In an ideal world your sales funnel is routinely filled at the top with a fresh crop of quality prospects, who swiftly move through to sales qualified prospects, and then easily through to becoming an actual customer. It's a turnkey, well-oiled operation, right?

Well in the real world many funnels actually end up top heavy, bottlenecked in the midsection, and too slim at the bottom. Many marketing and sales teams are generating lead after lead, but are either not inspiring prospects to take the next step, or they simply don't have the resources to help nurture them through the journey.

Your sales and marketing teams need to work together to move your prospective customers through the purchase funnel, and the strategies for keeping the funnel well-oiled at each stage can vary. Too often,businesses put all their efforts into enticing leads into the funnel, but don't map out the journey that proceeds or put the right team or systems in place to nurture that lead along the journey.

With the changing landscape of consumer engagement with products, services and brands, many experts have  penned eulogies to the standard purchase funnel. And they're not entirely wrong; the power is definitely in the hands of the buyer. But even though there are more ways in and out of the funnel than ever, the value of a strategic plan for talking to your audience remains high.

To prevent your leads from getting stuck and altering the shape of your funnel, consider a few key tactics that will keep them moving closer to becoming a customer.

Get the right team in place

When marketing and sales teams operate too independently of one another, it usually means one, if not both, of them is out of place. If your sales team is waiting at the bottom of the funnel to be the last piece of validation your prospects need, but your marketing team is focused on the top, generating new leads, you'll lose everyone in the middle.

Likewise, shifting teams to the middle of the funnel dries up both of the ends. If there's an imbalance in your funnel, you need to take a step back and determine if you've mapped the consumer journey thoroughly enough.

How many touch points do prospects need before they ultimately convert? Do they prefer one-to-one calls, emails, whitepapers, or webinars? Who and what else influences their purchase decision? Knowing this invaluable information enables you to pull together the right strategy, team and tools to be ready when those marketing qualified leads do enter the funnel.

Do you need more marketing or content marketing hands in place to nurture leads further down the funnel, or can the sales team venture further upstream to offer support? Only by truly understanding the buyer's journey, can you build a solid team, and successfully map out your funnel plan.

A proper customer map requires strategic interaction with your target audience before, during and even post-purchase. By identifying patterns that may develop during each stage, you can more efficiently sync up the efforts of your sales and marketing teams, and see where your funnel may need more support.

Avoid generalizing individual roles

Instead, specialize roles throughout the funnel. Rather than hiring four expensive "closers" who just sit at the bottom of the funnel and wait for leads, use that same capital to hire role-specific positions that will triple your output. Consider the following:

Prospector. This person will do nothing but prospect all day. They aren't distracted by proposals, deals, client visits, etc. and will be the fuel for your engine.

Qualifier. This role will sift through inbound leads, build value, qualify deals, give demos then pass them off to the closer to finish the deal.

Data and List Builder. This person will build lists and give the sales team plenty of fertile ground to plow. They know how to use APIs and append services to make proper lists of your exact target buyers.

Sales Operations Manager. This person manages the minutia of the entire sales operations, removes barriers, and takes over efforts that keep your sales team from doing what they should be doing: having conversations with buyers.

Create a solid system, even (or especially) if it's automated

Automated customer relationship management (CRM) programs will also help, but they are only as good as the processes put into them. If you haven't done your due diligence and fully immersed yourself in the mindset of your prospective customers, then at best your automated lead-generation will be ignored and at worst it will be despised.

Taking what you know from the buyer's journey, you can build the right sequences of personalized emails, phone calls, or content marketing assets to stay top of mind with prospects. You will also know how to surprise, delight and educate your audience with the right messaging , conversations, and information to keep them moving along.

The key is to identify what they need along their journey to purchase, then build the system and support tools to automate this process. Keep in mind, automation still requires personalization - and your sales and marketing departments have to work collaboratively to maintain that.