Everyone who has an online business needs to create a sales funnel in order to convert his website visitors into paying customers.

If you fail to do that, you will hardly make any money.

Your primary goal with your sales funnel is to move people from one stage to another until they are ready to purchase.

In this blog post, we’ll explain how to create a sales funnel for your online business.

What is a Sales Funnel?

A sales funnel is a marketing concept that maps out the journey a customer goes through when making any kind of purchase. The model uses a funnel as an analogy because a large number of potential customers may begin at the top-end of the sales process, but only a fraction of these people actually end up making a purchase.

As a prospect passes through each stage of the funnel, it signifies a deeper commitment to the purchase goal. Most businesses, whether online or conventional, use this model to guide their marketing efforts in each stage of the sales funnel.

The 4 basic Sales Funnel stages are:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Decision
  • Action

Understanding the Sales Funnel Stages

From the first time your prospect hears about you until the moment he buys from you, he passes through different stages of your sales funnel.

This journey might differ from one prospect to the next depending on your buying personas, your niche and the types of products and services you sell.

Before you start building your sales funnel, it is essential to have a clear business vision, develop a marketing strategy and then define your target audience to work towards your business growth. If, for example, you are looking on how to create an online clothing store, you need to follow specific steps to develop your business and stay successful.

So, you can design your sales funnel with as many stages as you want.

But, in general, these are the four main ones that you need to pay attention to:

AIDA Sales FunnelAwareness

At this stage, the prospect learns about your existing solution, product or service. They might also become aware of their problems that they need to solve and the possible ways to deal with it.

This is when they visit your website for the first time, which they found from an ad, Google search, a post shared on social media or another traffic source.

Interest

At this stage, the prospect is actively looking for solutions to their problems and ways to achieve their goals.

They search for solutions on Google. This is when you can attract them with some great content.

Now is the time when he expresses his interest in your product or service. He follows you on social media and subscribes to your list.

Decision

At this stage, the prospect is making the decision that he wants to take advantage of your solution.

They are paying more attention to what you offer, including different packages and options, so he can make the final decision to purchase.

This is when sales offers are made by using sales pages, webinars, calls, etc.

Action

At this stage, the prospect is becoming a customer by finalizing the deal with you.

They’re signing the contract and clicking the purchase button.

Then the money is transferred to your bank account.

It’s important to state that there might be additional stages to your sales funnel. Your interaction with a customer doesn’t end with a successful stage.

Retention

At this stage, you have your customer onboard your company. This stage requires you to focus on keeping customers happy to convert them into repeat customers and brand advocates. Word of mouth is a powerful force and no one can do it better than a happy customer.

To keep customers happy, you need to help your customers with all aspects and problems related to what they bought from you. Basically, you want them to stay engaged with your product/service. You can do that by sharing content such as:

  • Emails
  • Special Offers
  • Surveys/Outreach and follow-ups
  • Product usage guides
  • Technical assistance literature

How to Use Content for Each Stage of The Sales Funnel

According to ringDNA, one of the biggest mistakes marketers make is that they don’t align their content marketing efforts with their sales funnel stages so they can close more deals.

More often than not, they don’t go deep enough. As a result, they fail to move prospects to the next stage.

That’s why we have decided to explain how you can use different content for each stage of your sales funnel:

Blogging (awareness and interest)

By blogging, you will generate awareness and interest for your solution.

It could be your main source of traffic for your website, and it’s also a good way to engage your list by sharing valuable content.

The way you bring awareness by blogging is to optimize your content with the right keywords so you can attract your target customers from an organic search.

Another way is to promote your posts on social media by influencing other people to share them or by using promoted posts.

It’s important to state that blogging is not a “bottom of the funnel” activity.

In other words, it won’t lead to people making a decision to buy from you. For that, you will need to create other types of content or push people to go on a sales call with you.

Here’s an easy and comprehensive guide on how to start a blog.

Lead Magnets (interest)

Any type of lead magnet is used as a tool to generate interest in your product.

You grow your email list by offering something of value to your audience that they’re already interested in, such as a guide or course.

Anything that can educate your prospects on how they can solve their problems and achieve their goals.

And during that time, you can start building the demand for your product.

Within the lead magnets itself, you can place call-to-actions to check out your products/services, call your sales department, etc.

For more information, check out the following guides:

Webinars (decision and action)

illustration of man delivering webinar

Even though webinars can be used as lead magnets, they’re more focused on the decision stage and convincing people to take action and buy your products.

When people sign up for webinars, they’re already pretty interested in achieving a certain goal or solving a specific problem.

This could be growing their traffic, losing weight or finding the perfect soul mate.

Your goal with the webinar is not only to educate them but to build their demand in order for them to take action.

In the end, you should always have a call-to-action to buy your product, start a free trial or request a consultation.

For more information, check out the following guides:

Videos (awareness, interest, decision, action)

They can be used in pretty much all the stages of the sales funnel.

YouTube is well-known as the second largest search engine, so by optimizing the videos for certain keywords, you can generate tons of awareness and traffic to your website.

Additionally, you can use services like Wistia to embed educational videos within your blog posts and your website to educate your audience on topics that interest them.

By creating explainer videos, you can build demand for your product or service.

Last, but not least, with sales videos you can entice people to make the final step and take action.

Check out the following guides:

How Social Media Fits Within Your Sales Funnel

illustration of business woman using social media

Now, let’s explain how social media fits within your sales funnel strategy:

Awareness and Traffic

As mentioned by AdEspresso, the initial goal is always to attract website visitors to your website and build an audience in the cheapest possible way.

Too often, small businesses with very small audiences or email lists are so enthusiastic to try Facebook Ads after hearing all about “demographic custom audiences,” that they immediately jump into re-targeting their (small) audience (mid-funnel).

And while they may temporarily see results, the audience exhausts itself due to the frequency of the Facebook Ads killing their performance over a few weeks.

So, your goal here should be to generate more traffic to your website and blog by influencing more people to share your content and by promoting it with ads.

Generating Leads (lead magnets)

You can also promote your leads magnets on social media to generate leads.

This could be done well when your audience already has an interest in the content and solution that you offer.

Keep in mind that 97 to 99 percent of people will not be ready to purchase. So it’s a much better move to turn them into email subscribers.

For more information, check out the following guides:

Grow Your Email Lists

Engagement

In my blog post Email Marketing vs Social Media Performance, I stated that social media has a much higher engagement rate than email.

This has been confirmed by most of the email marketing experts I talked to during my research.

We all know how Facebook videos tend to go viral as people are more likely to share and comment on them.

One of the newest ways to also engage your audience is to use Facebook live.

The biggest advantage here is that you can interact with your audience in real time – they can see and hear you.

There is a great opportunity here to use it to build a demand for your product and even sell your services.

Check out this post by Buffer:

Creating your Sales Funnel

Now it’s time to create your sales funnel. For that, you can use the following step-by-step template:

Gather Data and Understand Your Customers

The best way to do that is to talk to them.

According to Matt Ackerson from Petovera by doing that, you will understand their needs and frustrations – and how well (or not) your offer helps to solve their problem.

That way you can adjust your funnel to focus on those key and most relevant selling points. You may also gain insights that lead you to adjust your product or service and make it better.

The most important questions you should ask your customers are:

  • What are your current challenges with [the area that you cover]?
  • What are your current fears and frustrations? What are your goals and aspirations?
  • What have you done to try to solve your problems/achieve your goals? How well did it work?

Based on your data, you can create content for each stage of your sales funnel and help prospects move down your pipeline.

Create Buyer Personas

screenshot of buyer persona
sample buyer persona from buyerpersona.com

The truth is you can’t have the same sales funnel for all your customers.

Probably because:

  • They have different reasons for buying your product
  • They’re going to use it differently
  • They make buying decisions in different ways

It’s a lot smarter to create different buyer personas for each customer type and create different sales funnels to better match their experience.

You need to understand your audience like you do your very own yourself. You are aware of your dislikes and likes, you know what problems you face and you know the sort of people you will let help with those problems. If you learn to know your audience in the same manner, the chances of you establishing a genuine connection increase vastly. You will also be able to guide more people through your sales funnel and get those coveted ‘closed-wons’.

For more information, check out the following guides:

Traffic and Lead Generation Strategies

There are three different directions you can go here – toward paid traffic, “free” traffic or cold outreach (or a combination of the three).

The paid traffic is the easiest way to bring traffic to your website. You pay for an ad and as soon as someone clicks on it, you will have a visitor to your website.

You can also use:

The disadvantage of paid traffic is that as soon as you stop paying, your traffic will stop and you won’t get any new leads.

Affiliate marketing is also a form of paid traffic. The only difference is that you don’t pay in advance. You only pay after a sale has been made.

“Free” traffic is the one you don’t pay for directly. However, this doesn’t mean it’s truly free.

You might need to spend money on paid tools and work really hard to optimize your site for Google and earn the attention of others so they start talking about you.

Free traffic includes:

  • SEO
  • Social media traffic (non-paid)
  • Referral traffic (from other sites linking to you)
  • Direct traffic (from people who know about your brand and have visited your website before)

Cold outreach is a strategy that involves you sending cold emails or cold calling companies that might need your product or services.

There’s also the use of pricing strategies that helps you build awareness in terms of one of the Ps of marketing which is a lesser-known but effective tactic.

It is the most time-consuming strategy among the three.

Engagement Strategies

You need to constantly engage your leads, educate them on topics they are interested in and help them move down your pipeline.

That way, at some point, they will be ready to make a purchasing decision.

You can also engage them with:

Closing Strategies

These are the strategies that you use to convert your prospects into customers.

For that, you can use:

  • Sales calls and emails
  • Webinars
  • Sales and product pages

What’s important is to build the demand for your prospects in advance and turn their implied needs into explicit needs.

Then you can make a clear offer that targets the needs of your customers and closes the deal.

It’s important to explain to the user what he needs to do in order to buy from you.

Check out the following guides:

How to Use Principles of Persuasion for Better Results

6 principles of persuasion illustrated

[credits: ReadinGraphics]

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a marketing and psychology professor, introduced 6 principles of persuasion in his 1984 book Influence. These are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity

Here is how they work, according to psychologist Dr. Kendrick:

In brief, we are inclined to go along with someone’s suggestion if we think that person is a credible expert (authority), if we regard him or her as a trusted friend (liking), if we feel we owe them one (reciprocity), or if doing so will be consistent with our beliefs or prior commitments (consistency). We are also inclined to make choices that we think are popular (consensus [social proof]), and that will net us a scarce commodity (scarcity).

You can use the tools and strategies mentioned in this article to further push prospects along each stage of your sales funnel. For example:

  • You can create awareness by giving out freebies (guides, checklists, pdfs) using the principle of reciprocity and consistency. Regularly blogging or posting on social media shows consistency and also establishes your presence (awareness).
  • You can capture interest using principles of liking and scarcity. People will be more interested in what you have to say if they either like you or if they believe you are offering a limited commodity.
  • You can guide prospects in the decision stage if they believe you to have authority in your domain, and so will be more likely to listen to you. You can build authority using case studies, webinars, and tutorials.
  • You have a higher chance of closing a sale in the action stage if you use the principle of social proof. You can give social proof by showcasing reviews, recommendations, testimonials, and favorable PR.

Next Steps:

Your work is not done when you create your sales funnel. In fact, this is where it all begins.

You need to gather data and analyze and improve your funnel if you want to get better results.

You need to figure out where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Are you good at closing but get flustered in creating awareness? Are you an authority in your field but can’t manage to close a sale?

Such questions will help you figure out where you need to work on your sales funnel. And then focus your resources there.

A good flow of people right from the top, all the way to the action stage will ensure you have a healthy business.


Originally Published in 2016. Last updated November 2019.

Martin Zhel
Author

Martin Zhel helps startup companies grow traffic, leads and revenue with the power of content marketing.