“I want more leads!”—said by every business ever.
The problem is, how do you get them?
You learn how to build a lead generation funnel.
In a perfect world, people would buy your products as soon as they found them.
They’d read your Google Ads, find your site in search results, or stumble across your blog posts and think, “Wow, that’s just what I’ve been looking for! I’m sold!”
And that does happen. Sometimes.
A study found that only 8% of people who visit your website are ready to make a purchase. More often than not, prospects need more information first.
So, what do you do with the other 92% who aren’t ready to buy yet?
Let me explain:
Think about what happens when a customer comes across your website. They usually need time to sit with the idea—to move further along in the sales process—before they feel comfortable enough to hit “Buy”.
That’s what a lead generation funnel is for. You help the customer along the sales funnel until they’re ready to buy.
The result? More leads. More conversions. More profit.
Not sure how to generate leads? In this article, I’m diving into what a lead generation funnel is, why you need one, and how to make one. Let’s get into it:
What Is a Lead Generation Funnel?
First, let’s clear up what a lead is.
A lead (also known as a prospect or potential customer) is someone who could be a buyer but isn’t ready to make a purchase yet. With every lead, your goal is to convert them into a paying customer.
A lead generation funnel helps you find and retain leads. As the funnel progresses, you find qualified customers—people who are likely to buy your products.
The funnel is a series of steps you take to move your target audience along the sales pipeline. The goal is that by the end, those leads convert into buyers.
Through the lead generation process, you can:
- Stop missing out on potential customers.
- Find and retain highly qualified leads.
- Build brand awareness.
- Grow your business!
From your content marketing campaign to your email list, all of your marketing efforts need to work in tandem with your lead generation funnel.
Why? Because when your marketing strategy has a logical flow, from first contact to the checkout cart, you help people move through the funnel until they’re ready to buy.
Understanding Lead Funnel Stages
Now you’re probably wondering: Why is it called a funnel?
For this part, I need you to visualize a funnel.
The top of the funnel is the widest part; it’s where you collect the widest variety of leads. As you move further along in the sales process, only the qualified leads will filter through to the middle and bottom of the funnel.
In the middle, the funnel starts to narrow. Not all leads make it past the first stage—they might realize you don’t offer what they need, or they go with another company.
At the bottom, people decide to make a purchase. At least, they will if you’ve created an effective lead generation funnel!
By breaking down each stage of the lead generation process, you can make a plan of action to guide prospects from the introduction to the purchasing decision.
Here’s a look inside your prospect’s minds with each step of the process:
Top of funnel (TOFU)
No, I’m not talking about the soy-based meat alternative.
I’m talking about the awareness stage, also known as the top of the funnel.
It’s the state of moving a consumer from not knowing who you are or what you do into recognizing your business.
You’ve heard a million times that first impressions are important—the TOFU stage is another example of that. It’s where you introduce potential customers to your business.
To do that, you need to get noticed.
A prospect will come across your website through a blog, advertisement, or social media post. They might not be ready to buy, but now they know who you are and what you do.
In this stage, you capture their interest and show them why you’re an authority in your industry. You build trust.
Your goal here is to obtain contact information (like their email address), so you can nurture them further along the lead generation funnel. To do this, include strong CTAs (calls to action) with every piece of content you put out.
Middle of funnel (MOFU)
At this stage, you know the problem your prospects are grappling with.
If you install alarm systems, the customer’s problem is a lack of security. If you’re a dentist, it’s tooth pain or looking for a new clinic. And if you’re a hairdresser, your customers want a slick new look.
In the middle of the funnel, you need to show prospects why your business is the solution to their problems. To do that, you need to tap into their pain points and position your products/services as a way to relieve them.
At this stage, your potential customers are still looking at other options. Keep your business at the forefront of their minds so they don’t forget you when it’s time to buy!
You might throw a freebie their way to keep them interested. Maybe that’s an eBook, an infographic, a free trial, or a webinar.
Bottom of funnel (BOFU)
It’s the stage you’ve been waiting for: The buying stage.
At this point, your prospect has become a qualified lead. They’ve gotten to know your brand. They trust you. And they’re nearly ready to buy—they just need a nudge in the right direction.
Your goal here is to sell. You need to make the customer feel as comfortable as possible and overcome any hesitations they might have. To do that, you can:
- Explain exactly what your business can do for them.
- Tell them about your return policy.
- Bring up any guarantees you may offer.
Once the customer makes a purchase, the lead generation funnel is complete! And if you’ve done it right, they’ll come back as returning customers, too.
How To Build A Lead Generation Funnel
Now for the golden question:
Lead generation funnels sound great. So can I learn how to build a lead generation funnel?
You’ve come to the right place. I’m going to break down step-by-step how you can generate leads that convert using this funnel:
Step 1: Identify buyer persona
Who are your customers?
You can’t meet every single one of them. But the better you understand them, the more effective your marketing strategy will become.
I’ll let you in on a marketing secret: The more general your content is, the less effective it becomes.
Your customers don’t want to feel like you’re talking to everybody. They want to feel like you’re talking to just them.
To do that, you can create a fictional character that represents your target audience. A buyer persona.
I know what you’re thinking: But all kinds of people buy from my business! How can I narrow it down to just one?
By creating a buyer persona, you learn how to empathize with your buyer and find out what they need to make a purchase. It also helps you create a content strategy; you can create resources that will be most valuable to them.
To make a buyer persona, try to be as specific and detailed as possible. Who are you talking to? What motivates them? And what are their pain points?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What is their name? Gender identity? Age?
- What are their hobbies? What do they do in their free time?
- Do they have a family or a spouse?
- What is the current challenge they’re facing?
- How can your products/services help this customer?
With a buyer persona, you’ll have a deeper understanding of how leads interact with your brand. You can tailor your content for that individual. Then, your messages will resonate with those most likely to convert.
Step 2: Map your customer journey
With a customer journey map, you can visualize how your customer moves from a lead to a buyer.
A common misconception is that the customer journey is a straight line.
It’s not. Purchasing decisions aren’t always linear. Ever taken an item to the checkout, pulled out your credit card—and then suddenly put it away? Maybe you had a hesitation or started to doubt the product.
When your customers start moving out of the funnel, you need to nurture them back along. Identify points where you can help your customer along that journey.
To do this, collect insights into the customer experience. Send our surveys or look at support tickets to see where there was friction in the buying process. The next time you meet a customer, talk to them directly!
The purpose of this map is to find out how customers interact with your brand. See the flow of their decision process from first contact to the checkout counter.
Then, you can design your lead generation funnel with that in mind.
For example, if you notice that your customer had a hard time justifying the cost, create a blog post that breaks down the cost-effectiveness of the purchase. You can email that blog post to them once they reach the middle of the funnel.
And there you go: Once their hesitation is addressed, your customer will feel more comfortable buying.
Step 2: Create great content
Content: A key part of any digital marketing strategy.
Your content is a way to continue the dialogue between your business and a lead. But you don’t want to write content just for the sake of putting words on a page. How do you write content that makes people buy?
You need content that connects with your prospects—content that’s entertaining, useful, relevant, and helps solve their problems.
You can refer back to the buyer persona and customer journey map to get an idea of what kind of content to write.
For this step, you need to create a lead magnet. This is a piece of content that incentivizes the reader to give you something (like their email) to access it.
What type of content should you use? Should you use…
- Blog posts?
- Email marketing?
- Social media posts?
- Research or case studies?
The answer is usually a combination of the above. Once you create your lead magnet, you can start advertising it—I’ll get into how to do that below.
You also need to consider which stage of the lead generation funnel to deliver this content. Here’s an example:
Imagine you sell electric vehicles. At the top of the funnel, leads might be looking to collect information about EVs in general. On your website, you can post blogs that compare gas-guzzling trucks to your products and boast about the environmental benefits.
Once you’ve collected a few email addresses, you can send videos and case studies about the long-term cost savings of an electric vehicle. This is the middle of the funnel.
And when your leads are at the bottom of the funnel, sell them on your brand by writing about why your electric vehicles are better than your competitors. You may even send them a discount code.
See? It’s all about delivering the right content at the right moment.
Using Surfer To Create SEO-Optimized Content
You want to do more than create great content—you want to write content that ranks well in search engines.
Organic search is another way to capture more leads for your sales funnel. Leads will naturally come across your blogs or case studies when you rank at the top of Google. From there, they’ll enter your lead generation funnel.
How do you do it?
With Surfer SEO, writing optimized content just got a whole lot easier. Use the content editor tool to find out which topics are ranking. Then, you can write content using optimized headings and keywords to overtake the competition.
Surfer SEO will give guidelines for the word count, the number of images to include, and even how many paragraphs to use. You’ll need to pay to get access to all these features, but when you consider all the new leads you’ll generate from it, it’s well worth the cost. Read my full review of Surfer SEO.
Step 3: Drive traffic
Alright. Now that you have a few awesome pieces of content under your belt, it’s time to use that content to generate leads.
For your lead generation strategy to be effective, you need to fill the top of that funnel with as many prospects as you can. From there, the most qualified leads will trickle down to the bottom.
But let’s start with that first part. The part where you get more eyes on the content you just wrote.
There are a few ways you can go about this, including:
Where would we be without Google? It’s the world’s biggest search engine, and we turn to it to answer all of our burning questions.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that in the time you’ve spent reading this article, you’ve tabbed out to Google one thing or another.
Your customers are no different. If you can rank in Google, you’ll have more qualified leads than you can handle.
Organic search is a great way to find leads for the top of your funnel. And unlike Google Ads, you don’t need to pay to rank at the top.
When people see paid ads, they know you paid for that spot. But in organic search, your site is at the top because it’s the most relevant result. And that makes people trust you.
Want customers to find you in search results? For that, you need to apply a few basic SEO principles to your website:
- Do keyword research to find terms with a high search volume. Then, use those keywords in your content and headers.
- Consider the search intent (If I were a customer researching this topic, what kind of content would I be looking for?)
- Work on technical aspects, like the loading speed of your website and fixing broken links.
- Write content for other websites to build backlinks for your own.
Make use of these tips, and your rankings will start to soar.
How often do you check your emails?
If you’re like most people, then the answer is several times a day.
Email marketing gives you a direct line of communication with your prospects. It’s a lot more personal than reading a blog on a website.
How do you collect more emails? You can add a sign-up form for your newsletter on your website. Or, offer a freebie (like a downloadable eBook) in exchange for a prospect’s email.
A few tips for writing effective emails:
- The subject line is everything. You only have a few dozen characters to capture your reader’s attention. Make each word count. Try to write a subject line that’s entertaining, intriguing, and relevant to your reader.
- Make it personal. Whenever possible, use the reader’s first name. Write like you’re talking directly to them—not a list of email subscribers.
- Check if it’s mobile-friendly. More than half of people check their emails on their phones. So if your emails aren’t mobile-friendly, they’re harder to read for more than 50% of your target audience. Make sure your emails load quickly and look good on smaller screens.
It’s hard to find someone who isn’t on social media. And since that’s where your customers are, your business should be there, too.
On most major platforms, creating an account is free. Use it to build brand awareness and connect with your customers at no cost.
Depending on your industry, the right social platform to target will vary. If you work in a visual-based field like graphic design, Instagram is the perfect place to show off your portfolio. If you sell B2B services, check out LinkedIn.
Use social media to promote your latest blog posts and finished projects. This will make people interested in your business. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to create a viral video that will garner thousands of views.
Want to use social media to directly message a prospect?
First of all, personalize your message. You don’t want the reader to think they’ve received spam. Use their first name, reference details from their profile (“I see we both come from the Great White North!”), and include a custom graphic if possible.
And if you’re going to ask something of them (like subscribing to your newsletter or visiting your website), offer them something in return. Send them a free eBook, coupon code, or helpful tip.
Do it right, and social media marketing can direct hundreds or thousands of new prospects to your website.
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with spending some dough to get your message out there. Google Ads are lucrative; recent studies show that for every $1 you spend, you can generate $8!
You can pay to promote your ads on LinkedIn or Facebook too. To determine which platform will be best for your business, you need to find out where your customers are. LinkedIn ads will make the most sense for a B2B business, but if you’re targeting homeowners with young families, you might try Facebook or Google Ads instead.
But you shouldn’t bid on the first keyword that comes to mind. Do some research to find keywords with enough search volume to give you a great ROI (but without going over your budget).
Make sure to factor in user intent, too. You’re trying to attract qualified leads—people who are interested in buying from you.
You can approach your ads in a few ways. One, use them to directly promote your products or services. Or two, use them to promote your content! This draws prospects into the top of your lead generation funnel.
Outbound Lead Generation
Up until now, I’ve been telling you about inbound lead generation. This is when prospects come to you either by finding your blog, social media posts, or other advertisements.
Outbound lead generation is when you go to the customer. You sell yourself to them directly rather than wait for them to find you. You need to initiate the conversation, capture their interest, and sell them on your brand, all without being invited to do so.
If that sounds tough, that’s because it is.
Here’s how to get started with an outbound lead generation strategy:
Cold Email Outreach
Why is cold outreach so intimidating? No one likes to make the first move. But it doesn’t have to feel so daunting. Follow these simple practices, and the thought of sending a cold email won’t make you break out in a cold sweat:
- Research the recipient. Who are you writing to? What’s their name? What are they interested in? And why would they care about what you’re offering? These are all important questions to ask yourself before you hit send. With the answers, you can personalize the email to make it more appealing.
- Brainstorm catchy subject lines. With cold emails, the reader won’t recognize your name or business. Your one chance to catch their attention is with the subject line. Try something unexpected! Use a joke, a reference to something they like, or an offer they can’t turn down.
- Keep it short and sweet. When people check their emails, they’re usually just waking up, on a break, or going to bed. You only have a few minutes of their time. Distill your message into as few words as possible and use a lot of paragraph breaks.
Cold emails are a great way to direct more people into your lead generation funnel. While they may not be as effective as inbound leads, they’re definitely worth a shot.
Step 4: Build a database and convert leads into customers
By now, you’ve collected a handful of leads from different sources, be it your social media posts or organic search. You might have an impressive list of email addresses.
So, what do you do with them?
You convert them into customers.
All these leads are at the top of the funnel; it’s up to you to nurture them further along.
First up, take action as soon as possible. Without nurturing that lead, your prospect will lose interest.
Do you know how short the average attention span is these days? Spoiler alert: It’s shorter than the time it takes to read this sentence!
If that doesn’t show you why you need to act now, I don’t know what will. The point is this: When new leads come in, you need to respond ASAP.
Next up, it’s time to qualify leads.
What do I mean by that?
Well, when a prospect enters your sales funnel, they might not be at the top. Maybe they’re at the middle, or perhaps they’re already at the bottom.
Sort your leads into which part of the generation funnel they fall into. That way, you can tailor which action you take next based on their willingness to buy.
You can do this by looking at which actions they’ve taken so far.
Have they only visited your blog? Then they’ve just entered the top of the sales pipeline. If they’ve offered their email or downloaded your eBook, you know they’re further along. And if they’ve reached out directly to ask about your pricing, you can bet they’re close to the bottom.
A customer who consistently opens your emails, responds to surveys, and picks up your phone calls is much closer to the bottom of the funnel than one who ignores your messages.
By scoring your leads, you can focus your attention on those who are most likely to convert.
Another option to help you with this step is to get a CRM. Read this post on what exactly a CRM system is.
Step 5: Conversion rate optimization
With all the steps above, you’ve learned how to build a lead generation funnel.
Now you want to make it even more effective. You can measure that by the number of leads who enter your funnel and eventually make a purchase.
Want to boost your conversion rates? Of course, you do. Here are a few ways to bump up sales:
- Take a closer look at the data. The numbers don’t lie. Where are people falling out of your lead generation funnel? Find out where people are losing interest or raising objections. Then, you can problem-solve and discover how to retain them.
- Segment. Earlier, I had you create a buyer persona to represent your customers. And if you objected to it because all kinds of people buy from you, segmentation is something you’ll definitely be interested in. This is when you tailor individual experiences with your website based on a user’s demographics and unique characteristics. For example, you might create one landing page for local customers and a variation of that for national clients.
- Split test. Also called AB testing, this is when you run two variations of a web page and see which gets better results. Test different content, designs, and calls to action. Test everything! Use split testing to fine-tune your website and maximize conversions.
How To Optimize Your Lead Generation Funnel
You’re ready to launch your very first lead generation funnel. Pretty exciting stuff!
With all the time and energy you’ve spent on it, you want to make sure your sales funnel is a success.
The following strategies will help you optimize your lead generation funnel:
Use the right tools
A lead generation strategy is a lot to keep track of on your own.
Need a hand? A CRM (customer relationship management system) is just what you need. If you’re looking for one of the best lead generation tools, check out GoHighLevel. Read my full GoHighLevel review here.
With this tool, you can:
- Capture more leads using surveys, landing pages, and form submissions.
- Nurture those leads with calls, emails, and SMS messages.
- Close deals with tools that help you collect payments, set up appointments, and track important metrics.
Imagine a tool that structures your lead generation funnel for you—that’s the power of GoHighLevel. You can create a website, integrate it with your calendar application, and customize your automated follow-ups.
For all things lead generation, GoHighLevel is the jack of all trades. It even offers a 14-day free trial, so you can get started for free. Check it out!
Change up your strategy
Feel like your lead generation funnel could be more effective?
Maybe it could be. Once you’ve tried one approach, try switching it up with the next batch of leads.
Send them a different type of content after you get their email address.
Try a different closing strategy to seal the deal.
Or maybe it’s time to take your blog in a new direction—write a few how-to pieces, industry insights, or case studies.
The online world is in a constant state of flux. To keep up, your brand needs to change with it. If you aren’t generating enough leads, it’s time to try a new approach.
Summing It Up
Whew, that was a lot. You still with me?
I covered what a lead generation funnel is, how to make one, and how to optimize it.
You learned how to move leads along from the top of the funnel to the bottom and close more deals.
If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry; now you know plenty of ways to switch up your strategy. Give these strategies a shot, then take a look at your data. If you aren’t happy with your conversion rates, try another approach!
Follow this guide on how to build a lead generation funnel, and you can do the work of an entire marketing team. Now, it’s time to start generating leads! If you still need help, consider getting consultation from SerpFocus.