There are many strategies you can try to grow your business but the most effective way to consistently propel your business forward is with a sales funnel – which is the process to convert a website visitor into a customer.
Many businesses don’t have a predictable process to engage and convert visitors into customers and because of this, they’re on a never-ending emotional sales rollercoaster.
Whether they get someone to visit their website in a given day or week is nearly up to chance.
Some weeks the amount of business flowing in is overwhelming, other weeks there are tumbleweeds out on the virtual “street” and nobody’s around.
It’s hard to scale a business if your main strategy for growth is luck.
However, with the right sales funnel, you can accurately target new customers, pique their curiosity, nurture them, and convert them into buying customers.
And here’s the thing, a sales funnel works for all businesses and types of industries. How you develop and implement it varies, but in essence, the major components and steps are the same.
Imagine having a steady stream of prospects, clients, and customers engaging with your business.
How much time would you get back each day if you had a well-oiled machine that drew customers in? Picture the weight being lifted off your shoulders knowing you have a plan to grow your business.
Whether times are good or bad, a sales funnel is a critical component to your business’ success.
When the economy is strong, your sales funnel is the fuel to skyrocket your growth. When the economy takes a turn for the worse, a sales funnel might be the thing that digs you out of a hole and keeps your business afloat.
What follows is a comprehensive guide on all things sales funnels and how you can create one so your business takes off.
What Is A Sales Funnel?
A sales funnel is a step by step approach to nurturing your customer from curiosity (when a customer first learns about your business) to purchase (when a customer is ready to buy your product or service).
The level of complexity and length of time of engagement with a customer before the purchase varies based on your product or service you are selling, but in general, the higher the price of your product, the longer the funnel will take as it requires more nurturing.
A sales funnel may also include post-purchase steps and lead to another funnel that upsells the customer on higher-priced products or services that provide even more value to the customer.
To illustrate what a sales funnel can look like, here are two hypothetical examples:
Example 1- An Ineffective Sales Funnel
Bob “work harder, not smarter” Smith has a software company with a team of five salespeople and a product that helps small businesses automate their operations and reporting.
He believes in “dialing for dollars”, so with a contact list he purchased online he has his salespeople cold calling this list of several hundred people every day.
Most of their calls and emails go unanswered. When someone finally picks up the phone, they are often rejected rudely. The constant rejection is demoralizing and because of this, he has a high turnover rate on his sales team.
If they’re lucky, they close 1% of customers they try to contact.
Example 2 – An Effective Sales Funnel
John “build a system” Smith has a similar-sized company and product. He currently has three salespeople on staff.
Instead of taking Bob’s “work harder, not smarter” approach, John and his team have worked hard to develop a sales funnel.
He started by building a few cornerstone content marketing pieces: blog posts, videos, and infographics which end with an offer for a lead magnet that’s tied to a specific landing page.
The lead magnet captures a prospect’s email and in exchange, they receive a highly valuable PDF download that helps them out with a problem they have. This lead magnet kicks off a relationship with John’s customers and establishes his brand as an authority.
After the prospect downloads the lead magnet, they are placed into an automated series of emails that help educate, inform, and nurture them. These emails provide their customers with tons of great tips and strategies which in turn creates trust and reciprocity with John’s company.
John’s customers stay engaged frequently and his company is top of mind because of the weekly email nurturing campaign he sends out which reminds them to listen to his new podcasts, providing even more value to his prospects.
About half of his weekly emails include a call to action at the bottom of the email to schedule a free demonstration of his software.
Interested prospects signup for a demonstration where they schedule a call with one of John’s salespeople. After the demonstration, his sales team closes about half of the prospects because they are dealing with warm leads rather than ice-cold leads like Bob deals with.
Because of the funnel he’s created, John’s team spends less time prospecting and more time closing new business.
They have a predictable sales pipeline and are able to accurately forecast their growth for the year. In fact, he is currently fine-tuning a follow-up sales funnel and is looking to expand his sales team to satisfy the demand he expects to be generated from this additional funnel.
Cue the streamers and pop some bottles….it’s party time for John’s team!
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Of course, this is a simplified version of a sales funnel, but overall you see how a sales funnel not only helps grow your business, it can also increase employee satisfaction since your sales team isn’t constantly being told to buzz off by ice-cold leads.
The Stages of a Sales Funnel
The main stages of a sales funnel and customer buying journey are curiosity, enlightenment, evaluation, commitment, and finally the sale.
Regardless of what you are buying and the price point of the product you are buying, we all follow a similar process from curiosity to purchase.
As a general rule, as the price of your product or service increases, the complexity, length, and amount of engagement to convert prospects into customers increases.
Sales Funnel Stage 1: Curiosity
A prospect’s curiosity about your product arises only after they recognize they are experiencing a problem, thus if you want to grab your customer’s attention, you have to lead with a problem.
Our customers are bombarded by thousands of messages every single day. Because of this information overload, our customers tune nearly everything out except for when we talk about a problem they have and we hint at a possible solution that will help them survive and thrive.
Talking about your customer’s problems is how you spark curiosity.
If your customers recognize they have a problem, this gives you an advantage and makes moving them onto the next stage easier. If they don’t recognize they have a problem yet, there’s still a chance.
It’s your job to help them become aware of the problems they face unbeknownst to them.
For example, let’s say you own a plumbing company and a major line of business is water heater installation and maintenance. If your customer has a new water heater, they are probably not thinking about their water heater. However, if they don’t have a maintenance plan for the water heater, without proper routine maintenance they could be dealing with a hefty bill down the road for repairs, but do they know that?
If not, it’s your job to educate them on the problems of a water heater that is not maintained properly.
To help raise awareness and spark curiosity, you should create content that informs and shines a light on the problems your customers deal with. You can do this with a combination of blog posts, podcasts, videos, email campaigns, and lead magnets.
Sales Funnel Stage 2: Enlightenment
After your customer becomes aware of a problem they are facing and how you may be able to help them, they move onto the enlightenment stage where they seek information on how to overcome their problem.
This is where you need to position your brand as the helpful and generous authority by creating valuable content marketing. Your blog posts, podcasts, and videos should provide your customers with useful tips to overcome the problems they are experiencing at the enlightenment stage.
Comprehensive guides, step-by-step action plans, and in-depth resources in any format you choose (written, video, audio) are the perfect solution for customers in the enlightenment stage.
If you’re concerned with how much you’re “giving away”, don’t be.
You’ll (almost) never be punished for being known as a generous brand.
Despite feeling like you’re giving too much away for free, you’re overestimating how much your customer knows yet at this stage.
You’re the expert in your field and your customers still need help and the assurance they’re doing it right. Knowing and doing are two different things.
A key ingredient to moving your customers along to the next stage is painting a picture of their future. You need to get them to imagine what their life will look like after they use your product or service.
Our brains are mediocre at best when it comes to remembering facts (unless you’re Rainman) but what they’re great at remembering is how something makes us feel.
So get your customers to imagine how great their life will be like and to feel the excitement, joy, sense of relief, or peace of mind that comes along with using your product.
Sales Funnel Stage 3: Evaluation
Once your prospects have moved from curiosity to enlightenment, they are inching closer to the goal line, but before they do that, they want to make sure they’ve made the right decision.
First, they will compare and evaluate their options.
This includes price point comparison and comparing the product offerings versus your competition. You should create sections of your website and pieces of marketing collateral that helps make these comparisons easy.
For example, if you have a product with three levels of service, you should have a pricing section or dedicated pricing page on your website with a detailed list of what’s included at each level.
Next, you should create content that makes the evaluation of products and services easier for your customer.
For example, if you’re an accounting firm specializing in business accounting, you could create a blog post or lead magnet that walks customers through the decision-making process on whether to take their accounting in house or outsource it.
In this stage, it’s all about making the decision-making process easier and continuing to build trust with your customer.
Sales Funnel Stage 4: Commitment
The last stage is the commitment or purchase from your customer.
There are three main reasons why customers don’t commit:
- You didn’t ask them to buy
- You asked them to buy too early
- You didn’t address the perceived risk associated with your purchase
One reason why so many businesses don’t get a commitment from their customers is because they don’t ask for the commitment. Yeah, it’s that simple.
You have to ask them to take action, because if you don’t…they won’t.
They don’t ask their customers to buy because they don’t want to come off as pushy, but in a customer’s mind, this looks like the brand doesn’t believe in their product.
So how do you ask for a commitment but not come off as pushy? By having clear calls to action on your website. Buy now, schedule an appointment, or book a consultation are all great calls to action. Not get started, learn more, or discover us. That’s not a call to action.
Once you’ve checked that off the list, the best way to get your customer to commit is by staying in touch with them with an email nurturing campaign. This will be covered in more depth in the next section but the key to an email nurturing campaign is to build trust and educate. Once you’ve done that, you can ask them to commit.
The second problem many businesses have is they ask their customers to commit too early.
Imagine how you’d feel if you went to a car lot and the first thing a salesman said to you was, “you want to buy this car now?”
Of course you wouldn’t want to buy the car! You haven’t even checked it out, let alone taken it for a spin.
Unfortunately, that’s what too many businesses try to do to their customers.
Especially if you have a higher-priced product, commitment only happens after you’ve spent time building a relationship, nurturing them, and removing the risk.
Which brings us to the third reason customers don’t buy: risk.
All purchases have some level of risk associated with them. Your customer is wondering if this product is worth it? Will it work as stated? Will they get value out of it?
It’s your job to take the risk out of your customer’s mind.
To do this you need to address any concerns or objections they have. This should be done through multiple points of contact with your customers: your website, in an email sales campaign, a case study, testimonials, or addressed directly via your sales team. Last but not least, provide a guarantee that removes the risk.
A limited window refund policy is a great way to reduce risk. Carvana is doing a great job at this. They have a 7-day test to own policy. If you don’t like it, you can return it.
What a novel concept for buying a car that I’m sure many of us have wanted before.
With a clear call to action at the right time in your customer’s journey and with the risk of doing business with you removed, that’s when you’ll finally take your customer across the goal line and earn their commitment.
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A final note on the customer journey, when creating marketing collateral, tailor it for the different types of customers you have.
If your customer is a startup and you sell health insurance plans, you want to show them how you’ve helped other startups find an affordable solution while maximizing benefits. If you show them examples from a Fortune 500 company, it won’t resonate because the scale of their needs is so much greater than a startup’s needs.
Content Strategies For Each Stage Of The Sales Funnel
The Five Critical Components Of A Successful Sales Funnel
There are five things you must create in order to have a successful sales funnel.
Each piece of your marketing collateral in this funnel is dependent on the other and you can’t have a successful funnel without them all working in harmony.
They are a clear message, a high-converting website, a lead magnet, an email nurturing campaign, and a sales campaign.
1. A Clear Message
As I mentioned earlier in this post, your customers are bombarded by thousands of messages every day, that means in order to get your customer’s attention, your message must be clear.
How do you know you have a clear message? Pay attention to people’s responses when you tell them what you do.
Say you’re at a cocktail party and you meet someone for the first time and they ask what you do, do they look excited and ask engaging followup questions or do they same something dismissive like, “Hey, there you go” followed by a “good talking to you, I’m going to get another beer.”
If that sounds familiar it’s probably because you’re long-winded, your using way too much insider language, and you’re confusing.
So what can you do to create a clear message?
There are three components to creating a clear message: a clear message must state the problem your customers face, the solution you have to this problem, and the transformation they will experience after they buy your product or service.
The brands that communicate those three components (problem, solution, transformation) in the fewest words possible, win.
By far the greatest framework to help you create a clear message that your customers listen to is the Storybrand framework. Their framework uses the secrets of great storytelling to help companies create a clear message which is critical to growing your business.
Once you develop a clear message, you’ll want to take it through all of your marketing collateral. The more you repeat your message consistently across your marketing, the better the odds your customer will remember you.
When it comes to marketing, repetition is reputation.
2. A Website That Converts Visitors Into Buyers
A website that is full of noise and insider language is guaranteed to kill your sales.
A successful website includes sections that address each stage of the buyer’s journey: curiosity, enlightenment, evaluation, and commitment.
To walk your customers through the buying stages your website must have:
- A clear message that states what you do
- A section that grabs their attention by agitating the problem they have
- A section that identifies your solution and how their life will look like after they use your product
- The steps your customer needs to take to overcome their problem
- An ability to showcase credibility and authority via testimonials, results, or logos of companies you’ve worked with
- A strong call to action
If you don’t have these elements on your website currently, add them now and you’ll begin to see a better response from your site.
3. A Lead Magnet
A lead magnet is an asset, like a free PDF download, you give your prospects in exchange for their email address. Without a doubt, lead magnets are the fastest way to grow your email list and it’s the hook to lure your customer into your funnel.
Why is an email list so important? Because it’s a direct line to your customer and the surest way to grow your business.
When somebody gives you an email address it’s like they invited you into their house and are ready to hear what you have to offer.
Since most customers won’t buy from you on initial impulse, especially if your product is higher-priced, you need to offer them a way to stay engaged with your brand, otherwise visitors will come to your website, forget about you, and likely won’t return. Your lead magnet allows them to stay connected with you.
In addition to capturing a prospect’s email address, a lead magnet establishes you as an authority and builds trust with your prospect since what you are offering them is helpful and valuable.
Lead magnets come in all shapes and sizes such as one-time discount codes for eCommerce brands, PDF downloads, eBooks, access to exclusive interviews, access to an instructional video series, or a free sample or trial.
The key is all of these items are exchanged only after you capture your customer’s email address.
4. An Email Nurturing Campaign
Once you capture a prospect’s email address, you need to build a relationship with them on an on-going basis so that they remember you when they are ready to buy a product that solves the problem they have.
A great email nurturing campaign does the following five things:
- Reminds your customer that you exist
- Reminds your customers of the problem you solve
- Positions you as the expert in your field
- Helps your customer nearly solve their problem
- Builds trust
Depending on your industry and the product you sell, the frequency and type of nurturing campaign varies.
For many businesses, weekly campaigns are ideal, however, for highly-engaged audiences, daily campaigns may be the right amount.
Nurture campaigns can be emails full of useful tips, announcements of new blog posts, YouTube posts, or podcasts, an announcement of new items for sale, or new inventory in stock.
A quilting business I came across recently (don’t ask me how and no I will not be quilting anything), that teaches DIY quilters how to make beautiful quilts, sends out daily sales announcements of their available fabric swatches along with weekly instructional YouTube videos. They have a diehard following and when they don’t send out a daily email they actually get emails from their customers asking why nothing was sent out…seriously! Pretty amazing, right?
However, if you have an HVAC company, your customers don’t need daily engagement and probably not even weekly. A monthly email that provides your customers with home maintenance tips based on the given season is probably the right frequency.
Through experimentation and a bit of trial and error, you’ll find out what the right format and frequency is of your nurture campaigns, and I can guarantee this, if you don’t talk to your customers, they’ll forget about you and if that happens, your sales will go down.
Developing a nurture campaign may be one of the easiest things to do that will have the greatest return on investment in your marketing.
5. A Sales Campaign
Last but not least, you need to have an effective email sales campaign that closes new leads and prospects. This is why the sales funnel exists, to bring home the bacon!
The length of your sales campaign depends on the product you sell and the price. The higher the price, the longer and more elaborate the campaign needs to be.
Regardless of the length, all great sales campaigns have a combination of the following:
- A catchy headline that grabs your customer’s attention by opening a storyloop that can only be closed by reading the email.
- An introduction email that punches your customers in the gut and makes them feel the pain they have as it relates to your product or service. If they don’t feel the pain, they will not take action.
- A clear offer of the solution you provide to this problem.
- A picture of what their life will look like after they use your product or service.
- A picture of what their life will look like if they don’t choose your product and the pain they will continue to experience.
- Proof that what you offer works (testimonials, reviews, results from past clients, etc.).
- Responses to common objections.
- A guarantee that takes the risk out of doing business with you ex. 30-day money-back guarantee, return policies, etc..
- A simple three-step plan that makes doing business with you easy so they don’t become overwhelmed by the process.
- A strong call to action or buy now “button”.
What’s great about an email sales campaign is if it’s right for your business, you can create an automated campaign that runs 24/7 triggered by an action your customer has taken.
An effective sales campaign can translate to dependable recurring revenue for your business which will flatten out the peaks and valleys of your sales cycle.
How To Drive Traffic To Your Sales Funnel
Of course, having a sales funnel isn’t a guarantee that your business will thrive, you have to get customers into your sales funnel for it to be effective.
So how can you keep your funnel full of highly qualified leads? Well, that depends on your business and what you’re willing to pay for.
Most likely your strategy will be a combination of paid and unpaid marketing.
Options For Paid Traffic:
- Google Ads
- Facebook and Instagram Ads
- YouTube ads
- Media buys (TV, radio, podcasts, etc.)
It goes without saying but you’ll want to keep a close eye on your paid ads strategy and the ROI you get for each channel. Fortunately Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and YouTube Ads make it easy to track the effectiveness of your campaigns.
Unpaid Traffic Options:
- Blog posts and guest posts on industry-recognized websites
- YouTube posts
- SEO – search engine optimization
- If you’re a new brand or a small brand with little traffic, SEO is something to address later once you start getting consistent traffic and it’s something that you should see as a long-term investment.
- Media appearances on TV, radio, and podcasts
- The key is when you make appearances, make sure you have an offer for your viewers or listeners. This is the perfect time to tell the audience about your lead magnet you have that can help them with a problem they are experiencing.
- Social media posts that educate and inform your customers
- Speeches and Presentations
- What local organizations can you give a speech to? Build your speech in the same way you do your nurture campaigns or blog posts, provide highly valuable tips and information that can help your audience out, followed by a prompt to download your lead magnet.
- Good ol’ fashioned word of mouth marketing
- Not too long ago I partnered with an agency to help out a client with their website. They are located in southern California and sell an industrial-strength pump and hose that turns pools into a water resource to fight fires. One of their greatest sources of traffic comes from the sign they place in their customers’ front yard advertising the firefighting solution they have. That’s about as low tech as it gets, but guess what? It works!
Creating a sales funnel is not something you’re going to do in a day and it can involve a bit of trial and error, but the key is to have one.
Your sales funnel is a constant process of improvement and once you get it running you’ll quickly see what works and what doesn’t work. The key is to remain open-minded and highly adaptable.
When you do get a sales funnel running, you’ll have a steady stream of warm leads, you’ll notice a greater response from your customers, and your revenue will go up.
Best of all, you’ll stop chasing sales and you’ll position your company to skyrocket.