Generating quality, qualified leads is something every business wants. It’s not easy to do without marketing experience; many businesses leave lead generation to the pros. If you’re that pro, it’s crucial to set up your marketing funnels centered on the three stages of lead generation: curiosity, ready to buy, and ready to buy a specific brand.

Not separating leads into these three funnels creates the misperception that unresponsive leads are unqualified. The truth is, leads are often unresponsive because they’re in the wrong funnel. Put them in the right funnel, in front of the right message, and you’ll elicit a response.

Distinguishing ‘unqualified leads’ from leads in the wrong funnel

How do you know when a lead is unqualified as opposed to being in the wrong funnel? Say you’re marketing for a drug rehab center and you’ve got 4,000 leads in a single funnel. The leads aren’t segmented, so you send the same marketing emails to everyone. The emails say wonderful things about your client’s treatment center and include video tours, testimonials, and photos of the delicious meals they’ll get while checked in. Your marketing messages are spot on, but you’re not getting a response, so you know something’s wrong.

You might think the lack of response means unqualified leads slipped through the cracks. After six months of no response, you might drop them from your list, but that would be a mistake. Unresponsive leads aren’t necessarily unqualified.

In the drug rehab industry, prospects won’t come in “ready to buy,” or rather, ready to check in to a treatment center. When rehab prospects first make contact with an ad, it takes between 22-43 days for them to call the treatment center. If you’re communicating with all leads as if they’re ready to commit to treatment, the majority of them will be unresponsive because you’ll be giving them the wrong message.

Here’s the breakdown of how the three stages of lead generation work and how to market to each group:

Stage 1: Curiosity

The majority of prospects need to research a product or service before they’ll consider making a purchase. This is also known as the research stage. This is when a prospect knows about your product or service, and is using the internet and/or friends to find out more.

The proper way to market to people in this stage is to feed them helpful information that will answer their questions, resolve their concerns, and influence them to make a purchase.

It’s safe to put new leads into this funnel and later move them to other funnels based on how they interact with your marketing messages. For instance, if you can’t segment general leads at the point of your email signup form, then start segmenting through email marketing. You’d do that by sending emails with links that automatically move leads to a different funnel when clicked.

It’s not, however, a good idea to automatically put leads into any other funnel unless you’ve specifically qualified them for that funnel.

Stage 2: Ready to buy in the general market

These leads want to buy your product or service, but aren’t loyal to your brand. Marketing to this group of leads is easier because you know they want what you’ve got, you just have to convince them your brand is the best option.

Dropping leads into this funnel without qualifying them first will produce the lack of response touched on earlier in this article.

Stage 3: Ready to buy your specific brand or product

These leads are by far the easiest to convert to a sale. This group wants to buy your specific product, and they’re either waiting on finances, permission, or they’re lazy and forgetful. Either way, these leads are easy to convert with discounts, special deals, and reminders. They already know your brand is the best, so you can remind them of that.

Dropping leads into this funnel without qualifying them will also produce a lack of response. Messages crafted for leads ready to buy your product will be perceived as annoying and not relevant to leads in the research or curiosity stage. It’s presumptive to tell someone why they’ll love their purchase when they haven’t decided to make a purchase. They will notice the disconnect and it will be a turnoff.

Utilize lead scoring to segment by stage

Lead scoring will help you track and move leads to the appropriate funnels. Apparently, lead scoring is marketing’s best-kept secret because only 29% of marketers use it. Regardless, it’s the most accurate way to know if a prospect is ready to buy, and having that data is a direct route to getting quality leads for your clients.