The Sales Funnel: Mapping the Customer’s Journey

Is there a need for a sales funnel in my business plan?

Exactly what is a sales funnel and why would my business need one?

In last month’s article, we looked at how the Digital Marketing Agency began and how it has evolved into what it is today. The intricacy of today’s eCommerce fundamentally mandates the need for help in building your website and getting your business up and running.

One of the key things your marketing agency is going to do is to create a model for the progression of your customers from the time they are introduced to your product to the time they convert (make a purchase). This model is known as a funnel.

The funnel is both a marketing tool and a sales tool. These two functions within your marketing team will coordinate a smooth transition from looker to consumer.

The funnel is not new.

The sales funnel is not a new digital-age concept. The model was developed by an advertising advocate by the name of E. St. Elmo Lewis in the late 1800’s.

The actual image of a funnel was introduced in the 1924 book Bond Salesmanship. It was a book for investment bankers written by William W. Townsend.  

The idea of the funnel concept was to map the journey of the customer from the moment a brand or product caught their attention to the point of purchase.

The use of the funnel model in advertising began to surge in the 1950’s with the advent of television and product advertising in a brand-new medium.

And thus began the modern consumer age.

The Funnel Model:

There are variations of what the sales funnel looks like, and notably, the number of stages in the process. For simplicity, the basic model will be discussed in this article.

The sales or marketing funnel is a core concept for most digital marketing agencies. As you can see in the image, there are four stages of the funnel. Each stage represents a step that the shopper will take in their journey to becoming a customer.

The model is a tool to visualize the process of turning prospects (leads) into paying customers.

Why a Funnel?

As the image illustrates, the top stage, awareness, is the largest segment of the funnel. This suggests that a lot of people will appear at the top as potential customers.

The last segment, action, is small and narrow. Clearly, not everyone will become a customer. And, consequently, this stage is smaller than the others indicating that some of those who actually enter into the funnel will fall out during the marketing process.

The ideal representation would be a cylinder. It would imply that all shoppers who discover your product or service would become patrons. But, obviously, this would be unrealistic even in the best of circumstances.

The four basic segments of the Funnel.

Awareness Stage

The top of the funnel, awareness, as it implies, is the stage where people become aware of your presence on the internet. They are introduced to your product or service and therefore begin their journey through your funnel.

Your marketing team will use a variety of tools to gain the attention of the shopper. The marketing campaign will utilize tools such as blogging, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, events/shows, paid advertising, direct mail, opt-in email marketing campaigns, and more…to develop brand awareness and to generate leads.  

The goal here is to capture as many leads as possible. Then to nurture them through the purchasing process and turning as many leads as possible into customers.

Lead generation and collecting customer info.

The prospect may arrive at your website by a number of ways. Either by a link on another site or a link in an email or by a search—organically or paid advertising. Regardless, they end up on your Landing Page.

On the landing page, they will find a world of information about you, your company, and your product or service. This is where the education process begins.  

Also on the landing page, there should be lead magnets. Lead magnets are such devices as eBooks, guides, free trials, surveys, discount codes…anything to engage the reader and to have them engage you in return. These are valuable tools in building your email list and gathering additional shopper information.

It’s important to remember that these folks are looking for something. And the strength of the customers’ motive is generally their desire to buy something they want or need. Or it may be the need to fill or replace a void…something that is missing in their lives.

The content can smartly be developed so that you reveal to them that they might have a need or desire which they have not thought about or been aware of.

It’s imperative that a large portion of the awareness plan is devoted to answering their questions and providing solutions for their problems. This is the very beginning of the relationship building process—you are establishing yourself with the customer, and developing brand awareness

Your goal is to show the customer the value and reliability of your product or service. Your task is to educate them on what you can do for them. Again, you answer their questions and show them that you can solve their problem or fulfill their need.

Interest Stage

In the interest stage of the funnel, first of all, the customer is progressing deeper into your well designed and planned funnel. The customer is beginning to learn more and more about you and your company.

Now it’s time to begin to nurture the (lead) potential buyer. Again, it’s relationship marketing and you want to start reaching out to the customer.

Brand awareness and relationship building.

Let the customer know that they are important to you and that your focus is on their needs and desires. It’s all about engaging and positioning yourself with your potential customer.

Use emails, targeted content, newsletters, classes/webinars to gain their confidence and encourage them to remain in the funnel… anything personalized to continue the education process.

In some cases a bond may develop that will keep the visitor in the funnel.  Nonetheless, the customer is taking a good look at what you have to offer and, in all likelihood, they will begin to engage with you.

At the interest stage of the funnel, the number of potential customers will begin to decrease but the possibility of a conversion (sale) increases.

Decision (or Desire) Stage

The customer has their finger poised over the accept/purchase button and is about ready to convert. They are in the process of weighing their options…to buy or move on?

This is not the time to back away. Too many business owners take this step for granted and back off to give the potential buyer some space.

Qualified leads are now seen as prospective customers.

This is the critical moment—anything that comes along to distract them may change their mind. The relationship building must still be there, in fact, reinforced.

It’s time for some re-marketing efforts to keep your information in front of them. Reintroduce yourself and use this opportunity to compare yourself to the competition…why you are the better choice.

Provide them with more product information and offer free trials, product demos, and other special deals. Use automated emails campaigns and provide case studies to encourage them that they are making a sound decision.

Don’t push too much though, because consumers really don’t appreciate high-pressure sales tactics. But do keep providing personalized content, continue to educate them, and reinforce your position of being there for them. Continue to nurture and provide a stream of relevant information to keep them thinking about you.

Show them that there is a shopping cart where they can place their items. Their selections will not get lost while they think things over and will be ready for checkout when the customer is ready.

The funnel will actually necessitate action and decision-making by the customer. Once they have invested this much time and energy in the sales funnel, they have the incentive to continue.

Action (or Conversion/Purchase) Stage

Most importantly, the purchase process must be seamless—no hidden gimmicks or awkward steps to complete.

The buyer is ready to pull the trigger. Anything negative right now will end the deal.  Give them the incentive to act now…offer free shipping.

Provide them with testimonials from satisfied patrons or case studies of previous contented customers. Your marketing and sales effort is to prove your product is the best choice

Present content that helps them feel confident in their decision. Close the deal by explaining the primary actions you wish them to take.

If the three previous stages have been successfully accomplished, odds are it will lead to a conversion.

A fifth stage: Loyalty and Advocacy

Not shown in the image is yet another stage. But rather than a segment of the funnel, it may be more like a carafe or similar vessel to collect and preserve what comes out of the funnel.

You don’t want your customers to simply make the purchase then walk away.

You want to continue the relationship with the customer. Nurture them and they will return again and again. Your goal is to turn them into loyal, repeat customers.

If you align your brand with trustworthiness and value…they will want to come back.

And, finally,  you will want to create brand promoters out of your patrons. Provide them with shareable information that they can pass along to their friends and family and let them help you spread the word.

In the eCommerce world, every effort needs to be made to retain customers after the sale. The difference between a successful, long-lasting business and a short-term flash-in-the-pan business is taking care of the customers beyond the purchase.

It’s difficult enough to acquire customers in the first place. Don’t keep reinventing the wheel—take advantage of what you already have!

The sales funnel is a much-needed part of your business plan.

The funnel is a valuable blueprint…a visual tool. Its purpose is to define the stages that the customer will enter and proceed through as they go from awareness to conversion.

By knowing what the journey is going to look like, you and your marketing team can predict the outcome.

And by measuring actual outcomes against predicted outcomes, the entire process (funnel stages) can be tweaked and fine-tuned to achieve desired results.

Unfortunately, though, not every trip through the funnel will end in conversion. But a properly constructed funnel as part of your business plan will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you have put forth your best effort and the customer was given the opportunity to make an informed decision.

Your Marketing Agency at Work.

Once again, there is no single agreed upon funnel model. This was a look at a basic model as it applies to the concepts of digital marketing and eCommerce.

And of course, it’s only a cursory view of the process. Behind the scenes, there is wide-ranging technical and specialized activity taking place as each customer passes through the sales funnel.

And, this activity is your Digital Marketing Agency hard at work for you!

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