The Beginner’s Guide to Sales Funnels (and How to Create Your Own)

When you’re selling something with your blog, or blogging to market your business, you have that goal in mind with every post you write.

But do you know exactly how your audience goes from learning about your existence, to making the decision to purchase?

It’s not likely to be an impulse decision. According to research by Mintel, 69% of consumers research online before making a decision to purchase. For 18 to 34 year-olds, that statistic jumps to 81%.

Today more than ever, the decision to make a purchase is a process.

That process is sometimes called the buyer’s journey, and you can help guide your audience along that journey by using a sales funnel.

Here’s why you need one, and how to design your own.

What Are Sales Funnels?

A sales funnel is a sort of visual representation or model of the process your customers follow, from being completely unaware, to making the decision to purchase.

A funnel is used as a metaphor because it’s wide at the top and narrow at the bottom: only a fraction of your audience will complete the process to become a customer.

Stages of the Sales Funnel

Sales Funnel Infographic. Vector illustrationThe process begins at the top of the funnel, which represents the people who you think could use your product or service, but who haven’t heard of you yet. They may not even realize that your solution exists, or understand the problem that it could solve.

At the bottom of the funnel are your customers, people who have made the decision to purchase from you.

The stages in between vary.

Larger companies with sales and marketing teams will often have complicated funnels with many stages, like the graphic on the right.

But as a small business, you don’t need anything quite that complex. You can use a simple, three-stage model such as:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Action

Why Use Sales Funnels?

It’s true that not every customer will follow the exact same process. Instead of a funnel, some people prefer to think of the buyer’s journey as a cycle or other model, or even reject the idea of a funnel altogether.

While they may not be a one-size-fits-all representation, funnels are a useful and effective tool for attracting more customers and increasing your conversions. They help you to meet your audience where they are, and guide them along the path to making a purchase from you.

If you’re not using a sales funnel, you might find that you’re focusing all your efforts on one end of the funnel without realizing it.

If you:

  • Connect with lots of prospects, but neglect to follow up on good leads
  • Ask your audience to make a big purchase right away, without developing a relationship with them
  • Blog all about the details of what you offer, but neglect to make prospects aware of the problem you’re solving

…then you’re skipping stages of the funnel, and losing customers in the process.

Examples of Effective Funnels

Crazy Egg's funnel guides blog readers on their journey to becoming customers.

Crazy Egg’s funnel guides blog readers on their journey to becoming customers.

Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg is heat mapping software that has a great funnel:

  1. Top of Funnel: They have an industry-leading blog on conversion optimization.
  2. Middle of Funnel: A subscription form on the blog offers the freebie ebook, “How to Solve the Biggest Problems in Conversion.”
  3. Bottom of Funnel: After you subscribe, they ask you to try a free 30-day trial of Crazy Egg. The ebook also has a CTA at the end asking you to sign up.

Moz

Moz offers SEO software and tools for online marketers.

  1. Top of Funnel: The Moz Blog is one of the most famous blogs on SEO and inbound marketing on the web. Because the blog is so well known in the industry, it creates awareness and trust in the brand and their products.
  2. Middle of the Funnel: Moz offers limited free versions of some of their tools, including Followerwonk and Moz Local, which gives you a taste of what they have to offer.
  3. Bottom of the Funnel: From the Moz homepage, you can sign up for a 30 day free trial of Moz Pro.

How to Design Your Own Sales Funnel

Top of the Funnel: Creating Awareness

The purpose of this top stage of the funnel is to create awareness and get your name in front of people who could use what you have to offer.

If you already have a blog and are active on social media, you’re a step ahead.

You can use your online presence more strategically as the top of your funnel by creating and sharing the right kind of content.

Make sure that you have content that’s focused on customers at the beginning of their journey. They may not understand the problem they’re facing, or how your product or service will provide a solution to that problem.

To use your blog as the top of your funnel, make sure to:

Middle of the Funnel: From Prospect to Lead

The next stage of the funnel is about establishing a relationship with your audience, building trust, and weeding out those who aren’t a good fit.

This is where a lot of bloggers drop the ball. They build awareness with their blogs, but don’t know where to lead people from there.

Once readers are aware of the problem they face and the solution you offer, you can link them to posts that build trust, such as:

  • Case studies of how you helped other customers
  • Answers to common questions or objections customers have before buying
  • An excerpt or example of your product or service
  • Explanations and examples of how you differ from your competitors

Email newsletter are also a great middle-of-the-funnel tool. They help to establish and deepen your relationship with your blog readers and take it to the next level.

For help with building your email newsletter, check out these posts:

Bottom of the Funnel: Converting Customers

The bottom of the funnel is where you’ve already established trust with your audience and you’re trying to get them to buy.

Check out these posts on how to leverage that email newsletter to convert subscribers:

Landing pages are also a great bottom-of-the-funnel tool:

Notice that in the examples above, free trials are often used at the bottom of the funnel. You can help your leads turn into customers by offering them a taste of what they’ll get if they buy, whether it’s in the form of a free trial, free consultation, an excerpt, or a sample.

Grow Your Business By Creating a Funnel Today

Create your funnel today! Get started by mapping out the simple process by which people go from strangers to customers. Then see what stages you’re missing, and how you can help your customers along the way.