• Prospect Segmentation is Key to High-Response Full-Funnel Marketing

    In the standard vision of a sales funnel, the top of the funnel represents a large number of potential prospects, and the bottom represents a smaller number of contacts who are closest to a purchase decision.

    Prospects transition from the top of the funnel to the bottom as they are qualified, express interest, engage with the sales team, indicate intent to buy, and finally, purchase.

    Each step in the sales process acts as a filter, so prospects at the top of the sales funnel convert to actual sales at a lower rate than prospects further down the pipeline. As a result, marketing activities aimed at the top of the funnel tend to generate a larger number of responses, while activities targeted further down the sales cycle tend to result in revenue more quickly.

    High Response vs. High Qualification

    If a company bases their evaluation of a marketing department on the number of leads generated, marketers tend to focus on high response activities. Conversely, sales-led companies can put an inordinate focus on leads that are ready to convert, leading to a great deal of one-time, product-focused marketing. Neither of these strategies on their own will lead to a great deal of long-term value. By ignoring marketing at the top of the funnel, companies potentially lose competitive opportunities before the customer has even made the decision to buy.

    If you lose the opportunity to form a relationship with your prospect base before the need for a product has been established, you take the risk that your prospect has formed a relationship with another vendor before they even enter the sales funnel.  SiriusDecisions, one of the sales and marketing industry’s leading research firms, concurs, reporting that “the battle between competitors is being won and lost at the top of the funnel.”

    Marketing to the top of the pipeline is also an opportunity to add value in an area where sales cannot typically be as effective: reach. Marketing resources are better able than sales to reach a wider potential audience, moving those contacts through the pipeline until they are at a stage where it makes sense to dedicate sales resources to them.

    To truly add value to an organization, both short and long-term, marketing teams must generate leads at the top and the bottom of the sales cycle, and nurture leads as they move through the funnel. With this in mind, marketers then need to segment contacts according to their stage in the sales funnel, pass leads to sales at the appropriate time, and tailor messages to contact demographics.

    Segmentation: The Key to Full Funnel Marketing

    Before you identify the contacts you want to target, you need to first identify potential accounts. An easy way to think about your marketing targets is in three major categories: new prospects, existing customers, and lapsed customers. For existing customers and lapsed customers, developing these segment lists is fairly easy – you should already have them in your CRM system. For new prospects, you’ll need a little more information to develop a list of targets.

    For most companies, there is a finite range of accounts that will purchase your product or service. Contacts outside of this profile will never enter the sales funnel, and as a result, will always be a waste of marketing resources. So, the first step in developing any marketing plan is establishing a profile of your target account. This can be as broad or as narrow as your product requires. It may include demographic information such as industry, company size, geographic region, number of employees or annual revenue, or even more specific information such as type of software or hardware installed. Ideally, you can then work with a data partner to convert this list of demographics into a list of actual account names and domains.

    New prospects are the bread and butter of the marketing department – the opportunity to add value by introducing new potential accounts to sales.

    Marketing to buyer contacts at new prospects comes with challenges. One of the primary challenges is trying to understand where these contacts are in the sales cycle. Contacts that are too high in the sales funnel, if passed to sales prematurely, may seem unqualified, even if they may eventually turn into active buyers (especially because they’ve been pre-qualified by account and contact demographics). For these contacts, use the marketing campaigns themselves to qualify the contacts as ready for sales outreach.

    Executive/influencers at prospect accounts play a similar role to executives/influencers at customer accounts: they are involved in and need to approve the purchase decision. At prospect accounts, the goal is to get executive/influencers to make positive associations with your brand before the purchase decision is on the table. Again, a response, and sales follow-up, should not be the primary goal.

    Finally, prospect end users can actually drive a purchase decision from within. Free product trials, free limited function, or free complimentary end user products can actually establish your product or service as the incumbent at a prospect account, before any revenue has passed hands. Even a preference for, or a perceived understanding of, a product or service by end users can help drive a decision to purchase. In general, prospect end users, like customer end users, are best suited for a marketing engagement only, as opposed to direct sales follow-up.

    Conclusion

    Carefully targeting both traditional and non-buying contacts at mid-funnel accounts, in addition to prospect marketing activities, can help you both build a pipeline for the future and realize revenue now.

    Marketers can create effective short and long-term revenue strategies by understanding and mapping to changes in sales strategies. The top of the sales funnel represents a large number of less qualified prospects, and the bottom of the funnel represents a smaller number of customers who are closest to a purchase decision. As a result, sales and marketing activities aimed at the top of the funnel tend to generate a larger number of deals over a longer period of time, while activities aimed at converting prospects further along in the sales cycle tend to result in revenue more quickly.

    Read the complete Aprimo-sponsored White Paper, “Marketing to the Sales Funnel”

    Brian Hession was named “Most Successful Direct Marketer under 30” by the New England Direct Marketing Association (NEDMA) and an Expert Consultant by MarketingSherpa.  He is President of Oceanos, a List IntelligenceTM company.

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