The American philosopher “John Dewey” came out from exploring the depths of the human psyche by explaining the stages of the human purchasing process. Although marketing has evolved after more than a century, human psychology remains the same, and this explanation remains the basis for understanding buyer behavior and building the sales funnel to this day.
A sales funnel is neither a complex mechanical structure nor an oversimplification of the sales process. It is a useful visual way of describing a complex process, and visualizing it in its entirety from start to finish. What is a sales funnel, and how do you design a successful sales funnel with marketing strategies appropriate to the customer journey?
table of contents:
- What is a sales funnel?
- Sales funnel examples
- The five stages of the sales funnel
- How to build your own sales funnel
- For a more effective sales funnel: How do you identify the most interesting customers?
What is a sales funnel?
A sales funnel is a method of segmenting a customer’s journey on their way to making a purchase. It starts from the stage of awareness when he learns about the product or service for the first time, and ends at the stage of purchase when he implements his decision to pay money to obtain the product or service. Often times, the journey continues to follow the customer post-purchase to maintain their loyalty and repeat purchase.
Marketing strategies in the sales funnel begin with website traffic, and as they progress through the funnel, communication with customers becomes more personalized, such as product descriptions and purchase phone calls. The sales funnel is like a “sieve” with holes in it, with fewer customers at the top of the funnel than at the end (the bottom).
All businesses have a sales funnel, even if you don’t realize it. Intentional planning, however, helps in understanding what the lead is thinking and doing at each stage of the buying journey. This allows for more appropriate marketing strategies, investing in the right marketing channels, delivering the most relevant messages through each stage and converting a lead into an actual customer.
Sales funnel examples
Since things are distinguished by their opposites, here are two examples of sales funnels, one that is unsuccessful and ineffective, and the other that is successful and effective:
Unsuccessful example of a sales funnel
Company (S), a printer distributor, markets office printers for businesses, and has hired ten salespeople with little marketing experience. The company’s traditional marketing tactic is to purchase data from potential customers, then the representative contacts the customer to try to convince them to buy the printer.
The results were very disappointing, as the potential customers are often of a different quality than the desired quality. They are either not interested in buying a printer or not suitable to buy as the high price of a desktop printer puts their purchasing power at a premium. Sales data indicates that the conversion rate does not exceed 1% of the total number of customers they contact.
Successful example of a sales funnel
The activity of Company (S) for selling printers is similar to that of Company (X) and has the same business volume. But, instead of taking the traditional marketing approach, the company designed a sales funnel that helps a sales team of just three salespeople complete sales more efficiently with less effort. It all started with content marketing, as R created an attractive set of pieces of content and linked them to landing pages on her website.
These various pieces such as infographics, videos, and blogs were suitable opportunities for the target audience to learn about the company’s activities without having to go through an unexpected phone call with a sales representative. The moment a potential customer develops interest in the printer, they will easily be able to find out more information by filling out a form on the landing page.
Then comes the turn of the three sales representatives who receive these forms and communicate with potential customers, explaining the attractive offers offered by the company. The company achieved a conversion rate of 50%, well above that of Company X with fewer salespeople and less effort on phone calls.
The five stages of the sales funnel
No matter what type of product or service a customer buys or how much they intend to spend, buyers follow a single path when they are in the process of making a purchase. Here is an explanation of the five sales funnel stages:
The first stage: the stage of awareness (identifying the need or problem)
It is known that the need is the motive behind the purchase, and the ways to satisfy this need vary between easy, difficult or unclear solutions. For example, the time to change the oil of the customer’s car is approaching, and it is a simple problem whose solution is known. He will contact an oil selling company to find out a price list.
But if the problem is more complex, for example, the customer is considering buying a car for the first time. He will start choosing between several alternatives. Should he buy a mid-size sedan, an SUV, or a youth car? Away from the world of cars, the customer may encounter a problem whose solution is obscure, which he does not know yet, such as facing a legal problem that impedes his project, and he does not know what different solutions are suitable for it.
Buyer needs are different for different types of businesses. For example, if you run a marketing consulting firm, your clients are already aware of issues related to your industry, such as high cost of customer acquisition, low conversion rate, or poor results for a particular marketing channel.
These problems crystallize the content of the top of the sales funnel, which should not focus on showing the company’s services, but on the customer’s need. For example, a paid Facebook ad that shows how you can improve your conversion rate from potential customers to actual customers.
The second stage: attention (search for a solution)
When the need or problem appears, the customer is interested in searching for a solution, so he seeks to know some information. The information collection process varies depending on the nature of the product or service. For example, when you want to use ride-hailing, you will open the Uber app and search for the driver closest to your home. Whereas, if you need to open a new bank account, you will ask one of your friends, read bank reviews, search for branches near you, and call customer service to inquire about account opening requirements.
Statistics show that buyers resort to Google at least two or three times to understand their problems well and search for different solution options and related business activities. Many also turn to social media groups and discussion forums to get nominations from others. In other words, they are not looking for promotional content at this point, but rather for potential solutions.
At this point you can present yourself as an expert in the field and benefit them with free ancillary content. In the example of a marketing consulting agency , you might create content of the kind that your clients are looking for such as: how to improve conversion rate , the basics of choosing appropriate marketing channels, and the most important search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. To find ideas to create content around, research keywords in your niche that are getting a lot of queries.
Third stage: evaluation
Simultaneously with searching for solutions and gathering information, the potential customer at this stage of the sales funnel begins to compare the alternatives they have found. It doesn’t have to be quickly compared and decided without having to consume other content.
For example, when changing the car’s oil, the customer will make the decision quickly. However, in B2B-Business to business products and services that require exorbitant payments, the evaluation process will be slower and more accurate, and require more procedures such as obtaining a demo or free sample, watching an explanatory video or attending a webinar to learn about Close up on how to use each product.
Example: An independent blog, the largest Arab platform for freelance work, published a series of articles that answer the client’s questions at this stage of oppression and help him in the process of comparing alternatives and making the right decision, such as when to resort to freelancers or the use of agencies and how to choose an independent digital marketer .
Fourth stage: purchase
The potential customer has realized his need, looked for solutions, studied each one, and is ready to buy. What can help at this point to give him that last extra boost of confidence before he hits the buy button? They are case studies and success stories.
This type of content shows how your product or service has improved a customer’s life and helped them succeed. It is important that the case study is relevant to the potential customer, and the protagonist of her story resembles the buyer persona. For example if you are running a training business, share how your training helped a trainee start their career and get their dream job.
The other “unwanted” facet of the buying phase is “back-recommendations,” which is the most dangerous component of a potential customer’s decision. Reverse recommendations are recommendations from close relatives and colleagues that discourage the customer from making a purchase because of their bad experience with the product. The opinions of those close to him are more reliable than the reviews he read on the Internet, and are a real threat. This highlights the importance of dealing with angry customers in constructive ways, and addressing negative comments in a positive way.
Fifth stage: post-purchase
Once the purchase is completed, the post-purchase phase is just as important as the pre-purchase. On the one hand, welcoming customers and providing them with all possible assistance will increase their confidence that they have made the right decision and will transmit their positive opinion to others, forming fuel for marketing through recommendations . On the other hand, the odds of repeat purchase will increase, which means more sales without putting in as much effort as is required to attract a new customer.
And vice versa, the customer’s feeling of frustration will be transmitted to others, recommending to buy from competitors, and he may request a refund and leave negative reviews. So the key to success at this stage of the sales funnel is to design a great product from the ground up. And the effort required to create a good after-sales experience is not great, limited to producing content such as frequently asked questions, facilitating access to technical support service, and finally encouraging the buyer to leave his evaluation of the product, in addition to some follow-up mailings.
It is clear from the previous presentation of the stages of the sales funnel, that entering the sales funnel will cause customers to study each stage to decide, will they leave the funnel in search of another solution, or will they continue in the path to the stage of completion of the purchase? Customers often enter the funnel from the top, but for some it may enter from one of the stages in the middle, but the method of continuing remains the same regardless of the stage at which the customer begins his journey.
How to build your own sales funnel
In the following analysis, the sales funnel stages will be divided into three sections: the first and second stages are the top of the funnel, the third stage is the middle of the funnel, and the fourth and fifth stages are the bottom of the funnel. From the Buyer Persona you’ve designed, you’ll start the journey of creating engaging content in each department. Repeat the answer to the following questions each time:
- What type of information do I need to provide to help the audience progress down the sales funnel and move to the next stage?
- How will the audience find the product at this point?
- How do I know if the audience has moved from one stage to another?
Section 1: Top of the Sales Funnel (Awareness and Interest Phases)
In this section, the answer to the first question regarding the type of information you need to help the public will be that customers need this type of information at this time:
- Content that recognizes the need or problem they face and that it calls for gratification and a solution:
Such as posts that discuss the problem rationally away from the superficial and unconvincing emotional handling, “Why is (X) a problem and what should be done to solve it”, “5 ways to increase the effectiveness of (X)”. and detailed guides and downloadable templates and forms.
- Interesting content that interests potential customers:
So that they are attracted to the brand and continue the purchase path. Example: a behind-the-scenes social post. Behind the scenes marketing works at this stage when it reflects the company’s social, humanitarian or environmental mission, such as companies that produce organic food, sell environmentally friendly products, charities, etc.
The answer to the second question is that the public can find the product through the following methods:
- Ads : such as search engine ads that direct visitors to a landing page and include a subscription form to fill in, so that the visitor will be able to obtain a demo version. Also, social media ads that include an invitation to download an e-book or attend a webinar (webinar) held by the company on an industry topic, while carefully choosing the demographics of the target audience.
- Content marketing : by publishing Guest Post articles on leading sites in the field – from which the audience draws objective, neutral information – about the considerations that must be taken into account when choosing a good product. Additionally, host a webinar and post informative blog posts.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) : Optimizing the website for the search engine by focusing on the keywords that the user is interested in at the stage of searching for information about the product to increase the number of organic visits from the search results.
- Social media : such as launching posts that educate the user on a variety of issues and topics in the field, promoting blog articles and guest posts.
- Email marketing : It starts as soon as you get the potential customer’s email address that they leave when uploading a directory, joining a webinar, or signing up for a newsletter. Depending on the distillation campaign, it includes articles related to the topic for which the user left his mail, obtaining a free sample, and discounts for subscribers to the newsletter only or for those who buy within the next 24 hours.
As for the answer to the third question about how to measure the transition of potential customers to the evaluation stage “the middle of the sales funnel”, the measurement will be through the numbers of performance indicators:
- Attend the webinar
- Landing page templates filled out
- Article visits
- Clicks on the guest post link
- Manuals and forms downloads
- Followers and how many interactions
- Newsletter subscriptions
- Message open rate
- reply messages
- Response rate to offers and free trial requests
Section Two: The Middle of the Sales Funnel (Evaluation Phase)
The answer to the same three questions will be in this section, the first question: What kind of information do customers need at this point? It will be by using several strategies such as:
- Content that describes product characteristics in greater detail to be evaluated against accurate information, such as posts titled “Know Service(s).”
- Product features that are superior to competing products. An infographic or video can be created that lists the features that the product has and that competitors do not have.
- Case studies of previous customer success stories to move customers more easily from the evaluation stage to the next “buy” stage.
- Confidence that the producing company is a leader in its field.
Second: How will potential customers find the product in the evaluation phase? using several methods, including:
- Website : product page, customer page, success stories, pop-ups related to the page the customer is visiting, eg “Do you need help with service (x)?”.
- Content marketing : a webinar about the product itself or about customer experience and not about an industry topic, writing a detailed report on the company’s research in the industry that is evidence of its leadership.
- Directories and Review Sites : Listing the company in business directories such as Google My Business, Chambers of Commerce and business directories such as Yelp, encouraging happy customers to leave positive reviews about their experience, addressing negative reviews of angry customers and making amends.
- Ads : Retargeting the audience is one of the appropriate advertising tactics for this stage, and it means targeting people who showed interest in the product or service from the previous stage – for example, they visited the site or downloaded a directory – with ads intended to appear to them only. The targeting is very precise based on cookies.
Finally, how do I know if the audience has moved from one stage to another? There are several indicators that tell that the customer has moved to the next stage and is close to buying, such as:
- Products page visits and webinar attendance
- The number of repeat visits
- Trade directories visits and referrals from them
- Phone calls and contract requests
- The shopping cart abandoned by the customer, with a study of the reasons for abandonment to rectify them
- Communicate with customers with the aim of convincing them to complete the purchase
Section 3: Bottom of the Sales Funnel (Buying and Post-Buying Phases)
To answer the same question as the first: What kind of information do customers need at this point? At this critical juncture, customers will need to maximize their comfort and make the buying process as easy as possible. By providing content along the lines of “How did buying X become as easy as possible?”, they also need to reduce confusion by designing payment pages that clearly tell the customer what they will do to complete the purchase.
Again, case studies are of particular importance at this stage to eliminate any hesitation. After purchase, information on how to use and obtain technical support will be needed.
The second question: How will potential customers find the product at the purchase stage? It may be by:
- Website : Clear and easy new payment page.
- Email Marketing : There are great email strategies to maintain the relationship with the customer after the purchase and to make it easier to maintain their loyalty and then repeat purchases, such as establishing the relationship with thank you messages, helpful content and requesting to leave a review. Customer retention messages that include customer-only gifts and offers. This article offers more email marketing strategies for this stage of customer engagement.
And third, how do I know if the audience has moved from one stage to another? The answer is simple and straightforward: the number of sales, and repeat purchases.
Marketing in the stages of the sales funnel, as it was shown, requires the production of different types of content over time. Use the fives market, the largest Arab market for microservices, to create content through marketing services , design services , writing services , and video services .
For a more effective sales funnel: How do you identify the most interesting customers?
I understand that we all long for a more efficient sales funnel, through which we can better qualify potential customers throughout the sales funnel. The established fact is that there will be fewer visitors to the sales funnel from the top than those who continue to the bottom.
For example, a customer may continue to the evaluation stage and then leave because they do not have enough funds, or the customer may be interested in the product but not the decision-maker in their company if the product is for businesses. For this, there is an important additional step that allows the sales team to be utilized in the best way and focus their efforts with the most worthy customers.
In the following four groups we will discover the order of leads in ascending order of importance:
- Weak interest and low suitability
They are the potential customers who are unlikely to make a serious purchase move soon and are very different from the customer persona you have prepared. For example, low-income customers who browse expensive products purely out of curiosity and have no real intention to buy.
- Strong interest and low fit
It is the type of customer that is seriously looking for a product to buy, but it will not suit their desire in the end due to some differences. For example, if you sell electrical appliances for cash, while the customer is looking to buy electrical appliances in installments.
- Low interest and high suitability
These customers are very similar to the customer personality, but they do not show interest in the product and are not actively looking for solutions. This quality is useful to follow up with a brand awareness campaign that will yield results in the future once they feel the need or look for a solution to the problem.
- Strong interest and high suitability
They are the most interesting category, as they search closely for your product and are more likely to convert into actual customers. So, they should be high on the sales team’s priority list. You might assign the most skilled members of your team to communicate with them and persuade them to complete the purchase, while assigning the less experienced members the task of communicating with less important customer groups.
In conclusion, the key to success in using the sales funnel lies in understanding the needs of customers well at each stage in order to provide appropriate marketing activities. Since leaks from which customers leave the funnel are normal, note at what stage the cracks appear and what specific efforts usually lead to a purchase, then work on restoring the funnel. We are happy to share with you in the comments, which marketing strategies do you think are most effective in the sales funnel?