Most consumers require seven or more interactions with a business before they’re ready to buy (source). With all the noise and distractions in today’s world, it’s likely this number is even higher than seven.
This is why every business needs a marketing funnel and a sales funnel.
If you’re unsure about a marketing funnel vs a sales funnel, or how to create one for your small business, this article will help.
There are different definitions, explanations, and methods for funnels. But I want to share a simplified way of looking at funnels and how they can be best used by a small business.
Does my business really need a funnel?
Setting up a marketing or sales funnel may seem like one more complicated task you don’t have time for. But funnels are essential for every business, no matter what you sell.
Most consumers don’t buy from businesses they’ve never heard of.
There are, of course, exceptions to this. Many people buy from new businesses when they’re shopping in person (e.g. at a new boutique they’re checking out, or from a new vendor at a craft show).
And some people need an item immediately, which requires them to buy from a business they’ve just discovered. But even in this case, consumers will typically conduct a bit of research to make sure it’s safe to buy from an unknown company.
The bottom line is, consumers don’t buy from a business they don’t trust.
And often, achieving the level of trust needed to complete a transaction, requires several steps.
This is where funnels come in, and is why your business needs one.
What is the purpose of a funnel?
Funnels help build trust and relationships with new potential customers. They will trickle out information to potential customers to educate them on product features and benefits, and ensure they’re not hit with a sales pitch too soon, which can actually deter a sale.
A marketing and/or sales funnel guides potential customers along a path and eases them into the idea of buying.
For a business owner, a funnel also points out major “leaks” (i.e. where you’re losing leads/potential customers).
For example, if you’re having trouble getting people to sign up for your email funnel, it may be that consumers don’t see the need for your product or understand why your products are better/different than your competitors.
On the other hand, if several people sign up for your email funnel and are engaging with the content, but not many people are buying in the end, it may be that your prices are off or you need to increase the perceived value of your products (e.g. better branding, better photography, etc.).
Funnels will help you build a more streamlined business and guide potential customers on a clear and purposeful path, so more feel encouraged to buy.
What is the difference between a marketing funnel vs. a sales funnel?
A marketing funnel builds brand awareness and shouldn’t use hard sales tactics. It helps keep your business top of mind, educates consumers about your products/business, and lets them know your products are available if they’re ready to buy, but with no pressure. A sales funnel pitches your products and directly tells a consumer the next steps to take to buy.
“Marketing funnel” and “sales funnel” are often used interchangeably.
I like to think of the process as one big funnel, with a marketing stage and a sales stage.
The marketing stage of a funnel teaches potential customers about your business, while the sales stage of a funnel encourages people to take action and buy.
The marketing stage of a funnel should:
- focus on the customer
- build relationships with potential customers
- build trust with potential customers
- position you as an expert
And it may:
- answer common questions/concerns potential customers have about your products/business
- aggravate problems and explain the solution you offer
- help the customer make a purchasing decision (e.g. determine which option is the right fit for them)
- share customer reviews/testimonials
The sales stage of a funnel should:
- focus on the business
- promote products
- ask for the sale
- create urgency (to buy)
And it may:
- offer discounts/incentives
- introduce new products/collections
How do I create a funnel?
For most businesses, a funnel is created through an email campaign. A series of emails are sent to share information about a business and its products, which are followed by sales emails that encourage subscribers to buy a product.
Depending on the business, and products/services being sold, a funnel can also be implemented through a series of phone calls, or even in-person meetings. However, this applies to fewer businesses, and people are less willing to share their phone numbers than their email addresses, so I won’t focus on that method in this article.
If you sell your products at craft shows, or you run a brick-and-mortar business, you can also set up a short funnel in person. This would basically be an experience you guide shoppers through that encourages them to buy.
That’s how you create funnels in the traditional sense.
But, you can look at your business as a series of funnels and use a variety of methods to move shoppers along the path you want them to, and “funnel” them towards the next step you want them to take.
For example, when a shopper lands on your Etsy shop listing, how can you “funnel” them to your product description? Then, how can you write a description that encourages shoppers to read to the end? Then, how can that description funnel people towards the buy now/shopping cart page? Etc.
Some businesses set up sales funnels on their website.
It consists of the steps a site visitor takes from landing on the website to paying for a product or service.
A site visitor may land on the home page and see a demo video. After watching the video, the visitor is encouraged to sign up for a free trial, or a free consultation, or a free quote, or a free webinar, etc. At the end of the free offer, they’re encouraged to pay for the product/service.
This type of sales funnel is more common with membership/subscription businesses, B2B (business to business), and software companies.
A business may also use a combination of an email funnel and a website sales funnel.
For example, during the free trial, the potential customer may be sent a series of marketing emails, each one explaining the benefits of the product/service. If the user decides not to buy at the end of the free trial, an email sales funnel may start. Those emails may share a promo code or limited-time offer, or encourage the user to reply to the email and let the business know about their hesitations to buy.
There are best practices when it comes to funnels, but there are no rules. Get creative when thinking about ways to create funnels in your business.
Small Handmade Business Example
Since most of my readers are handmade business owners, let’s take a look at how a funnel can be set up for this type of business.
Let’s say I make jewelry, and I specialize in mother & daughter necklaces.
A potential customer Googles “mother daughter necklace”, my website shows up in the search results, so they click the link and land on my home page.
Website sales funnel example
On my home page, I have a short video showing the craftsmanship that goes into each necklace, how each order comes beautifully packaged and wrapped for gift-giving, and the easy process customers can follow to place a customized order.
Below the video is a “Customize your Necklace” button, which takes the site visitor to the order page. A simple form helps them choose their options. A “Place Order” button is at the bottom of the page, which takes them to the payment form.
When website visitors land on my homepage, my website design funnels them towards completing an order.
How To Create a Sales Funnel on your Website
If you have a website, use Google Analytics to uncover the top pages people land on when visiting your site.
Then consider the steps required between that page and the checkout page. What type of content, design, buttons, forms, etc. will help simplify the process for the user, and encourage them to keep moving towards the next step in your funnel?
Email Marketing funnel example
Let’s say a website visitor isn’t ready to buy a necklace, so perhaps they don’t watch the video and don’t click the “customize your necklace” button.
Perhaps they scroll down the page to learn more about my business or visit a few product pages to see what types of products I offer.
I may have a signup form on my home page or a pop-up form that appears before a user leaves my site. This form offers an incentive for people to enter their email address and sign up for my newsletter.
To create my incentive offer to get people into my funnel, I would explore why my target market is interested in my mother daughter necklaces.
>> If I offer styles that are more fashion-toward than my competitors, I know that my target market is interested in fashion trends. In this case, my incentive might be a jewelry style guide, while my marketing emails share styling tips and jewelry trends.
>> Maybe my target market tends to buy my necklaces during gift-giving occasions. Gift guides, holiday reminders, and tips for celebrating special occasions with mom/daughter would pique their interest.
>> Perhaps my target market cares less about fashion trends and more about sharing memories with their mom/daughter and would be interested in ideas about strengthening a mother/daughter bond and fun activities to do together.
If the pop-up form is on a product listing page, the incentive may be a promo code that’s shared when people sign up for the newsletter.
The potential customer would be emailed their incentive immediately after signing up. Then, each week, they would receive a marketing email.
These marketing emails would share information my target market is interested in. They would always include a link to my website/products, but wouldn’t necessarily sell.
For example, let’s say my target market is most interested in fashion and how to wear the latest jewelry trends. My marketing emails may be:
>> RE: This is the hottest jewelry trend right now – this email would share the latest jewelry trend and feature a necklace of mine that incorporates the trend (or link to an article on my website detailing the trend).
>> RE: 5 tips for layering necklaces like a pro – this email would share layering tips along with images that feature my necklaces (or link to an article on my website sharing the tips).
>> RE: How to mix metals – this email (or article on my website) would share tips for wearing gold and silver together, and mixing and matching pieces. It would include pictures of my pieces as examples.
Email Sales funnel example
After a few marketing emails, I would send a sales email. That email may be:
>> introducing my latest collection and encouraging subscribers to buy now as quantities are limited.
>> sharing a promo code to give subscribers a small discount on their purchase.
>> showcasing my bestsellers with a “buy now” button under each.
After my sales emails are complete, I would start a new set of marketing emails, followed by another sales pitch email.
How to create an email marketing and sales funnel
Set up a newsletter for your business (you don’t need a website to create a newsletter signup form, you can use a newsletter service to set up a free newsletter signup page).
Then determine an incentive offer that will encourage people to sign up for your newsletter. “Join my newsletter” doesn’t influence many people to sign up.
The incentive you offer will depend on your target market.
What is your target market most interested in?
*If you’re not sure, this will help.
Once you determine what type of content your target market will be interested in receiving from you, you can create a freebie and the content for your marketing emails.
Your freebie might be a printable guide, an ebook with information, or a tutorial video. Or, if you provide really valuable content through your newsletter, you may not need to offer a freebie.
For example, “Get my top money-saving tips when going eco-friendly, delivered to your inbox weekly” is likely a strong enough incentive to encourage several people to sign up for the newsletter.
Then you can create a series of emails to send to subscribers. Generally, one email per week is ideal.
Most email marketing services (e.g. MailChimp, Convertkit, etc.) will allow you to send emails automatically.
For example, when a new subscriber is added to your list, they are automatically sent your freebie. Then, your first marketing email is set to send 7 days after the freebie is sent. The second marketing email can be set to automatically send 7 days after the first marketing email, etc.
How many marketing emails you send before sending a sales email will depend on your target market and the products you sell.
For example, if you sell original art at a higher price point, subscribers may need five or six emails to get to know your art, understand its value, and be ready to spend hundreds of dollars.
Or, if your products have several features and benefits, you may require several emails to explain them all before jumping into a sales pitch.
On the other hand, if you sell products that have a lower price point and that are fairly self-explanatory (e.g. thank you cards), you may only need to send one or two marketing emails before sending a sales email.
After your marketing emails, you can send a sales email. These emails should pitch your products and ask for the sale.
You may send more than one sales email.
For example, if you’re offering a limited-time discount, you can send one or two follow-up emails letting the subscriber know time is running out on the offer.
After the sales email(s), you can start marketing emails again, followed by a sales email(s), and so on and so forth.
If you need newsletter ideas, check out 365+ Newsletter Ideas (for your handmade business)
Your marketing and sales funnels should work together to create a continuous loop that puts sales on autopilot.
I hope this article has helped explain marketing funnels and sales funnels. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comment section!
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!