Scrunchies. Cargo pants. Fanny packs. The 90s are back in a big way, and it isn’t limited to (somewhat questionable) fashion trends. If you’re of a certain age, you might remember sitting through interminable marketing meetings, donning your freshly cut Rachel ‘do, wishing you could play a quick game of Snake on your brand new Nokia to drown out the manager droning on and on about the “revolutionary” marketing funnel.
Since then, our tastes have changed, our hairstyles have changed, and our technology has changed. But though the marketing funnel has been stretched and squished into every shape imaginable, just like a good pair of Doc Martens, the classics never go out of style.
And while the original incarnation of the funnel is largely the same, what has evolved — much like Justin Timberlake’s transition from boy band star to solo artist — is the way we view and ultimately utilize the funnel to nurture our leads. Because, as you already know, finding leads is only half the battle. If you’ve got them, great. But what do you do with them from there? You’ve got to nurture them as they progress through your buyer’s journey…and to know where they are on the path, you need the funnel.
Leads are critical to your inbound marketing strategy, but if you don’t know how to grow them through nurturing and relationship marketing, they aren’t going to be leads for very long. The way you engage with leads shifts depending on where they are in the funnel, and the content you offer them shifts as well. Serve up the wrong content, and your once-promising leads may wind up confused, overwhelmed, or just plain annoyed. Not exactly the best way to woo them into becoming a buyer.
To understand how to reach your leads and escort them through the buyer’s journey toward conversion, you have to understand each step of the funnel and meet them where they are. Let’s look at these key stages, and how you can navigate your leads through each one.
Marketers looove acronyms. CRM, MQL, SEO, and the list goes on. The acronyms you’ll see most often associated with the marketing funnel are TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU (sometimes written ToFu, MoFu, and BoFu). And sure, they sound catchy, but what do they mean? More importantly, what do you need to be doing (or not doing) at each stage to turn your leads into buyers? Let’s find out.
More than a vegan meat substitute (and significantly more enjoyable), the TOFU, or Top of the Funnel, phase is where your leads enter the funnel. Here, you can usually assume they don’t know your brand or your product. In fact, they might not even realize they have a problem you can solve. The top of the funnel corresponds with the Awareness stage of the buyer’s journey when potential customers are only beginning to understand they have a challenge. Here, your aim isn’t selling; it’s educating.
Leads at this stage aren’t ready to pull out their credit cards or even pony up their email address. They want information, plain and simple. The content you deliver to these leads should be broad and high level. You want to communicate that you understand where they are right now, and acknowledge the pain points they might be feeling — whether they fully understand them or not. Some of the most effective TOFU content includes:
Social posts and videos
Checklists and how-to guides
If you come on too strong at this stage, you’re likely to scare off what may have been qualified leads. Steer clear of these DON’Ts:
Gated content: This isn’t a two-way relationship yet, and leads aren’t ready to give up their personal information for content that may or may not meet their pain points.
Demos and trials: You might have a great product you’re excited to show off, but offering up trial periods or live demos can feel uncomfortable, overwhelming, or just plain offensive. Remember, these leads may not even know your brand’s name yet, and they certainly aren’t ready to take your product for a whirl.
Solutions-based content: They’re only just learning they might have a problem. Inundating them with the ways your product can solve it is a sure turn-off.
Testimonials: TOFU leads don’t yet understand your product, so it doesn’t really matter to them what active customers are saying about it. Case studies that detail the solutions your product provides typically fall on deaf ears at this stage.
MOFU, or Middle of the Funnel, is where much of the magic happens. Corresponding to the Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey, MOFU leads know they have a problem and they’re looking for solutions. If you can provide them, they may be willing to give up key information that will help you grow the relationship even further.
MOFU leads are a little more savvy, but they may also be slightly more cynical. Or, if you want to put it in a nice way, more discriminating. They’ve seen by now that there are a wealth of possible products out there that could meet their needs, and they’re evaluating brands to narrow down their options. The best MOFU content often includes:
Whitepapers and ebooks
Email nurture campaigns
Templates and downloads
Webinars or online courses
You don’t want to be too broad or too granular at this stage. You’ve got to get your content just right. As the Spice Girls once said, “You have got to give. Taking is too easy, but that’s the way it is.” Gated content is key to nurturing MOFU leads, but you have to provide something of value in return. Here are a few no-nos:
Pushy communications: While MOFU leads are close to making a decision, they still aren’t ready to buy. Hard sells are not how you keep them in the funnel.
Trials and demos: At this stage, MOFU leads are making careful evaluations of what you have to offer versus your competitors, but there are too many of them to make a free trial of each one worth their time.
Soft selling: On the flipside, MOFU leads have already moved down the funnel from the TOFU stage. If your content is too vague or simply repetitive, you won’t be solving for their needs and they may just tune you out.
BOFU leads are a big win, but when you lose them, you’ll feel the sting for a while. Bottom of the Funnel leads correspond to the Decision phase of the buyer’s journey, meaning they’re ready to buy. How do you make sure they decide to buy from your brand? With persuasive, meaningful content that leverages the relationship you’ve worked so hard to build.
By now, BOFU leads have carefully considered your product against your competitors. They haven’t made a final decision yet, but they really only need a nudge from the right brand to tip the scales toward conversion. The most effective BOFU content includes:
Free trials and demos
Customized email campaigns
How-tos and insider tips
You’ve got them on the line; it’s time to reel them in. But jerk too hard, and they may wriggle away. BOFU leads want to see proof of performance, and they want evidence that they’re about to make a solid investment. Stay away from these pitfalls:
Free trial limitations: You don’t have to give everything away, but if a trial is only minimally functional without a premium upgrade, it won’t tell the whole story of your product.
Unrelatable case studies: If you’re marketing to SMBs, but you choose to highlight the only Fortune 500 company you’ve snagged, your leads may struggle to see how your product applies to them and meets their specific needs.
Poor customer service: If your customer service isn’t up-to-par, you’re going to have problems closing the deal with even the most qualified and interested BOFU leads. These days, customer service matters more than ever, and with so many options, like chatbots, automated services, and video calls, you need to be sure your service is available to buyers when and where they need you.
So, you’ve closed the deal, and your lead has converted to a sale. You deserve a pat on the back, but don’t get too comfy, because the work isn’t done yet. The buyer’s journey doesn’t end once leads have moved through the funnel. It might continue to extended service offerings, or it might start all over again in a different product line. At this stage, focusing on growth marketing is critical. How do you retain and grow the customers you’ve worked so hard to earn? Here are a few tips:
Upgrade: “Upselling” as a term has gone a bit out of fashion, as it often feels pushy or intimidating. But you can help your customers upgrade with add-on services or features that will make your product more valuable to them.
Partners: Working with partners to offer discounted rates to customers who buy from both of you is a great way to create loyalty and strengthen relationships — not just with customers, but with other brands as well.
Discount codes: You may offer a lot of freebies or incentives to win over new customers, but that can leave the existing ones feeling a bit neglected. Offering them exclusive “insider” discounts or loyalty benefits will keep them coming back.
Finding new leads is an achievement you should be proud of, but it’s only the start of a (hopefully) long journey that requires nurturing and care. Inbound marketing is all about relationships — hearing the other person, understanding their needs, and meeting them where they are. Building these relationships pays big dividends, but you have to put in the effort and time.
The 90s trends may be back, but we’re seeing them now with fresh eyes (and going a little easier on the crushed velvet and body glitter). Take a new look at the marketing funnel to see how you can use it to enhance your own lead gen strategy, and if you need some help, our Lead Gen Experts are here for you!