Business owners are accustomed to thinking about the roles of marketing and advertising at the various stages of the sales funnel. But in my experience as a public relations professional, I've found they are less attuned to how PR factors into that journey from generating leads to cultivating prospects and securing and retaining customers.

Here are ideas for how to implement PR tactics into each stage of the sales funnel -- top, middle and bottom.

1. The top of the funnel is about generating awareness.

In fact, some call the top of the funnel 'awareness.' 

Ideas for generating awareness:

Make sure your company has active social media accounts that correspond to where your ideal customers are. Are you a service-based professional whose clientele would value seeing you on LinkedIn? Get on LinkedIn -- and show up there regularly. Do you sell products that would shine on Pinterest or Instagram? You know where you need to be.

Join networking groups and make sure to share your marketing pitch or elevator speech at your meetings. Make sure fellow members know what you do, how to refer you and what types of clients would be great referrals for you.

Find opportunities to speak to groups. If you're a child psychologist, find out which parent programs at schools and day cares bring in outside speakers. Ask about speaker programs at your local Rotary chapters and other local organizations.

Pitch yourself as a subject matter expert who can be quoted in the media. Start by making yourself aware of the journalists and bloggers who cover your industry or what you do. Be aware of what they write about and then make a list of the ones you'd like to meet -- by phone if they are remote and over coffee if they're local. You want to make these writers aware of how you could help them with their stories. Also, this is likely the area in which you most need an outside PR pro.

I always call this part of the PR process the sowing the seeds part. And by that I mean it takes time. With reporters, for example, it takes time to get noticed, form relationships (it is called public relations) and become a trusted -- and ultimately quoted -- subject matter expert.

It takes time.

It's why I don't recommend short PR campaigns. You can't engage with PR for say three months to see how it goes and then quit when there's nothing to show for it. 

2. The middle of the funnel is about speaking to your target market.

After you have created some general awareness or you have a plan in place to cultivate awareness, you want to focus on communicating directly to your ideal customers or clients -- your prospects.

This is where thought leadership comes in. It's a step up from awareness. You want to show those in your target market what you know and why you are an expert in your field. You take the lead (it's call thought leadership) by writing blog posts and LinkedIn articles.

Thought leadership helps you build credibility, and people put a lot of stock in credibility when deciding where to spend their time or money.

3. The bottom of the funnel is about staying relevant.

Staying relevant means continuing to show your value to current clients so they remain loyal clients. You stay relevant by continuing to take the actions mentioned in the first two items -- and more. 

Some ideas:

Now that you are used to thinking and acting like a thought leader, take it to the next level. Maybe you create a podcast. Or maybe you or your PR pros pitch you as a podcast guest or TV or radio show guest.

Now that you are used to writing articles, maybe you aim to get an article published by a media outlet that your target clients and current clients read and value or would find immensely credible. I love this idea for a few reasons -- and pursue it whenever possible for my own clients. First, by having a media outlet publish your commentary or thought leadership you gain third-party validation. It's easier to post your own article on LinkedIn than to convince an editor to publish it. Second, while quotes in news and features stories are nice and should be celebrated as PR wins, this is an entire article written and (mostly) controlled by you.

You can't invest time, energy and money into PR only to stop right as you're gaining some traction. Once you've generated awareness and communicated with, and even landed, your ideal clients, you have to stay relevant.