Lesson #2 - Lead Stages [Video with transcipt]

The goal of Inbound Marketing is to funnel leads into your sales process. In this video you will learn:

  • The different lead stages, TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU.
  • Why we create classify leads in these different stages.
  • The different types of content used at different stages.
  • When and why leads become qualified for further activities.


Lead stages and the funnel process are really the framework of the entire inbound marketing methodology.

The whole point of employing an inbound strategy is so that you can talk to, and exert energy on the right people at the right time in their consideration and purchase-making process.

What we're going to do in this video, is go through the three inbound marketing funnel stages, and then also I'm sort of going to categorize them as also life cycle stages, because technically anyone with any of those funnels can be considered a top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, or bottom of the funnel life cycle user.

And then we're also going to talk about two stages below that, which are called MQL and SQL stages, and I'm going to explain what those are and what the purpose is of categorizing people that way.

The benefit of using lead stages, I guess you could say, some people call them life cycles stages, is for lead nurturing.

This helps us to categorize where people are at within the purchase consideration process, and then there's also a whole lot of benefit on top of that, not only to the user but also to us.

It simplifies our process, it saves us time, and probably when we think of saving time, you're probably thinking of marketing automation, so that you don't have to invest so much time pursuing those people.

And then further down the line, when those people are nurtured all the way down to the bottom of the funnel - when they do reach your sales team, or when they are ready to make that purchase - they're educated, they're informed, and you already know they've met the criteria that you need them to meet in order to be a good fit for your business.

Let's start out here with the top of the funnel.

What is a top of the funnel lead? One thing to keep in mind, when we look at the shape of the inbound funnel, you've probably seen this before, it looks like this.

We've got our top, our middle, and our bottom stages.

One thing to remember is that these people at the top of the funnel, these leads, there is sort of an invisible stage above that and I think we've talked about this, this is your SEO, your social, your blogging, this is anything that's attracting people to your website.

Keep in mind that there is life before your top-of-the-funnel leads.

However, once someone converts on that initial offer, they are considered a top-of-the-funnel lead, or they're in the top-of-the-funnel life cycle, and what someone is thinking about in that stage is what their problem is.

If they need a-- let's say their car just broke down, in the top of the funnel we're going to want to inform them on what type of new cars are available to them, what type of used cars are available to them.

If we're a car dealership that is our job, to help them understand what their need is, and what are all the options out there for solving this need? Top-of-the-funnel content should be very, very informational, have very, very little-- if possible, no bias towards your brand.

I know that's a little bit difficult, but if you guys are thinking, "Shannon, I'm creating all this content and putting all this work into this person.

Shouldn't I be able to plug my brand?" and you don't have to take it as far as to create brand-agnostic content.

However, top-of-the-funnel content needs to be very, very-- I don't want to say elementary, I guess that's the wrong word, but very, very top level of whatever your concept may be.

You're not going too far into it, and you're also certainly not pushing a sale in the top-of-the-funnel, here we're just all about informing and helping this user understand what their need is.

Once someone is ready to convert down to the middle-of-the-funnel, they're going to download going to download that middle-of-the-funnel offer, which signifies that they're ready to learn a little bit more, not only about what their need is, but who your business is.

In this middle-of-the-funnel, they're going to be identifying how can they solve this problem that now they know what it is, and who they can potentially solve it with.

Of course, hopefully they're going to potentially solve with you, but your content in the middle-of-the-funnel should also not be all about just you and pushing your business.

This should be all about informing someone what they different opportunities are out there for them to solve this problem that they've identified.

Going back to the example of someone who has identified, "My car has broken down. I need a new car." Middle-of-the-funnel content would be something like, "Top Ten Cars for Families", "Top Ten Cars for Bachelors", "Top Ten Cars for..." whoever it may be, you're creating this concept that helps them to start to sort of narrow down in on how it is that they're going to solve that problem, and it's starting to lay that ground work toward your business.

But it's absolutely not pushing Bob's Car Dealership is the place to go, buy your SUV at Bob's Car Dealership.

We're not there yet, this person is not ready to purchase.

They're really at the middle-of-the-road here between what is my problem and  actually being ready to solve that problem with whoever the partner is that they're going to choose.

When someone converts down from the middle-of-the-funnel to the bottom-of-the-funnel, your really big challenge here is convincing this person why should they choose you, and why should they make this choice now? Actually, buying a car is a great example, because let's say that this person's car is not 100% broken down, it's kind of on the fritz.

They've had it for ten years, they're getting ready to buy a new car but they're not necessarily there yet.

They're in the bottom-of-the-funnel, and you've got to convince them that this weekend is the time to buy a car, this fall is the time to buy a car, or whatever that timeframe may be.

An then of course, also making sure that they are - hopefully - choosing to go with your business for buying that product.

Bottom-of-the-funnel, absolutely it's okay to speak more specifically to your offering and to your brand, because in the bottom-of-the-funnel, we're going to try to convert someone down into having an actual interaction with our sales team.

And so, sometimes this gets a little fuzzy for people, they say, "Okay.

Someone downloads content offer one and becomes top-of-the-funnel, they download content offer two and become middle-of-the-funnel, they download content offer three and become bottom-of-the-funnel.

What happens next?" What we want to do here is prompt this person - I guess we could say prepare this person - to talk to our sales team.

Once someone actually downloads that bottom-of-the-funnel offer or even, let's say it's the bottom-of-the-funnel offer is a free consultation, once they redeem that, and once they're ready to actually get in touch with you personally as opposed to through this automated process, this person sort of goes through this split here where they're no longer in our funnel, they're going into what we call a qualified lead section.

First we have a marketing qualified lead, and all this means is that this person has completed the final bottom-of-the-funnel stage and they've converted all the way through, and the marketing team has done their job.

And the marketing team is saying, "Hey sales team, this person is qualified to talk to you." That could be based on pages they've viewed, that could be based on demographic or business information that they've provided.

Of course it's based on sort of how they've interacted with you, whether or not they've actually made it through all these download stages, and converted all the way through.

But a marketing-qualified lead is where marketing says, "Hey sales team, it's on you now.". Once they make it through that MQL stage, they're on to an SQL, and what an SQL means is that the sales team has sort of intercepted this person from the marketing team, and they're ready to take a look at them, do a little bit more research, a little bit more background, and determine whether or not this person is worthy of being specifically pitched to.

And I'm actually somewhat apprehensive to even say pitching, because if you're going through this entire extensive inbound process it's hardly a pitch at this point, it's really more like a welcome conversation, that this person has actually expressed explicit interest in talking to your sales team.

A sales-qualified lead is someone who they're identifying as, "Yes, we are reaching out to them, we are calling them, they are absolutely a fit for our business".

Once someone becomes a sales-qualified lead - if you have a strong sales team, if they're doing they're job - they're going to become a customer, congratulations.

One thing you'll notice, is that I don't have a image for a customer up here on that board so I wrote down here "Are we forgetting someone?" and we are, your customer is really an entire life cycle stage in itself.

Don't think that just because someone has made it all the way through the funnel, they've made it past the MQL/SQL stage and they're now a customer, that you're done with them and you send them back into the wild.

One of the really important concepts of inbound is that we want to hold onto our customers, and we actually want to, if possible, create a whole - another lead nurturing campaign that nurtures those customers into advocates of our brand.

They can help spread the word of our brand, not only to their social networks but to sort of the digital realm in general.

We know that word-of-mouth is, by far, the most valuable marketing medium there is out there.

If you can secure that word-of-mouth from those advocates - who you are creating via your customers - you are going to have-- I mean, all this marketing stuff is great, but I promise you, it's got nothing on word-of-mouth.

Real word-of-mouth can't be bought, it has to be earned, and if you do earn it through this process and through providing exceptional resources, information and services to your customers, you will be a thousand times off better for it.

Hopefully this helps to give you a little better understanding of the different funnel stages, and then also those qualified life cycle stages, and how this whole thing pieces together to convert someone all the way up here from your SEO, from finding you in the search engine, from your social media, from clicking on a tweet, down to a top-of-the-funnel, middle-of-the-funnel, bottom-of-the-funnel lead, and finally down to a qualified lead, a customer, and then in a perfect world, an advocate.

As always, do let us know if you have questions.