The Ultimate Guide to Sales Funnel Stages
⏱ Reading Time: 10 minutes
As far as marketing concepts go, you can’t get more comprehensive with the sales funnel stages. A sales funnel helps business owners and marketers track a customer’s journey from learning about a brand or product to making a purchase. The funnel as an object accurately captures this journey.
The initial stages (top of the funnel) assure you many willing participants in your marketing and sales efforts, also called leads. However, as you go further down the line, you lose a significant portion of those leads.
Eventually, only a small segment of those initial participants will go all the way to the bottom of the sales funnel and deliver your end goal—a transaction where money is exchanged for your goods or services.
Regardless of the type of business you manage and where operations happen—online or off—you need to have a good grasp of how your sales funnel looks like!
What’s in It for You
A well-thought-out sales funnel allows you to deliver the right message at the right time. Consider this scenario: a customer spends a lazy afternoon at the mall, pondering about buying a new phone. Your shop looks cool enough to command their attention, so they walk in. They start exploring your products, not quite sure what they’re looking for.
Then, one of your agents begins a sales talk, focusing on price comparisons between brands and models. That might turn the customer off. At this sales funnel stage, your customer wants to learn the basics about the products you offer. By basics, think specs and features. Conversely, if you call a potential customer down the latter part of the sales funnel stage, where they’re just about ready to part with their hard-earned money, chances are you will not convince them to purchase if you tell them things they already know.
To ace a sales call like this, you need to put all your cards on the table. Mention value propositions the customer might not be aware of. Set yourself apart from the competition. Having a solid sales funnel that’s supported by stage-appropriate marketing efforts lets you deal with leads accordingly. You will know what information to convey and what to hold back for later. You will be more equipped to address a specific customer’s pain points. Once they feel that you understand them, they’ll likely take the whole consumer journey with you from the first stage all the way to purchase.
Picture 1. Stand out! Set yourself apart from the competition!
The Sales Funnel Stages
The Awareness Stage
The adage “If you build it, they will come“ has become passe for a reason. The more up-to-date aphorism is, “If you build it, let people know.” This is where the awareness stage of the sales funnel stage comes in. Your target market learns that your brand exists. If done right, this stage sets the sales funnel in motion.
Here, customers become aware of personal pain points and will look for the most relevant solutions for those inconveniences. Your marketing efforts should establish you as a potential solution, so branding matters. You need to convey your reliability as a brand and your expertise in a particular niche.
The following are marketing efforts at your disposal:
- Sponsored social media posts
- Guest posting or guest podcasting
- Independent research
- Ebooks and whitepapers
- In-person events and other traditional marketing collateral like leaflets and brochures
On top of these marketing efforts, you can also pursue aggressive marketing tactics to increase awareness. For instance, you may come up with a referral program. This strategy offers two advantages. The first is you get to mobilize your existing clients to vouch for your brand. The second is you’re targeting leads that, compared to others, are most likely to boost your conversion rates.
After all, your current customers won’t refer you to people they know won’t use for whatever you offer. They know which among their social circle needs you.
The Consideration Stage
Here, customers have already recognized pain points they need to address and are already aware of you as a viable solution. Now, you must work on shifting casual interest into serious consideration of your brand.
This stage puts your target audience in an educational mindset. They will look for more information that can aid them in making a smart consumer decision. You move from introducing who you are as a brand to detailing what makes your products and services worthy of customers’ trust, measured only by eventual purchase.
Keep in mind that customers these days are more discerning about the businesses they transact with. As much as they want to address personal pain points, they also need to ensure that their values align with that of the brand. That’s why it’s crucial that you know your target audience well.
Some strategies at your disposal include the following:
- Visit third-party review sites to learn what customers like or dislike about a particular product or service. Mind the reviews received by your direct competitors. They’ll allow you to make relevant improvements to your offers.
- Pursue aggressive SEO. You want your content to be accessible. Remember that most online users won’t bother clicking through search engine results beyond the first few pages. Therefore, yours should rank high in these online platforms for maximum reach.
- Track your website activity. Know how your target audience behaves on your website. Look into bounce rates to learn which content engages your leads.
- Explore lead magnets such as free guides or courses that incorporate a compelling call-to-action. An example of a CTA is encouraging leads to sign up to your mailing list.
Picture 2. Make your business worthy of customer trust!
The Decision Stage
If you’ve retained a lead up to this part of the sales funnel, you’ve done half the job. Here, customers have narrowed down their options, and you have been included. Stakes are higher; hence, it follows that your sales and marketing efforts are as flawless as they come.
You need to buff up customer service. Be there for your leads when and where they need you. It’s best to maintain multichannel customer service portals. Think FAQ and help pages on your official website. Be quick to respond to email inquiries. Have live chat platforms active, such as those on social media. The easier it is for your target audience to reach you, the better their impression will be.
Implement an exit strategy too. Recognize that customers can be fickle-minded, and even if they’ve reached this point in the sales funnel, they can easily choose to abandon whatever progress they’ve made with your brand.
Make sure you don’t get shortchanged via a last-ditch effort to encourage them to come back. For example, on your website, have an exit popup ready. This can be a simple invitation to join your mailing list—if you can add a little something to the offer, for instance, a discount on the first purchase, the better.
You may also help potential customers in their decision making via the following content and strategies:
- Customer reviews and product recommendations
- Free consultations
- Live demos or tutorial webinars
- Product comparisons
- Case studies
The Purchase Stage
This is where you’ll know if you’ve made the right decisions throughout the sales funnel and your business services and processes in place are on point. The only ideal outcome is a purchase. Yes, it’s a hit-or-miss scenario, and you’re allowed to get as aggressive as you want at this juncture.
You may apply the following strategies to entice your leads to do business with you:
- Special offers
- Bundled packages
- Insider or customers success tips
- Follow-up email campaigns
Those running an e-commerce business will benefit from a seamless checkout experience. Remember that you can still lose a customer even if they’ve reached the step in the sales funnel where they’re about to pay for your products.
Most customers won’t put up with a checkout process that’s too long and complicated. The same goes for a checkout process that reveals hidden prices or purchase terms toward the end. You also don’t want lots of form fields. Only ask for relevant information. Asking your customers to provide more personal details than necessary is at best frustrating for them and at worst highly suspect.
Customers can also put products in a cart but fail to take that to checkout. There could be many reasons for this, including customers needing to attend to something more urgent than shopping. Do not shy away from reminding them about their abandoned cart. They may be using multiple online marketplaces, and they’ll appreciate the follow-up.
Picture 3. Don’t shy away from CTA. Remind customers of their cart!
The Retention Stage
Businesses can’t survive on one-time purchases. For continued growth, you want repeat transactions and referrals. Those constitute the last stage of a sales funnel. Here, you’ve converted a lead into a customer. Now, you want that customer to come back, and if they can have friends to tag along, the better.
Here are some strategies you may adopt:
- Re-engagement email campaigns
- Upsell campaigns
- Live demonstrations
- Referral programs
You must deliver the promise you made from the start of the sales funnel. If not, an unhappy customer will not only blocklist you, but they can also tell many people about their underwhelming experience with your brand. Negative word-of-mouth is bad for business, so make sure the product or service you give is top-notch. Have a quality assurance system in place too.
For e-commerce businesses, the delivery process should be of the utmost concern. Ship products out within the agreed timeframe and ensure they are handled with care throughout the process. Own up mistakes and assure unhappy customers that you are willing to go out of your way to address whatever concerns they have. If worse comes to worst, a clear return or refund policy is not a bad idea.
Picture 4. Any disturbance in the delivery process means that you risk losing your clients’ trust
Ideally, your sales funnel looks less like a funnel. If you can turn it into something akin to a cylindrical tube, that means you’ve already perfected the art and science of connecting sales and marketing. You’ve figured out the best way to ensure that the customers whose attention you caught trust you enough to buy whatever you’re selling.
However, do not worry if your sales funnel still looks like a funnel. So long as the bottom end has an opening big enough to let customers go through, you’re doing a good job. Still, you need to always be on the lookout for growth opportunities. Master each stage of the funnel, and before you know it, you’re reshaping this concept into something that will vastly benefit your business.
M. Alan Shapiro is the CEO of Executive Boutique Call Center, an outsource call center and BPO provider. Since 2008, he has been helping his clients’ companies grow by providing them with high-quality and reliable outsourcing services from their two offices in Cebu, Philippines. He spends his free time snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking and gardening.
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