Your ability to create an effective sales funnel is what determines the life or death of your business. It is the foundation of what attracts and converts new customers and keeps them coming back.

What exactly is a sales funnel?

Image source: Max Fevilll, modified and used under CC license

It’s a system that uses brand messaging to guide potential customers toward purchasing and advocacy, via the process of turning a lead in to a prospect, a prospect into a paying customer, and a paying customer into a returning one.

But how do you define leads and prospects? Aren’t these part of B2B marketing terminology? Not necessarily.

Leads Individuals who have provided contact information and, in doing so, are pointed toward a potential sales opportunity.

Prospects – Qualified and interested individuals who, through two-way interaction, have demonstrated they are preparing to make a purchase decision.

An ecommerce sales funnel has multitudes of both of the above.

It is shaped like an upside down pyramid because it starts with leads, of which typically you see the highest volume. As the leads advance down the funnel, it is inevitable that many will drop off.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of a sales funnel, when aligned with the customer journey, is that it will keep you from wasting valuable time, effort, and money trying to sell to people who are simply not interested. In turn, you are able to put more focus into the valuable leads.

Crafting a top-notch sales funnel is not something that can be done overnight. While the basic principles are relatively simple, there are a lot of elements that go into making it successful. When crafting a funnel that has customizations unique to your business, consider these key factors in your efforts to help build a loyal customer base:

1. Design Awesome Landing Pages

Think of your landing pages as your potential customers’ first impression of you. A landing page should contain relevant information about your product or service with a clear call to action (CTA).

In addition to informing the viewer of everything they need to know to take the next step, a landing page should be visually appealing and include a few key features to up your chances of capturing customer information. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

CTA Placement: Always make sure the CTA is above the fold. As a general rule of thumb, the CTA should become obvious to the user in a fraction of a second. Take Lyft for instance.

The bold “Become a Driver” CTA button is the first thing you see on their homepage. It leaves no doubt in your mind what you’re supposed to do here.

Message: Landing pages should have one single focus or message. Here is an example from Brandwatch.

The landing page is not merely visually appealing – it’s a clear message of:

  • What the product can help you do (Know what consumers think.)
  • How it will do that (Discover insights from conversations.)
  • What you can do with it (Be the first to act on an opportunity.)

It’s simple and straight to the point.

Incentive: Clearly present additional impetus for the viewer to direct them towards conversion. This could be anything that gives them an immediate benefit, such as a coupon for signing up or a free trial. Look at this example from REI.

The 20% off coupons are rationale for signing up.

Video: Try adding a video to your page. Studies have found that incorporating video on landing pages can potentially increase conversions by 86%.

There is no shame in bringing in experts to work on your landing pages. Optimizing landing pages for conversions is vital to your ecommerce business. Consumers’ attention spans are shorter than ever these days. If you fail to capture their attention right off the bat, they’ll have no problem finding the X button on their browsers.

2. Diversify Your Sources of Web Traffic

Creating top-notch landing pages is one the most crucial steps to building an effective sales funnel. However, it’s only part of the battle. You can have the best landing pages the internet has ever seen, but if you’re not drawing visitors to them, they aren’t doing you any good.

Remember, your goal is to find targeted leads. The days of aimlessly throwing out a big net in hopes of getting a handful of bites are over.

There are two distinct methods of directing traffic to your pages. There is paid traffic and organic traffic. It’s important to note that organic isn’t synonymous with free.

Paid traffic includes things like:

Pay Per Click (PPC): PPC works via advertisements that lead users to landing pages when clicked on. These ads can be displayed in various text, image, and video formats on search engines, display networks associated with search engines (e.g., online publications), social media, or app networks.

You’ll only be charged (up to a price you bid) when someone clicks on your ad. PPC is a great way to gain some quick traffic from search engines, websites, apps, and social media.

Google AdWords and Facebook Ads are the de facto platforms to try out if you’re just getting started with PPC.

A subset of PPC is retargeting or remarketing, which helps narrow down your targeting by advertising only to people who are already aware of your brand or have shown interest in your product (as gauged by their actions on the internet). Again, these ads can be run on search engines, social media, websites, or apps.

AdRoll and Retargeter are a couple of very good multi-channel retargeting service providers; these also offer customization, CRM integrations, and real-time bidding. Or if you’re an ONTRAPORT user, you can retarget your contacts with Facebook ads using the integration with Facebook Custom Audiences.

Media Buys: The purchase of advertising space on online publishers’ websites is called media buying. Automated digital media buying can be set up and tracked via a demand-side platform (DSP). The DSP then populates targeted banner or display ads from the advertiser on the chosen spots on the publisher’s website or app.

Banner ads, while much maligned, can work very well if they’re shown on relevant sites in the right context. Until a few years ago, display ads were all spray-and-pray, but time (and technology) have changed. As digital marketing matures, display ads are now neck-and-neck with search ads in their ability to micro-target specific audiences.

Programmatic buying is the game-changer that has turned around the fortunes of display advertising for the better. It automates the process of buying and selling display inventory on publishers’ websites and removes the need to pre-book display inventory. Instead, you can now define the type of user your ad is targeted at according to their age, sex, location, interests, keywords used, etc., and show ads to only those users at the most competitive rates via a real-time bidding process. BuySellAds is a DSP that can help you get started with all this.

Organic traffic consists of visitors who are attracted by content marketing on channels such as:

Social Media: The reason that the majority of ecommerce businesses don’t do well on social media is that they don’t understand the fundamental fact that most users do not log in to their accounts to be blatantly sold to. 

In order to measure sales, revenue and costs in a meaningful way, you have to understand what you are trying to accomplish with social media. There are three primary goals with any marketing activity: brand awareness, customer retention and lead generation.

Each of these goals comes with a unique set of metrics that tie back to profits. In order to align your social media goals to your sales funnel and buying cycle, you need to identify and measure these metrics.

  • Exposure, influence and engagement are the result of brand awareness activities.
  • Actions and conversions are the result of lead nurturing activities.
  • Retention is the result of customer care activities.

The trick lies in consistently posting content that plays to contextual interests, while forming powerful connections. Creating content in platform-specific formats is essential to start off on the right foot. For example, video is the content format of choice for today’s social and mobile consumer. When it comes to videos, no industry is “boring.” Even soap brands are doing it…


Driving traffic to your website will always be a tough task. It will most likely require quite a bit of trial and error. Be sure to track your strategies to find which method works best for you and your audience.

3. Supplement With Relevant Blog Content

When it comes to pushing out brand messaging, consumers are going to have a lot of questions. There’s no way around it. Adding blog content with links to actionable landing pages is one of the best ways to show exactly how adept you are in your industry.

With blogs, you can attract audiences with relevant information, educate them, and guide them to either sign up for your mailing list or go to your product listings. In a sense, you can think of a blog post as a long-copy sales letter (without sounding too promotional, of course).

Blogging does a lot to build trust between you and the reader. It shows you are dedicated to your customers and lets them know why you are unique.

Take Shopify for example. Shopify knows full-well that they are selling a generalized digital commodity (shopping cart) that needs to be personalized for every customer. In turn, they go above and beyond their product to educate their customers (online retailers) with blog posts on pretty much every relevant topic. No surprise that they call it a “business encyclopedia.”

4. Use an Auto-Responder to Follow Up With Leads

So you have top-notch landing pages, supplemented by stellar blog content, combined with a well-planned traffic generation campaign. You’re seeing new leads left and right and starting to get overwhelmed. It is very difficult to reach out to every lead in a timely manner and guide all of them down your sales funnel.

This is where auto-responder emails will save you and keep your leads on that conversion conveyor. An auto-responder will enable you to send preset emails to leads over a set period of time. These emails don’t have to be sent to every single lead; you can personalize them to be sent based on certain triggers — actions taken by individuals that meet certain requirements, such as how many times they’ve visited your site or what landing pages they’ve interacted with.

When incorporating an auto-responder series into your sales funnel, consider a set-up like this:

  • First email – a message thanking them for their interest in your brand and welcoming them to your community
  • Second email – pointing them to useful blog posts that will answer their concerns, which you determine from their on-site activity
  • Third email – a sales pitch offering them deals on the products they have shown interest in
  • Fourth email – after they’ve made a purchase, rewarding them for it, while upselling additional products

Your business obviously has its own set of needs and practices so you can organize your email blasts whichever way works best. There are a lot of awesome platforms out there that let you segment your subscribers, choose email templates, craft personalized messages, and put in place dynamic sending schedules. Some of these are GetResponse, ONTRAPORT and MailChimp.

Over to You

Every business needs a sales funnel. Each has different means of guiding potential customers to a conversion. Be sure that all the strategies you adopt and adjustments you make are backed up with data-driven result tracking so you can learn exactly what your target audience is looking for and what channels to utilize to give it to them.

An effective sales funnel, like Rome, cannot be built overnight. It will likely take a lot of dead ends, testing, and patience to start seeing numbers that will take your brand to the next level.

About the Author

Tracy Vides is a content strategist and researcher who gives small businesses and entrepreneurs marketing and social media advice. Tracy is also a prolific blogger, and her posts are featured on Engadget, She Owns It and Usability Geek.

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