Your ability to create an effective sales funnel can determine the success or failure of your business. It is the foundation for attracting and converting new customers, and it 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. This is done by turning a lead into a prospect, a prospect into a paying customer, and a paying customer into a returning one.

But how do you define leads and prospects and how do they differ?

While leads are any potential customer you have not yet had the chance to qualify, prospects are a little bit further down the funnel. A prospect is a potential customer who meets three criteria: fits your target market, has the money to buy, and is authorized to make buying decisions. 

You gather leads first, qualify them into prospects, and then move them through your sales funnel. 

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 on 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 appealing 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 viewers 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 Hulu for instance.

The centered, white “START YOUR FREE TRIAL” CTA button is the first thing you see on their homepage. It leaves no doubt what you’re supposed to do here.

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

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. For example, a company could give 20% off coupons on their website as a rationale for signing up for a membership.  

Video: Try adding a video to your page. Studies have found that having a video on your landing page can increase your conversion rate by 80%

Optimizing landing pages is vital to your ecommerce business. With consumers’ attention spans shorter than ever these days, if you fail to capture their attention right off the bat, they’ll have no problem leaving the page.

2. Diversify your sources of web traffic

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.

Media buys: The purchase of advertising space on online publishers’ websites — such as Google ads, Facebook ads and Instagram — is called media buying. Because it can get confusing to manage ads on many different networks, you can use demand-side platforms (DSPs) to purchase, analyze and manage ads across many networks from a single place. DSP also 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, banner ads 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: Programmatic buying, which includes DSPs and Ad Networks, is an advanced extension of the traditional two-party system between advertisers and publishers. Along with automating the process of managing and purchasing digital advertising inventory through one interface, programmatic buying allows advertisers to target specific users based on data such as gender, age, location and browsing behavior. The advantage of using these automated systems is that marketers will no longer have to focus on picking the right websites to advertise on because the system will publish ads, using user data, depending on audience characteristics.

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

Social media: The reason that so many businesses don’t do well on social media is that they aren’t considering 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. If a company’s social media content appeals to the customer, that customer will continue to engage with the company and potentially continue to interact. These interactions could include visiting the website or other pages which could result in conversion. Creating content in platform-specific formats is essential to starting off on the right foot. For example, video is the content format of choice for today’s social and mobile consumer. 

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 important information about both your brand and the subject the consumers have questions about, will enhance your brand awareness and educate your consumers.

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.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that most people arrive on your blog for content, not to be sold. A conspicuous “next step post placed at the bottom of your post leaves readers with the feeling that they’re not done yet and need to click that link to continue what they’ve started. What you link them to can be just a standard blog post, but a more effective marketing funnel leads to a content landing page. 

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. They go beyond just promoting their product and aim to educate their customers (online retailers) with blog posts on pretty much every relevant topic. 

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 an automated email funnel will save you and keep your leads on that conversion conveyor. Automation 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.

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 platforms out there, including Ontraport, that let you segment your subscribers, choose email templates, craft personalized messages, and put in place dynamic sending schedules.

Over to you

Every business 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, but with the right planning and strategies, you’ll be well on your way. 

About Tracy Vides
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. Now she works at Studyclerk as a content creator.