9 November, 2017
The following article was written in conjunction with Sion Phillpott, a content contributor with DQ Media.
The frustration of trying to scale a business online can easily provide sleepless nights. Your traffic sources are good, the product offers value, and the capital is in place, so what is going wrong? Well, the truth is, the vital difference between companies that continue to grow and those that stagnate can be explained relatively easily: the implementation and utilisation of a well-structured sales funnel.
In the following guide, we will explain what a sales funnel is, how it works, and how your business can incorporate one to increase your success.
What Is A Sales Funnel?
Essentially, a sales funnel is exactly what it sounds like. The goal is to lead your traffic through a series of steps (the structure of which will depend upon the product), with the overall intention of converting them into paying customers – and then ideally retaining them.
Of course, in reality the process is slightly more complicated than this. Many digital customers won’t buy from you at first glance (especially if you sell high-end products or services), and as a result you will need to build up a carefully cultivated relationship over a period of time.
Although there can theoretically be as many steps as you want in your sales funnel, it is best to keep your strategy simple. For the most part though, there are typically four stages involved in a successful sales funnel. They are broken down into the following:
Stage One – Awareness and Lead Generation
Before you can sell anything, people need to know that your product exists – and you will have more success if you are marketing it to your ideal target audience. To ensure the right people are seeing your offers, consider the following two questions:
1. Who is my ideal customer?
This is a simple concept, but surprisingly overlooked by many businesses. Knowing who your target audience are will save you a lot of time and wasted effort, and tailoring your marketing to them will increase your chances of making sales. Sit down and figure out which group of people are the most likely to be interested in your product.
2. Where can I find them?
Once you have done that, you need to consider where to find them. Build up customer profiles by asking yourself relevant questions about their behaviours and activities; what kind of salary do they earn? What part of the city do they live in? Are they men or women? The more precise the picture, the easier it will be to find and target them online.
Once you have figured out your audience, you want to convert them into leads. There are many ways of reaching out:
- Invest in paid advertisements on search engines and social media
- Create engaging, fresh and unique content on your blog and on other blogs
- Answer questions and provide value on relevant forums and interest groups
- Constantly develop your social media presence
- Don’t neglect SEO, and ensure you appear in search results for relevant keywords
You can also buy leads, but this isn’t recommended. Typically these leads gave their permission for their data to be used by a different business, and your contacting them is at best unwanted and annoying, and at worst can get you blacklisted by email providers.
Finally, don’t underestimate the quality of your landing pages and website. A shoddily constructed, visually unappealing website will turn people off straight away, undoing all that hard marketing work. Alternatively, a professional looking and user-friendly website will immediately give the impression that you are a serious and reliable business. If you need to hire a developer, then do - your landing pages will be the first impression people have of your business, and it needs to be a good one.
Stage Two – Qualify Your Leads
Once you have started to attract traffic to your landing pages, the next step is to gather email addresses. A mailing list is an essential asset of any business, as it gives you a unique and targeted audience that has not only demonstrated their interest in your product, but has given consent for you to advertise directly to them. In terms of the sales funnel, it also filters out the traffic that is likely not to be interested.
Of course, in exchange for this highly valuable information, you will have to provide something in return. For example, if you are selling software, you could offer a free 14-day trial; if you are a fitness trainer, you could offer one free video session or a nutrition e-book.
Just remember that your competitors will be doing the same thing, so try to provide something genuinely impressive. The customer will be more likely to buy from you if they are blown away by their initial impression.
This can be a make-or-break stage in the process, and so there doesn’t have to be a time limit (within reason) between the initial contact and the sale. In fact, you should try in these initial interactions to focus on getting across your identity and personality as a business. This can be difficult to achieve effectively, and can involve days or even weeks of carefully balanced communications – don’t pitch too much, but at the same time don’t forget that your goal is to sell your product.
Additionally, for very high-end products, online-only communication is probably not going to cut it. Nobody is going to spend five figures on something just by reading about it in an email. You need to create a more personalised environment to build trust – speak with your client over the phone or in person (with their permission of course), and tailor material (such as videos or seminars) specifically to them.
Stage Three – Qualify Your Buyers
Now that you have attracted some leads, you need to convert them into buyers. At this point you will have built up some trust and the customer will be at the point of decision – this is where you want to compel them to take action.
The customer should be clearly presented with the opportunity to buy one of your products. You can do this via a sales page immediately after the opt-in, where you offer something cheap and convenient but still related to your customer’s interests; think of it like the impulse buy section at a supermarket check-out.
Alternatively, you can focus more on creating sales emails, where you provide special offers or discounts that entice your leads to make a purchase – it depends on what you are selling, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. The important thing is to ensure that they click on that “buy” button.
At this stage it is also important to not just focus on one product; offer other related products that your customer may be interested in that supplement their existing purchase (for example, if they are buying a scarf, recommend some gloves and hats too).
This is also the perfect opportunity to upsell. This traditionally works best with subscription services and involves offering an upgraded version of their chosen product. For example, if you are selling a mobile phone service that offers 2GB of internet data per month at £18.99, before the customer can confirm their purchase you can offer 4GB of data per month for £29.99. This direct comparison between two similar products is more likely to entice customers to choose the more expensive option.
Downselling should not be ignored either. Although you may wonder why you would want someone to give you less money, but downselling can be a great way of building trust and loyalty with your business, resulting in a higher likelihood of further purchases. Always focus on what the customer wants rather than what you are selling, and the fact that customers are looking for value.
Stage Four – After the Purchase
Although the overall end goal of the sales funnel is to make a sale, what occurs afterwards is equally as important. Follow up on purchases by ensuring your customer is satisfied – you can even ask if they require any additional assistance with their purchase.
After a period of time, you can then offer these customers more products, especially if they are related to their previous purchase. For example, if someone recently bought a laptop off you, you can offer carrier cases, anti-virus software, or additional hardware items. If they are happy with the service they received on the initial purchase, then they are far more likely to buy from you again than go elsewhere.
Keep developing new offers and discounts that will give more value to your existing customers – don’t just neglect them in favour of chasing new ones. You can be slightly more direct and personal with these customers, as you now have an existing relationship.
Here are two examples of sales funnels – both based on real life – that have seen the companies that built them experience huge success and growth.
Example One – The Subscription Services Business
The company in this example consistently doubled its conversions and revenues year on year. It is effective in its simplicity – and utilises the acquisition of the customer’s email address to continue to build the relationship.
Stage One: The company has an excellent blog that contains frequent, high-quality and unique content. As a result, they are highly visible on Google, driving a large amount of traffic to their blog posts.
Stage Two: They have a clear call-to-action at the end of each of these posts, as well as a pop-up that offers a free 30-day trial of their product if you sign up to their mailing list. After you opt-in, you are taken to their homepage.
Stage Three: Their homepage then gives a brief, concise and user-friendly description of the services they offer. When you scroll to the bottom, you see the pricing plan for each package they offer. Finally, when you select your package, you are taken to the billing page.
Stage Four: If you do not purchase anything, you receive further emails explaining the benefits of employing the system they offer. They do not oversell but give examples of real-life situations in which their product can solve certain problems. When you do purchase, you receive further emails offering assistance and support and ensuring you are getting the most out of your purchase.
Example Two – The Coupon Discount Business
This is a good example of a company being slightly more aggressive in their approach but in a clever way. If you do not provide your email, then you cannot access the product – and the product is essentially the delivery of coupons and huge discounts on other products to your email address.
Stage One: The company attracts traffic via a combination of methods, including paid adverts, organic traffic, affiliate marketing, content marketing and more.
Stage Two: When you reach the company’s homepage, you are asked to provide your email address in order to receive their offers. The offer is sweetened with the incentive of a free coupon on your first purchase, just for signing up.
You can only view the full website after you have completed this opt-in. Once you do, the homepage redirects to a localised version of the site specific to the user.
Stage Three: When you click on an offer or a product you are taken to a billing page. Related offers that you might be interested in are also displayed at this point.
Stage Four: Each day you receive new offers of coupons and discounts (although you can tweak how often you receive communications from the company).
How We Can Help
While you might be feeling slightly overwhelmed by all this information, it is important that you understand sales funnels and why are they so vital to the success of your business. The whole idea is that aside from allowing you to increase sales, you can also use the subsequent data for analysis purposes. Having the tools to quantify a consistent conversion rate – and all without the help of an expensive management consultant – is invaluable to your growth and development as a company.
For example, if it costs you £10 to attract 100 people to your site, but you know that 2 of those people will convert on a product sold at £20 each, you will have made £40 off a £10 investment – or an ROI of 300 per cent. If you know for certain that you will make £4 off every £1 invested, then the opportunities to scale are incredible.
This is why you should not cut corners when you are building your sales funnel. While there is an absolute wealth of information, opinion and speculation out there, it can be difficult to learn and master every single step (especially as each component of the funnel is a science in its own right), but when it all comes together you will start to see the growth and the success of the companies listed in the examples.
The best way to move forward is with a bit of help – why not cut your learning curve and move towards your end goals quicker, by taking action today.