Check out the website of a popular online business. What do you see? A logo, yes. Images and videos of products, sure. But behind all this, there’s something else working away in the background, making it a successful business and not just another website. It’s what makes people go from visitors to customers, and it’s incredibly powerful.
I’m talking about sales funnels.
Whether you see evidence of it or not, all online businesses almost certainly have sales funnels in place. Whether you’re creating a sales funnel for Shopify or simply trying to get leads for your consulting business, sales funnels are no stranger to online businesses.
If you follow a business on social media, if you are part of an email list, or if you have ever downloaded an ebook or signed up for a webinar, then you have been part of a sales funnel.
Sales funnels have large impacts on consumer behavior. They help attract visitors to your site and guide them closer to making purchases.
What is a sales funnel? In a recent article, we explained just what sales funnels are and how they work.
But you’re still probably in need of some assistance when it comes to creating one for your own online business. That’s why in this article, you will learn the four specific steps you need to take to create a great sales funnel.
Note: While funnels can change a lot depending on whether you run a consulting business, an ecommerce business, a software business, learning how to create a Facebook sales funnel etc., we’ve intentionally kept this tutorial quite broad. But with these basics, you will have a much better idea of how you can implement one in your business.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Step 1: Attract Traffic (Top of the Funnel)
The first step of any sales funnel, and the step most people focus on, consists of attracting traffic to your site—that is, to the “top of your funnel.” At this stage, you want people to get to your blog or social media accounts so you can share educational information with them.
The entire reason you set up a sales funnel is to build trust. You want people to know you, like you, and believe in you. You want to be their advisor, their mentor, their friend in their journey to solve a specific problem. As you build that trust, you can then take them further along the funnel and, eventually, see them become customers.
In the first step of the funnel—also known as TOFU—you will use a mix of blog and social media content to attract traffic to your site.
Creating the right content that performs well for your audience requires that you do a competitive analysis of your industry as well as research on the topics people search for and enjoy. A competitive analysis means you check your competitors’ content in order to learn the type of content you will be competing against.
Start by making a list of 10 competitors and going through their most popular and recent content. More specifically, look at:
- The topics they publish
- The titles
- The length
- The level of detail
- The images they use
You want to get a feel for the content they create. But to get much deeper insights into your competitors, you can use premium tools like Ahrefs, Moz, or SEMrush. These tools will help you analyze your competitors’ most linked-to content and most shared content.
This will give you an idea of what performs well and what resonates with your audience. In a way, inbound links and social shares work like a proxy for quality. That is, if people link and share certain content, it must mean it’s good.
Psychologist Jonah Berger, the author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, calls this the “social currency” factor. People only share and link to content that makes them look good. If they do it, it’s because they feel proud associating with it, so the content is likely high-quality.
The second way to find the right content to create is through keyword research. The aforementioned tools will allow you to do this. All you need to do is make a list of potential topics you think people like (based on your previous analysis) and see the results you get.
For example, if you search for “sales funnels” in Ahrefs, you will get this result:
That means around 18,000 people are searching for that topic every month, something you can now use to guide your content creation, as you know you could potentially attract that many people to your content.
As you define a set of keywords, you want to start creating content, both in the form of blog articles and social media publications (which can include Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube videos, and so on).
Content creation is just the beginning, however. There’s a lot of marketing that needs to be done afterwards, which is why you need to use search engine optimization (SEO), paid ads, and your own social media accounts as tools to draw traffic to your site.
The actual promotion of your content is a topic for a separate post, so to help you out, here are a few guides I recommend you read to get you started:
- How to Create a Powerful Content Distribution Strategy
- How-To Set Up Your Facebook Ad Campaigns
- The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering SEO for Your Startup, No Consultants Needed
Step 2: Convert Traffic Into Leads (Middle of the Funnel)
Most of the sales that your business will generate will come not from your first-time visitors. Salespeople like to say it takes six to eight “touches” to generate a sales lead (and many more to generate a sale). While this applies mostly to enterprise sales, there’s a lot of truth to that idea.
You need to talk to people, help them, and yes, build trust before you can expect to make a sale. This is a long-term game that you need to work at. Just like you wouldn’t become best friends with someone after a first meeting, you can’t expect people to trust you right away.
One of the most effective ways to play this long-term game is through the use of email marketing. You send emails with timely content that solves their problems, ideally, when they need it the most. This is a topic we’ll get to in the next step.
Before you can use email marketing, you need email subscribers (or leads, as marketers like to call them). And to get email subscribers, you need to convert your traffic into leads.
To convert your traffic into leads, you need two elements in place:
- A piece of gated content
- A landing page or a lead capture form
Gated content (also known as “lead magnets” or “middle-of-the-funnel content”) refers to something you offer to people that is behind some sort of wall—in this case, it will be a wall that can be unlocked in exchange for their personal information (which typically includes name and email, but can include much more information).
A landing page is the page that you use to get people to sign up to receive your gated content. It’s the gate, you could say.
Because most websites have a lot of distractions, like menu bars, social media buttons, comment sections, and more, marketers have found that by eliminating them and offering their gated content on a separate page, they can get more conversions.
What’s more, you can use these landing pages to attract traffic using paid ads, guest posts, and partnerships, which can help you scale the volume of leads you generate.
Lead capture forms work similarly to landing pages, in the sense you use them to offer your gated piece of content. But instead of creating a separate page, you offer it through a small box within your site.
You’ve seen countless lead capture forms in the form of pop-ups, slide-in forms, and floating bars. In the example below, you can see a slide-in form in our of our posts.
There’s a whole art to building landing pages and lead capture forms that convert. Here are a few resources that will guide you:
- How to Create a Landing Page
- How to Grow an Email List: How We Added 56,000 Subscribers in 30 Days
- How To Create a Lead-Generating Opt-In Offer
Step 3: Nurture Leads (Middle of the Funnel)
After you’ve converted a visitor into a lead, you start a process known as “nurturing.”
During this stage, you continue your communication with your leads, sending them useful and timely content that helps solve their needs. The goal is to get them closer to the sale by floating your product or service as a potential solution to their problems.
Email is one of the best ways to deliver your content to your leads. Email marketing is much more than a tactic to send company news or promotions. It’s actually the channel 93% of marketers use to distribute their content. What’s more, 59% of marketers consider email as their biggest source of ROI.
One big reason this is the case is the fact that email marketing can deliver content to your leads at just the right moment in their buying journey. This, in turn, allows you to build more trust and deliver value, which is the main purpose of your sales funnel.
There are two ways to get started with an email marketing strategy. One is to use one-off emails to deliver your newly published content.
The one-off emails are very common because they’re so easy to implement, and they allow you to continue helping your leads. The content you send can include new blog posts, ebooks, and webinars that answer key questions and solve important problems your leads have.
Another highly effective way to deliver your content is through the use of automated email campaigns. These campaigns allow you to segment your leads based on specific criteria, and send them predetermined emails.
For example, you can create an automated campaign providing more information on your product or service to leads who have watched one of your webinars. You can assume your webinar has helped to solve some important problem you leads have, and an email campaign allows you to introduce your product as a way to help them out even more.
No matter what type of campaign you choose to send, remember that in this stage you need to continue creating content, whether that’s in the form of blog articles, social media, ebooks, webinars, or more.
Your emails will only serve to deliver that content to your leads—without content, there’s nothing email can do to nurture your leads.
Step 4: Close Leads (Bottom of the Funnel)
As you nurture leads throughout the funnel, many of them will start to realize your company can help them with their problems. This is the stage where you’ll make more of a direct and specific.
The reality is that most of these leads won’t convert, and that’s totally fine. Few people are ready to make a purchase at any given moment, as we’ve explained in our previous guide on sales funnels, when we talked about the 3% rule.
To close leads, you need to nudge along the people who have shown interest in your content and in your site. As in the other steps in the funnel, you achieve this goal through the use of content, but in this case it will be much more explicitly about your product and a potential sale. This content can take several shapes:
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Product demonstrations and free strategy calls
- Quotes and proposals
This content won’t be like what you used in the previous steps, as you’re not trying to educate people about potential solutions available to them. Rather, you’re educating people on the specific way your products and services work, their prices, and how they apply to your leads’ specific situations.
In this phase, you continue to deliver content through email, but you may also need to talk with your leads through phone, webcam, or an in-person meeting. At last, the trust you’ve built throughout the funnel will have paid off.
Before closing, let me remind you that sales funnels will vary greatly depending on the type of business model you have.
- An ecommerce business that sells $20 t-shirts won’t have to pay too much attention to the later stages of the funnel because, let’s be honest, most people don’t need to talk to a sales rep to make such a purchase.
- A software business that charges $100 a month will have to work hard to attract leads and to help its leads understand how their software works in real life.
- An agency will have to focus a lot more on personal contact, like phone calls and custom strategy meetings, to help their leads.
Each and every business model and industry you are in will modify your sales funnel; make sure to adapt your sales funnel properly.
Most importantly: when you’re ready to create your own sales funnel, remember this:
Build trust. Educate people. Solve their problems.
If you do this right, no matter how your sales funnel looks like, you will have succeeded in building a profitable business.