Above anything else, what most small business owners want is to gain more customers and increase sales. If you feel like your sales and customer base have some room for improvement, this is where sales funnels come in. By creating a sales funnel, measuring its results, and upgrading it over time, you’ll have a streamlined system that allows you to easily increase sales whenever needed.
Basically, a sales funnel represents the path your customers go through from finding out about your business to actually making a purchase. Your business can have more than one funnel, especially if you have multiple marketing channels. For example, your sales funnel for flyer distribution might look dramatically different from your sales funnel for social media.
For this guide, we focus on creating an online sales funnels. The success of online funnels are measurable. We show you how they work and include helpful examples that you can learn from. Take what you discover here and apply it to creating your own sales funnels.
Creating an Online Sales Funnel
When it comes to planning your sales funnel, you’re usually working with at least four levels:
Level 1: Brand Awareness
The first level is where potential customers first get to hear about your business. In many cases, this is through a referral from your previous customers, but you can also use the following channels:
- Social media. Social media is an easy way to help spread awareness about your business. When someone “likes” or “shares” one of your posts, this activity appears on the social media feed of their contacts. This leads new people to see your brand name for the first time and give them an initial impression of what your business does.
- Websites. Websites also work as brand awareness channels, especially if a prospect searches online for businesses like yours.
- Blog. It’s not unusual anymore for prospects to learn about businesses by encountering their blog first. According to data from HubSpot, small businesses that blog at least 11 times per month have 3 times more traffic than those that do not blog or only blog once per month. Consider this data if you plan to use your blog as a brand awareness channel.
- Ads. These could range from ads in your local newspaper or pay-per-click online ads you buy through platforms like Google Adwords or Facebook Ads.
Learn more about starting a blog, from choosing a platform to setting your initial content strategy:
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Crucial Vacuum, which sells vacuum cleaner replacement parts, uses online video for brand awareness. By publishing tutorial videos about how to use and install the replacement parts they sell, they easily come up on search engine results when a user searches for information on specific parts.
If, while watching the video, you decide to check out the brand, you’ll be led to their website. The site has a popup that allows visitors to redeem a discount coupon in exchange for social shares. You’ll only do this if you’re a potential buyer rather than someone who just landed on the page but isn’t really there to buy.
This leads us to the next level of the sales funnel—lead gathering.
Level 2: Lead Gathering
At this level, your funnel will have to separate people who are aware of your business but are uninterested from those who are potential prospects. These prospects are also known as leads. You’ll need to have direct access to them either by having their contact information or some other kind of connection, such as prospects following you on social media.
Take the below example from Lawn Doctor. A typical visitor to their website might just look at the page. But those with more immediate purchasing intent will fill up their form to get a quick quote.
You can also use online forms to request your prospects’ contact information if they want you to contact them with more or to send them additional materials such as online brochures or whitepapers.
Apart from online forms, here are other channels you can use to capture leads:
- Email list subscription. You can turn website visitors, social media followers, and even walk-in customers into leads by asking them to subscribe to your email list. This email list can give them content via email newsletters, an autoresponder sequence, or you can use other email marketing techniques.
- Social media. Basically, your social media leads are those who choose to like or follow your account. Unlike leads who subscribe via email or who give you their contact information, social media followers aren’t as easy to get in touch with individually.
- Landing pages. A landing page is simply a highly focused webpage that’s usually meant for capturing leads (here’s a more comprehensive guide.) Landing pages typically have online forms or email subscription forms. It’s a good idea to have a dedicated landing page for each individual funnel. For example, if you operate a lawn and garden service, it’s best to have one landing page for prospects who are interested in weekly lawn maintenance and a separate landing page for landscape design. Those two services address completely different needs which are better addressed separately. To make the process faster, especially if you plan on making several pages, use existing landing page templates or browse through or curated selection below:
Level 3: Lead Qualifying
Now that you’ve gathered your leads, it’s possible that you can skip to the next level and sell to them. Or, you can qualify them further by figuring out their level of purchasing interest in your products or services. The higher their interest or the greater their need, the more qualified they are.
One example is from Emblem, a law practice specializing in intellectual property, is an online quiz that informs users of the type of help they need. More than that, the quiz also serves as an indicator of the user’s need or interest in their services. Based on the questions, if the user doesn’t have a business or product idea, or doesn’t have a company, then they’re not as qualified to be a customer.
Once you get your results, you have a starting point of what to discuss with the company, along with a link for contacting them directly.
You don’t have to use a quiz like this to qualify customers. Here are your other options:
- Email autoresponder sequence. If you gather your leads on an email list, you can input them into an autoresponder sequence—a series of emails meant to drive readers toward action. The more your subscribers open your emails, click the link inside those emails, and even respond to you, the more qualified they usually are. They are more likely to remember your brand and engage with your future communications rather than those who never opened your emails.
- Two-way communication. You can also invite your leads to chat with a sales representative via phone or instant messaging. That way, they can clarify any details and ask questions about your products and services in real time. Only interested leads are likely to participate in something like this. Most tire-kickers and window shoppers are happy to browse websites and look for information online.
Level 4: Sale
The final step of your sales funnel is the sale. This is the part where your leads turn into actual paying customers. At this point, you will have directed them to a sales page, your online store, or requested for payment details.
Don’t worry if not all your qualified leads turn into sales — that’s just how sales funnels work. There’s rarely such a thing as a 100% conversion rate, and potential customers change their mind at the last minute for a variety of reasons. The idea is to measure your conversions and optimize them as well as you can.
Perfecting Your Online Sales Funnel
Once you’ve mapped out the basic structure of your funnel, you’ll need to think about the finer points of maintaining and improving your sales funnel over time. Consider the following:
1. Funnel Simplicity
Keep your funnel as simple as possible. If you notice that many prospects are dropping off at a certain step, consider taking that step out of the sales process.
The more steps you have, the more you delay potential sales, leaving more time for customers to forget about your brand or reconsider an intended purchase. The delay should be long enough that you earn their trust but not too long that they drop off the funnel completely.
2. Branding Consistency
Since your prospects will be going through a multi-step process, it’s important to keep your branding and messaging as consistent as possible throughout that process.
If, for example, your pet-sitting business has a website that’s touting how well-trained you are in animal behavior, your social media pages shouldn’t be predominantly about the cute pet makeovers you give. You’ve made a specific promise to your leads (cute pet makeovers) but are delivering something else later down the funnel (animal behavior training).
Promote the same benefits and messaging across every step of the funnel to keep it consistent. While you may add new ideas to your messaging down the funnel, don’t change the dominant message.
This also applies to simple design elements, such as the colors of your brand. If you’re using a predominantly blue online contact form for lead capture, don’t let your marketing emails be designed with a predominantly red color.
3. Tracking Key Metrics
A sales funnel is only useful if you’re tracking whether it’s successful or not. Here are some metrics you should pay attention to:
- Overall conversion rate. How many prospects who experience brand awareness (Level 1) end up buying something (Level 4)? If you’re using your website, you can compare the number of visits you get per day to the number of sales. If you’re using a Facebook Page, you can compare your monthly reach or pageviews with your monthly sales.
- Micro-conversion rates. Measure how many prospects move from one level of your sales funnel to the next. For example, how many of your unique website visitors (Level 1) end up subscribing to your mailing list (Level 2)? How many of your email subscribers have opened every email in your autoresponder sequence (Level 3)? Knowing these numbers can tell you how big of a leak you have in each step of the funnel. No more guesswork about which step of the sales process your customers drop off.
- ROI. Once you are familiar with the conversion rates in all your funnels, you can tell which funnels work better and which don’t really perform as well. You’ll be able to compare conversion rates with how much you spend per funnel, giving you an estimate of whether an ad or other paid marketing opportunities are worth it. Learn more about how to calculate your ROI:
4. Regular Testing
A sales funnel shouldn’t be static. Even if you create one that works really well for you and brings in a good percentage of paying customers, keep tracking its results and testing new approaches. You can do this by changing the messaging of your funnel, using different design elements, or adding and removing different funnel levels. Not all of your tests will bring positive results, but with each new test you’ll learn more about what works and what doesn’t work for your sales.
What to Expect From Your First Funnel
As a small business owner, there are some specific outcomes you can expect from creating your first funnel.
First, you won’t start off with the perfect funnel. It will take a while before you gather enough data from your funnel to figure out how to improve it. Because of this, it’s best to start with a simple funnel. An example: post social media updates with a link to a landing page with an email subscription form. This can help you get the hang of things without investing too much time or effort.
You can also mix online and offline strategies, if you want. You can use a brochure with a coupon code to turn brand awareness into gathered leads. If your business holds events, you can have an email newsletter sign up sheet at the registration table. If you have a way of tracking and measuring how effective your offline approaches are, you can easily integrate them into your online funnel.
Also, since there are many moving parts, you are going to need help. If it looks like you need to improve the conversion rates in your autoresponder sequence, it will be simpler to hire help from people with experience in email marketing.
If you want more visitors coming to your blog, you’re going to need a content strategist who has experience setting up a blog and building an audience. It’s going to be extremely time consuming to attempt to be an expert in all the parts of your funnel, so it’s best to have others step in to help from time to time. After all, if you measure the returns of your funnel, you can tell if the extra help is worth it.
Get Your Sales Streamlined
By following the guide above, you’ll be aware of how a strategic sales funnel can give you more actionable insight on improving your sales. As long as you measure your efforts and make adjustments as needed, you’ll be on your way to creating a streamlined sales machine for your small business.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.