Sales funnel: How to Increase Conversions and Boost Sales
Making a sales funnel can be very confusing—especially to beginners, and the terminology associated with sales funnels can vary wildly depending on who you ask.
There are so many applications of the sales funnel—and so many funnel models for that matter, that the various opinions brandished as fact can leave a beginner confused.
In this post, we will carefully look at what the sales funnel is, its applications, and how to effectively use one in your business. Hopefully, you’ll leave with a much more realistic overview of what the sales funnel really is and what it is capable of.
What is a sales funnel?
Sales funnels can be looked at in two ways—pay attention to this, as this is where the confusion generally arises:
- A metaphoric or theoretical representation of the path that a lead (or a customer) takes before he/she finally converts and makes a purchase.
- You can also look at it as a system, comprising of all the elements necessary to get prospects to buy from you.
You’ll find that the first definition is the most ubiquitous; it only morphs and disguises itself as different definitions.
The latter definition—which thinks of a sales funnel as a system, is more frequently used by experienced and practiced marketers to refer to systems that are used to turn prospects into loyal, paying customers who ultimately become advocates of the brand.
Although we’ll also explore the sales funnel as a system, this blog post will pay more attention to the sales funnel as a representation of the buyer’s journey, specifically looking at it from a digital standpoint.
A funnel is used to represent the buyer’s journey because just like in a real-world funnel where fluid flows from the top and into a much smaller aperture, a large number of leads flow from the top of the metaphoric funnel, gently guided until they make a purchase
But unlike a real funnel, where the liquid will ultimately exit through the bottom, the marketing funnel keeps some leads and loses others.
It is unlikely—no, impossible—that all the leads who land on your website are going to enter your funnel. No one has a 100% conversion rate.
Do everything you can to reduce the number of people who drop out of your funnel, even if you can’t entirely prevent them from dropping out.
The other way to look at the sales funnel
The term “sales funnel” is also used to describe the system that is used to convert leads into loyal customers.
And this system—like any system—is made of small parts that work together with a single. In this case, that goal is conversion.
Depending on who is creating the funnel, and what they use the funnel for, the sales funnel can be very simple or very complex.
Sales funnels comprise of things like email systems, landing pages, credit card processing APIs and all the other things involved in the conversion process
Yet, the technical aspect of the sales funnel is only one part too. Other elements comprise the sales funnel, including text elements (copy), visual elements (graphics), and even a social media strategy.
A beginner is better off using a service like Clickfunnels to create a system, which is automated and will remain effective even when you’re not personally online.
Why sales funnel models can be confusing
In earlier paragraphs, we established that marketers have varying opinions about sales funnels. Funnels are so flexible that you can use them in any context by any person.
These varying opinions can easily confuse less experienced marketers and not-so-tech-savvy business owners.
There is, however, a model that serves as the fundamental funnel model.
That model is the AIDA model.
E. St. Elmo Lewis first developed this consumer-focused marketing model (AIDA) in 1898.
It was created to illustrate the steps that a buyer or consumer takes before they commit to buying from any brand.
The letters of the AIDA acronym stand for:
- Awareness. Awareness is when a customer first becomes aware of your brand and its offerings.
- Interest. In this stage, leads actively express interest in your brand’s products and/or services
- Desire. In this stage, the buyer gets interested in and expresses a desire to make a purchase.
- Action. The final stage in this marketing funnel. In this stage, customers take action.
All other models usually add some stages to the funnel, but the stages in the AIDA model are the foundation on which most other funnel models build on.
Some will add the loyalty and advocacy stages to the basic marketing funnel. Some will even call the stages a different name.
Just be aware of the differences between the existing models and the basic AIDA model (We’ll explore the AIDA model in a bit). Although they may be called different things like sales funnel, purchasing funnel, and conversion funnel, they all mean the same thing.
The TOFU funnel: the non-conformist sales funnel model
The only type that stands out a little bit is the conversion funnel.
Most marketers use it in the E-commerce context.
This funnel illustrates the path that a consumer takes when they go through an advertising or search system before finally converting to a sale.
This funnel, albeit similar to the basic AIDA model, refers to its funnel stages by different names.
These names are TOFU (top of the funnel), MOFU (middle of the funnel), and BOFU (bottom of the funnel).
These stages are similar to the AIDA model, but they’re just called a different name.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s learn more about the funnel and how it can make you more money.
How businesses used sales funnels 20 years ago
Before the onset of online media, businesses traditionally used different media to promote their businesses.
The mainstream medium for marketing was direct mail.
Businesses would send out sales letters and brochures guised as free reports.
Business owners would also buy time on television so that they could advertise their infomercials.
In addition to all these, they would also advertise on the radio and place ads in newspapers.
Today, instead of direct mail, businesses use email; instead of using radio ads, businesses now use podcasts.
In place of TV ads, entrepreneurs now leverage YouTube ads.
And although the psychology and the buying journey of consumers haven’t changed, the means to reach them has changed.
As promised, we’ll only be focusing on how the sales funnel works from a digital standpoint
How sales funnels work today
Every business has a funnel of some sort.
Think about it.
When customers see a business’s billboard ad, they contact the business if the ad manages to capture their attention and interest.
The customer is already at the interest stage when they decide to contact a business.
They are already aware of their problems. They are actively looking for a brand that is offering a balm for their rash.
About 15 years ago, when websites were the shiny new toy, owning one was a novelty.
But these days, any business without a website is virtually invisible.
The goal is to channel leads through search results, social media or ads onto a landing page, where you get them to submit their contact details so that you can nurture them and gently lead them towards the point where they finally decide to buy from you.
More ways they can be become aware of your brand and enter your funnel include organic SEO, social media, pay per click campaigns, and even traditional media.
But it’s up to you to handle the details: when they enter your funnel, how you guide them, and how you motivate and inspire them to make a purchase.
The stages of the sales funnel and the media you can use for each stage of the funnel
To truly understand how to get leads into your funnel, you need to understand the psychology behind the buyer’s journey.
Whenever a buyer, whether a business or a regular person, wants to make a purchase, they invariably go through the same stages.
Think about it.
A buyer first has to recognize their need for a service or a product to solve a particular problem. When they recognize their need, they then become aware of what they need and then take steps to get a product that is suited to them.
They then go into the interest stage. In this stage, customers are on the lookout for credible brands that are quality-centric.
In other words, they’re interested in information about reputable brands.
The prospects are already in need, and they are actively looking for a solution. This is an opportunity for you to increase your brand’s visibility through SEO, PPC, social media, video content, email marketing, context ads, and whatever it takes to get your brand in front of them.
You should use this opportunity to not only make your brand visible but to establish your brand as an authority with valuable and informative content.
And you need to be visible to the right audience too; you should ensure that your content—and indeed your brand—is a good fit for your potential audience.
This is where buyer personas come in (more details on personas in a bit). If you pique their interest during this stage, they’ll want to learn more about you and your brand.
This is your chance to pull them deeper into your funnel.
Your potential customers then move into the evaluation stage, where they consider all the options available to them.
They consider a lot of factors at this stage. They consider their budget, your product’s features, competitor’s offerings, your brand’s credibility, etc.
In this stage, you want to give them content that puts your brand in a good light. You also want to be clear and detailed about your product’s USP (unique selling point).
You can offer case studies that show how your product has helped other customers, and you can also offer them white papers that establish your position as an industry expert.
In this stage, you can host webinars as they are very effective in increasing conversions.
I’ll explain why with an anecdote.
When I was first learning FB ads, this FB Ads guru—I won’t disclose his identity—was so marketing savvy that just by watching his webinar, I was ready to buy.
He appealed to my senses, addressed my concerns, and quelled all the objections I had.
The only problem was that I didn’t have a spare $1,000 lying around to purchase his course.
In previous stages of the funnel, you were interacting somewhat impersonally with your leads through emails and blog-posts
But this time, they can see you and interact with you and ask you questions, and you get a chance to motivate them to take action.
That’s the goal of good marketing, isn’t it?
If all goes well, they should be whipping out their wallets and cards eagerly wanting to buy and/or use your product or service.
This won’t always be the case. Even though you’ve done your job thoroughly and gotten your leads primed to take action, they may end up not buying from you.
They may not have enough money to buy from you at that time, or they may need time to be convinced about your credibility.
Or they could be grieving over their dead cat, which isn’t your fault.
The different applications of a sales funnel
Sales funnels can be used in many different contexts, and can market a lot of different products or services.
And their application isn’t limited to just products or services either. They can be applied to things like events and memberships too.
Simply put, there is no service or product that you cannot use a sales funnel to sell. Just understand the buyer’s journey. Then you can use that knowledge to create a sales funnel that will yield the most conversions.
Why are sales funnels important?
The whole point of the sales funnel is measurability and then the optimization.
You need to be able to measure the success of your sales funnel and then optimize your processes.
You would only be doing guesswork if you don’t measure and then analyze your sales funnel. Observe what you’re doing right and do more of it. You also observe what isn’t working and improve. These are the main advantages of the sales funnel: measurability and an opportunity for improvement.
How to create an amazing sales funnel
Before you even begin creating your sales funnel, there are some things that you need to take into consideration.
Some of them include:
- Your buyer persona
- Lead generation strategies
- Traffic sources
The process of building a successful sales funnel is in 8 stages.
- Create your buyer persona
- Choose which stage of the funnel to start with
- Decide on your lead-generation strategies (and traffic sources)
- Create your landing or squeeze pages to collect new email addresses.
- Set-up your lead nurturing systems (email drip campaigns)
- Set up your payment processes and integrate all your platforms
- Test, and then optimize your funnel.
1. Create a buyer persona
Creating a buyer persona is the first step in creating a sales funnel that sells.
“What is a buyer persona?” you ask.
Well, it is a fictitious representation of your ideal or target customer.
Marketing is full of representations.
Buyer personas are relevant in any endeavors that relate to customer acquisition and retention
Thus, they are critical when creating a sales funnel that converts. In order to increase your chances of conversion, your outreach efforts need to be laser-targeted.
You need to target only those people who are most likely to buy from you.
Buyer personas will help you understand your prospective customers better. You will know what makes them tick and what keeps them awake.
How do you create a buyer persona?
You create buyer personas in many ways, but the most accurate buyer personas are the ones gotten by doing market research.
You can also create your buyer personas from insights that you gather from your actual customer base.
If you already have a customer base, conducting surveys and interviews are two ways you can take advantage of your customer base to learn more about your ideal audience.
Ideally, you want to collect information such as age, language, location, income, buying behavior, interests and activities, life stage (are they single, do they have kids or are retired).
Get as much information as you can from your customer records and supplement that with additional information through online surveys, email surveys, and focus groups.
If you don’t have the luxury of carrying out expensive market research, or you’re more established in business and have a growing customer base, you can do the following to learn more about your audience:
- Ask your sales team for feedback on the leads they interact with the most. Ask them what generalizations they can make about the different types of leads they interact with. You can ask them about the ones who usually convert. Your sales team can provide useful insights into the type of customer who is most likely to buy from you.
- You can look through your contacts database to find patterns, specifically patterns about how your customers find and then consume your content. Find a pattern that works and then try to replicate it to get the same results.
- When you’re creating forms to get the emails of new users, you can design the forms such that they capture a lot more data than just the first names and email addresses of your leads.
I know what you’re thinking: won’t they just leave when confronted with a detailed form?
That’s very unlikely. If you’re offering something of value, most prospective customers won’t leave without giving you all their details.
There are many more ways to do customer research, but these can get you started.
Below, we’ll outline a few things to consider when creating your buyer persona.
Identify customer pain points
After carrying out research and identifying who you best serve, the next step is to identify customer pain points.
In order to better reach them and pull them into your funnel, you need to show them that you understand them and can solve their problems
Ask what problems your potential customer is trying to solve. Ask what is holding them back from success. Also, ask what barriers they face in reaching their goals.
Consumers want to know that you hear their voice and impact. They may even become more loyal to your company when you reach out to them. You can also ask your customer service team about which aspects of your products regularly complain about.
Identify your prospect’s goals
On the other hand, it also helps to know your prospect’s goals: what their end-game is, what motivates them, as well as having a general idea of the things they hope to achieve when they use your product or service.
You do this so you can know for sure that the prospects you pull into your sales funnel will be satisfied if they eventually buy from you.
It is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and then under-deliver.
If you under-deliver, your customers will only be disappointed.
You need to be sure that your product is suitable for the audience you’re targeting.
Again, surveys, interviews, and social listening are great ways to learn what kind of audience or (people) to target. Your customers are always more than happy to tell you what you need to know.
If you need to know more, you can also consult with your sales team and your customer service team.
They interact with your customers a lot of the time, and they know your customers better than you might think.
Use the data you have to create your buyer personas.
After you’ve gathered all the research about your audience, you then proceed to distill all the information into your buyer persona.
And a buyer persona isn’t just a list of attributes too. They’re a realistic description of your ideal audience and customers.
If your audience is made up of 30-35-year-old male runners who own dogs and live in the city, you can be more specific.
Flesh out the personas with the kind of information you would likely find on a dating site.
If you advertise athleisure gear, you could call your persona Running Ron
- He is 30-35 years old
- He lives in Chicago
- He works at a creative agency
- He owns a three-year-old Dachshund named Tony Stark.
And so on.
The mysterious negative buyer persona.
This type of persona describes the kind of customer you definitely don’t want in your sales funnel.
You have to be aware that your product won’t be the right fit for Some customers may need more features than your product is offering. Some may need fewer.
You can create a negative buyer persona to ensure that you avoid getting the ‘wrong’ type of customers.
Remember the difference between a feature and a benefit.
Marketers can get so caught up in the features that they forget what the customer is really after: the benefits of a product. They’re only concerned about how the product can help them live easier and do things faster.
In short, features are just things that your product does, while benefits are the ways that your product can make life easier for your customers. When creating something that you want to persuade your customers to buy, remember to focus not only on the features but also the benefits.
2. Decide which stage of the sales funnel you want to start with
The next step is to choose which stage of the sales funnel you want to focus on.
This will depend on where your business currently is.
If you already have customers, you want to focus on optimizing your sales funnel by optimizing your landing pages, optimizing your squeeze pages, etc.
You can then work your way up the funnel by including a content strategy that will help expand your operations and get you more prospects, which you can then turn into leads.
But if you’re just starting, you’d do well to start from scratch.
You want to begin building an audience that trusts you. This relationship of trust is what will make your prospects more comfortable with your ‘salesyness’ as they move further down the funnel and become leads.
Remember that, just like Rome, funnels aren’t built in a day. You’re better off focusing on one stage at a time.
This way, your system is set up correctly the first time.
3. Decide on your lead generation tactics or traffic sources
If you evaluate your business and decide to create your funnel from scratch, your next thing is to decide which channels will capture the attention of your ideal audience (and remember the buyer persona).
Depending on your budget, there are quite several options.
And they include:
- Social media
- Paid ads
- Influencer marketing
- Offline tactics
Let’s explore some of the options available to you when generating leads.
Social media is a jungle teeming with opportunities for you to increase your brand’s visibility.
With a myriad of platforms suited for different forms of content, you have an excellent opportunity to put your brand in front of people who need your services.
It doesn’t matter whether your focus is B2B or B2C, there’s a piece of the social media pie to go around.
Platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn can pretty much serve B2B companies, while Pinterest, Instagram—and yes, Facebook can also adequately meet the needs of B2C companies.
Regardless of whether your audience is an end-user or a business, some social media platforms will reach your audience.
There are a plethora of popular ones at your fingertips, like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and more obscure ones like Redditt, Quora, etc.
Remember that there’s a piece of social media pie for everyone.
If you’re thinking of a long-term winning strategy, SEO is the way to go.
SEO is short for search engine optimization; it is a technical process that involves tweaking (and optimizing) a website and its content to increase the amount of quality organic traffic to your website.
Organic traffic here refers to traffic that you get when users click on your website while they’re looking for information on search engines like Google and Bing.
For you to get the best results, you should try to rank for specific keywords, like long-tail keywords (which are more realistic and easier to rank for).
You get organic traffic by publishing content that you know your ideal audience is hungry for. And you can only know this by doing keyword research.
The SEO process sounds simple, but it’s actually more convoluted than it sounds.
It is best to invest in an SEO agency or freelancer who knows what they’re doing and has had a proven track record (you need to know that you can get results).
Just be sure to share your buyer persona with your SEO expert so that they can target only those people who are most likely to convert.
This way, you don’t spend money without actually getting results.
Paid ads are another available strategy.
With paid ads, you pay the owner of the ad space (usually affiliated websites) in exchange for your use of the space.
You can pay on a pay-per-click basis, or you can pay on a CPI basis (cost per 1,000 impressions)
You can use Google Ads and Bing Ads to display sponsored ads directly on the SERPs, or you can create display ads and put them on other people’s websites.
You can also use YouTube ads if you have the budget to create videos.
SEO strategies usually take a while before they gain traction, but paid ads are a quicker way for you to get your brand in front of your ideal audience.
This form of advertising capitalizes on human psychology, specifically people’s need for social proof. The idea here is to partner with the influential people in your niche or industry who already have an audience that contains people you know will be interested in your products. Influencers will usually sponsor or recommend your product/service in exchange for money. They could do this for things other than money, too, as long as both parties are in agreement.
This method of lead generation involves—you guessed it, the media. Media publications and outlets usually have a broad audience, and you can take advantage of this. If you have an interesting angle on a particular topic or you have newsworthy stats, you can present your ideas to journalists and reporters, and you may get exposure in return for your content. This method is effective because media publications are always in need of fresh content.
You aren’t limited to online tactics alone too. You can do other things through media apart from the internet to give your brand more visibility. One such opportunity is speaking at conferences or meetings. The idea here is to promote your brand or business to the audience you will speak to. Promotions work best when you have relevant content on your website.
Be careful, though. You need to ask the organizers what their policy regarding this is. Some organizers don’t allow for self-promotion.
There you have it; some ways that you can generate awareness and interest in your brand. Now let’s discuss the other stages of the funnel.
4. Create your landing pages
A sales funnel would be non-existent or without a landing page.
Landing pages are webpages that appear when a user clicks on an SEO-optimized search result, marketing email, or social media ad. The landing page usually contains sales copy that is a logical extension of the ad.
Landing pages are great for lead generation; they can convert site visitors into leads or sales. And landing pages aren’t just limited to just turning visitors into leads or sales alone; you can use landing pages to get users to take whatever action you like. You can get them to try a 1-week trial, register for a webinar, or even download an eBook.
If you want leads, you would include a method on the landing page through which the user can contact your company. You would usually do this with a phone number or an inquiry form. But if you require a sale, the landing page should have a link that will lead the user to a shopping cart or checkout area. By using tools like Google Analytics, you can then use metrics like click-through rates and conversion rates to judge the success of the landing page.
Squeeze pages have a very specific role. They are a type of landing page used exclusively for visitors to input their names and email addresses. But only ask for their email if it’s important for your promised value.
For instance, if you’re offering an eBook to download in exchange for an email address, this makes sense.
5. Create email sequences for your sales funnel
Sequences are how you get to interact with your newly acquired leads. In this step, the goal is to provide value by sending out informative content.
You should aim to send about one or two per week. Anything more than gets exhausting. You can encourage them to ask you questions, and you can get them to interact with you and answer questions about things that bother them.
6. Integrate your sales funnel
After you set up your beautiful landing pages, the next step would be to set up your payment systems and then integrate it with your website.
After all, you need a way to collect your money after all your hard work.
7. Test, and then optimize your sales funnel
Remember, the whole point of sales funnels is measurability (metrics), as well as optimization.
What you can’t measure you can’t manage, neither can you improve.
This is the secret to moving from breaking even to being profitable in your business.
The goal here is to test everything.
Test your landing pages. Test your email sequences. Test the headlines, CTAs (calls to action), and even test the fonts.
When it comes to conversion, things as seemingly insignificant as color and text can be more important than you may think.
Test, and then test some more.
If done right, sales funnels are super effective in bringing in massive amounts of revenue for you.
And there are literally thousands of potential customers out there who need your product; you just have to figure out a way to get your product in front of them.
Imagine getting as much as 300% returns on all your investments. Imagine creating a funnel that converts like crazy and leaves you with satisfied customers who leave raving reviews.
All of these are possible.
Just put in the work of creating a sales funnel following all the principles we’ve outlined, and you’ll start making huge profits.