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How's Your Funnel?


Everybody talks about the pipeline. Progressing deals along the continuum from lead to close, including the sacred forecast, it is the focal point of many CRM programs. No question that it is a big deal, with billions of commission payments at stake. OK fine, I’m on board.

But, what about the funnel? Maybe, this term is not in your normal lexicon. In addition to the concept of the opportunity pipeline, some organizations like to also think about having a funnel of leads that help to fill that pipeline. Probably the word hopper would be a better term here, but the funnel seems to be the accepted metaphor.

I tend to think of the funnel as the marketing portion of lead management and the pipeline as the sales portion of lead management. The pipeline gets a lot of attention, but the funnel is what feeds the pipeline, and a big cause of why the pipeline may not be full. Most companies have some sort of funnel – a way to pull in leads that are eventually handed off to the sales organization. Unfortunately, there are too many elements of the lead funnel that get neglected. Let’s look at some examples.

Probably the biggest problem in the funnel is the tendency for pushing leads through too fast. You get someone to stop by your booth at a trade show and they indicate an interest. That is a lead that you can choose to send along to the field force, or you can make sure it is ready. Based on my research of the research (and personal experience with my clients), 80% of leads are sent to the field before they are ready – which means they are wasted and lost.

This problem is due mostly to the fact that most marketing organizations don’t have an agreement with the sales organization as to what constitutes a lead that sales has found to be acceptable. Leads that they can purse as opportunities are to be considered ready. Leads that don’t cross that threshold are not. This does not mean they are bad, but it means that they are not ready, which leads us to the next problem.

Nature versus nurture – which do you believe? If a pair of twin leads were separated from their mother at birth and raised independently what will drive their success, their genes or their upbringing? We have learned it is pretty much all about the upbringing, which the lead management gurus call nurturing.

Most organizations do absolutely zero nurturing and this then translates into something like 80% of their very expensive leads are thrown away. Nurturing means that you take a green lead, that person who indicated an interest by downloading a whitepaper, and offer them a webcast or invitation to a local event. They may not be ready to buy at first, but they may be totally ready to hear more. After hearing more, they may be ready to buy – which means the nurturing worked. This is a far superior situation than forcing the lead to sales immediately just to find out they are not ready and please don’t call again.

Gravity in the funnel is the key. The problem with the web today is that it is easy for people to find you – even if you are not trying very hard. Then, you get excited because somebody came to your website. Remember, just because somebody visits your site, it does not mean that they want to buy. Go back to the previous paragraphs – they probably need nurturing. But, what do you do when you start attracting people to your site? Pull them in, but for the right reasons.

If you sell toilets, don’t give away iPods to attract people into the funnel. Give away a really, really compelling article on why your toilets never clog. That will provide the gravity to bring in the prospect that your field sales folks want to talk to. They don’t want to talk to people who want free mp3 players. My kids use toilets, love free iPods, but have no intention to buy a toilet that does not flush. Content on your site, like a good white paper, is one of the best means for creating positive gravity. Pull the right prospects through your funnel and into the pipeline. Let the rest of the riff raff hit your site then swirl away if they don’t truly intend to buy.

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