How to Create a Lead Gen Funnel

My neighborhood is crawling with door-to-door salespeople. They come selling everything from television and internet services to home security systems. They have a knack for ringing the doorbell during the last five minutes of my favorite show. I’ve never bought anything from these people. Even if I needed the products they peddle, these invasive tactics are not the best way to earn my trust or my business.

A lead generation funnel can help you avoid bothering your target audience in a similar fashion as my door-to-door salespeople. And it will likely lead to better results because it meets people where they are. Learn the five stages of the lead generation funnel and how you can use this model to generate warm leads for your organization.

What is a lead gen funnel?

An inbound marketing lead generation funnel helps you move prospects through the customer journey from awareness to consideration to decision. Thanks to digital marketing and marketing automation, you can offer each prospect a personalized journey through the funnel depending on their goals, needs, and pain points. Compared to outbound marketing or purchasing leads, this approach generates a list of people who actually want to hear from you. It creates better results than a traditional sales funnel while saving you time, money, and effort.

A lead generation funnel has five stages:
  • Raise awareness
  • Capture contact info
  • Nurture
  • Convert
  • Give the VIP treatment

Raise awareness

In digital marketing, the lead generation process starts with raising awareness. People typically learn about your organization from one of these three sources:

  • Your content (blog, social media feeds, website, landing pages, product trials)
  • Paid advertising (Facebook and LinkedIn ads, pay per click, web retargeting)
  • Earned exposure (shares, third-party reviews, referrals, word of mouth)

When outlining your goals, keep in mind that the funnel is always larger at the top. Only a fraction of your leads will convert to members, attendees, and product purchasers. It is important to build a large enough prospect pool to meet your goals. You might need to increase your awareness efforts at the top of the funnel to meet your campaign goals.

Capture contact info

The next step in your lead generation funnel involves turning awareness into leads. For this you’ll need lead magnets and a way to capture contact info, such as lead generation forms or landing pages.

Here’s an example scenario: A Facebook user clicks on your ad with a special offer for a whitepaper. The link takes them to a landing page, where a lead generation form already contains their contact info. All the user needs to do is click the “Submit” button to download the content. At this point, the Facebook user is now a warm lead that you can nurture and convert.


Before you can effectively nurture your leads, you’ll need to score them. Try to determine where they are on the customer journey. How much do they know about your organization? How urgent are their needs? What are their pain points?

Assign a numerical value to your leads based on established criteria. You should seek input from your sales team to help you determine meaningful criteria. For example, a lead score of 1 might be an unknown user who downloaded an information product. A 5 might be someone with urgent needs who filled out a complete contact form. Next, define follow-up processes for each lead score. For example, the 5s might go directly to your sales team, while the 1s go to an automated email drip campaign.


At some point, you will need to make a hard offer to convert your prospects into members, event attendees, and product purchasers. Consider offering a free trial or discount code to entice people to take action.

Timing will depend on your organization and your offer. Joining your organization or purchasing your products and services involve a significant investment of time, money, and effort on the part of your prospect. They need time to get to know you, trust you, and understand your value before making a decision. This process could take months or even years.

Give the VIP treatment

Your job isn’t over when you’ve converted a prospect. To fuel your retention, engagement, and non-dues revenues, you will need to continually satisfy your base over time. Plan to use your marketing automation tools to provide relevant offers and useful content on an ongoing basis to make your members feel valued.

Lead gen tools

The best way to manage your lead generation efforts is with a marketing automation platform or CRM software. These tools help you to provide relevant, timely communications that are personalized to the individual depending on where they are in the customer journey. They also save you time and effort.

Why you need a lead gen funnel

An inbound marketing lead gen funnel puts control in the hands of the customer, who decides what they need from you and when. This is the foundation for a lasting relationship built on trust and value, not on sales tactics, one-off promos, or intrusive doorbell dings.

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6 Steps to Content-Based Lead Generation

On the weekends, you can find me at the beach with my standup paddleboard. I love everything about the sport. When I see a Facebook ad for the latest SUP equipment, I pay attention. I click. I submit my email address. I welcome the content, special offers, and other marketing messages I get in return. Thanks to all that communication, I’m up to speed on the best the marketplace has to offer. When I make a purchase, I’m willing to pay more for high-quality products, and I feel great about my transactions.

Imagine if your target audience was this eager to hear from you. Getting people to join, attend, and engage would be easy. But too often, people are tired of being “sold” to. They are generally skeptical that a brand will deliver on its promises. They hesitate to provide an email address in fear of receiving endless spam in return. But they still need products, services, and the support of associations.

So how can you get prospects’ attention, earn their trust, and entice them to engage with your organization—and feel great about it? You need a fresh approach to lead generation that includes creating valuable content and using it to convert visitors into prospects.

Here are six steps to increasing leads and conversions using a content-based lead generation strategy.

1. Capture leads

About half of your website visitors will never return if you don’t give them a reason to do so. You need to capture at least an email address to be able to communicate with potential prospects and move them through your sales funnel. Given inbox fatigue and data privacy concerns, your prospects won’t give you their email address on a whim. They need to trust you first.

2. Entice prospects with a lead magnet

To start building trust with prospects, you should offer them something of value in exchange for their email address—or offer it totally free if necessary. Provide content that speaks to audience pain points and solves their challenges.

Examples of lead magnets:
  • Infographics
  • Whitepapers
  • Surveys
  • Reports
  • Webinars
  • Free trials
  • Any other useful information

3. Use lead generation forms

In addition to offering this content on your website, you can take advantage of lead generation forms built into social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. Lead generation forms automatically populate with a prospect’s contact information. All the user needs to do is to click “Download.” They instantly receive your content and you gain their email address. Lead generation forms are easy for prospects and highly effective for marketers.

4. Harness the power of landing pages

Customized landing pages are a great tool for lead generation for two reasons: They allow you to capture contact information, and they help you upsell to visitors. Once you have a prospect’s attention using a lead magnet, you can encourage them to join your association, purchase your products, or sign up for your newsletter by clicking through from the landing page.

5. Score your leads

Lead scoring is the practice ranking your leads to sort out the serious buyers from the tire kickers and everyone in between. Marketing automation software makes lead scoring an easy process based on actual user behaviors.

Once your leads are scored, you can determine how best to follow up. Serious prospects with urgent needs might go directly to your sales team. The tire kickers might convert over time, so they can go into a sales funnel, where they will receive automated email drip campaigns to move them along the customer journey.

6. Be patient

This approach to lead generation is a proven winner. But don’t expect it to work in a month or two. People need time to get to know your organization and your value before they trust you enough to join, attend, or purchase. Building a high-quality prospect list and then converting prospects to members could take six months to two years. But the results are undeniable. According to HubSpot, businesses who use a content-driven lead generation strategy see 67% more leads per month than those who do not use content.

How You’ll Benefit

This approach to lead generation is good for your prospects and good for your business. It helps you meet people where they are and it saves you from spending too much time and money on less interested prospects. With enough time and effort, your prospects will be as happy and engaged as I am when I buy a new SUP.

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My dishwasher died recently, and I had no idea where to begin shopping for a new one. I found a tip sheet online that ranked popular models, so I provided my email address and downloaded it. I received additional info in my inbox and, eventually, a discount offer. By then, I knew exactly which dishwasher to buy and how much I should pay. I’m happy with the purchase I made. If I ever need another home appliance I know where to go.

My dishwasher experience is a great example of inbound marketing. They caught my attention, captured my email, and moved me along the customer journey until I made a purchase. If your association needs to build a prospect pool for your marketing and sales efforts, inbound marketing beats “spray and pray” outbound marketing any day.

Here are the four essential steps to inbound lead generation so you can attract prospects and convert them into members and brand ambassadors.

Step 1: Attract visitors

You must be deeply familiar with your target audience if you hope to attract their attention. Ask yourself the following questions:

What does your audience value most? For example, affiliation, exclusivity, cutting-edge information, cutting costs, philanthropy etc.
What are their personal and professional goals?
What are their pain points? How can you solve them?
What are the current hot topics in your prospect’s industry?
Where do prospects currently get information or services like the ones you provide?

Once you know what your audience needs and wants, you can craft valuable content that meets them where they are and compels them to interact with your organization.

Step 2: Turn visitors into prospects

When you offer valuable content such as infographics, surveys, reports, e-books, webinars, and whitepapers, a few important things happen:
  • People are willing to give you their email address in exchange for something that will help them. You can capture contact info using landing pages or lead generation forms on Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Your prospect is automatically a more educated buyer. They learn meaningful criteria to use when shopping around, and they shop based on value instead of the lowest price.
  • They see your organization as a thought leader who has their best interest in mind. They start to trust you. They are more receptive to your messaging, and they might even seek out additional content from you.

When one or more of these things happen, you have successfully converted your visitor into a prospect or even a warm lead.

Step 3: Convert prospects to members and attendees

Over time, you can move your prospects from consideration to decision by regularly delivering valuable information. People will gradually see your organization as a source of help and benefits, rather than another marketer trying to sell them something. Eventually, they will be receptive to sales messages because they trust that you have their best interest in mind. Make your prospects an offer they can’t refuse to convert them to members and event attendees.

Be aware that this process could take some time. Multiyear investments into your inbound marketing yield the greatest rewards because you can build on what you’ve learned each year to fine-tune your efforts.

Step 4: Give the VIP treatment

Your job isn’t over once you’ve gained a new member. To ensure long-term loyalty, continue to learn about your members’ pain points and communicate the ways you can solve them. With help from a marketing automation platform, you can make each member feel like a VIP by offering personalized offers and information. Members who feel valued and who continually benefit from your organization are more likely to engage and renew.

Why inbound works

Inbound marketing is a good strategy whether you’re promoting membership or a specific product—like my dishwasher. It works because you’re paying attention to what people need, delivering useful content, and providing valuable offers to build trust over time. This is not just a recipe for gaining prospects and members. It’s a strategy for creating loyal brand ambassadors who will sustain your organization into the future.

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