In business, customer drop-off is unavoidable. Just because a lead shows interest in your product or service, a number of factors can prevent them from making that all-important sale. This is where sales funnels come in.
Sales funnels are visual tools that display each stage of the shopper's journey. They help businesses understand the motivations of their audience base, making it easier for them to convert leads into paying customers. And thanks to the advancement of customer relationship management (CRM) software, building and maintaining high-performing sales has never been easier.
If your business is looking to build or revamp its existing sales funnel, this article outlines all the steps involved in the process – from lead generation and management to customer retention. We'll also identify the model's key stages and outline some common mistakes involved with the process to help you hit the ground running.
Read on to learn how to build an effective funnel, or skip to specific sections using the links on the right-hand side.
What is a Sales Funnel?
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Also known as a purchase funnel, a sales funnel is a visual representation of a customer's buying journey. Typically broken down into the top, middle and bottom sections, the model includes all the major checkpoints a lead will go through when making a purchase. Mimicking the shape of an actual funnel, the top of the funnel is wider, with each stage becoming increasingly narrower as prospects drop off along the way.
What are its main stages?
We cover the main stages of a sales funnel below:
- Awareness — Before a customer embarks on their buying journey, they need to be aware of your offerings. This awareness could come from a variety of sources, traditional marketing, social media and word-of-mouth being just some of them.
- Interest — The next stage of the sale funnel is interest. Once a lead is exposed to your product or service, they will decide if they're interested or not. They typically reach this verdict by researching your offerings and assessing them against their own needs.
- Evaluation — Moving down the funnel, the evaluation stage is when the lead makes their final decision on whether or not to seal the deal. From a business perspective, this is an opportune time to inch them one step closer to converting through tactics like email campaigns, free trials and content marketing.
- Purchase — Nearing the end of their buying journey, this is the stage when a lead officially becomes a customer. Customers who have reached this stage will already be confident in your product or service.
- Loyalty — Even after you've successfully converted a lead into a paying customer, there is still work to be done. The loyalty stage is where customers continue expressing an interest in your brand after their initial purchase. Ideally, this is where you want customers to end their buying journey.
What are sales funnels used for?
Sales funnels aren't just marketing buzzwords. They can bring very tangible benefits to businesses — irrespective of their size and specialism. Here are just some ways modern businesses are using sales funnels.
- To provide valuable consumer insights
- To identify reasons behind drop-offs
- To attract new leads
- To increase conversion rates
- To build trust with prospects and customers
- To forecast your sales volume
How is a sales funnel different from a sales pipeline?
Sales funnels and sales pipelines both help businesses identify new sales opportunities. However, while the terms are often used synonymously, they are actually separate concepts with several key differences.
Firstly, a sales pipeline focuses on a business' own sales process and the number of revenue-making opportunities at each stage of the model. In contrast, a sales funnel displays the path leads follow to become customers, viewing the journey from the consumer's perspective, not the business'.
Secondly, because the two models view the consumer journey from different perspectives, they also include different steps. For instance, sales pipelines typically begin with the lead generation stage, while the sales funnel process begins as soon as the prospect is aware of the product or service.
Because both tools have slightly different uses, they can be even more effective when used in unison. Read our sales pipeline guide if you're interested in learning more about the model, or building your own.
How to Build a Sales Funnel
Step 1: Understand your customers
When it comes to sales funnels, insights are everything. There's no point wasting your efforts on prospects that aren't interested in your brand. Therefore, before you're able to find and convert new leads into paying customers, you need to gather as much information from your audience as possible.
There are lots of different ways to understand your customer's needs, but we recommend reaching out to your consumers directly. By creating questionnaires and email surveys, or even conducting customer interviews, it'll become much easier to understand their pain points and motivations with greater clarity. Not sure where to start? Here are a couple of questions you could ask:
- What first attracted you to our brand/product/service?
- Why did you decide to move forward with our brand/product/service?
- What challenges did our product/service help to solve?
- To what extent were your challenges solved?
- Would you repeat buy from our business, and if so why?
This data will help to inform the rest of your sales funnel, so the more information you collect, the more effective the model will be. But the process doesn't need to be time-consuming. By using CRM tools, customer surveys can be delivered in minutes, and key processes can be automated. The software also lets sales reps analyze the data with ease, allowing them to apply their findings to the next stage of the funnel.
Step 2: Capture their attention
Now you understand your customer base in detail clarity, it's time to draw prospects into your funnel. This is one of the most critical stages because if you don't attract valuable new leads, your sales funnel isn't going to yield results.
When it comes to drawing attention to your brand, there are multiple routes you can go down. Here are just a few strategies:
- Content marketing — Creating original content with plenty of calls to action (CTA) is a great way to capture your audience's attention and convert leads to customers. In fact, due to its low barrier to entry and high success rate, 90% of B2B organizations are currently using the method.
- SEO optimization — Search engine optimization (SEO) is another effective way to attract attention to your brand. By boosting the ranking of your site through strategies like keyword research, website optimization, and link building, a much larger number of leads can be exposed to your business. Not sure where to start? Take a look at our best SEO practices here.
- Pop-ups — Love them or hate them, pop-ups garner a lot of attention. Whether you opt for a subtle slide-in scroll box or inline forms, the tools are valuable ways to convert sessions into leads. But persuasive copy isn't enough, you'll also have to display lots of CTAs to give readers a clear follow-through route.
- Social media — Whether your business is B2B or B2C, social media is a powerful way to promote your band. When businesses create engaging and timely content and post it regularly, they can maximize the number of quality leads that get pulled into their sales funnels. But don't go in blind. A well-researched marketing strategy holds the key to high-performing social posts.
- Videos — Another way to collect leads for your funnel is through video marketing. Videos are a dynamic and visually engaging way to reach your audience, and they work. According to a report by Wyzowl, 83% of video marketers believe that the strategy improved their lead-gen efforts.
Step 3: Create or improve your landing page
There's no point in generating leads if they have no place to go. So, once you've drummed up some interest using some of the strategies above, it's time to work on your landing page.
Also known as a lead capture page, a landing page is a static web page designed for your prospect to land on. For many leads, the page presents the first opportunity for them to learn about your brand. When designed correctly, they can drive individuals further down the sales funnel and bring them one step closer to becoming a paying customer.
But what makes an effective landing page? Well, since its initial aim is to persuade the user to learn more about your brand, it should feature strong, eye-catching headlines and compelling copy. This text should be designed to catch the user's attention as soon as they land on the page, before advertising your offering and enticing them to know more.
Finally, a landing page wouldn't be doing its job if it wasn't capturing leads. Therefore the page should also display a bold call to action. This CTA should clearly direct the user where to go next, whether this is filling out a form, entering their email address, or browsing through your products and services.
Step 4: Create an email campaign
By this stage, leads have already expressed an interest in your product or service. Your next focus is to move them through the evaluation stage toward making a purchase. If your prospects have given you their email address, an effective way to do this is by creating an email campaign.
Email campaigns refer to a collection of messages sent out to promote your brand and increase sales. They can be a valuable way to communicate with your audience about your new products and services, as well as any discounts or offers you might be making. What's more, by reaching out to prospects with emails, rather than sending them straight through to your sales page, it makes sure a much higher percentage of your leads are qualified. This prevents you from wasting time on individuals who just aren't ready to convert.
When it comes to building your campaign, we recommend personalizing each email, and educating readers about your offerings first, before introducing sales tactics. This way, you can build trust with your subscriber before trying to seal the deal. Finally, after building trust with your prospects, it's time to present them with an offer they can't refuse, as well as a clear route to your sales page.
This doesn't need to be time nor cost-intensive, either. Email marketing software lets users create, send and track emails all from one easy-to-use platform. By doing all the heavy lifting for you, you're able to sit back and focus on the results. Not sure where to find the best solution? Read our breakdown of the best email marketing tools on the market here.
Step 5: Maintain communication
By now, your lead will have decided whether or not to make a purchase or not. If your prospect has picked your business to buy from — well done! But your work isn't quite done yet.
Maintaining communication after the sale, even with prospects who haven't made a purchase, is one of the best ways to build customer loyalty. This is important because creating a loyal consumer base is one of the most effective ways to achieve stable growth in the long run.
When it comes to keeping in touch with your leads, there are loads of different paths to take. You can continue advertising your products and services through emails, work on your social media presence, or keep them informed with a regular newsletter. Looking to go one step further? Luring customers in with a free sample or trial is one of the best tried and tested methods to attract new customers and retain existing ones.
Use CRM Software to Improve Your Sales Funnel
Fortunately for modern businesses, the days when sales funnels needed to be built manually are long gone. Thanks to CRM tools, it's now easier than ever to build and maintain the pipeline of your dreams.
When you're first looking to draw prospects into your funnel, CRM marketing tools can help you to maximize your reach. For instance, solutions like Salesforce Pardot and Keap have been specifically designed to assist with the lead capture process. They offer social, paid, and content marketing solutions from one easy-to-navigate single platform. Read our summary of the best CRM tools for marketing to learn more about what tools are available.
Looking to create a profitable landing page? CRM software can also help you to create a polished landing page packed full of engaging images, enticing copy, and effective CTAs. In fact, Hubspot offers a completely free landing page builder which lets businesses launch a page in seconds, before monitoring and analyzing its performance.
Sales Funnel Mistakes to Avoid
If you follow the steps we've outlined in this guide, converting leads into profitable customers should be smooth sailing. Yet, with the complexity involved with building a sales funnel, mistakes do happen. Here are some common sales funnel mistakes to try and avoid, and advice on how to overcome them.
- Failing to generate enough leads — Leads are the lifeblood of your funnel. Therefore, if you fail to attract a healthy amount of leads early on in the process, you're setting yourself up to fail. The best way to avoid this pitfall is by casting your net as wide as possible by using strategies like social media marketing, content and video marketing, pop-ups, and SEO optimization.
- Not using CRM tools — Sales funnels can be built manually, but the process is often costly and arduous. If you're looking to create the best funnel to your ability – and save time and money while doing so – using CRM tools really is a no-brainer.
- Making sales progression unclear — If your sales funnel doesn't take the prospect on a clear journey, it won't be very effective. To avoid losing customers along the way, you should ensure the steps in your funnel are as simple as possible, keep options to a minimum, and refrain from making the funnel too long.
- Displaying ineffective CTAs — Your CTAs should do exactly what they say – convince a lead to take action. Yet, producing weak CTAs is one of the easiest mistakes businesses can make. To make them as persuasive as possible, try to be concise, evoke emotion and speak directly to your audience and their pain points.
- Failing to follow up with leads — According to research, it takes an average of six to eight touchpoints before a prospect becomes qualified. Despite this, many businesses give up on leads before they decide to convert. By setting up and automating a campaign with robust e-mailing marketing software, your audience will be much more likely to move through your sales funnel.
Build a High-Converting Sales Funnel Today
As this guide should make clear, an effective sales funnel has the power to dramatically benefit a business' bottom line. By creating a funnel that's tailored to your business' needs, the lead capture and conversion process can become simpler, and more fruitful than ever.
And building a well-performing funnel doesn't need to be a headache either. By following the five-step process we've outlined above, your business can be benefiting from a streamlined sales funnel within a couple of days. Moreover, by automating key processes with CRM solutions like email marketing platforms and landing page builders, you'll be able to save valuable time and money along the way.
But remember, the work doesn't end once you've made your funnel. The tool needs constant maintenance to yield the best results. If you're interested in using useful software to create and maintain your tunnel, you can use our CRM comparison tool to receive quotes in minutes.
Frequently Asked Questions
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