No one talks about the middle of the funnel.
Marketers are focused on the top of the funnel, attracting and generating leads. Meanwhile, sales are focused on the bottom of the funnel, converting those leads into paying customers.
So, who’s focused on the middle?
Well, no one.
Marketing spends almost their entire budget on top of funnel activity, which is also the part of the funnel where 61% of marketers report their biggest challenges; generating traffic and leads. With so much focus on this part of the funnel, we have little attention left for middle of funnel prospects; both in terms of budget, and optimized content campaigns.
This doesn’t make any sense.
Middle of funnel (MoFu) prospects are already in our buying funnel, and are prime candidates for targeted marketing campaigns. Time and effort spent on middle of funnel activity is highly optimized: prospects are already in our buying funnel considering solutions in our space; they simply haven’t made a purchasing decision yet.
It makes even more sense to have targeted marketing campaigns for middle of funnel leads when we consider that 80% of new leads are discarded by the sales department, meaning a substantial percentage of inbound leads at the top of the funnel are not aligned with our targeting and will therefore never convert.
In this article, I’m going to share with you some of the reasons why middle of funnel prospects are filled with untapped potential and methods we’ve found successful when engaging with them. We’ll consider:
1. What the middle of funnel means: what does middle of funnel mean to us, as marketers, and what does it mean to our prospect?
2. Why we neglect the middle of funnel: some reasons why prospect at this stage can be overlooked
3. Optimizing for the middle of funnel: how we can create campaigns that target middle of funnel prospects
What is the middle of funnel?
The middle of funnel is the consideration stage for a prospect. In the middle of funnel, prospects are researching solutions; they’ve acquired the basic knowledge to begin narrowing down their specific needs, and they’re building a business case.
This stage is the perfect time to start developing the prospect’s trust in our brand through targeted, educational, and persuasive content. Prospects at the middle of funnel stage are still open to ideas and inspiration. Some buyers will have a clear set of requirements they are looking to meet but more often they have a vague idea of what they need. This means we can help shape outcomes as the prospect hasn’t yet formed any firm opinions or biases.
For a marketer, the middle of funnel is the conversation stage.
Middle of funnel prospects need to be nurtured; they want thoughtful, direct engagement that is specific and relevant to them. We’re starting to build a relationship with the prospect, developing influence and credibility through meaningful interactions.
Why is the middle of funnel neglected?
The middle of funnel often presents a disconnect between marketing and sales. Marketing is focused on bringing new leads into the business, i.e. the top of funnel, whereas sales is focused on making the deal, i.e. the bottom of funnel.
The persistent, high demand from sales means that our middle of funnel leads are often pushed to sales personnel too soon leading to poor outcomes.
It’s a lose-lose cycle: marketing is pressured to pass off enough leads for sales to meet targets; prospects resist engaging with sales because they’re not ready to talk; sales conclude marketing are handing off poor quality leads. To this point, Hubspot’s latest report found only 7% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were “very high quality” and this stark statistic supports the simple fact that some prospects need more nurturing.
It’s hard to generate inbound leads specifically at this stage too. Because middle of funnel prospects are difficult to identify and attract, marketers frequently focus more effort on generating top of the funnel prospects where they already have dedicated budget and campaigns. Moreover, marketers are often measured and targeted by the volume of leads generated for the sales team, which encourages leads to be passed straight away or early, regardless of any known buying intent.
The middle child of marketing
Clare Tidby, VP Client Strategy, at Time + Space Media calls the middle of funnel “the middle child of marketing - often forgotten or ignored. It’s nice to believe that sexy brand building leads directly to a happy purchase, but most customers spend most of their journey in the consideration and evaluation phases - passively watching or actively researching. It’s here that the thinking is done. Expectations are set and relationships are built. It’s hard work for marketers and even harder to accurately measure, but, it’s the glue that holds everything together and, for brands who take it seriously, it reaps rewards.”
The conversion rate is also less measurable for middle of funnel leads when compared to top and bottom of funnel leads and this can cause data-driven marketers to self-bias against it. It’s hard to prove the value of a middle of funnel prospect if lead source or last touch is the determining factor for attribution, rather than a carefully optimized nurturing process that demonstrates the ROI from their campaign efforts.
Optimizing for the middle of funnel
The first, slightly obvious, step is to recognize when our prospect is in the middle of the funnel. And when we do, rather than immediately passing them off to sales for qualification or pipeline, we should retain them in marketing for further development.
Our prospect is at the consideration stage, and we’re only just starting the conversation. These leads need nurturing.
Segment now, sell later
Remember when we said that middle of funnel prospects are open to vendor input at this point?
This is where optimization comes into play.
At Prospect Path, our marketing campaigns segment prospects based on their engagement with our content. The topics they’ve already engaged with provide context for their level of purchasing intent as well as help identify what additional content would be appropriate during our nurturing campaign.
To nurture middle of funnel leads through this stage we need to provide serial content to pace the prospect through to the point where they are ready to have contact with our sales team. The content should be relevant and specific to their needs at that point.
We’ve found some of the most effective content at this stage aims to help middle of funnel prospects develop their business case and to frame internal stakeholder strategies. Offering a prospect the tools and data they will need to sell the project internally aligns us with the prospect’s personal success.
Stronger buying intent = better lead quality
The middle of funnel stage provides stronger intent and purchasing signals and these should make it easier to build a collaborative relationship with the prospect. The more data we have about our prospect, the more likely we’ll be able to understand their problems and influence their choices.
This data also means marketing can prioritize and score leads to provide accurate information on each prospect’s intent and sales can concentrate efforts on opportunities where intent is highest. This way, we’re delivering sales-ready prospects receptive to outreach from our sales teams and not wasting time on prospects who aren’t genuinely in-market.
Middle of funnel leads are a hidden opportunity. According to Marketo, companies that nurture prospects effectively have 50 percent more sales-ready leads at a 33 percent lower cost. When leads are nurtured in the middle of funnel stage they spend, on average, 47% more than non-nurtured leads.
These two statistics alone should provoke a re-appraisal of our middle of funnel strategy. But there’s more.
By thoughtfully extracting behavioral insight from the middle of funnel we can enhance each lead with intent data and provide our sales team with a more accurate understanding of a prospect’s needs. Not only will our AEs and BDs reach out to prospects at the optimum moment for a conversation, they can align their approach to the prospect’s motivations. Our hard-won leads are less likely to die a slow death in an endless cycle of “no contact made” or “no fit”.
We should aim to create a win-win cycle:
- hold our middle of funnel prospects longer in a content nurturing pattern,
- hand-off to sales only when a prospect reaches an engagement score that predicts high intent,
- encourage (i.e. demand) sales to use the enhanced prospect information to shape their approach,
- increase sales conversion, reduce lead wastage, improve ROI,
- sit back triumphantly!
It will take courage to change expectations around lead velocity, and aligning and delivering appropriate content will be painstaking. But the potential for success is obvious and the cost of not doing it is steep.
It’s time we started talking about the middle of funnel.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on the potential of middle of funnel prospects, if you’d like to share your opinions on this topic, I’d love to hear from you. You can email any of your thoughts to me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org