Your product or service is worthless without a steady flow of people who are willing and able to buy it.
In other words, you need leads. And you need lots of them…indefinitely.
But it’s rare that you’ll engage with a customer who is ready to buy the first time they hear about your product.
Typically, you have to let them gently slide down the sales funnel.
And though a bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFL) lead is the most fun kind of lead, almost every BOFL starts as a TOFL, or top-of-the-funnel lead.
By learning how to generate and manage these leads, you can accelerate your results.
Table of Contents
Quick Funnel Primer
There seems to be a common misconception among business owners and entrepreneurs about what a lead is. You probably have a pretty decent idea of what actually constitutes a lead, but before we dig into lead generation too deeply, let’s clear the air.
- A random Facebook user who sees your post in their news feed is not a lead.
- The person driving by your store is not a lead.
- Your second cousin’s best friend is not a lead.
Each of these people can become a lead…but they’re not leads simply because of proximity.
A lead is someone who takes action and interacts with your brand in some capacity.
The random Facebook user becomes a lead when he clicks on your post, visits your website, and downloads your ebook.
The person driving by your store becomes a lead when she parks the car, enters the store, and begins talking to one of your salespeople.
Your second cousin’s best friend becomes a lead when he picks up the phone and calls you to request a quote.
In other words, awareness doesn’t make a lead. When someone engages with your business, they can officially be considered a lead.
To further clarify this, let’s look at the classic marketing funnel.
As you know, a marketing funnel starts with awareness and then moves through the states of interest and action before ultimately (hopefully) resulting in a sale.
The problem is that most businesses assume someone becomes a lead in the awareness stage. And while you definitely need people to start in the awareness stage, these are not leads. They’re just people who know you exist. Many of these people will never become leads, no matter what you do. (Take your mother-in-law, for example. She knows your business exists, but she’s not ever going to buy anything from you. She’s not your target market!)
The key to a successful marketing funnel is to make as many people aware of your business as possible, but to then identify and focus on the ones who slip into the second state: interest.
It’s at the interest stage of the funnel that a person becomes a lead. This is a true TOFL.
TL;DR: You need awareness in order to fill your funnel with potential customers, but a person only becomes a lead when they have a genuine interest. If you can start out with a lot of people who are interested, the rest of your funnel becomes more productive.
5 Tips for Generating Top-of-Funnel Leads
Generating TOFL requires two parts: (1) Creating awareness, and (2) Qualifying which of the “aware” group is interested. Keeping this in mind, let’s explore a few tips for generating high-quality TOFL that can ultimately be converted into customers further down the funnel.
1. Create Valuable Content
Content is your currency. In today’s online world, you need lots of quality content to generate awareness and nurture people into leads (and ultimately into customers). More specifically, you need content that adds actual value to the reader.
Generic, salesy copy isn’t going to do much for you at the top of the funnel. You need to give away value so that people have something to sink their teeth into. Examples of high-value, actionable content include:
- How-to articles. Any piece of content that shows your ideal reader how to accomplish something is considered a value-add. If people walk away smarter or more capable than when they started reading, that’s a win. They’ll come back for more (and feel indebted to your brand for the value you’ve added).
- Research and data. Have you run a study, survey, or focus group and discovered interesting insights that your reader may find valuable? A report on this information can be an excellent on-ramp and trust-builder. This is more than just simple SEO keyword research. It involves in-depth articles that show the depth and breadth of your knowledge of the subject matter.
- Courses/webinars. Most businesses sell courses as products and/or use webinars to sell products. But you can create a ton of value by using these as pure education plays. People are so pre-conditioned to expect the hard sell at the end, that they’ll be pleasantly surprised when there’s no “sell.” (You can still offer a CTA, but keep it light.)
The important thing to remember with content is that quality is always more important than quantity. You’re better off creating three to five exceptional pieces of content to feed your funnel than generating a dozen flimsy blog posts each week.
2. Expand Your Reach With Link Building
Even with the best content, most brands struggle to reach enough people to fill their funnels. The key is to expand your reach. And if there’s one sure-fire, sustainable way to do this, it’s via link building.
Link building is the process of acquiring inbound links to your website from authoritative publishers, websites, and domains. This can be done via any number of approaches, but is most effectively accomplished through guest blogging.
3. Go Live on Social
With all of the noise that exists on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, it can be really difficult to cut through the junk and connect with people. If you’re pushing out traditional posts and nobody interacts with the content in the first 15 minutes, you’re going to struggle to gain traction.
One of the top ways to rise above the social “riff-raff” is to give live video a try. As uncomfortable as it may make you feel, live video always gets preferential treatment over standard content in the news feed. By going live for five minutes each day, you can build awareness, add value, and turn followers into leads.
4. Develop a Facebook Group
Facebook groups have totally transformed over the past five years. What used to be frivolous gathering spots for friends have now become the lifeblood of the social giant’s entire platform. By developing a group that targets your ideal customers, you create a community of people who can be educated and nurtured over time.
5. Create a Podcast or YouTube Channel
Unless you have a large audience or lots of existing website traffic, it’s hard to fill your funnel with strictly blog content. While we’re big fans of blogging (and believe you should be posting at least a couple of high-quality posts per month), everyone else is doing it as well. You need a differentiator. A podcast and/or YouTube channel could fill that role.
A Note on Building Awareness
One of the biggest problems we see with a top-of-funnel strategy is that brands get too granular. They only want to interact with qualified leads who are ready to take action, so they only go after these types of people. The problem is that you don’t find these individuals on the street.
Unless you’re selling a consumable product (like a candy bar) or a cheap experience (like a ride at the county fair), you’ll rarely encounter people who are ready to buy without going through the rest of the funnel.
In 99.9 percent of situations, you have to let the natural marketing funnel process play out. And if you begin too deep, you won’t generate the volume required to make your funnel work.
The top of the funnel is the one place where it’s okay to be broad and less discerning. Yes, it’s more cost-effective to bring in people who are more likely to convert (which is where demographic targeting comes into play), but try not to get so caught up in pre-qualifying who you want to become aware of your product. There will be plenty of time for qualifying these individuals once they’re in the funnel.
If you divide too deep too soon, you’ll confuse people who don’t have enough product knowledge or context to reach proper conclusions. Start shallower and wider. Then create a plan for quickly qualifying these individuals so that you can pull out the true TOFLs.
Qualifying Top-of-Funnel Leads
Qualifying leads can be difficult. While most businesses focus on closing prospects at the bottom of the funnel, qualifying at the top of the funnel is actually much more challenging. Because if you can accurately qualify, then your close rates are going to be fairly healthy regardless of the skill of the salesperson.
It’s also important to note that there are a few different types of qualified leads:
- Product qualified lead. It’s easy to assume someone is a lead because they fit certain criteria (or even for an individual to think they themselves are a lead) when they don’t actually need the product you’re selling. Thus you’ll want to consider whether someone is in fact a product qualified lead.
- Marketing qualified lead. If someone is a product qualified lead, great! But they might not know it yet. These individuals need to be marketing qualified before they can convert.
- Sales qualified lead. Someone becomes a sales qualified lead when they make it all the way to the bottom of the funnel and they’re ready/in a position to make a purchase.
There are a few different ways to figure out if someone is qualified and which bucket they fall into.
In some cases, you’ll be able to qualify a lead by looking at one of these measurements. In other situations, you’ll need to layer them all together to paint a clear picture of who is a lead and who is merely in the wrong place.
In today’s marketplace, where there’s an abundance of data tracking every stage of the lead generation process, you can glean a lot of valuable information by studying the analytics. More specifically, you can learn from metrics like:
- Type of action. Not all leads are created equal. (Hence the need to qualify.) Consider assigning values to different actions that leads take, which allows you to measure which ones are most likely to become viable prospects. If you’re using a scale of one (small action) to five (significant action), downloading a free white paper would be considered a one. Downloading a product demo may be considered a three. And requesting to speak with someone on your team may be a five.
- Email open rates. If you have a good email platform or CRM solution, it’s easy to create lead profiles and study how they interact with your content. Pay particularly close attention to who is opening your emails (and how often). If you’ve sent 20 emails to someone over the past month and they’ve only opened one, they’re probably not interested. But if someone has opened 15 of the emails and taken action on 10 of them, something is drawing them in.
- Conversion rates. When you send out a call-to-action – either via social media or email – who is responding? If someone consistently takes action, this means they’re converting. And as they move through the value ladder – gradually converting on higher offers – they become a much more qualified lead.
The metrics that matter most to you and your funnel will depend on the strategies you’re using. But if you have data on these metrics, we’d recommend beginning here. If nothing else, it helps show who is engaged and who’s tuned out.
The best way to qualify a lead is to have a conversation with them. This can happen via Facebook Messenger, email, phone, Zoom, or any number of other mediums and platforms. In these conversations, ask leading questions that gauge their pain points, needs, expectations, and desires. Based on this information, you can determine whether you have the products and solutions to serve them. If you do, they’re a qualified lead. If you don’t, you might recommend other options.
3. Gut Feeling
There are a lot of data geeks who may disagree with this, but if you’ve been in business long enough, you eventually reach a point where you can feel out who is a viable lead and who is not.
You shouldn’t base all of your decisions on gut feelings, but it’s a good way to qualify a lead after you’ve considered the data and metrics.
When probing your “gut,” ask yourself this question:
Does this person feel like they’re worth my time?
If the answer is yes, push them on through the funnel. If the answer is no, you can continue to nurture them, but shouldn’t feel the pressure to speed things along.
Work With SEO.co to Refine Your Top-of-Funnel Strategy
Content is usually the thing that gets people into the top of the funnel. And if you’re looking for a way to create better quality content (and drive awareness for your brand), link building is a great place to start.
For more information on our white hat link building services – which are trusted by thousands of companies around the world – please reach out! We’d be happy to discuss our scalable options in more detail.
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