What Are Online Sales Funnels?


If you run a business online, you’ve probably heard of something called a sales funnel. In the past year I’ve spent a lot of time in the sales funnel world. I’ve used tools like ClickFunnels to build landing pages and funnels for parts of my business, but I never really dug deep to find out what a sales funnel really is at its core.

After doing a lot of research for myself I wanted to share what I’ve learned about online sales funnels. My hope is, after reading this article, you’ll be able to answer the question, “What is an online sales funnel?” for yourself.  In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into what an online sales funnel is as well as go through the stages of a sales funnel. In the end you should walk away with a solid understanding of a sales funnel and have ideas on how you can implement them in your business.

At a basic level, a sales funnel is the process of attracting and guiding a potential customer or client through the sales journey with the intent of the customer making a purchase. Another way to think of it, specifically when it comes to an online sales funnel, is a sales funnel turns internet browsers into buyers. This process could be straight forward and happen immediately, or it could take some time to develop a relationship with your prospective customer.

Seems pretty simple, right? Let’s start to get a little deeper into the concept of online sales funnels.

The Sales Funnel Concept

In order to take you through the sales funnel concept it helps to think about the online journey a potential customer takes. Generally, the potential customer has a need. Maybe they know the need they have and are searching for something specific. To better illustrate what I mean, let’s go through an example below.

Let’s say that the potential customer knows that they want to build a garden in their back yard. 

They jump onto Google and search for “How do I build a raised garden?” Let’s also say that you are selling raised garden plans and supplies and paying for ads on Google. Plus you have content on YouTube about gardening. 

They come across one of your videos at the top of their search query and find it interesting, then they click the back button on their browser to go back to the search. Your ad is at the top of the page and they are now familiar with you and your brand and recognize your company name in the ad.

Then they click on your ad and it takes them to a page that gives them 3 free raised bed gardening plans perfect for any space. Then they enter in their email address to get the free plans and then are taken to a sales page where you are offering your pre-packaged raised bed gardening kits based on the 3 free plans that you just sent them via email. 

At this point they decide to buy one of the plans and enter in their credit card and shipping info and click submit. Once they click submit they are taken to another page that offers them a variety pack of seeds perfect for their growing region, and they can purchase it with the click of a button. They click the button and purchase the order up-sell and get taken to a thank you page that outlines their purchase as well as some valuable resources for when they receive their package.

Of course, we’re making a lot of assumptions here, but hopefully that gives you a good sense of how a sales funnel works to take the prospect through the buying journey and then turn them into a customer. Are you starting to get a sense of how this could work for your business?

Now that we have a basic understanding of an online sales funnel lets dive a little deeper.

The 4 Stages Of A Sales Funnel

Through my research I found quite a few different stages for a sales funnel. That all seemed to be variations of the same 4 concepts, but they can be different depending on the type of funnel and the sales model that you’re using. In this model we’ll talk about what seems to be the most common. Those stages are Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action. The best way to remember it is to use the acronym AIDA. 

Below we’ll go through each stage in the sales funnel in a little more detail.

Awareness

Generally, the first stage of a sales funnel is the awareness phase. This is where your marketing efforts come into play. In this stage your potential customers will become aware of the existence of your business. Maybe it was a Facebook Ad, maybe it was an Instagram post, or YouTube video. Either way, the prospect becomes aware of what you have to offer.

There are times when the potential customer may buy immediately at this stage, but most often the awareness stage is the start of your relationship. You’re trying to attract the potential customer with the hopes that they’ll engage with your business. As a good marketer you’ll be following up with relevant, engaging and educational emails or content marketing posts. The objective is to help and not sell… yet.

Think about the gardening example from earlier. Let’s say the prospect has been talking with their spouse about building a raised garden in their back yard. Maybe he’s jumped on a few websites a while ago to take a look at some plants. Maybe one was yours.

One day they’re on Facebook and they see your sponsored post on their feed about all the tools they would need to build a raised Garden. That posts takes them to your website where they can read your tutorials or watch your video content. From there, they can also opt in to join your email list and get your free lead magnet.

Interest 

In the interest phase your prospect is generally doing research. It’s likely that they’ll be doing comparison shopping, reading blog posts on the product or service, or watching YouTube videos. Basically, they’ll be thinking over their options. This is the best time to have killer content. Something that educates the customer and teaches them how to use the products as well as the benefits and features of the product. Pretty much anything that can help them make a good solid buying decision but not sell to them. 

If you’re trying to sell your product or service, right from the beginning there’s a high potential for you to turn off the prospect and drive them to another brand or competitive product. Your biggest goal in the interest phase is to establish yourself as an expert and help the customer make an informed decision. Basically, you’re just trying to help them as much as you can and remain top of mind before they’re ready to make a busing decision.

To go back to raised gardening as an example. Let’s say the customer has downloaded your lead magnet and are now watching your videos as well as competitor videos on building raised garden beds in their back yard. They may be looking at reviews of your product as well as others.

A key thing to note here is that you should be nurturing your relationship with your prospective customer during this stage. You would do this through email and through relevant content via social media. Think educational content based Facebook ads targeted toward prospects who signed up for your lead magnet, but did not make a purchase.

Decision

The decision stage of the sales funnel is where your customer is ready to buy. At this point they may be considering two to three options, or they may have their mind set on one option and have a couple other options as backups if their first option doesn’t work out.

It’s at this point when your offer comes into play. If you’re selling a physical product it could be a free shipping offer, or a first-time purchase discount, or a two for the price of one offer. It really depends on what works best in your Market. If it’s a digital product you can throw in other digital products to add value to the product of that you really want them to purchase. Again, it all really depends on your Market. Whatever you do you want to make your offer so irresistible that the prospect can’t help but make a purchase through you.

Thinking back to the raised garden example here. This is when the prospect decides to make a purchase and turn into a customer. You’ve made them aware of your product or service. You’ve nurtured your relationship through relevant educational content and now they’re ready to make a buying decision. What is the offer that you can get in front this person to make their purchase from you a “no brainer”?

Of course, we’re optimistic here and know that the customer made their purchase through us, right?

Action

This is the bottom of the sales funnel. The action stage is where your potential customer has made the purchase of your product or service and has become a part of your businesses ecosystem. However, the work doesn’t stop here.

It’s at this point where you start to work on continuing to build the relationship with your customer, which leads to customer retention.  Things like customer service, feedback outlets, and support are all things that will help retain your customer for the next 5, 10, 20, or 100 purchases.

In the end it’s easier to sell to a current customer then it is to attract new customers.

Let’s go back to the raised garden example one last time. The customer has made their purchase and has received their raised garden products and plans. Now is not the time to end your relationship. Because you have their email address and contact info it’s time to continue to nurture the relationship. You know what they’ve purchased and can send them relevant content based on that purchase. You can provide support and customer service that solidifies you and your brand as the go-to source for raised garden products.

Conclusion

By this point you should have a solid grasp of what an online sales funnel is. We walked through an example of what a sales funnel could look like. We’ve discussed the stages of a sales funnel using the AIDA acronym. Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action. And, we’ve given examples of how those different stages may look like in the customer journey.

Hopefully you now have ideas of how an online sales funnel could work for your business. There are a ton of tools and easy to use apps that can help you get your sales funnels up and running quickly. We even have a free Sales Funnel training to help you get started on the right foot.

If you’ve already set up your sales funnel online, I’d love to hear how it’s going for your. Leave a comment below and let us know.

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James

Hi! I'm James. I've been building Sales Funnels for myself and small businesses all over the US. These post are design to offer you the most helpful content I can provide to get you started on the right foot.

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