What is a Sales Funnel?
The sales funnel is each step that someone has to take in order to become your customer.
Let’s look at a brick-and-mortar sales funnel.
The people at the top of the sales funnel walk by your store. A certain percentage of them decide to walk in, that’s the next next of the funnel.
A customer sees a rack of T-shirts on clearance. He or she thumbs through the rack, now they’re at the next step of the funnel. Then the customer selects four t-shirts and walks to the check-out. They’re at the last step. If all goes well, they finish the purchase and reach the bottom of the funnel.
This same process plays out for every business in one way or the other. Your sales funnel could exist as:
- Retail store
- Sales team
- Personal consultation
Any marketing channel can be part of your sales funnel. And your funnel might be spread across several channels.
Why is a sales funnel important?
Your sales funnel illustrates the path prospects take.
Understanding your funnel can helps you find the holes in the funnel — the places where prospects drop out and never convert.
If you don’t understand your sales funnel, you can’t optimize it. We’ll go into the specifics of how the funnel works below, but for now, understand that you can influence how visitors move through the funnel and whether they eventually convert
The Sales Funnel Explained: How it Works
While there are lots of words used to describe different sales funnel stages, we’re going to go with the four most common terms to explain how each stage works as a consumer goes from a visitor to a prospect to a lead to a buyer.
A visitor lands on your website through a Google search or social link. He or she is now a prospect. The visitor might check out a few of your blog posts or browse your product listings. At some point, you offer him or her a chance to sign up for your email list.
If the visitor fills out your form, he or she becomes a lead. You can now market to the customer outside of your website, such as via email, phone, or text — or all three.
Leads tend to come back to your website when you contact them with special offers, information about new blog posts, or other intriguing messages. Maybe you offer a coupon code.
The sales funnel narrows as visitors move through it. This is partially because you’ll have more prospects at the top of the funnel than buyers at the bottom, but also because your messaging needs to become increasingly targeted.
Understand the 4 Sales Funnel Stages
It’s easy to remember the four sales funnel stages by the acronym AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action. These four stages represent your prospective customer’s mindset.
Each stage requires a different approach from you, the marketer, because you don’t want to send the wrong message at the wrong time. It’s kind of like a waiter asking you what you want for dessert before you’ve even ordered drinks and appetizers.
Let’s look at each stage in the sales funnel in more detail.
This is the moment at which you first catch a consumer’s attention. It might be a tweet, a Facebook post shared by a friend, a Google search, or something else entirely.
Your prospect becomes aware of your business and what you offer.
When the chemistry is just right, consumers sometimes buy immediately. It’s a right-place, right-time scenario. The consumer has already done research and knows that you’re offering something desirable and at a reasonable price.
More often, the awareness stage is more of a courtship. You’re trying to woo the prospect into returning to your site and engaging more with your business.
When consumers reach the interest stage in the sales funnel, they’re doing research, comparison shopping, and thinking over their options. This is the time to swoop in with incredible content that helps them, but doesn’t sell to them.
If you’re pushing your product or service from the beginning, you’ll turn off prospects and chase them away. The goal here is to establish your expertise, help the consumer make an informed decision, and offer to help them in any way you can.
The decision stage of the sales funnel is when the customer is ready to buy. He or she might be considering two or three options — hopefully, including you.
This is the time to make your best offer. It could be free shipping when most of your competition charges, a discount code, or a bonus product. Whatever the case, make it so irresistible that your lead can’t wait to take advantage of it.
At the very bottom of the sales funnel, the customer acts. He or she purchases your product or service and becomes part of your business’s ecosystem.
Just because a consumer reaches the bottom of the funnel, however, doesn’t mean your work is done. Action is for the consumer and the marketer. You want to do your best to turn one purchase into 10, 10 into 100, and so on.
In other words, you’re focusing on customer retention. Express gratitude for the purchase, invite your customer to reach out with feedback, and make yourself available for tech support, if applicable.
An Effective Sales Funnel Example
Imagine that you own an ecommerce business that sells vintage signs. You know that your target audience hangs out on Facebook a lot and that your target customers are males and females between 25 and 65 years of age.
You run a fantastic Facebook Ad that drives traffic to a landing page. On the page, you ask your prospect to sign up for your email list in exchange for a lead magnet. Pretty simple, right?
Now you have leads instead of prospects. They’re moving through the funnel.
Over the next few weeks, you send out content to educate your subscribers about vintage signs, to share design inspiration, and to help consumers figure out how to hang these signs.
At the end of your email blitz, you offer a 10 percent coupon off each customer’s entire first order. Bang! You’re selling vintage signs like crazy. Everyone wants what you’re selling.
Next, you add those same customers to a new email list. You start the process over again, but with different content. Give them ideas for gallery walls, advise them about how to care for their signs, and suggest signs as gifts. You’re asking them to come back for more.
There you have it:
- Awareness: You created a Facebook ad to funnel (pun intended) people to your website.
- Interest: You offer something of value in exchange for lead capture.
- Decision: Your content informs your audience and prepares them for a purchase.
- Action: You offer a coupon your leads can’t resist, then begin marketing to them again to boost retention.
How to Build a Sales Funnel Fast
You’re stoked now, right? You want to create a sales funnel now — and fast. Don’t worry. It’s not as difficult as it might seem.
Step 1: Analyze Your Audience’s Behavior
The more you know about your audience, the more effective your sales funnel becomes. You’re not marketing to everybody. You’re marketing to people who are a good fit for what you sell.
Sign up for a Crazy Egg account and start creating Snapshots. These user behavior reports help you monitor site activity and figure out how people engage with your site.
Where do they click? When do they scroll? How much time do they spend on a particular page? All of these data points will help you refine your buyer personas.
Step 2: Capture Your Audience’s Attention
The only way your sales funnel works is if you can lure people into it. This means putting your content in front of your target audience.
Take the organic route and post tons of content across all of your platforms. Diversify with infographics, videos, and other types of content.
If you’re willing to spend more cash, run a few ads. The ideal place to run those ads depends on where your target audience hangs out. If you’re selling B2B, LinkedIn ads might be the perfect solution.
Step 3: Build a Landing Page
Your ad or other content needs to take your prospects somewhere. Ideally, you want to direct them to a landing page with a can’t-miss offer.
Since these people are still low in the sales funnel, focus on capturing leads instead of pushing the sale.
A landing page should steer the visitor toward the next step.
You need a bold call to action that tells them exactly what to do, whether it’s downloading a free e-book or watching an instructional video.
Step 4: Create an Email Drip Campaign
Market to your leads through email by providing amazing content. Do so regularly, but not too frequently. One or two emails per week should suffice.
Build up to the sale by educating your market first. What do they want to learn? What obstacles and objections do you need to overcome to convince them to buy?
At the end of your drip campaign, make an incredible offer. That’s the piece of content that will inspire your leads to act.
Step 5: Keep in Touch
Don’t forget about your existing customers. Instead, continue reaching out to them. Thank them for their purchases, offer additional coupon codes, and involve them in your social media sphere.