What is a sales funnel?

We’re excited to welcome back Mindy Schoeneman for another guest post. Mindy is a writer, editor, and content marketer. She’s previously shared her wisdom on search engine optimization (SEO) with us in two separate posts: “How important is content to SEO?” last July and “SEO Strategy: Does SEO influence rank” in October. Today, Mindy will be sharing with us the basics of creating a sales funnel. Since we focus on the nuts and bolts of WordPress at MPWR Design, we’re glad to have Mindy back with us to help website owners take things a step further and convert website visitors into customers.

What is a sales funnel? The detailed answer to that question depends on who you ask, but the easy answer is this:

A sales funnel is a series of gradually more focused efforts to drive a potential customer in the direction you desire most—to that of a paying customer.

Think of a giant funnel (forgive me if this visualization is a bit obvious, but it’s called a funnel for a reason) sticking out of a Mason jar. At the top of the funnel, above the brim, you have a bunch of honey bees zooming around. They’re going from one flower to the next. You’re trying to start your own hive, so capturing those honey bees is very important to the success of your endeavor. How are you going to capture those honey bees?

It starts with the top brim of that funnel. They have to notice it. They have to be aware that it’s even there. In business, this is often the hardest part—getting people’s attention and spreading awareness that you are indeed open for business.

For the bees, the best bet to capture their attention is to make that funnel look like a flower. Then they will surely notice. But what do you do once they’ve noticed? How are you going to convince those bees that there is something worth it at the bottom of that funnel that leads into the jar? How are you going to coax them into flying from the brim to the very bottom?

This is often the point where many (with the best of intentions) get a little lost.

A general funnel consists of:

  1. Creating awareness so your customers know you exist
  2. Capturing their attention (with a blog post for example)
  3. Continuing to develop your relationship by building trust and providing value (such as a content-packed, super helpful, monthly newsletter)
  4. Asking for the sale
  5. Closing the sale (or starting back at stage 3)

So what’s the journey between awareness and closing the sale look like?

How do you turn awareness into sales?

My son, who doesn’t yet understand that bees sting, might be tempted to reach in and give that bee, who has just began his journey from the top brim of that funnel downward, a shove in the right direction. He isn’t alone in his impatience. I think we’ve all experienced it at one point or another in our own businesses. We get a little impatient, and sometimes a little desperate, to see our wishes come true.

The problem with this approach is that often we end up stung (and the bee is less than thrilled). Think of this as the time that you exchanged business cards with a new contact, only to discover that a couple of days later, they had added you to their mailing list without your consent. They were trying to give you a friendly shove in the right direction. But that didn’t work out well, did it? Instead, they annoyed you. Most likely, you unsubscribed. You might have even reported their unsolicited sales-pitch email as spam.

So, how do you turn awareness into a sale without getting impatient?

Play it cool.

It starts with knowing that you put only the best flowers in the jar for them to snack on. If you know that without a doubt you have what they need, then there’s no need for pushing. Do the work and develop the best products or services. Put in all the effort now because it’s the foundation for everything else.

Provide value.

You know you have the best flowers in that jar, but let’s face it—the bees have no idea. They don’t know that you researched their species and found exactly the right flowers that provide them with optimal nutrition. And they won’t know unless you start by earning their trust.

Building trust starts with being trustworthy. Don’t add anyone to your mailing list without their consent. Make sure there is a double opt-in process so that they have to sign up and then confirm that they really meant to sign up. Don’t be misleading by claiming they will receive something when they sign up only to deliver something else or something that’s vague and useless. Don’t use click-bait style subject lines in your emails, either. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

There is a lot to be said about brand consistency as well. The message you’re sending visually is important. Keep it consistent. Pick a couple of colors and stick with them. Have a professional design your logo. There is so much that goes into a logo and colors and everything design; design psychology is a real thing that absolutely influences us whether we like it or not. If you can afford to do so, hire a designer to work with you. You can’t afford not to.

Once you have everything in place to be worthy of their trust, then provide them with a glimpse at what you have to offer through valuable, informative content.

This isn’t the time to push for a sale.

You’ve just earned their trust. Now let them see the results of those flowers for themselves. Offer case studies, customer testimonials, great information that will show them that you offer something they need. Show them that you can be the guide they need to overcome the hurdle they’re facing.

Once you’ve provided value to them over and over, then it’s time to ask for the sale.

How do you create the perfect funnel?

Start by deciding whether you’ll be creating the sales funnel yourself or hiring someone else to help. If you’re not sure of the answer, then take a look at MailChimp. Create an account and see if you can use their help articles to understand how to create a form and a double opt-in process on your website.

Also, don’t forget that the funnel begins with awareness. You must build a following and cultivate relationships to be able to catch the attention of your potential customers. Then you need a call to action to drive traffic to your website. Why are they going to come to your website? Do you have great resources available for them? Do you have stellar blog posts that are chock-full of helpful information? Before you worry too much about MailChimp, figure these answers out first.

If you choose to hire someone to help you build a sales funnel:

  • Do not hire someone to build a sales funnel for you if you haven’t been through theirs.
  • Do hire someone who understands that creating a connection and building trust with potential customers is the most important function that your sales funnel will serve.
  • Do not work with anyone who is encouraging you to skip the double opt-in process.
  • Do not hire anyone who appears to be more focused on asking for the sale than providing valuable content and earning trust in your funnel.
  • If what they’re offering sounds too good to be true, run the other way—it is.

Ask for case studies, testimonials, and references. This is not only a monetary investment, but also an investment in your reputation. You must work with someone who will only add credibility to your reputation.

Above all things—don’t be spammy, be yourself. You will attract your ideal customer if you represent the real you in everything you do.

Building Your Funnel

As for the technical components of a sales funnel, start with a solid website. MPWR Design can help you with that. Make sure your brand is sending the right message, both through visual representation and written. Be clear about the benefit you provide your customers. Be clear about who you are and what you do.

Choose a mail services platform such as MailChimp that will help you capture any of those honey bees that are interested. Make sure the signup form is somewhere obvious and easily noticed.

And develop great content to send your new subscribers (and veterans, for that matter). Be helpful to them. Offer them information that they will find invaluable.

Lastly, don’t forget to ask for the sale. Once you’ve put in the work to capture their attention, earn their trust, provide value, and build your relationship, then it is imperative that you ask for the sale. And do so with confidence. They should already understand the value you offer at this point; so don’t be shy.

Ask outright by telling them about a product or service you’re offering and the price associated.