Every successful company, from tiny single-person startups to towering trillion-dollar empires, has a sales funnel. What are they and how can you use them in your own business? Well, that’s what we’re here to explain.
What is a Sales Funnel?
A sales funnel is a way to keep you from wasting your efforts. They filter out the consumers who aren’t interested, so you can get the best use of your advertising money. Funnels are most popular for online businesses—they’re easier to keep track of when they’re entirely online, and online content is particularly well suited for them.
So here’s the basic outline of how a sales funnel works. The usual model is Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action, or AIDA for short.
Awareness is when the customer first learns about the brand—the fact that they even exist. Advertisements are mostly good for this stage, and not so much for others.
Interest is when the customer starts to realize that a brand might be able to help them. Free offers are useful at this stage, as they bring the customer more aligned with the brand and give them a feeling that they’ve gained something from the brand already.
Desire starts when the customer understands why they need the product or service. The brand pushes it more, and the customer thinks that maybe they have a problem, and maybe the product can solve their problem. Maybe it’s even worth paying for.
Action, the final stage, is entirely up to the customer. It’s when the final decision is left on the table for them. Purchase the product, or not.
Of course, it isn’t always that simple. Many sales funnels include optional side steps that lead into other funnels, better offers, smaller offers. Anything to keep the hook engaged in a potential customer who’s already come part of the way.
For example, a cooking site might offer a free one-week meal plan, which is the bait for buying a cookbook later. But even if the customer doesn’t buy the cookbook, you got their email to send them the free meal plan. Which means now you can send them advertisements.
The cookbook might be 25% off. 50% off, if that didn’t work. The customer could be encouraged to sign up to the newsletter, which highlights new recipes every week to keep them coming back to the site. Maybe the website can offer a discount on the anniversary of signing up for the newsletter. Whatever it takes.
This is a clever technique, because it means that even if the consumer exits the sales funnel, they land in a separate funnel. This is called “funnel stacking,” and it also comes in other forms—such as when one funnel brings people into a restaurant, and the next funnel starts when the waitress offers them the dessert specials. Upselling is an excellent use for a funnel, because everyone being sold the upsale has already bought something from the brand.
How to Do It
So these are the basic concepts, but how can you put them together? How can you build your own sales funnel? A cheap and easy shortcut is called funnel hacking.
Funnel hacking means looking at your competitors and seeing how their sales funnels work. (That’s why nearly every recipe site offers a free one-week meal plan.) To understand your competition the best you can, follow their funnel all the way through to the moment of purchase. This has the added benefit of wasting a small amount of their time and resources, as the funnel is designed to encourage people to follow it only if they are willing to buy at the end.
If funnel hacking didn’t give you a clear enough vision, or if you need more help executing what you learned from hacking, here are some more tips. Many of them are taken from Clickfunnels’ excellent resources at https://www.clickfunnels.com/blog/sales-funnels/, which teach you everything you need to know about every kind of funnel.
Your first goal is to direct traffic to your squeeze page, the part of your website where the funneling process begins. Targeted ads and search engine optimization are good for this. Remember, this is the first part of your funnel. It should already be funneling away people who are not interested in your topic or your service.
When you have the traffic, you need some bait. This is the example of the meal plan again, but it’s also free samples at the mall. Once, I went to a special event at a grocery store where they were offering free makeup tutorials for teenagers, showing how to put on makeup in a tasteful and elegant way… and also, of course, showing you exactly which products were best to use.
The next step is usually to offer a small, low-risk product. For an online cosmetics company, for example, these might be small sample containers, and perhaps the customer would only pay shipping. Returning again to the meal plan example, a longer, month-long meal plan for only a few dollars would be a good next offer.
The second offer might be given during checkout, perhaps encouraging customers to join an email newsletter. They can also be upsold—or, if they hesitate, downsold, meaning that they are given an even lower-risk, smaller offer that they may be more willing to take.
Finally, the third offer is the true point, the goal of all of the previous steps. If people are willing to take this final step, they are likely to be permanent customers, returning on a regular basis, a strong customer base that you can rely on. And that’s the basis for the entire funnel—people aren’t usually willing to become dedicated, repeat customers for a new and unfamiliar brand. You have to reel your customers in slowly.
So now you know everything you need to! You can build a top-quality sales funnel that turns complete strangers into permanent and dedicated customers, loyal to your brand. All it takes is a little patience, and a little careful design.