Follow Your Customer's Buying Journey Using the Sales Funnel
The sales funnel is a marketing strategy that’s essentially a series of steps used to monitor a prospect’s initial awareness of you and your products and services through to the ultimate goal of purchasing from you. It’s how prospects go from “Who are you?” to “Yes, I want to buy!”
It’s called a sales funnel because it’s wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. At the top is everyone who could be a customer. As they proceed through the funnel, people who aren’t interested drop out, while those who are interested get “funneled” down to the bottom where they become customers.
The sales funnel as a marketing tool has a long history. It originated in 1898 in the insurance industry and outlined the four steps it took for a person to go from prospect to customer:
Marketing professionals in the 21st Century have renamed the stages to better suit their business models, but the A-I-D-A model continues as the standard upon which others are built.
For this article, we’re using the original with a few additions we think are more appropriate for today's businesses.
As a business owner, you start to build awareness of your business through marketing to prospects. You build this awareness not by explaining how great your business is or has been in the past, but by addressing ways that consumers can benefit from using your products and services.
There are thousands of people out there who would love to spend their money on your products. But that audience of potential customers doesn’t know you exist. And most of them aren’t actively looking to spend money on what you're selling.
At least not right now.
In the Awareness Stage, you begin your attempts to get the attention of people who don’t know you or your products or services. That’s your job at this stage: not to make a sale, but to create awareness and get people to visit your website.
This is where your business blog will serve you well. The goal of your blog is to generate awareness of and interest in your products and services, and if you optimize the content with the right keywords, people can find your website via organic search. There’s no need to pay for advertising when SEO principles are in play.
In the Interest Stage, you’ve attracted people to your site, now you have to give them reasons to come back, reasons to like you. Your prospects have expressed their interest in your products and services. They follow you on social media and have subscribed to your email list.
You can engage them further with:
- Blog Posts
- Videos (4x as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it)
- Social media posts
- Facebook Live
When prospects are in the Interest phase, they become aware of the problems they need to solve and ways to find a solution. This is where the lead magnet becomes important. will generate interest in your products and services by offering something of value to the reader, something that provides information about your products and services and how they can help solve their problems.
Other ways to keep prospects engaged and moving through the funnel include:
- Product demo videos (keep them short – 30 seconds max)
- YouTube “how to” videos
- Product Style Guides provided by product manufacturers
To further entice prospects, you can show them reviews from satisfied customers, before-and-after case studies (if applicable for your business) and testimonials to establish your credibility and demonstrate your talent, experience and trustworthiness.
You might consider providing something free to create an opportunity to build rapport and interact with your prospects, answering questions and responding to their feedback.
They are wondering how your business might work for them. You’re getting buying signals from them – they’re asking about prices, different packages and options, terms and conditions, whether you’re available to work with them. They want what you are offering!
It’s time to ask prospects for the sale.
You’re now at the bottom of the funnel: your prospect becomes a customer by finalizing the deal with you. He signs the contract and writes a check.
Modifications for Today's Customers and Their 21st Century Buying Habits
Two Additional Steps
John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing and a marketing guru for small businesses, has proposed that the original concept of the sales funnel has become outdated. He proposes that the funnel shape-shift into a marketing hourglass. So rather than have customers drain out the bottom of the funnel when the sale is complete, they remain in the bottom of the funnel. And your job is to get them to Repeat and Refer, both desired results that occurs after a sale is complete.
To convert first time customers into repeat customers, you want them to understand the value of doing business with you.
Don’t walk away after the sale is complete; follow up, make sure everything works as it should, that the customer is happy. You want to impress them and reassure them they made the right decision hiring you.
How to turn happy customers into referring customers? You do this first of all by creating a great experience -- by being referral worthy.
Then you have to put together a referral process that makes it easy for your customers to refer you and your business.
As we’ve written previously, consumers today are increasingly influenced by peer reviews. Having those positive reviews on the web – on your website, on Google My Business, on Facebook, on Yelp – all increase your SEO ranking and give you those coveted stars on Google, so you’re seen by more people when they search for what you're selling.
Not everyone converts from “Awareness” to “Action.” Some people drop out, and that’s completely normal. In addition, the same sales funnel will not apply to all customers because each has a unique problem. They all have different reasons for contracting your services, and they’ll make buying choices in different ways.
But the Sales Funnel / Sales Hourglass can serve as a guide to monitor your prospects’ progress through the buying journey. Your services have a long sales cycle; it can take months for a final decision to be reached, if you measure from initial awareness to completed kitchen. The sales funnel / hourglass helps to keep things in focus and make sure none of your hard-won prospects “fall through the cracks.”
To read more about the sales funnel, here’s a few suggestions.