How to Make Your Sales Funnel Stages Run More Smoothly
A sales funnel is more than just a metaphor: it’s a structure you can wield to organize your team’s efforts and propel your business forward. Whether you favor content marketing, social media advertising, or direct sales calls, a sales funnel can help your brand become its best self yet.
So, how do you make sales funnel stages run smoothly? By eliminating bottlenecks, focusing on lead quality VS quantity, and relying on sales data, you can minimize leaks in the funnel and bring more leads to the buying stage. In this article, we discuss five actionable things you can do today to optimize your funnel.
Read on to learn more about the basics of a sales funnel, as well as proven techniques on increasing stage-by-stage conversion and encouraging efficiency.
What Is a Sales Funnel and How Does It Work
The sales funnel represents your customer’s journey from brand awareness to purchase. You might not be currently aware of it, but every business has a sales funnel in one way or another. The difference between having a sales funnel you’re consciously aware of, and one that you loosely follow based on instincts, is the ability to optimize each stage.
In your company, do you think about:
- The performance of different advertising channels (Adwords, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platform)
- Performance of different pages of your website
- Creating content to attract more leads and encourage buyers to purchase or subscribe to your product or service
- Using social media, email, text, or call to interact with your customers?
If the answer is yes, you have the fundamentals of a sales funnel. All you need to do now is to structure it to create a profitable sales funnel.
So, what is a sales funnel? The funnel represents the buyer journey in stages. Think of a real world funnel and what it does – it’s a tube where ingredients enter on one end and exit on the other. However, the same is not always true for businesses. Sales funnels understand that not every possible customer that enters the funnel will come out as a paying patron – only a small percentage will convert into actual customers, while the rest inevitably drop out or “leak out” as they move from one stage of the funnel.
Organizations create their own version of the funnel depending on what they need, establishing as many stages they see fit in order to successfully win a client’s business.
Some businesses can have as many as nine stages, while others can have something as short as four stages – this really depends on your organization and the customer journey you find most profitable.
What Is a Sales Funnel For?
The funnel might seem like nothing but business jargon and philosophical hocus pocus, but in reality it’s a useful way of visualizing what customers see when interacting with your brand. The more in touch you are with your sales funnel, the more control you have over every single interaction customers have with your company.
The sales funnel presupposes that only a percentage of prospects that enter the funnel will come out as paying customers, but that doesn’t mean you have no control over how many prospects make it from top to bottom.
While it’s true that the sales funnel describes buyer movement from recognition to purchase, it has practical applications beyond visualization and reflection. Ultimately, your sales funnel is your sales strategy. It represents the points of influence you have over buyers – whether it’s through ads, landing pages, direct calls and emails, or something else entirely. With it, you have an idea of when, how, and why customers interact with your brand in the first place. Understanding these points of contact will allow you to directly influence these channels so you can convince clients to say yes to a sale.
Having a funnel allows you to answer questions like:
- How many prospects convert from awareness to purchase?
- What communication channels (social media, email, text, call) encourage the most responsiveness from prospects?
- How many prospects do you get from each channel?
- How profitable and efficient are your lead magnets (ads, paid content, videos, landing pages, opt-ins and freebies)
- What promos/offers convert the most?
- Which sales team/individual brings in the most amount of prospects?
- How many prospects drop out before the purchase stage?
- How effective is your sales team in converting clients during calls?
Knowing the answer to these questions is key in optimizing your business and minimizing your funnel leak for maximum conversation.
What Are the Stages of the Sales Funnel
The amount of stages you have in your funnel depends entirely on your organization’s definition of the customer journey; different companies have different sales funnels, depending on how they understand their ideal prospect.
In general, the sales funnel is described by the AIDA model, which stands for attention, interest, desire, and action. These four stages are geared towards attracting your target audience, marketing the right products, and eventually ushering them into buying your product or service.
The sales process is built around these four pillars and can be freely molded by brands, allowing them to integrate whatever solution or action is needed to generate profits.
The most common sales funnel structure is as follows:
1) Discovery and Awareness
The sales process begins with attraction. At this stage, you are hoping to hook at least one prospect (ideally a whole lot more) with lead generation tactics you have in place. The discovery and awareness phase is all about putting your brand online: it’s about letting your audience know that you exist and that you can offer a solution to their problem.
You can attract leads through newsletter sign ups and free educational content (including guides, eBooks, free videos). Traditional forms of brand discovery such as ads and paid channels are other great ways to capture your audience
After your target audience is aware about your existence, it’s time to position yourself as a possible solution. Some leads won’t even be aware of their problem until you point it out, which is why it’s crucial to educate your ideal prospect at this step.
Generate interest by showing them relevant case studies and creating newsletters they can receive on a weekly basis. The content you spent months creating can now be used as a powerful tool in harnessing interest and trust.
Point your prospect to relevant articles online to show them how compatible you will be as provider and customer. It will be tempting to come out with a sales offer, but it’s important to educate your readers more; they need to understand that you are a possible solution, not just another seller.
When leads are ready for that first point of contact, the sales team can step forward and directly make an offer. Smarter companies will choose to position themselves as listeners rather than sellers. It’s an opportunity to get to know your audience better and understand key problems in their business; winning their trust is key in this step.
While social media is a great way to connect with a prospect, we suggest giving them the personal touch through email, phone, or text.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that marketing is limited to the discovery and interest stages of the sales funnel. Marketing should be a consistent part of your sales process – from the minute they learn about your brand to the buyer’s decision-making phase.
During engagement, marketing is your most profitable tool. As buyers gear up to make a decision, you should use what you learned during the sales call to create targeted campaigns made just for them. This is your opportunity to establish trust, promote yourself as a provider, and highlight the benefits of working with your company.
This means sending them the most relevant, most irresistible guides, videos, and just about any kind of online resource that says, “We can help your product or service”. At no point during the sales process should you falter in marketing the right resources, especially during the engagement stage where buyers are one step closer to the decision-making process.
Not every single prospect that enters the funnel will successfully convert to a paying customer. Those that do, however, shouldn’t be left to their own devices. Continue using the tools in your arsenal to set them up with resources they can read, digest, and use.
Reduce customer churn by enriching their experience, every step of the way. Scheduling regular feedback sessions is one way to understand your customer’s pain points, allowing you to continually provide solutions for the long-term.
Tips On How to Optimize Your Sales Funnel
Building your sales funnel isn’t enough. To ensure it works with your sales process, you must make sure that each and every stage is primed for conversion. As mentioned earlier, the sales funnel doesn’t guarantee that all leads that enter come out as paying customers.
As such, it is a continuous responsibility to optimize sales funnel stages to prevent leaks and generate the most amount of revenue possible. Minimizing bottlenecks, removing unnecessary stages, and automatizing certain steps are some techniques you can incorporate to keep your funnel flowing.
Here are other things you can do to make your sales funnel run smoothly:
1) Make the Sales Funnel as Short as Possible
If you think the only way to build a sales funnel is to make it as long as possible, think again. A prospect doesn’t convert because he or she has spent 6 months knowing your brand; they convert because they are confident in what your company is offering.
Brand confidence can easily be achieved in a four-stage sales funnel, as long as you’re being efficient about it. The longer your sales funnel is, the more chances of creating unknown bottlenecks that will slow down leads and decrease your profits.
Ask yourself the following questions to understand how many stages are best for your company:
- What lead acquisition techniques will I be utilizing?
- What resources do I want to share with leads before setting them up with a sales call?
- Am I focused on lead quality or quantity?
- Are my leads typically warm/ready-to-buy or do they need some warming up beforehand?
- Will I be using specialized tools that will help me increase my efficiency?
- What is my customer average deal value? How does it compare to my average customer acquisition costs?
Knowing the answer to these questions will bring awareness into your operations, and how your current sales process can serve as a foundation for a well-rounded sales funnel.
2) Improve Lead Acquisition Efforts
Lead acquisition, or lead generation, refers to the process of acquiring leads and introducing them to your business. There are different ways to acquire leads, including:
- Buying leads online: Once considered the easiest and fastest way to acquire a huge volume of leads, buying leads online is no longer considered a viable method of lead acquisition. Too many leads bought online are misleading and won’t successfully convert into actual patrons.
- SEO content marketing: Ranking high in organic search increases a brand’s visibility and allows it to directly target customers that are looking for specific solutions. Unlike pay per click channels such as ads, content in the form of articles, videos, and guides are seen as educational and serve the simultaneous purpose of selling to your target audience while educating them about your product or service.
Offering upgraded but free content (white papers, case studies, free templates, and other comprehensive resources) is a great way to exchange an email address for more information.
- Online advertising: In the advent of social media, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram ads have become a powerful tool for marketing one’s company. Because ads are integrated into social platforms, it’s easy for businesses to rope in unsuspecting customers who just happen to read ads on their newsfeed or timeline.
These ads redirect to landing pages and lead magnets where contact information (email address, phone number) can be requested using opt-in forms.
The process of lead generation is not the same for all businesses. Some will profit with online ads, while others might do better with old school networking. Whatever the technique, it’s crucial to optimize this very first step of the sales funnel because it will be responsible for the leads it brings into your funnel. The more relevant the leads, the easier they are to close.
More leads doesn’t always mean good. You can have 200-300 leads a month and only convert 5% of that, which is why it’s crucial to focus on the quality of leads you get rather than the quantity.
3) Review Sales Funnel Data and Analytics Religiously
The sales funnel is rife with metrics you can analyze. Whatever data you generate can be used as a tool to further optimize your sales funnel.
Keep an eye out for the following metrics when analyzing your sales funnel stages:
- Sales funnel stages conversion: describes how many prospects convert from start to finish
- Sales team quota: reflects the amount of leads introduced, converted, and closed by sales teams and individuals.
- Customer satisfaction: represents your brand’s relationship with customers.
- Lead volume: will help you project monthly profit, budgets, and sales team quota
- Best/worst performing marketing channels: reveals most passive avenues of lead generation or conversion
- Customer acquisition cost: reveals the cost of acquiring one customer (the tools you use, your ad spend, and other budget allocations)
Knowing your funnel by the numbers will help your sales team make the smartest decisions. Instead of banking on gut feeling, they can use data to improve their technique and move on to better tactics. It will help them make better sales predictions and improve the way they interact with every prospect and customer.
4) Automate What You Can
Sometimes the bottlenecks in the funnel aren’t necessarily technique or operations-based; in some cases, it all boils down to human error.
If you have a team that’s handling more than they can manage, chances are they are going to neglect small but crucial parts of the process. One small action can easily be lost in the hubbub of hundreds of other processes.
By enlisting the help of automation software, you can maximize your team’s efficiency and allow them to do more in less time. Customer relationship management (CRM) software are considered one of the best softwares for online marketing.
Think of a CRM as a multi-purpose tool that can do everything from helping you read customer feedback from different channels you have, to automating marketing schemes with just one click. CRMs help companies save time by allowing teams to program a series of commands that will be enacted with little to no intervention. CRMs can be used to:
- Automatically move a prospect through the funnel: Instead of manually tracking every single lead, CRMs can make this process easier by categorizing leads based on their stage in the funnel. It does so when leads act according to your set parameters.
For example, once a lead responds to an email, that prospect can be segmented into a different part of the campaign, from which an entirely different sent of emails, resources, and interactions will be sent.
- Manage projects in one dashboard: CRMs promote transparency and accountability among team members by providing real-time updates on projects. With one dashboard, team members can view how others are working to reach their quota. This makes it easier to distribute tasks and manage the sales team’s performance.
- Provide analytics and reporting: With CRM, numbers are crunched instantly into data. With just one click, anyone can translate actions into usable information. Even your least mathematical team members can easily make sense of data crunched by CRM platforms.
- Automate email marketing: Email marketing is one of the best ways to convert leads into paying customers. By continually providing resources they can’t resist, you are one step closer to providing them with a solution they finally can’t resist.
The only problem is that sending multiple emails to different leads can be time-consuming. With a CRM, the only action your team has to perform is to set-up these automatic sequences. As a prospect is moved from one stage to the other, different email sequences (according to your parameters) will be activated and sent automatically, without fail.
- Personalize prospect interactions: Personalizing each and every offer you give customers can feel downright impossible, even with a big team. With CRM software, you can always put your best foot forward and give prospective buyers the service they want, when they want it.
Using information stored in your database, you can access their preferences or glean from other users’ experiences to place individual prospects into different categories. From there, you can launch campaigns depending on their buyer profile, needs and pain points, or even just the type of content they prefer.
5) Designate a Closure Period
Your sales funnel can’t go on forever. At some point, your sales team has to determine when a lead is a dead end. Closure periods are important because they create a set of standards that will save your organization time and money.
Instead of chasing the same leads forever, you can refresh your sales funnel regularly and update the leads you engage with. This will keep your funnel flowing regularly with fresh, more profitable leads.
Optimize Your Sales Funnel With Commence CRM
At Commence, we give your team the opportunity to do more with less. By automating menial but crucial business operations, your sales team can focus on meeting quotas and generating profit for your organization. Get in touch with us today to try out a free demo, and learn how CRM has helped businesses all over the globe achieve their greatest potential yet.