What does your website do for your business? It’s a simple question, but one that often has vague or complicated answers.
If forced to say why their website exists in the first place, many business owners would point to the potential to generate inbound sales opportunities online. That’s a good answer, and it’s true that most websites exist to sell in one way or another. But how many of them are actually attracting prospects and turning them into leads.
Truthfully, not many. That isn’t because you can’t use the Internet for lead generation – thousands of companies get leads from their websites every day. Instead, it’s because a majority of marketers don’t know how to use their pages as anything more than online brochures. They put a nice layout and a bit of content onto the web and hope for the best. Unfortunately, luck usually doesn’t deliver real-world, bottom line-improving business results.
Rather than wishing the right customers could find your website and decide to contact you, what if you could make it happen? Imagine what it would be like if you could put into place a inbound sales process that would allow you to appeal to the perfect prospects, convince them that your company has the solutions they need, and convince them to reach out only when they were ready to buy?
As it turns out, there is a plan you can follow that will deliver exactly those results. In the web design and Internet marketing industry, we call it building a sales funnel. And in this brief report, we’re going to show you why they can transform your business into something better, more profitable, and easier to manage.
A Quick Inbound Sales Funnel Overview
As you may have guessed or already known, sales funnels get their name because they mirror real-life funnels, like the one a mechanic uses to put oil into your car. It’s designed to take traffic at the wide top, and drip out sales opportunities near the bottom. Not every lead will progress all the way through your funnel, but that’s a good thing (more on this later).
Best of all, the sales funnel works with a gravity that’s similar to a real funnel. That is, leads move naturally and at their own pace, taking the pressure to sell off of you and your team.
At the top of the funnel is your first interaction with a potential customer. They find your website, come across your social content, or meet your company in some other way. As they move through the funnel, they respond to a series of offers you place that are designed to create trust, engagement, and an ongoing relationship. Finally, by the time they reach the bottom of the sales funnel, they are ready to contact you to go further.
As with anything in life, that’s a simple-sounding process that gets a little more complicated when we get into the individual steps. But, building a sales funnel is by no means impossible. You just have to know what you’re trying to accomplish with each new activity or interaction…
Step One: Attract the Right Visitors
Step into a pet store and you’ll be reminded that different animals require unique kinds of food and care. What you might give to a cat, for example, would be useless (or worse) to a fish.
This is a useful analogy when thinking about web traffic and sales funnels. It’s all well and good to have a website that gets “lots of hits,” or social profiles that attract thousands upon thousands of views, but that interest is only meaningful if it comes from the right people. If the men and women who come to your blog or view your content don’t have sufficient interest in your products or services, they aren’t going to become leads.
A first step in building your sales funnel is recognizing who it’s going to be built for. You have to know who your best potential customers are, even if it’s just as a broad group. It’s better if you have demographic data and a sense of what they really want from a company like yours.
It’s only when you have that knowledge that you can begin pouring website visitors into your sales funnel. That’s usually accomplished through search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and social media marketing. You’re probably at least somewhat familiar with each of these tactics already. The big takeaway here, though, is that none of these action should be taken for their own sake. It doesn’t matter that your website ranks well in Google; what matters is that it ranks well for the right keywords, so good prospects can find your website and see your content.
We should also point out that when you have a good understanding of your market, it’s easier to make all the pieces of your website visibility campaigns work together. It’s not that buyers are seeing you on Google, Facebook, or YouTube. Rather, it’s that they are coming across your content in all of these places because you have identified a certain niche within the market and have created content for these types of buyers to find.
Your sales funnel can’t work unless you have new contacts who are being funneled in. Without traffic, your website is like an engine that has no fuel. It just can’t work. So, while you shouldn’t confuse the process of bringing people to your website with the bigger exercise of building a sales funnel, know that generating visits is a crucial first step.
Step Two: Generate Conversions
Just as a website is useless without traffic, visits mean nothing unless they lead to conversions. But, in this stage of the sales funnel, a successful “conversion” might not mean exactly what you think.
That’s because a lot of business owners and marketers tend to associate conversions with sales, or at least scheduled appointments. However, in many situations it is simply not likely that someone who comes across your website (from a search engine listing or pay-per-click add, for example) is going to take such a big step forward. That’s especially true if you have a complex product or service, or one that requires a decision be made by a whole group.
We would define a conversion as any action that pulls someone who is searching for information deeper into your sales funnel. Signing up for your email newsletter could be a conversion, for instance, as could downloading a PDF guide. In either case, someone is making a conscious decision to get information from you, both now and in the future. That might not be as good as a sale, but it’s a step in the right direction.
There are really two keys to generating these kinds of small-scale conversions on your website. The first is having content that is targeted to your niche audience and enhances your own credibility. If searchers aren’t interested in what they see when they click through to your site, they are going to leave before signing up for anything. And, if they get the sense that you can’t be trusted or don’t have anything of value to offer, the chance will be lost. Good content helps you to not only attract potential buyers to your website, but will also keep them on your pages.
The second piece of the puzzle is a strong call to action. This can be an offer for information, a tool that helps the buyer to make a better decision, a discount code to be used later, or something else altogether. Usually, it comes at the end of the page or article, and it relates to the subject the person was researching. It gives them a chance to go forward and learn more, while at the same time giving you a piece of their contact information or some other foothold toward an eventual sale.
Remember that a “strong” call to action is one that is compelling, not necessarily one that advances quickly towards a closed order. The magic of a sales funnel is that it gets prospects to engage in a series of small commitments. That lets them get comfortable with you, and builds trust, so you can move smoothly from one interaction to the next.
Step Three: Use A Series of Offers
Getting someone who visits your website to register for your email newsletter or download a report isn’t the same as gaining a new customer, but it is a step in the right direction. And more importantly, it can lead you to the next small movement forward.
Most sales funnels aren’t built upon a single offer, but rather a series of them. That’s especially true in business-to-business and complex sales environments. The more information buyers need, and the more time they take to deliberate, the more conversion steps you should give them.
There are a number of ways you can introduce the next call to action and a series of offers. One way is to simply lead from one into another. For example, a short PDF guide could end with an offer for a longer, more detailed ebook. An online video could feature a final call to action that points at a landing page offering free samples. A blog post might end with a time-sensitive discount code for a new product.
The possibilities are practically endless. What matters is that each successive offer has value to the potential customer, and makes sense in the context. You never want to ask for too big of a jump or commitment; instead, you should give the buyer a little bit more value in exchange for more information. So, while you might ask for an email address to send a PDF report to, they might have to share more details about company size or location to get a longer report – both because it lets you deliver the appropriate information, and because it’s easier for you to complete a sale when you know what a customer has on their mind.
There are three big benefits to this approach. The first and most obvious is that it keeps a customer interacting with you and looking at your marketing content. The second is that it develops a sense of familiarity. When prospects see that they can trust you with small details like an email address, they become more apt to feel comfortable buying from you later. And finally, this continuous communication allows you to stay in touch with the prospect while giving them no reason to look to your competitors for answers. When you have a truly efficient and effective sales funnel in place, it’s hard for other businesses to even try to compete with you.
For this kind of approach to work, though, remember that you need a steady flow of traffic to your website, the right kinds of buyers seeing your content, and a set of offers that logically build upon one another. No one piece of the sales funnel is independent. It’s the way they work together that matters.
Step Four: Let Prospects Qualify and Move Themselves
One of the greatest things about a working inbound sales funnel is that it lets prospects move from one step, offer, and interaction to the next on their own terms and timeline. A marketer can set up a series of built-in calls to action and automated emails that lets a buyer choose to respond, decline, or wait.
That might seem like a negative, or frustration, when your used to approaching things from a traditional sales and advertising point of view. However, the goal of your sales funnel isn’t to generate raw numbers – you’re looking to let prospects qualify themselves as they move along.
Think about it this way: with each new download or subscription, a buyer is telling you (and themselves) that what you have to offer is a good match for their wants and needs. If they find they don’t fit within the market niche you’ve been targeting, they’ll simply unsubscribe from your list or fail to take the next action. Conversely, when they feel as if the content you’re giving them resonates strongly, they’ll develop a closer and closer tie to your company. Why would they work with someone else when they’ve gotten nothing but great tools and information from you?
This kind of approach lends itself to a couple of logical conclusions. The first is that the buyer decides to reach out to you directly when they feel comfortable taking the next step. This might be after one or two interactions, or following several different emails and downloads. Either way, they haven’t been pressured so there isn’t the sense of tension that exists in so many sales situations. They’ve turned to you because they want help, answers, or products. You’re simply providing them with what they need. That often makes negotiating terms and coming to agreements much simpler than it would be otherwise.
The other conclusion is that the prospect leaves your sales funnel altogether. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if they weren’t a good fit for what you sell. It’s better to have them figure that out on their own then it is to waste your time or get multiple presentations from a salesperson who could be working with prospects who are a better match.
The beauty of the sales funnel approach isn’t just that it gives you better leads, but also that it tends to generate fewer bad ones. That’s great for buyers and marketers alike.
Step Five: Make the Close
In the old world of selling, there have been dozens and dozens of books written on the art of closing a new account. There are all kinds of tricks and verbal maneuvers business owners have used over the decades, not to mention old-school “power moves” and negotiating tactics.
For the most part, these tend to fade away when you’re using an inbound sales funnel. In fact, being too aggressive with your selling can actually hurt your interactions with customers, because they are almost always going to be approaching you when they’re ready to buy.
You can help this process along by including stronger and more definite calls to action with each new offer you present, but there isn’t any incentive for you to rush things. Once your inbound sales funnel is up and running, it’s going to generate leads at a predictable rate. You can improve those percentages by getting more or better visitors, or experimenting with your various offers. That means it’s just going to get better and better over time.
Just because you’re letting buyers set the pace doesn’t mean you’re being purely reactive, however. Savvy marketers will always stay in touch with the prospects they have in their sales funnel. They will use email, social media, and other means to reach out and maintain top of mind awareness. These marketing channels are quick and inexpensive, but they also allow buyers to leave the sales funnel and come back in at will.
You’ve surely had a situation your life where you started researching a purchase (like a car, home, or a vacation) only to be distracted for a while. But, with a few reminders and a little bit of encouragement, you were likely to get back into the market sooner or later, and more apt to work with someone you already knew and trusted.
The same thing is going to happen with your customers. They might stop moving forward in your inbound sales funnel because they have to raise money, reevaluate their priorities, or focus on another project for a while. But if you stay in touch on a consistent basis, there’s a good chance they’ll come back to do business with you later.
Closing new customers and accounts using an inbound sales funnel is a simple matter. You just make the right offers and let buyers respond. If you’ve never liked arm-twisting sales tactics (either getting them or giving them), this might be your favorite part of your new marketing plan.
Some Benefits of Using A Inbound Sales Funnel
Now that you’ve seen how we put the different parts of a sales funnel together, you probably recognize how logical it all is. In fact, you may be able to see how other companies have pulled you into their sales funnels in recent weeks or months.
Often, clients ask us to design lead generation systems for them simply because they want to start seeing bottom-line improvement from their web marketing activities. That is, they want to use things like search engine optimization and social media to get results they can measure. However, after these systems are in place, they sometimes began to notice there are other huge and unexpected benefits, as well.
Here are just a few of the things you might appreciate about having a working inbound sales funnel in place:
- They make generating leads a more efficient activity. As your inbound sales funnel grows (because you add new content and calls to action), it becomes more effective. You’re easier to find on Google and social media sites, and you start to develop a reputation. So, you aren’t just getting more leads, but each one is costing you less, both in terms of time and money.
- Having a working inbound sales funnel makes your business more scalable. You can ramp up your marketing at any time (by increasing your pay-per-click budget or social media presence, for instance) without having to hire new staff, bring on new creative partners, or by putting brand-new campaigns into motion. That means you can be flexible with your future plans and budgeting.
- As already mentioned, the leads that come from your inbound sales funnel are likely to be higher-quality and close faster. Because buyers have already identified themselves as being a good fit to work with you, and have cultivated an interest in your products or services, they are more focused on getting the right solution than they are the lowest price. You’re left with less haggling and higher profit margins.
- And finally, having a good inbound sales funnel takes a lot of the stress out of running your business. Because the process is predictable, as are the percentages, you don’t worry as much about the future. Nor do you have to try to outwit or confuse your customers to make a sale. They simply turn to you because you’re the best match for what they want.