You’re busy, right? Working on a new product or two, your website, maybe a day job too. The idea of building a sales funnel to wrangle new customers sounds like a ton of work. But here’s the thing: Your lack of time is exactly why you need to set up your first automated sales funnel, ASAP.
One of the core reasons we all get into digital startups is the concept of earning money without having to do anything, and a sales funnel is one of your most powerful tools to make this happen.
Believe it or not, I didn’t set up my first sales funnel until I was in my fifth year of business because, like you, I thought I just didn’t have the time. I cringe to think of all those leads I lost, all the sales I could have made.
While setting it up does take some time to get things just right, once a sales funnel is implemented, you just sit back, relax, and watch the sales roll in.
Below, I’ll break down how to set up your first sales funnel using automated emails.
Table of Contents
Um, What’s a Sales Funnel?
There’s no judgment here. If you’re in business, I’m sure you’ve heard the term “sales funnel” before, but you might not know exactly what it is. Essentially, a sales funnel is a series of steps by which you turn people who are interested in your product into paying customers.
It’s called a sales funnel because the process resembles a funnel. Depending on whom you ask, the sales funnel has three to seven stages, but to keep things simple, we’ll keep it at these three:
- Awareness – Every potential customer starts at the top of the funnel. It’s wide and catches a lot of people. The Awareness stage is when someone is just becoming aware of the problem they have.
- Consideration – Then, the funnel narrows down the audience to those in the Consideration stage. At this point, they are considering the different solutions (products) to their problems.
- Decision – Finally, it narrows even further until you’re left only with your ideal customers, those who are ready to buy your product in the Decision stage.
Some other vocabulary you need to know to understand sales funnels:
- Lead – Someone who’s shown interest in your company, such as by signing up for your email list or filling out a contact form.
- Prospect – A lead that has been “qualified,” meaning they’ve gone beyond just contacting you or signing up for your email list. They show real interest in what you have to offer.
- Customer – Someone who has purchased your product or service.
- Conversion – A desired action that someone takes, such as subscribing to your email list or buying your product.
What’s the Goal of Your Sales Funnel?
Setting out to build a sales funnel without knowing what the end result you want your user to take is like packing up for a road trip, filling up the tank, and then going, “Okay, so where are we going?” That would be silly, right?
So before we dive into creating the sales funnel, ask yourself this: “Once someone has gone through my sales funnel, what do I want them to do?” The answer might be: “Buy my online course,” “book a coaching call with me,” or “subscribe to my membership site.”
Decide which product you’d like this lead to purchase. Similarly, know what problem this product will help them solve. Define these two things (product and problem) before you get started on your sales funnel. From there, we can work backward.
In order to define success for your sales funnel, it’s also helpful to review the current data you have for your business sales process as a whole. Find out what your benchmark conversion rates currently are; that way, you can see if your automated sales funnel is at least meeting that average conversion rate.
Stage 1 (Awareness): Create Content That Gets Your Ideal Customer’s Attention
Okay, now that you know what you want to achieve with your sales funnel, let’s start with Awareness. This is when a prospect is just becoming aware that they have a problem. So at this point, you’re not selling anything at all (because they’re not looking to buy—yet); rather, you’re giving them valuable information to help them realize a pain point.
Create Content Related to Your Ideal Customer’s Problem
This stage is all about creating content that resonates with your ideal customers. In other words, you need to create information that speaks directly to the problem you solve for your ideal customers.
How do you do this? It’s simple, really. What problem does your product or service solve? From there, decide what kinds of questions your ideal customer might Google related to that problem.
Let’s use online course creator Mariah Coz of Femtrepreneur as an example. She’s well-known in the online marketing community, and she is rocking her email sales funnels. I’ve been on her list for a couple years now.
If you take a look at the blog content she creates, you can see how it is directly related to the online courses she sells. She really thinks about what questions she can answer for her ideal customers. For example, check out her blog post on how to create a webinar for free. Mariah has a paid course called Webinar Rockstar that helps business owners make more sales via webinars. That blog post on creating a webinar for free would definitely attract that audience.
Create an Enticing Lead Magnet to Get Their Email Address
To get that visitor into your sales funnel, you need a lead magnet, such as an ebook, checklist, worksheet, masterclass, webinar, video training, email challenge, or course. This is something you give away for free in the hopes of capturing a lead, nurturing your relationship with them, and eventually getting them to buy.
In that blog post on creating a webinar for free, Mariah includes a “content upgrade” type of lead magnet, where it relates directly to the topic of that post. Her blog post is about creating a webinar, and the lead magnet is the Ultimate Webinar Checklist. By offering this lead magnet, she can capture that reader’s first name and email address and continue to market to them in her email sales funnel.
Lead Magnet Ideas
So what can you offer as your lead magnet? Here are a few ideas:
- Challenge. Challenges are really popular right now. These are daily emails that “challenge” the user to accomplish something in a certain amount of time, usually seven days. The advantage to these is that the subscriber gets the emotional high of a “quick win” each and every day. By the end of the challenge, if you’ve set it up right, they’ll have accomplished something they really wanted. By feeling that they’ve accomplished something and that you helped them get there, they are primed to want to purchase your product. Your product should be directly related to what the challenge was.A great example of a free email challenge (one that I signed up for myself!) is Digital Nomad Wannabe’s seven-day link-building challenge. In each email, she sends a very quick action step you have to take that day. By breaking it down into simple, manageable steps, she helped prevent me from feeling overwhelmed.
- Email Course. Another popular lead magnet is the free email course. These usually last seven days and are a light version of the premium course that will be offered to the prospect at the end of the sales funnel. Take a look at how Caitlin Pyle does it. She offers a free introductory email course that leads to the purchase of her premium course, Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice.
- Swipe Files/Pitch Templates. These lead magnets are great for B2B service business owners. Brittney Lynn, for example, places a podcast pitch template content upgrade in a blog post on a related topic. Both the blog post and the lead magnet relate directly to the type of client she serves: online entrepreneurs who want to be featured more in the media.
- Checklists and Cheat Sheets. These are quick to make and provide valuable information without overwhelming the reader. An example of this is our Instagram Sales Funnel Cheat Sheet that we offer in a blog post on that very topic.
Optional Step: Create a Tripwire
A tripwire is a product you offer a prospect immediately after they opt into your lead magnet. A tripwire product is not as expensive as your premium product; it’s a lower-priced offer whose goal is to land an early conversion and hopefully increase their chances of purchasing your premium product later on down the road. As OptinMonster puts it:
“Even though it’s priced so low, the tripwire offer still requires someone to pull out their wallet and become a paying customer. This is important because the first sale is the hardest. But when someone has bought from you once, it’s much easier to get them to buy from you again.”
Below, you can see how Mariah implements a tripwire product. After you sign up for her free Ultimate Webinar Checklist, she offers a lower-priced “Webinar In a Box” template:
Tools for Creating Your Lead Magnet
- For opt-in forms: To create opt-in forms to embed in your blog posts or on your website, you can use ones that are built in with your email marketing service, such as ConvertKit, MailChimp, or AWeber. Alternatively, you can use a plugin like MailMunch or OptinMonster to create embeddable opt-in forms.
- For landing pages: To create the landing pages for your opt-in offers and thank-you pages, you can use Leadpages, Unbounce, or Instapage. If you want to keep your costs low, you can use the built-in landing pages that come with your email marketing service.
- For PDFs: To create a PDF for lead magnets such as checklists and ebooks, you can use Canva.It has a free and paid version, but the free version should be plenty to create your lead magnet.
Stage 2 (Consideration): Nurture the Relationship with Valuable Emails
All right, you’ve got a potential customer in your sales funnel! Now, how do you keep them moving through? Again, now’s not the time to go in for the sale—you haven’t earned it yet. You need to continue to provide value, for free.
In stage two of a sales funnel (the Consideration stage), your prospect is considering their various options when it comes to purchasing a solution to their problem; they’re not totally sold on you yet.
Because nurturing a relationship with a prospect takes time—and as a busy entrepreneur, you don’t have a lot of that!—this is where you set up a series of automated emails that nurture the relationship for you. The range tends to be anywhere from three to seven emails before you start to sell.
What kind of content and how many emails you send will depend entirely on what type of lead magnet you chose to offer. If it’s a free email course, each email should be a bite-sized lesson before you get to the sales pitches for the premium offer. If it’s a challenge email, each email before the sales pitch should be one actionable step someone can take that day.
Here are some ideas for emails you can send prospects that have entered your sales funnel:
Email #1: The lead magnet. The very first email your prospect should receive when they enter your sales funnel is one that gives them the lead magnet that was promised to them when they signed up. This is triggered instantly via your email marketing service when someone submits their email address to your opt-in form.
Email #2: The welcome email. Often, emails #1 and #2 are combined, but if you choose, you can have two separate ones. The welcome email introduces you, your business, how you solve the problems they worry about, and what they can expect from you in the future.
Email #3: Soft offer. Here you can introduce your paid offer. Don’t go in for a hard sell yet, but you can tell a story about a customer who saw amazing results from your product and then let the prospect know where they can purchase. Now that you’ve delivered value with your lead magnet email and helped the prospect get to know you better with your welcome email, it’s time to show other features that can demonstrate your legitimacy. This can be in the form of a “customer story” email that shows off your service or product. More straightforward testimonials work really well here too.
Blogger House of Brazen has an incredibly helpful free email course on building a profitable sales funnel, and she demonstrates the soft offer beautifully. On email three of her course, she breaks down her own sales funnel and briefly mentions her premium course, Flawless Funnels:
She doesn’t go in for a hard sell until later, which you’ll see below.
Email #4: The frequently asked questions email. Now that the prospect knows your offer, they probably have a lot of questions. You can also think of these as the “objections” a prospect might have. What are the reasons they might not want to buy from you? Counter these potential objections in this email. Think of questions like, “What’s your return policy?” or “Will this product work for me?”
Email #5: The full offer, plus bonus. This is the first time you fully offer your main product or service. It’s also a good idea to offer a “bonus” or discount if they purchase now.
Let’s take a look again at House of Brazen’s email sequence. Seven emails into her free course, after briefly mentioning her Flawless Funnels paid course, she sends a “full offer” email complete with bonuses and a discount.
Email #6: The last call email. This is the last sales email of your sales funnel, where you remind the prospect that it’s their last chance to snag the discount or bonus.
Stage 3 (Decision): Close the Deal with Webinars, Product Demos, Free Trials, and More
At the Decision stage of the funnel, your prospect is aware of their problem and well-educated on the various solutions to it. They’ve probably narrowed down their options at this point and are about to decide which product to buy—and you want them to go with yours.
What Content Works Well for the Decision Stage?
- Free webinar. Many entrepreneurs employ free webinars as a way to get the prospect in the door, make a more meaningful connection using video, and then do a convincing sales pitch at the end.
- Product demo. If you sell software or any product that requires seeing it to understand how to use it, you could email your subscribers an offer to book a free product demo.
- Case studies. If you have any in-depth case studies of customers who used your product and saw great results, these can be helpful in getting prospects to convert.
- Free trial. A free trial is a popular way many software companies convert prospects into buyers. Offer a time-limited free trial as a way to let prospects get a feel for what it’s like to use your product.
What Else Can You Do to Seal the Deal?
- Offer a discount. Often, a shopper just needs a little discount to give them that extra push to purchase. You can offer your email subscribers an exclusive coupon to get 10-25% off your product.
- Make it time-limited. If you can make it time-limited, then do so. This makes the purchase more urgent and more likely to happen. This is one reason flash sales (where a product is on sale for just 24 hours or so) are so popular.
- Offer bonuses. Bonuses are popular when selling online courses. Many email launch sequences for courses include two to four bonuses for those who purchase within a certain timeframe. A bonus can be a video training, ebook, checklists, software trials, or coaching calls.
- Back it with a guarantee. If you really want to make someone confident in your product, show that you’re confident in it too by offering a money-back guarantee. These are typically anywhere from 14 to 60 days.
- Offer to hop on a call. Sometimes getting a salesperson on the phone with your prospect is enough close the deal. Offer to answer their questions via a phone call, or even just email, to show them that you’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure your product is right for them.
Remove the Subscriber from Your Sales Sequence Once They Convert
One thing you’ll want to do is remove a customer from your email sales funnel once they’ve made a purchase. That’s because you don’t want to send them another sales email after they’ve already purchased your product. To do this, use your email marketing service to set up an automation that excludes purchasers from a certain sequence.
In ConvertKit, for example, I can tell the software to remove a certain email address from my sales funnel promoting my ebook if Gumroad tells ConvertKit that the same email address has already made a purchase.
How to Use Facebook Ads in Your Automated Sales Funnel
Now that you know how to create an automated sales funnel, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to get people at the top of the funnel; that is, you need to know how to get enough eyeballs on your lead magnet to actually add anyone to your email list.
If you have a website or blog that is already highly trafficked, that’s great. For me, I rely on SEO to get traffic via Google search. But if you’re a new business or you don’t have time to wait for your ranking to climb in Google results, you likely don’t get a lot of visitors yet. That’s where Facebook ads can help as a relatively low-cost way to stuff your funnel with quality leads.
In 2016, in an effort to drum up business for a coaching service I was developing, I decided to run Facebook ads targeting my ideal audience. I set up a landing page, I put up professional photos of myself, I wrote compelling copy—but despite all the money I spent, I didn’t make one sale. Not a single one. My problem? I was trying to get people to buy immediately after seeing my ad. Big mistake.
Facebook ads are powerful when used correctly. The thing I got wrong is that you shouldn’t use your Facebook ads to sell, at least, not right away. Your Facebook ads should be offering something for free. The way it works is, you run an ad with your lead magnet targeting your ideal audience with the aim of getting their email address and adding them to your sales funnel. Facebook has some extremely detailed data on audiences, so you can get weirdly specific.
Andrew Hubbard has a fantastic post on a Facebook ads strategy he used to generate $36,449 in revenue for a client from a $4,159 ad spend. For cold traffic (those who hadn’t heard of the brand before), Hubbard first promoted a blog post that had a free lead magnet. If the person didn’t end up joining the email list and downloading the lead magnet, they were at least “pixeled” thanks to the Facebook ads pixel; this means those visitors can be retargeted in later ads. Next, Hubbard targeted those unconverted blog post visitors with Facebook ads promoting the lead magnet they failed to snag the first time.
How did Hubbard choose which blog post to promote? He had two criteria:
- It had to be closely related to the free ebook they’d be offering later (the lead magnet).
- It had to be a popular post they knew would appeal to the target audience (entrepreneurs interested in virtual summits).
Here are some examples of other businesses using Facebook ads to drive leads to their sales funnels:
Online marketing expert Jenna Kutcher has a premium course called The Pinterest Lab. She uses Facebook ads to offer a webinar to show you how to boost your Pinterest traffic.
WordStream, which offers online advertising services, uses Facebook ads to promote a free guide to improving your AdWords campaigns.
DigitalMarketer, which sells courses on content marketing, promotes a free blog post audit PDF in its Facebook ads.
By using ads to promote lead magnets that are directly related to their paid products, these businesses are able to grab quality leads to add to their sales funnels.
Why Isn’t My Sales Funnel Working?
Once your new sales funnel is running, you need to give it enough time to build up some volume before you can really make any judgments about its success. There’s no set number, but I like to have at least 100 leads make it through my sales funnel before I begin to draw any conclusions. I also aim for a minimum conversion rate of 2% for cold leads. So after 100 cold leads have gone through my automated sales funnel, if I didn’t have at least two of them convert, I go in and make some changes. Your target conversion rate is totally up to you, and it’s tough to find an “average conversion rate” anywhere because it varies widely across industries.
Not Getting Subscribers? Lead Magnet Isn’t Enticing.
Let’s start at the top of the funnel: If you’re not getting many subscribers, then the problem is either that you’re attracting the wrong audience (those who aren’t interested in your product) or your lead magnet isn’t enticing.
Remember, your lead magnet needs to be directly related to the paid product you’ll be promoting in your sales funnel. If it is, but people still aren’t subscribing, then maybe you’re targeting the wrong people. Go back and examine your top-of-funnel tactics closely. Are you using Facebook ads? Then go in and look at the audience you’re targeting. You might need to make some changes to the demographics. Are you using a blog content strategy to draw in readers who might be interested in your product? Look closely at what kind of content you’re creating. It might be attracting the wrong audience.
Getting a High Number of Unsubscribes? Content Isn’t Helpful.
If you’ve got people entering your sales funnel, but a high number of them are unsubscribing from your emails, then it might be that your funnel emails are not very helpful for the audience you’re targeting. In your email marketing service, you can see the open rate, click rate, and number of unsubscribes for each email in your sales funnel. If you start to see a high drop-off in open rates as the emails go on, then you know you’re losing their interest. If one email in particular is getting a high number of unsubscribes, review that email. It’s likely that the content is not very valuable to your prospects.
Here’s a screenshot from one of my own email sales funnels in which I was promoting an online course I love:
Using ConvertKit, I can see the open rate, click rate, sends, and unsubscribes. As you can see from the image above, there was a significant drop-off rate after the second sales email, from 44% to 29%. That told me that, in the least, I need to rewrite the subject line of the third email to improve the open rate. Further, after having nearly 300 people go through this sales funnel and making zero sales, I know that this offer probably isn’t relevant to my prospects.
Not Making Sales? Offer Isn’t Relevant.
Speaking of irrelevant offers, if you haven’t made any sales, despite following all the steps in this sales funnel guide, then maybe your offer isn’t relevant to the prospects you’re attracting. You can either start targeting a different audience, or you can change your offer altogether and see if sales start to pick up.
What to Do With Prospects Who Don’t Convert
One of the biggest mistakes you can make if you’re new to sales funnels is to assume that if you had no conversions, it was a waste of time. No! Often, this just means that your prospects aren’t yet ready to buy. Don’t give up on them yet. If they’ve stayed subscribed through your entire sales funnel, they’re still interested in what you have to say! Keep sending them valuable info, and eventually, they might convert.
The best way to continue to warm up these leads and provide value to them is to keep them on your list and send them a regular newsletter (at least once a month, but ideally, every week or two). The important thing here is not to let those leads go cold.
Bringing It All Together: Sales Funnel Examples That Worked On Me!
Now, I’m not just speaking from the perspective of someone who recently started using sales funnels in my business; I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who purchases things, time and time again, because of other entrepreneurs’ solid sales funnels.
I’ve caught this in action on two recent purchases, so I’ll walk you through those sales funnel examples below.
Melyssa Griffin is a master of online marketing, so it’s no surprise I wound up in one of her sales funnels. I wish I could remember exactly where my journey began, but it likely started with me looking up something related to blogging or online business marketing, both of which she writes about extensively.
If you take a look at her blog, you’ll notice she has lead magnets embedded into multiple spots on every blog post:
I signed up for her resource library and was added to her email sales funnel. Over the course of several emails, Melyssa provided me with such valuable information that I began to really trust her and view her as an expert in all things online business and digital marketing.
Eventually, she sent me her sales emails promoting her Pinterest marketing course Pinfinite Growth. To close the deal, she offered a free webinar called “How to Double Your Traffic + Email List.” I was so in!
During that webinar, she showed attendees how to use Pinterest to drive traffic to your opt-ins and grow your email list. Again, the information was so helpful that when she pitched her paid course Pinfinite Growth, I purchased it immediately. Of course, it helped that she offered fast-action bonuses for those who purchased while on the webinar or shortly after.
You Need a Budget (YNAB)
Another sales funnel that worked on me came from You Need a Budget. I first heard about budgeting software You Need a Budget (or YNAB, for short) in 2016 from a friend who highly recommended it. So I went to their website to check them out. I wasn’t yet ready to buy, but when they offered a free trial (no credit card required), I figured it couldn’t hurt to sign up.
Here’s the interesting thing: After the first free trial I did in 2016—I didn’t end up buying. I was a prospect that did not convert. Remember what I was telling you earlier about not giving up on unconverted prospects? Here’s why:
More than one year later, I was researching personal finance topics in an attempt to get a better handle on my budgeting. I can’t remember exactly how I wound up on the YNAB website, but once I was there, I was hooked on their blog posts. Nearly every blog post answered a question I had been pondering, such as “Should I pay down debt or build up my emergency fund?”
At the end of every blog post, they have that same call to action: “Try YNAB Free for 34 Days.”
I’d already grown to trust YNAB and see them as an expert thanks to their helpful blog posts, so I figured I’d give them another try. At this point in my life, I was way more serious about budgeting than the first time I’d done the free trial.
I signed up with the same email address as last time, and to my surprise, they still gave me another free trial. (I checked with their support team, and they said this was totally fine.) As soon as I signed up (becoming a lead for YNAB and getting added to their sales funnel), I got this email to help me get started:
Almost every day after that, they sent me helpful emails that gave me information on how to use their product. They never tried to sell me on anything, but rather, they tried to solve any problems I might run into while using their software. It wasn’t until I had one week left on my free trial that they sent me a reminder email encouraging me to subscribe.
After that, they sent only two more sales emails simply reminding me that my trial was ending, and if I wished to subscribe, I could do so. Over the course of my 34-day free trial with YNAB, they sent me a total of 21 emails. Of those 21 emails, only three were purely sales emails. That ratio is a really good one to aim for if you want to nurture leads while helping them and not being too salesy.
Another conversion tactic that YNAB uses is offering free live personal finance workshops. These help you to get more familiar with the product without having to make a large commitment. Also, video tends to convert really well compared to text. During my free trial, I was able to watch a recorded workshop, and this helped me understand how to use the product and realize just how helpful it was.
How Foundr Does Sales Funnels
I want to wrap things up with an example from Foundr to show you we don’t just talk to the talk, we walk the walk. Beginning with the end in mind, we look at which product we’re looking to promote, such as when we create a new course like Influencer Magnet.
From there, we work backward and consider what type of person this course will help most. In this case, Influencer Magnet would be perfect for a business owner looking to connect with high-profile influencers. That helps us craft a content strategy that will attract the ideal customers for the course. Then we go in and write helpful, in-depth blog posts that answer our ideal customers’ most burning questions in a thorough way, like this one: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Reaching, and Interviewing Top Influencers.
Within each blog post, you’ll notice we include a specific call to action via a content upgrade. Once someone enters their email address and joins that specific list, they’ve entered a sales funnel for the course we think will help them most.
But here’s the catch—we don’t try to sell them on it; we just try to help them. The first email they get is one delivering the lead magnet we promised and letting them know what to expect from us:
After that, we continue to send them automated emails that continue to answer their questions about that topic. For example, we send the exact strategy we used to connect with Richard Branson:
Only after sending value-packed emails do we even mention our paid course Influencer Magnet.
If At First You Don’t Succeed …
Don’t expect to get your sales funnel completely right on your first try. You will constantly be testing and tweaking, and that’s fine! But what happens if you keep stalling, waiting until it’s “perfect”? You’ll never get the data you need to see what’s working and what’s not. I’m still tweaking my own sales funnels, and they are far from perfect, but I’m miles ahead of where I would have been had I never started.
As you can see, busy entrepreneurs need automated sales funnels. They’re a fantastic way to get quality leads to convert to buyers, without having to waste time manually nurturing every prospect. If you haven’t yet, set up your first automated sales funnel this week so you can make sales in your sleep. Use those sales funnel examples above to get inspired. To get started on your own, remember to:
- Create content that attracts your ideal customers.
- Create an enticing lead magnet to get them on your email list.
- Continue to nurture that relationship with helpful emails that solve their problem.
- Make them an offer they can’t resist.
- Continue to test and tweak your sales funnels.
As with anything worth doing, it is a lot of work upfront. But once you get that first, second, and third sale thanks to your trusty automated sales funnel, you’ll be glad you did it!
What questions do you have about creating your first sales funnel? Ask us in the comments below!