What Is a Sales Funnel and How Does It Work?
by Isabel Greenfield
8 Min Read
8 Min Read
If you’re a business looking to grow your pool of committed customers and increase your number and rate of conversions, you’re well-versed in the sales funnel model.
But if you’re wondering how to build a sales funnel that gets results – or if you just need a refresher – here’s a helpful guide.
A sales funnel, so named because it features a large group at the top and a much smaller, more filtered group at the bottom, represents the journey(s) of your potential customers from broad awareness of your brand to the moment they decide to buy (and beyond). Typically, sales funnels are divided into five distinct stages. The sales funnel stages are:
The chief benefit of a sales funnel with clearly delineated steps is that you can better define your audience and work out more refined strategies for engaging with them along the way.
A sales funnel can also streamline your customer’s journey and make for a better use of your resources — rather than the “spray and pray” approach to sales techniques.
But to get to an efficient sales funnel model, there’s work you have to do first. Full funnel marketing is only as effective as the information you feed into it.
While similar, there is a slight difference between sales and marketing funnels. The sales funnel targets prospects whom your sales team has decided are credible. It describes customers’ buyer journeys.
Prior to the sales funnel, though, there is the marketing funnel. (We like to imagine two funnels stacked on top of each other in a trenchcoat.) The marketing funnel describes the marketing team’s efforts to move potential leads into the sales funnel, casting a wide net and gradually narrowing it until your marketing team decides leads are credible enough to pass onto the sales team.
The best way to start funnel building is by having an accurate sense of your ideal buyer. Creating a profile of your customer can be helpful, even giving them a name and likes/dislikes in addition to their basic demographic information, including age, gender, whether they are city or suburban dwellers, and so on.
Defining your audience clearly will determine the flow of the rest of your approach, so be sure to do it methodically and carefully.
Find out what your audience’s problems are and consider how your product can help solve them.
What are their pain points, what’s standing in the way of achieving their goals, and how can your product help them?
More broadly, consider if there’s a feeling your customers want in their lives — wellness, luxury, calm — that your product can help engender. Many of the goods we buy are aspirational and, in fact, highly emotional. So identify the emotional needs of your target audience.
That could be through the use of big data, including a sense of how your competitors are targeting their audience; conducting your own polls and questionnaires; or looking at your sales to this point and seeing what clear trends emerge.
Now that you’ve defined who your audience is, you need to start reaching it.
You might consider content that’s more general in its approach. In our scented candle example, this could involve blog posts or videos about how relaxing it can be to have a scented candle and how it’s an affordable, easy way to create a sense of wellness or luxury — whatever the emotional need your customer has, based on the profile you’ve generated of them.
Social media should most likely be a part of your strategy. So think about how your ads and videos will look to browsers when they see them in their feed. Are they likely to stand out when they come upon them, or will they just blend into the digital murk?
As the funnel begins to narrow, now’s your chance to really bring your brand to the forefront.
In a crowded market, consumers will want to hear and believe what sets your product apart. That could mean a behind-the-scenes video showing off:
Content that is both accurate and entertaining is always the way to go. No matter your audience, no one wants to see a dry video; what they do want to see is something entertaining from a subject matter expert. Engaging, funny, and informational content is always a great way to capture audience interest.
Authenticity is a quality that’s prized by audiences. Customer testimonials and user-generated content (UGC) feature real people talking about how a product has helped their lives: “This coconut lime-scented candle makes me feel like I’ve gone on a two-week vacation!” These enthusiastic ads can either be truly user-generated or filmed to resemble phone-recorded testimonials. Familiarize yourself with other important trends in the world of video advertising, too.
Capturing leads involves getting email addresses and building your customer base. Of course, you want genuinely engaged customers, not just a slew of people who let your emails go to their spam folders.
One of the best ways to get customers to give you their email address is through a fair exchange — an email address for some useful information. That can be white papers, how-to videos, helpful blog posts, or e-books that help them solve everyday problems. “How to Get Rid of Lingering Pet Smells” might be one way you effectively promote the idea of a scented candle.
Special offers and discounts can also be effective. Many sites have windows that immediately pop up and offer you 10% off if you enter your email address. Free trials are helpful, too.
Creating quality content that doesn’t feel merely transactional is always a winning strategy to help capture audience attention and information.
With all the offers consumers get, it’s easy for them to burn out or move on quickly. How do you maintain this relationship?
In short, make sure your content here is as targeted and timely as possible. Leads will pay attention when they really feel that you’re providing utility to them in their lives.
Personalized emails are helpful, as are multi-channel approaches, so your leads encounter your message consistently and in a variety of places. Attention spans are short and tend to wander over platforms, so make sure your content always feels native to the platform it’ll appear on.
Customers get cold feet easily. They can put items in their cart, then forget about them; they may also take a deliberate pause before actually paying for them.
In the case of the forgotten item in the cart, those “Hey, you forgot something!” emails are actually very effective, perhaps including additional inducements in the form of discounts or limited time special offers.
Don’t forget to keep the sales process simple. Customers may be put off by your conversion funnel if it requires herculean effort to actually get to the checkout. Make sure their journey is fun and frictionless.
It’s better to retain existing customers than to have to constantly keep generating new leads. However, is that easier said than done?
Attentive customer service, offers for returning customers — such as special releases of new scents in your candle range, further discounts, and fun extras related to the one you bought — and even just fun content that keeps your customers engaged and feeling satisfied with their decision to purchase from you are all great ways to keep customers coming back.
Connected TV (CTV) advertising has transformed TV advertising into a solution that can address the full funnel. The sight, sound, and motion of the TV screen is a great way to generate awareness and interest, which is why so many brands have relied on linear TV advertising for upper-funnel marketing.
Now, CTV companies like MNTN are able to address the rest of the sales funnel, too. Audience targeting, including retargeting and first-party CRM data, allows advertisers to speak to audiences that have already shown interest. Our reliable CTV attribution model allows brands to track the conversions that happen at the bottom of the funnel thanks to TV advertising.
How to create a sales funnel that maximizes conversions? It can feel like an overwhelming amount of work, but the right partners can help streamline solutions to make testing and updating your sales strategy across the funnel seamless.
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