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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Your company might target financial services companies with 5,000 or more employees, or small service businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Or, you may be only interested in manufacturing companies of a certain size. Within those categories, you also might identify individual lead profiles, such as title or job description and role in the decision-making process -- e.g., economic buyer, end user, influencer. How closely a lead aligns with your ideal customer profile will determine whether and when you hand it over to the sales team.

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For some businesses, sales come naturally. Leads can arrive from various marketing campaigns or existing client referrals. Through a number of conversations, those prospects may later convert into paying customers. Among many small and midsize organizations, though, the sales process can be haphazard and unstructured. As a result, sales can be unpredictable.

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First, a common language needs to be set up to ensure marketing knows when a lead should be moved from marketing’s control, and placed in the sales funnel. There are two terms, "marketing-qualified lead" (MQL) and "sales-qualified lead" (SQL) or “sales-accepted-lead,” which all sales funnels must embrace to keep both teams aligned. When marketing has a lead ready to talk to sales, the lead should be marked as an MQL, meaning marketing has gotten it to the point where they believe sales should take over. If sales agree the lead is sales-ready, they accept the lead and move it from MQL to SQL (or SAL), and the handoff is complete. If not, the lead goes back to marketing.

Your company might target financial services companies with 5,000 or more employees, or small service businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Or, you may be only interested in manufacturing companies of a certain size. Within those categories, you also might identify individual lead profiles, such as title or job description and role in the decision-making process -- e.g., economic buyer, end user, influencer. How closely a lead aligns with your ideal customer profile will determine whether and when you hand it over to the sales team.

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Getting this timing right prevents losing prospects by bombarding them with too much information or giving them the hard sell too early. This is why moving prospects through the funnel is often called “nurturing.” Seventy-eight percent of business buyers seek salespeople who act as trusted advisors with knowledge of their needs and industry. Prospects should ideally only receive the information and sales help they need when they need it.

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.

how to create a sales funnel

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