Choose Your Funnel


That darn internet changed everything.  It not only changed WHERE people go to shop, but more importantly HOW people make purchase decisions.

According to the CEB, the average business to business customer has already gone through 60% of the purchase decision-making process prior to engaging a sales representative.  Gone are the days of an uninformed consumer.  With readily available information at the consumers’ fingertips, leads are actively qualifying vendors and comparing products before they’re on your radar. That’s why the role of marketing and your digital brand is increasingly becoming a more integral part of the sales process. As such, it’s vital for sales departments and the cool guys in marketing to not just co-exist, but to gain alignment in messaging, tactics, and process.

Choose your funnel

In order to gain alignment, sales and marketing must use the same terminology and agree on the customer buying journey. If your sales team is regularly complaining about getting bad leads or if they’re secretly creating their own “marketing material”, then most likely you don’t have a well-defined sales and marketing funnel.

The sales and marketing funnel describes a customer’s journey from initial contact to final sale and is different for each organization. At Port City we define our own funnel using the following lead stages: 1. Suspect, 2. Lead Nurture, 3. Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL), 4. Sales Accepted Lead (SAL), 5. Opportunity 6. Customer.  Some corporations add a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) stage before the SAL Stage.

Suspect:  For leads at this stage, most likely we have their name, email address, some demographics and not much else. For these folks, brand awareness is the objective.

Lead Nurture: Leads in this stage have shown some interest in our brand. Either they’ve visited our website, attended a seminar or webinar, or downloaded a white paper. In other words, they’re interested, but they’re not yet “sales ready”.

Marketing Qualified Lead: These are leads who have: 1. engaged heavily with our brand, 2. fit our target market demographic profile (i.e. someone who can benefit from and afford our services), and 3. are ready to make a purchase decision. These people fit our MQL profile and are considered “sales ready”.

Sales Accepted Lead: In midsized and large corporations, the SAL or SQL stage is where the formal handoff from sales to marketing happens. For high volume sales organizations, an inside sales rep will call the lead to further gauge interest and define specific needs. If there’s a fit, the lead will be passed onto a more senior sales executive (i.e. the closer). If there isn’t a fit, the lead gets kicked back to marketing or removed from the funnel. It’s also important at this stage for sales to document why leads aren’t a good fit. This allows marketing to refine the MQL profile.

Opportunity: At this stage our staff has qualified the lead for a specific sales opportunity and is actively working it.  We’ll pursue the opportunity until they become a customer. In some cases a lead automatically become an opportunity, for instance when we receive an RPF out of the blue. If the opportunity turns cold, we may remove them from our sales funnel or kick them back to the Lead Nurture stage.

Customer: If you’ve reached this stage congratulations, now comes the hard part. Ironically the final stage is just the beginning and the real work starts.

Message and Tactics

Defining your funnel not only creates common terminology, it also gives marketing direction on how to segment messaging and tactics to specific audiences.  For instance, we normally shut down drip campaign emails once a lead enters the Opportunity Stage of the funnel. You wouldn’t want an automated email to interfere with a sales rep’s efforts. In regards to messaging, distinct goals such as brand awareness, product differentiation, and relationship building are more appropriate for different parts of your funnel than others.

We hope that by explaining Port City’s funnel, we’ve inspired you to explore your own. How do you keep track of these leads? Well, as mentioned in our previous article, a robust CRM is a good start. If you need help with your funnel, don’t hesitate to call. We might just place you in our Lead Nurture program.