Every organization needs revenue. Connecting with potential clients is how you gain trust and grow your business to increase your return on investment (ROI). But not every potential client is ready to commit right away. You may have contacts in your pipeline that don’t fit your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) but they’re not ready to communicate with sales so you have to be more strategic to get that information from them. You may have leads that are mislabeled due to poor oversight. To ensure proper communication with potential clients, it’s crucial to implement a sales funnel and define your funnel stages (also known as Contact Lifecycle Stages). Not only does correctly defined funnel stages help your sales team, but it helps your marketing team to ensure the right information is getting to the right people at the right time.
We’ve seen funnel stages that are all over the place throughout our work with clients. Some define Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) as Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs), some define Subscribers as Leads, and some don’t let sales touch anyone that isn’t an Opportunity (SQO). The mis-defining of leads and funnel stages leads to confusion and the inaccurate delivery of content.
It’s important to note which team owns each part of the funnel. Either Sales or Marketing will take action depending on the stage. The first half of the funnel is owned by marketing and the second half is typically owned by sales.
To help align your marketing and sales teams, we’ve defined the following lifecycle stages based on our experience.
Suspects or prospects are at the tip-top of your funnel. They are at the entry point and always will have the largest number compared to the rest of the funnel. The objective is to build lists and perform outreach (suspects) while driving visitors to your online presence (prospects). This drives brand awareness and is owned by marketing.
At Kalungi, we’ve found that it is important to understand the entry criteria of each funnel/lifecycle stage. For suspects or prospects, this means the lead is a unique visitor to your site that gets cookied (inbound prospects) or is a lead with an email (and only an email) or LinkedIn profiles in the database (outbound suspects).
It’s crucial to nurture your leads throughout each step of the funnel. Each lifecycle stage requires different content to give each lead the right information they need, at the right time. For suspects or prospects, the next steps include outreach - LinkedIn messaging campaigns - to drive connections (outbound) and retargeting cookied visitors with top-of-funnel blog content to drive awareness and have people “opt-in” to learning more about you.
If these contacts opt-in and express an interest in learning more, they move down the funnel to be subscribers. Exit criteria include suspect accepting a connection request on LinkedIn, or filling out a form “opting in” to ongoing nurture campaigns becoming a “contact subscriber”.
One of the most crucial pieces of entry criteria for becoming a subscriber is that the contact has given us consent to send information to them. Consent could be giving us their email, subscribing to the blog or newsletter, or allowing event coordinators to give their information to participants in an event. The objective is to drive subscribers to become leads who fit your ICP. This stage is owned by marketing.
While nurturing subscribers, your goal is to define whether or not they fit your ICP. To determine the subscriber’s ICP, you need to find out their job title. One way to do this is by delivering gated content with a form that asks for their job title. Once you know the job title, you can assign them a persona and move them down the funnel to become a lead.
Entry criteria for becoming a lead includes the contact fits into your ICP and is assigned a persona. Typically, they’ve filled out a form with their job title or comes from ABM (account-based marketing) outbound work - knowing that the contact fits into the ICP is necessary for most if not all ABM outbound work. This stage is owned by marketing.
To nurture leads, top of the funnel (TOFU) and middle of the funnel (MOFU) content works the best. These leads have shown intent but still aren’t quite ready to commit. You need to educate them on their pains and how to solve them. TOFU content includes relevant blog articles, buyers’ guides, and industry survey whitepapers while MOFU content includes relevant eBooks, case studies, and comparison battlecards.
The objective when nurturing leads is to drive demand to have the lead consider your solution. You want your leads to take actions that qualify them for Sales Development Representative (SDR) follow up. Those actions give these leads a leadscore and if they pass the appropriate threshold (that you define), they move down the funnel to become a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).
Actions that a lead could take to pass the leadscore and qualify them as an MQL include a form fill, staying on the website for an extended amount of time, or interacting with multiple downloadable pieces of content. MQLs by definition, fit the ICP, have given us consent to contact them, and have demonstrated intent by requesting a conversation with the SDR or sales team.
This stage is owned by the SDR who reports to the marketing team (or sometimes to Sales, but it’s a very different role vs. the Account Executive). The objective when interacting with MQLs is to have the SDR do a follow up to do initial sales-ready qualifications and schedule a meeting.
To move down the funnel, the contact must show up for the SDR call and show interest in talking with a Sales Executive. During the call, the SDR qualifies the lead by ensuring they’re not a competitor, customer, or both filling out forms.
After this stage is completed, the SDR changes the lifecycle stage to “Sales Qualified Lead” or “Sales Accepted Lead”. This is a critical stage in the journey, as the Marketing/SDR team now hands over responsibility for the ownership of follow up to the Sales organization.
This is the first stage of the funnel that is owned by sales. The objective is for an account executive to perform sales opportunity qualification and convert the lead into an opportunity.
The entry criteria for SQLs includes an SDR confirming interest, a meeting with an account executive being scheduled and the the contact being represented in Salesforce Salesforce. At Kalungi, we prefer our marketing-owned inbound contacts and leads to be kept in Hubspot and not added to Salesforce until they are qualified for the sales team to take over.
At this stage, the AE will perform the first sales call to do a detailed opportunity qualification. The AE must ask themselves, “Can we win? Do we want to win? Should we pursue this opportunity?” Do they have a high chance of choosing us as their solution? Do we want to be their solution? Will they be easy and pleasant to work with? To move down in the funnel, the Account Exec. determines this is an opportunity that is worth pursuing. Be sure to update your CRM with a forecasted deal amount and close date.
Last but not least, the opportunity stage of the funnel. This lifecycle stage has been qualified by an account executive and is in the deal pipeline with an amount and expected close date. They are owned by the sales team with the objective to win the opportunity and turn them into a paying customer.
Actions to take include developing the opportunity through discover, solution, demo, proposal, and close stages in the opportunity development process. To exit this stage, a contact must confirm their purchase by signing a PO or binding contract, becoming a customer.
Figuring out your funnel stages can be difficult. Not all leads should be touched by sales. Marketing is here to educate your leads, nurture them, and deliver qualified and ready to commit leads. Once your funnel (lifecycle) stages are defined and set up correctly, it’ll be much easier for your sales and marketing teams to align. It will alleviate any confusion in your pipeline and ensure the departments are well-oiled machines churning out MQLs and Opportunities like nobody’s business.