
Review your initial lead response time. According to InsideSales.com, 35-50 percent of sales go to the vendor that responds first. Speed literally wins deals! The time it takes for your company to respond to leads once they hit their inbox may be the first source of a leak, so make sure to review this and make time in your day for prioritizing responding to leads.

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Data insights are again the key to funnel optimization. Three other data-driven technologies follow analytics and sales reporting as the most popular sales tools: account and contact management (65%), sales forecasting tools (56%), and customer relationship management (CRM) systems (58%). The latter is a particularly crucial tool for optimization, enabling your business to organize all customer-related data in a central location.
Lots of Interest, But Not a Good Fit: Leads in the lower right don’t necessarily fit your ideal customer profile, but are highly engaged with your brand. They might have subscribed to your blog and email newsletter, downloaded your ebooks, and attended your webinars. It’s worth having a sales rep do a low-cost follow-up with these fans to see if there’s an easy sale to make from a non-traditional customer. Sometimes leads that don’t seem like a fit have a good reason to buy your product. They can also turn into great evangelists for your products or services, thus providing you with indirect support as non-customers. That’s why you can’t automate the entire sales and marketing process. At some point, a good marketer or sales rep can spot an opportunity that your systems might overlook.

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If a sales opportunity does not move down the funnel, the sale will not happen and the opportunity should be removed, hence the “leaky” funnel. A leaky funnel is not necessarily bad; as a salesperson, you want to focus on opportunities that are likely to yield results. It is the nature of sales to have to remove an opportunity from your funnel. It does not mean that you will not sell to that account (a positive action by the customer can put them back into the funnel), but for the time being, you should centre your attention on opportunities that remain in the funnel.

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Create content and use tactics that help to keep them connected with your brand, even when they are not actively engaging with it. One of the most effective ways to boosts engagement is through Newsletters. This will keep them up-to-date about your latest products and discounts, major sales that they shouldn’t miss or any changes you make with regards to the terms & conditions of your service.

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John Lincoln (MBA) is CEO of Ignite Visibility (a 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 Inc. 5000 company) a highly sought-after digital marketing strategist, industry speaker and author of two books, "The Forecaster Method" and "Digital Influencer." Over the course of his career, Lincoln has worked with over 1,000 online businesses ranging from small startups to amazing clients such as Office Depot, Tony Robbins, Morgan Stanley, Fox, USA Today, COX and The Knot World Wide. John Lincoln is the editor of the Ignite Visibility blog. While he is a contributor, he does not write all of the articles and in many cases he is supported to ensure timely content.

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The first stage is to make people aware of your brand and products. Whether you are a design agency or running an eCommerce website, then you must use WordPress plugins. If a person doesn’t know about the existence of your brand, how will he become your client or make a purchase? In the initial phase, products or services don’t get much exposure. However, through efficient marketing tactics, your brand can trigger curiosity leading to sales.

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The definitions of MQL and SQL (SAL) should be spelled out, and agreed upon, in a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA outlines the terms of how sales and marketing will work together. The SLA should define what MQL and SQL look like, as well as state the time frame and process each team must follow. For example, an MQL has reached a score of 75 through a combination of content engagement and web engagement and fits the ideal customer profile. It must be accepted by sales or sent back to marketing within 24 hours of being assigned. The SLA should be drafted together by both marketing and sales leadership and signed off on by both parties.

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The execution of sales funnel stages depend on your efforts and resources. By improving brand visibility and making information related to your product/service readily available, you can build a strong database of customers and prospects. This can help you set and achieve future goals. More importantly, it is also essential to focus beyond the purchase stage, as it is relatively cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one.

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When people buy a product they are showing their trust in it. In return, your product needs to be worthy of the money they spent. Consider how your brand can stand out among others and what you can offer to leverage against competitors. Once a buyer makes an emotional-connect with the brand, he is more inclined towards making a purchase with confidence.

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Sales rep success and skills shortage. A good sales pipeline also provides insight into which of your salespeople closes the most sales, has the highest ticket values, and needs more help and training to hit their quota. With this information, you can provide them with the assistance they need to improve their performance and get their sales numbers on track. 

Transacted: A sale has transpired when a contract is signed by both parties. From a salesperson’s perspective, the fulfillment of the contract is the responsibility of other parts of the organization, and the salesperson can now focus on the next opportunity. In the case of early-stage start-ups, however, frequently the person that sells is also involved in fulfilling the contract. A signed contract can be booked as revenue from an accounting perspective.

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Sales and marketing teams need to adapt to these increasing demands. They have to work more closely together. While the marketing team still hands leads to the sales team at a point in the funnel, they have to stay involved to maximize customer retention and advocacy. The sales team needs to be involved early on, providing the benefits of their customer knowledge to help increase qualified leads and conversions.

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Hootsuite – Hootsuite is an alternative to Buffer.  It offers a few more bells and whistles, but doesn’t let you play for free (permanently, anyway). If you’re planning on using social media marketing as an integral part of your online efforts and you need the absolute best service possible, you should probably fork over the cash for Hootsuite. It helps to simplify the marketing stages and frees up your valuable time.
Intercom Acquire – Ever visit a website and notice a happy face in the lower, right-hand corner next to a message like: “I’m Sadie! Can I help you with anything?” That’s a marketing chat system run by a company like Intercom. When people hit your landing page, you can use Intercom’s Acquire service to answer any questions that might not be answered on your web page.

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In brief, we are inclined to go along with someone’s suggestion if we think that person is a credible expert (authority), if we regard him or her as a trusted friend (liking), if we feel we owe them one (reciprocity), or if doing so will be consistent with our beliefs or prior commitments (consistency). We are also inclined to make choices that we think are popular (consensus [social proof]), and that will net us a scarce commodity (scarcity).


John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, one of the top digital marketing agencies in the nation and a 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 Inc. 5000 company. Lincoln is consistently named one of the top marketing experts in the industry. He has been recipient of the Search Engine Land "Search Marketer of the Year" award, named the #1 SEO consultant in the USA by Clutch.co, most admired CEO and 40 under 40. Lincoln has written two books (The Forecaster Method and Digital Influencer) and made two movies (SEO: The Movie and Social Media Marketing: The Movie) on digital marketing. He is a digital marketing strategy adviser to some of the biggest names in business. John Lincoln is the editor of the Ignite Visibility blog. While he is a major contributor, he does not write all of the articles.

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Transacted: A sale has transpired when a contract is signed by both parties. From a salesperson’s perspective, the fulfillment of the contract is the responsibility of other parts of the organization, and the salesperson can now focus on the next opportunity. In the case of early-stage start-ups, however, frequently the person that sells is also involved in fulfilling the contract. A signed contract can be booked as revenue from an accounting perspective.
In brief, we are inclined to go along with someone’s suggestion if we think that person is a credible expert (authority), if we regard him or her as a trusted friend (liking), if we feel we owe them one (reciprocity), or if doing so will be consistent with our beliefs or prior commitments (consistency). We are also inclined to make choices that we think are popular (consensus [social proof]), and that will net us a scarce commodity (scarcity). 

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Instapage – Instapage allows you to create landing pages at lightning-fast speeds with their large library of customizable templates. This tool also allows you to create fast-loading AMP landing pages which reduces bounce rates and increases conversions. The platform also provides post-click optimization for campaigns that send out a personalized thank you page and email. This is a useful sales funnel step for later on in the process.

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Qualified prospect: Qualification is the most critical and demanding stage of the sales funnel. In the qualification process, you verify that the prospect has a need for your product, that the prospect sees value in your offering, that there is sufficient budget for a deal, that you have access to the decision-maker, and that there is an agreed-upon timeline for the sales process. The qualification process can be complex and lengthy, and can be managed with a Sales Call Talk Track and stakeholder management chart.

To overcome this, companies can develop and analyze their sales pipeline. When leaders track the volume of leads coming into their funnel, the number that are qualified buyers, the percentage that make it to the proposal stage, and more, they gather valuable insights into where there are areas for improvement in their sales process. This can help them strategically grow their overall sales. In fact, managers can use their pipeline to develop a more disciplined and structured approach to sales, making it easier to determine larger business needs (such as hiring) and goals (such as revenue and cash flow). 

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