Building a sales funnel that aligns with your business goals is essential. Each funnel stage defines your steps to turn prospective buyers into customers, even if they’ve never heard of your business before.
I’m the head of Product at Datanyze, specializing in sourcing up-to-date prospect contact info to keep your pipeline flowing and sales funnel fresh. In this article, I’ll walk you through:
- What a sales funnel is,
- The elements of a high-performing sales funnel,
- And finally, strategies to create sales funnels that get results.
What is a sales funnel?
In B2B sales orgs, you’ll encounter two common models of the journey from prospect to closed deal.
There’s sales pipeline, a 7-stage journey describing what your sales team must do to convert a lead to a customer. (That number varies depending on who you ask, but we’ll just say 7 for now.) Each step represents an action the sales org must take to convert a prospect to a customer.
And then there’s the sales funnel. The sales funnel has 4 stages and — this is key — represents the buyer’s journey from the buyer’s point of view.
As you can see in the graphic above, the sales funnel starts wide at the first stage, awareness, and gradually becomes narrower as you progress through the stages.
The 4 stages of a sales funnel
Each stage of the sales funnel has a direct impact on customer behavior. The 4-stage AIDA model involves the following:
- Awareness: Potential customers discover your brand and products. In short, they become aware of you.
- Interest: The prospect is interested in learning more about your product. For your team, the goal is to share more information about your products without appearing overly promotional.
- Decision: Your prospect has enough information about your product — and your competitors — to think through their decision about whether or not to purchase. For your team, this step is about making your prospects realize they need your products or service. You’ve already got their interest, but you also have to give them a reason to dig deeper and see how the product fits into their lives.
- Action: The prospect takes action — either purchasing your product, postponing their decision, or opting out and going with another vendor.
These steps are unique for each business and require constant measuring, tweaking, and iteration.
Why is sales funnel optimization important?
About 96% of people who visit your website are not ready to buy — so optimizing the journey from “awareness” to “action” is key for meeting your revenue goals.
The number of potential clients will diminish at each stage of the funnel, with only a fraction converting to buyers. As you learn more about your ideal client, you can optimize your sales funnel to achieve higher conversion rates. Skipping this step will result in missed opportunities and revenue loss.
7 elements of a high-converting sales funnel
Any high-converting sales funnel should include the following elements from the outset:
1. Clearly defined buyer personas
First, it’s essential to define and understand your target audience.
You want to know how your customers think, what they like and dislike, and what gets their attention. These insights will allow you to effectively meet or exceed their needs and address their pain points.
Related: Step By Step Guide to Creating Your Ideal Customer Profile 📚
Salesforce reports that high-performing sales teams are 1.6 times more likely to prioritize leads based on data than underperformers. To gather data, analyze your existing customer base by tracking their interactions with your website or blog, social media pages, sales reps, and more.
You may also use analytics tools like SEMrush Market Explorer, Sprout Social, or People Pattern to better understand your audience. Next, combine all the pieces and create buyer personas for your sales funnel.
Go one step further and segment your audience into smaller groups based on:
- Purchase behavior
…and other traits so you can tailor your marketing messages for each customer group. This segmentation could mean setting up different landing pages for different customers, sending customized emails to different groups, etc.
2. A solid mixture of cold and warm outreach
When you’re building a high-converting sales funnel, it’s important to determine what type of prospecting you’re doing at different funnel stages. There’s a place for cold and warm calls, depending on your specific approach to outreach and how that outreach feeds your funnel.
Cold outreach can be an effective way of introducing prospects to your brand and products. However, this approach works best during the awareness stage of a sales funnel.
Related: 9 Cold Calling Techniques and Tips to Help You Win Big 📚
However, you may also use warm outreach to grab the attention of those who have already engaged with your brand. These marketing tactics aren’t mutually exclusive.
Better yet, try to establish some common ground with your prospects before cold calling or emailing them.
For example, you could send them free eBooks or white papers, connect with them on social media, or make them a special offer. More than half of buyers expect to get personalized discounts within a day of sharing their data with a retailer. So something as simple as offering free T-shirts, coffee mugs, or personalized birthday cards can make all the difference.
You can leverage social media to warm up cold leads without breaking the bank if you’re a small business.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Follow your prospects on the major social networks
- “Like” and share their posts on your page
- Leave meaningful comments on their posts
- Answer their questions on Quora, Reddit, Facebook, or LinkedIn
- Connect with potential clients on Product Hunt, Angel.co, and Facebook groups
- Publish content on social media, tag your prospects, and invite them to share their thoughts
Lastly, identify your customers’ pain points and address them on your website or blog. Then, share your content on social media and tag the customers who might be interested in what you wrote.
3. Organic website traffic
The first stage of your sales funnel is largely about lead generation. You need to identify and attract potential clients, get their attention, and encourage engagement. The whole point is to build awareness around your brand.
Since more than half of all website traffic comes from organic search, it makes sense to prioritize SEO. This acronym stands for search engine optimization, a set of strategies used to improve a website’s position in search results.
A whopping 67.6% of all clicks on the first page of Google’s search results come from the first five organic results. Conversely, the websites displayed on the second and third pages get only 5.5% of clicks, and less than 15% of all traffic comes from paid ads. The higher your search engine rankings, the more people will find your site.
Unlike pay-per-click advertising (PPC), SEO is an ongoing process that takes time to deliver results. However, it involves lower costs and generates meaningful, lasting changes. With PPC, your traffic will drop as soon as you stop advertising.
Getting started with SEO doesn’t have to be difficult.
Some strategies, such as keyword research and content creation, require little technical knowledge. Plus, you can use Google Analytics, Moz Keyword Explorer, WordStream, and other free or premium tools to streamline these processes.
Also, focus on getting high-quality links from trusted websites. For example, you could publish content on the top blogs in your niche, send out press releases, set up business profiles on high-authority sites, and add links to your pages on relevant forums, chat rooms, and other platforms.
Other SEO practices require technical expertise, such as optimizing your site for mobile search and implementing new features. However, you can outsource these tasks to the pros via freelancing platforms like Upwork, Toptal, Dribbble, or Hubstaff Talent to keep the costs low.
I won’t go into detail on this one, but I recommend reading the Semrush blog, Neil Patel’s blog, and Search Engine Land to learn more about SEO.
4. Email outreach campaigns
The success of your sales funnel depends largely on your outreach efforts. You might have a great product and steady organic web traffic, but that’s not enough to drive sales.
Email outreach is about connecting with potential customers and nurturing those relationships through meaningful communications and regular follow-ups. This approach can complement a well-structured cold and warm calling strategy and strengthen your brand.
A good email should capture the recipient’s attention from the start. You have a mere eight seconds to catch readers’ interest, so it’s crucial to use a catchy subject line and make every word count. For best results, include the recipient’s name in the subject line and customize your message for each target market.
Try these best practices for email outreach:
- Create engaging content that delivers value
- Make your email as personal as possible (e.g., mention mutual interests or compliment the recipient on something)
- Get to the point quickly, placing the most important information at the beginning of your message
- Be specific about what you expect the recipient you do (e.g., reply to the email or book a call)
- Focus on the buyer’s needs and explain how your products fit in
- Create a sense of urgency
- Make it easy to reply
- Add no more than one CTA per email
- Avoid lengthy introductions
- Keep it casual and friendly
- Send two or three follow-up emails a few days apart
- Include additional information or special offers when following up
Consider testing your emails before reaching out to potential clients.
For example, you can send them to a friend or colleague and ask for their opinion. Another option is to test them on a small group of prospects, analyze the results, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Also, note that it’s OK to use follow-up email templates as long as you customize them for each audience. Add images, videos, and personalized content to give your email campaign a human touch.
5. Lead-nurturing email campaigns
As a marketer or business owner, you want to grow your email list and reach as many prospects as possible. That makes sense, but you must also nurture your leads so they move from the “awareness” stage to the next steps of the sales funnel.
One way to achieve this goal is to send emails that answer their questions, address their pain points, and provide actionable insights. Here’s an example:
- Send an initial email to thank customers for downloading an eBook or joining your list.
- Send a second email mentioning the problem they may be facing and how your products or services could solve it.
- After that, you’ll send a third email that outlines your competitive advantage and provides social proof, such as customer reviews. Talk about your company’s accomplishments, certifications, success stories, etc.
- The fourth email could go deeper into the problem and offer further insights. Try to address any objections they may have and provide real-life examples of how your product or services helped other customers in a similar situation.
- The last email should reinforce the value of your product or service. Create a sense of urgency and end your message with a strong CTA.
It’s essential to personalize your emails and experiment with different subject lines. Use a conversational tone and provide educational content that resonates with your audience. Back up your statements with hard facts and focus on one topic at a time. Keep your message short and include links to relevant articles, blog posts, and resources.
Use online tools like Mailtrack, EmailAnalytics, Saleshandy, or Yesware to track key metrics, such as email open rates, clicked links, and file downloads.
Remember to follow up as needed.
Related: Use Outreach? Here’s How to Nurture Unresponsive Prospects 📚
6. Lead conversion strategies
Lead-nurturing email campaigns can effectively convert prospects to buyers, but you may also use other communication channels. For example, some customers may prefer to subscribe to your website or connect with your brand on social media rather than join your list.
With that in mind, consider using the strategies below to move your leads down the sales funnel:
- Leverage social proof, such as case studies and customer testimonials, to build trust
- Use pay-per-click advertising for retargeting leads who showed interest in your brand or products
- Develop a lead scoring system to identify the prospects most likely to convert
- Publish relevant content on your website and social media pages
- Create and share product demos, how-to guides, and other types of content showing your product in action
- Offer free samples, member-only discounts, and other incentives
- Personalize your offers for each group of customers
- Connect your marketing automation platform and customer relationship management (CRM) database to better track conversion metrics
For example, free samples can increase sales by as much as 2,000%, reports The Atlantic. Of course, you don’t have to give away freebies to all customers, but you can do it for those most likely to convert or have already moved down the funnel.
7. Customer onboarding activities
Some funnels include an additional stage focused on customer retention and loyalty. Chances are, you don’t want people to buy your product, sign up for your services, and later move on to a different brand or, even worse, leave bad reviews.
To avoid these issues, it’s important to nurture your leads at every stage of the customer lifecycle, even after the sale is complete.
You need to get buyers accustomed to your products or services, act upon their feedback, and help them make the most out of their purchase. That’s what customer onboarding is all about.
A positive onboarding experience will keep customers returning for more and reduce the churn rate. Plus, it can boost your reputation and brand image, making it easier to acquire new leads. At the same time, it drives customer engagement and sets the tone for a client’s relationship with your brand.
The customer onboarding process is different for each company and depends on the industry, business size, target market, type of product, and other factors.
Generally, it includes some or all of the following elements:
- Product documentation
- Guided tutorials
- Customer training
- Routine check-ins
- Technical support
- Interactive walkthroughs
- Feature call-outs
- Follow-up emails
For example, the average mobile app loses nearly 80% of active users within the first three days after being installed. A well-thought-out customer onboarding process could reduce this number, ensuring your customers stick around longer.
Examples of high-converting sales funnels
For starters, check out successful companies like Netflix, Groupon, HelloFresh, Crazy Egg, or MailChimp—their sales funnels have stood the test of time and generated millions in revenue.
Groupon, for instance, rewards new subscribers with 20% off. The brand uses a large opt-in pop-up window that displays when someone visits the site for the first time. After registration, you’ll get personalized offers based on gender, interests, browsing history, purchase behavior, and other criteria.
Netflix offers a risk-free trial that allows subscribers to explore its offerings for up to 30 days. If you’re unsatisfied, you can cancel your membership and move on. They also receive personalized movie recommendations and updates on the latest productions. Plus, they can choose from three subscription plans.
Another example is Smart Passive Income, a go-to resource for entrepreneurs seeking to grow online businesses. Its sales funnel relies heavily on email subscriptions and the perks available to premium members.
Those who sign up for SPI Pro can access mastermind groups, exclusive content, live events, special deals, and ongoing support. The website also offers a ton of free content, giving readers a taste of what they can expect to learn if they subscribe.
Other companies like Basecamp rely on social proof to acquire leads and drive conversions. Some provide members-only content, free product demos, or steep discounts for annual subscriptions.
All in all, the stages of a funnel vary from one business to the next—and that’s why it’s essential to study your competitors, conduct A/B testing, and tailor your messaging to different buyer personas.
Nurturing your leads throughout their sales journey is just as important. You want to keep their attention, expose them to your brand, and help them see themselves using your product.
You’ll fail more than once and spend months trying to optimize your approach. Common mistakes, such as ignoring data and setting unrealistic goals, will further slow you down.
The key is taking small, calculated steps, measuring the results, and experimenting until you get it right.