What better way to begin talking about marketing and sales than to begin with understanding what online marketing, and sales of any kind, means and entails?
Initially there should not be any focus on details and niche use cases: By maintaining a general point of view, we can have ideas on how to best approach and learn.
As we consider the sales process, we are talking about the sales journey as a whole. It does not initially matter whether our aim is Online Marketing, sales managers at a company, B2C, B2B nor does it matter who our audience is, yet.
There are many key terms and a wealth of knowledge to learn as we go, but for now, we keep things simple and proceed one step at a time.
It does matter eventually, as we progress through, and we consider methodologies and tools. But as we begin, there’s only one focus: understanding the Sales Funnel and the Customer Journey within it.
A Sales Team and their Sales Pipelines work through these processes as well, but we have adapted the concepts and generalized, in that the same reasoning applies regardless.
The Sales Funnel
A sales funnel is a model that is designed to attract attention to your business, with the ultimate goal of a conversion.
It highlights the different stages that your potential customer (also known as lead) goes through from the beginning of their customer journey. They begin as prospect, become a contact or lead, and eventually they might purchase and become a customer.
The whole sales process is essentially a sales funnel, with different point of interactions at different stages. Not all conversions touch all points of interaction, so it’s important to be flexible in one’s own sales funnel / sales process strategy, so that the prospect can find what they need at any given point.
What is a Conversion?
Please note: I am not saying “purchase”. I am calling the actions your audience take Conversions. Sometimes you do not sell anything, you might show your video or article, and the audience becoming your reader or watching your video is your conversion.
A conversion is when your audience does what you would like them to do. It’s the action you’re hoping your process brings them to do.
A direct action is a purchase, of course. But also getting your audience to watch your YouTube video is an action, that would be your conversion and you could be monetizing your YouTube videos.
Or perhaps your YouTube video works toward another action.
Obviously, when your conversion is towards watching a video or something that is not an actual purchase, the sales process is much simpler and leaner, but while technically it’s not sales funnel, it’s always a marketing funnel and it should be treated as such, in order to improve the conversion rate.
A Sales Funnel Has Many Names, but Only One Goal
This type funnel is also called a “sales funnel”, “conversion funnel”, “marketing funnel” or “e-mail funnel” which refer to the same thing, just different ways of going through it, or different stages.
There are activities that are embodying the whole concept of funnel in their name, and it is true they do point to funnels, but it does not stop there, it’s a journey as a whole.
The marketing funnel makes it possible to represent the purchasing process (or sales process) which begins as a simple visit to your website, a post on Social Media or an advertisement, to eventually become a Conversion.
With a clear representation of a funnel, you can prepare a marketing plan to your target audience in a more precise manner, while also allowing you to provide a more thorough answer to your audience’s needs.
With a funnel, the goal is to turn a prospect into a valuable conversion by going through several stages to carry out a specific action at each stage. The prospective conversion may hop off during the process and does not go through all the stages.
That is ok though, it usually takes time to earn a conversion and the process is not necessarily straightforward.
Any potential conversion that hops off the funnel at any point, could be jumping back in at some point later on, so it does matter to keep up with the same consideration, for a better long term result.
It’s important to understand that each of these stages must correspond to specific marketing strategies and techniques. As much as it is a journey to and for the potential conversion, it is also a journey for us, our role is to guide at each stage and offer valid and on-point contributions.
That explains why we see so many words attached to the word funnel. At some stages we want to send emails, at others a landing page, at others an article. There’s an inherent competitive vibe for some reason, in that to some, funnel should only be one thing, but the truth is much different: at different stages and in different manners, we always need to engage differently and all those activities are part of a Marketing Funnel and journey.
The word funnel is always there though, because for each of those stages, our aim is for our audience to take one action at a time and one only. We do not want to add a billion different links and possibilities all at once, that would result in a confusing experience and the conversion rate only suffers.
Throughout a Sales Funnel journey, we nurture our audience and ask them to take one action at a time. It may be just to provide the e-mail address for a case study or additional information, but that’s the action, or conversion. And it moves our audience one step further in the funnel, while providing useful information.
It’s also important to correctly target the interest and intent of our leads: If the issue at hand is buying a fridge, and we spend effort trying to sell a microwave while explaining why our product is so great, we are more likely to bother the prospect than we are to offer valid points to consider.
Let’s quickly go through an example of a Sales Funnel applied to a physical store:
1. You own a shoe store. A passerby looks at the store’s window and realizes that they need new shoes. They become a prospect.
2. Your potential customer enters your store and takes a look at your items. A few pairs of shoes seem good.
3. This person then decides to try them. You offer your services and help the choice, show different colors as well. Your potential customer could use their smartphone to find the brand online and compare prices.
4. Your prospect finds shoes that fit him well and finds that you offer the most competitive price as well as a good service. The decision is made that visitor will make a purchase. Voilà, there’s a conversion.
I find that in the online world these concepts stay the same, although they are applied differently and spread out over days and weeks: Remember that we are always online, whereas if we go out to purchase something, we have a much higher buying intent, in order to make the trip worth it.
With that, we understand that a Sales Funnel has many names, many ways to reach the goal, but both the beginning and the ending is always the same: We lead our prospect through our Sales Funnel to the point where the prospect has become a Conversion.
By nurturing throughout the whole sales process, we increase the conversion rate, that is why we use a funnel structure rather than one webpage with all the options available. This way we can gradually help our audience at their own pace, by having many entry points at different stages.
There are many ways to reach this objective, but that is the goal, and as we delve into the various stages of the Sales Funnel, we can begin to consider when to use a technique or a tool.
From a person’s point of view, our Sales Funnel is a buying process, in which they acquire information and eventually form a buying decision, by purchasing something that should allow them to reach their objective.
There’s never just one best way, it always depends on who is your audience, what your conversion is, and many other things, so it’s important to understand the concepts so that we can begin choosing different techniques for different situations and gain valuable experience.
We will keep this introduction brief (well, kind of, there are a lot of words here..), so we might not go into as much detail yet.
In the spirit of keeping it as brief as possible, we will not delve too much into audiences yet, but it is important to establish some principles.
Your audience is whomever may make use of the product you have. We do not necessarily know who that is, so before preparing our marketing campaigns, we have to identify our ideal buyer personas and user persona: namely, the kind of target audience that would be most responsive and interested in our content.
That affects the tools we use, our marketing strategy and the way we write our content. We might not necessarily know it at first, but as we proceed with our sales strategy, we will engage and interact with our audience, which helps us define it further as we gain more information.
In time, we should be able to understand who represents our ideal buyer and that helps us know what we can do to help them throughout the whole sales process, so we can increase the conversion rate by being more effective in how we interact with them, and also how we find the target audience.
The Funnel stages
Creating awareness is the first stage of the sales funnel. It is about making a particular brand or product known. If your aim is to sell something or solve an issue, you want to be known by the target audience that is looking for these products or solutions. That is your objective at this stage.
The terminology at this point is less technical and general information about what you do goes a long way to gain awareness on your company or brand.
We can consider a few of today’s popular ways to gain awareness:
Influencers: Influencers do not just work at the awareness level, but they are very popular and can get you from awareness to conversion all by themselves, if you choose accordingly to your niche. Depending on what you do, many purchases are heavily driven by influencers. Not everything can be sold through influencers, but it is a powerful independent sales funnel to consider. It goes parallel on all the sales funnel stages and can impact them all.
By choosing the right influencers, you can select a target audience and target customer, as they are within the niche your product is part of. That allows you to be very specific about your selection.
Content Marketing: They say “Content is King”. Exaggerations are part both of marketing pitches and learning marketing itself and its jargon. So while everything is exaggerated, it is never out of reason: a content marketing strategy is extremely important.
Talking about what you do, explaining the ins and outs, the problem and what you do to fix it is important and goes a long way to give awareness to your brand or company, while at the same time informing about the problem and giving out valuable information to your audience, or even bringing in new people that were not your audience before.
By reaching out, you expand the confines of your influence, and this is a great way to do so.
This is one of those things that no matter what you do, you always want to consider, plan for and grow a content marketing strategy.
You always have an audience. The way you interact with your audience and expand it varies depending on what you do, but the fact remains that you always have an audience to reach, grow and nurture.
This will later lead to Lead Generation, in the next stages.
SEO: SEO goes hand in hand with Content Marketing and is how people get to know you via organic search, search engines such as google or bing. Whether you only do YouTube Videos or you have your own website and blog post with your content creation strategy, you naturally want to reach as many people as you can, when they search something that is related to what you do.
That’s where SEO comes in. It requires proper steps taken on how you write your content as well as how you present it, but getting known via search engines is always a big important focus, no matter what your objective is. This way you can be first in Google, Bing or YouTube for your relevant keywords, getting organic visitors.
Social Media: With more and more people spending big chunks of their days on Social Media, it’s very important to not only be in Social Media, but to present interesting content, so as to reach you audience in a meaningful way, and gain more awareness about you and what you do. It’s not about one specific such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn, it’s important to know which content to share where and which ones are important to you and your audience.
As you can see, the last three can all be one big Content Creation and Content Marketing Strategy that branches from your website/channel to your Social Media accounts, as one big Awareness engine that is bound to get people to know about you and your brand.
Notable tools here are of course a Website and all that it entails, and SEO / Social Media tools that help you have the best results.
The second stage in the funnel is when the prospect knows about the problem and has a rough idea on how their goal can be achieved. This is when they usually begin searching for detailed information and products.
At this point we can offer a more engaged interaction with the website visitor, where they can get the details they need and consider our brand, they become our contacts or leads, and they can contact us to get further information.
We can introduce our products or offers, give further details about the problem and ways we can help with. Let’s check a few of the popular ways to do that.
CTA (Call to Action): With a CTA button we engage the prospect and ask them to take an action, in order to motivate and invest them a bit into what they’re doing, so they can learn more about the problem or solution. There is a follow-up there that could be to join a Newsletter, give an e-book (known as lead magnet) or even a direct consultation or a classic sales call.
CTAs are presented in different manners:
They could be in a Landing Page: The prospect visits after showing interest in the issue or solution and wants to know more, they get to a Page that does not have any distractions and only shows them one action: The CTA. By taking that action, they say they want to know more.
By removing distractions and only showing a CTA, the conversion rate from visitor to prospect and lead is much higher. While they have not purchased, they have shown interest and have done an action we wished them to do, so that is a conversion, too.
So this is where the person goes from barely-interested website visitor (or video viewer, etc) to interested prospect and becomes a Lead for you. You help the prospect understand more about the issue and its possible solution, talk about what you do and introduce yourself.
After the CTA goes through and you have contact information, you do the rest by either setting up chats, conversations, videos, groups and all that, but usually communication moves a lot via email and newsletters. Your CTA should feed your email list.
The point is not to spam your product, you would only make the prospect wish they hadn’t given you their email (and thus they unsubscribe).
The objective here is to give information at a pace that is not annoying, while also helping out in their choice.
They have an issue and are looking at your product to fix it, so your objective is to keep informing them and show that your product can do that.
Email Newsletter becomes part of your Content Marketing Strategy, with perhaps additional value or e-books and detailed information.
This is when a good ol’ marketing motto comes along: “You are as good as your list”. While exaggerated in its delivery, this one is true as well: it is by nurturing your leads and expanding your audience via your content that your email list will increase, and as it increases, your conversions will increase as well. This is the stage when an email list is important and moves your lead through the sales pipeline. While email marketing has changed and evolved a lot over the years, it is a staple, but must be used properly, in order to avoid being considered spammy or an annoyance.
As of late, all of this can also be implemented via Chatbots: part of the reaching out with a Landing page is just as good with a Chatbot, both in your website and Social Media Networks. It acts as an interactive Landing Page and allows you to also jump in when needed, in order to direct the prospect, with the objective of them becoming a lead or conversion.
Notable tools here are either a Website or Landing Page Builders, Webinars/Videos platforms, a Newsletter/autoresponder/CRM and chatbots become very important from this stage onwards, as well.
A proper Marketing Automation strategy becomes particularly important here, to allow for easy points of touch of your Sales Funnel at the different stages, and always have a relevant content to show and nurture your lead with. Marketing Automation is not just one tool, it’s about using all the viable traffic sources and setting up points of interactions with your sales funnel at the various stage, so it goes for your Email List, Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, etc.
Your prospect now knows the issue, how to fix it and knows you, as well as your competitors. It’s time for them to make a decision. At this decision stage there are always doubts involved.
It’s important here to answer their doubts as well as possible; knowing what these doubts are goes a long way: you can prepare for any question with an answer that makes the prospect feel good and safe about going through with your product. You can also prepare your copywriting to include answers directly, so that your prospect never misses a beat.
Free trials, direct consultation and demos, money back guarantees, reviews, testimonials and other kinds of social proof all go a very long way there towards making your prospect become a paying customer
For a successful strategy it could be very important to note Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles, in his 1984 book, Influence:
1. Principle of Reciprocity: Via our Content Marketing Strategy, we will have given a lot of free value to our prospects. That goes a long way (just think about how you feel when somebody helps you out without asking for something in exchange).
2. Principle of Commitment & Consistency: When a prospect commits to something, they’re more willing to purchase from you. Even a free trial is a commitment, and it will work very well if the prospect has a good customer experience.
3. Principle of Liking: If they like you, they’re more likely to buy from you. Easy as that. During the various stages we will often talk about ourselves and our stories. The better we deliver them and connect with our audience and buyer personas, the more people will like us, which has a favorable bias in conversions.
4. Principle of Authority: When our brand or product is known by many and is respected and well considered within its niche, that gives makes a prospect trust it much more. You can establish authority also with your content creation strategy. It’s not just your product, but the information you offer that makes your consideration soar.
5. Principle of Social Proof: When others talk about our products or brand, any publication, book, videos, that makes the brand looks more solid and better, it does make quite a difference in how the brand is perceived by a prospect.
6. Principle of Scarcity: Do not confuse this with Fake Scarcity: Fake counters that always begin again and the product never leaves a sale, that’s not going to work in the long run, it will also make you look bad. If the prospect wants something and that product is not widely available, or its price will increase soon, it will make the prospect more willing to commit.
Notable tools here are an e-commerce website, a purchase funnel, plus the previous tools that have additional use here as well.
In the Purchase Phase, the Purchase Journey is over as the Purchase decision involved you or another competitor.
Is the prospect now your customer? Well, congratulations! Is it not your customer? You can keep up with your work, perhaps they will be your customer one day.
If the prospect chose you and it is now a conversion, it’s over, right? You’ve made a sale. Congratulations!
Not quite! After a Conversion, the now customer is as important as before. If they are satisfied with their first purchase from you, they could do another, or buy something else from you, or talk positively about your products and brand.
That’s brand loyalty and it’s extremely important.
Post-purchase customer service is critical, so while you make sure the customer is happy, you can keep them informed about your products.
The objective here is for your customer to have a positive opinion of your products and brand, so they can turn towards you when they again need something you can help with.
This will help you turn that one purchase into multiple purchases, while creating more awareness at the same time.
Notable tools here are helpdesks, chats, as well as groups and forums. Newsletter here becomes an instrument for additional knowledge on related topics, as well as to keep in touch with your customer.
Once again, you never want to overuse a newsletter and bombard your customer with other products, that behavior leads to unsubscribing.
There are also various tools to increase the social proof availability by making it very easy to write or record, so that you can show customers being happy with your product, which in turn reflects positively on your brand and helps other prospects lean towards trusting you.
The journey never really ends! And as long as you work on providing good products or services, you can keep on building your relationship with your visitors, contacts, prospects, lead and customers for a long time.
Some of the relationship you build will be indirect via your sales funnel and communication channels, some will be direct. Both are important.
Analytics and Data Driven Strategies
Before we end, I want to briefly talk about Analytics and Data. A proper and conscious strategy requires as much data as possible. Knowing our audience, which pages work, what kind of writing works best, and more, they’re all things we can test.
We can prepare two of the same pages and see which works best, we can have different images and test which works best, we can also try different texts, and we can also compare different campaigns altogether and try to extract valid points and considerations out of it.
Anything we set up we can also set up its proper analytics, and the more information we gain about what works and what doesn’t, the less prone we are to making mistakes or have unsuccessful campaigns.
Sure, sometimes things do not work out, but knowing what has worked in the past is a very robust help to our increasing experience that we should never pass up, and always take the time to prepare.
So what is a Sales Funnel?
I wrote this whole big thing to begin our sales and marketing journey, but it’s like watching something from afar. Before focusing on each detail, we want to know a bit about the whole journey.
That meant touching on each of the various stages we aim to provide, and the various interactions we can prepare, in order to provide the best experience possible to our target audience. Our focus is completely on that.
I do assume whatever you do or sell is a good product, that is crucial! As long as there is that, then we have this whole Point A > Point B that is known as a Sales Funnel and represents marketing, where you only know you need to reach Point B, but how you do that is entirely up to you, your knowledge, your experience and your creativity.
There is no set way to do that, and a technique and method that worked for one product may not work on another. Experience and knowledge can however lead to successful strategies, as well as long practice!
We want to provide the best customer experience, and we have to learn how to do that. Meaning that while it is a customer journey, it is also a marketer’s journey that goes with it.
As we talk about each stage and strategy in detail, we will also consider tools that allow us to get the best out of it. Even tools are never set, some work better than others depending on your marketing strategy. The most important tool is always your brain!
Finally, it is now time to start talking a bit more in detail. Next up!