What is a Sales Funnel? The 5 Major Stages

Suzanne Wentley
Published: Mar 06, 2020
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Even with the best graphic design, online businesses can't rely on the same warm environment and human greetings that come when a potential customer wanders into a brick-and-mortar shop. Instead, business owners operating in a digital space must create a clear and attractive pathway for customers to navigate. This way, lead generation can transform into sales.

That clear pathway is depicted in one of the most valuable tools for online marketers: the sales funnel.

A sales funnel is a multi-step, often-automated process that strategically encourages website visitors to buy whatever you're selling. It's also called a conversion funnel, highlighting the focus on converting and cultivating loyal customers who happily return to your site for more.

Before you can create an effective sales funnel for your business, you must first understand its general structure and options before customizing it for your brand.

Sales Funnel Stages

A sales funnel system is a process. At the top end is a wide opportunity that many people are attracted to. Not all of these people will become customers and reach the end of the funnel. In business, not every person is ready to buy.

Looking further down the sales funnel, the stages include:

  1. Awareness: People learn of your product or service as a potential solution to their needs.
  2. Research: They show interest by going online to research solutions available, both on your site and on the sites of your competitors. This stage can take some time.
  3. Decision: People come to a conclusion as to whether they wish to purchase the product or service and, importantly, from where.
  4. Reevaluation: For some products or services, especially in B2B services, decision-makers must decide whether they wish to continue the business relationship. This phase is similar to the research phase.
  5. Loyalty Decision: It's a yes or no—do they wish to continue working with you or not? The answer often depends on whether you've implemented an effective sales funnel.

What is a Marketing Sales Funnel?

While sales funnels can look different for different target audiences, the process basically stays the same. Specialized funnels, like digital marketing funnels, do differ from a traditional funnel in a couple ways.

In digital marketing, you're able to evaluate success more easily, thanks to metrics that can be integrated into a site’s backend. You can also use social media and email marketing methodology to implement these strategies in modern, effective ways. All of these abilities change the sales funnel approach.

So, when it comes to a digital space, what does a sales funnel look like, and how does it work?

When someone clicks on your site, they become a lead. That begins the process at the top of the funnel.

The next stage in the funnel involves creating a connection. This could be through useful content on blogs, a prompt to sign up for a newsletter, or an offer to download a free item of benefit.

After this phase, you'll want to create a process for following up. Frequently, this comes in the form of a chain of well-timed emails.

Still no sale? You'll need to have an automated option to help them overcome any final obstacles. This may look like a coupon for an item in their shopping cart that has a limited time to use.

The final stage comes only with persistence: the sale! Then, if your business includes following up with the buyer for additional sales, your funnel will continue.

Your navigation path can lead your customers to serve as ambassadors for your brand to increase your customer base even more. You'll discover that, in business, a sales funnel is a foundation to maximize profits.

Great Sales Funnels Create Results

The sales funnel approach is basic theory. To create a sales funnel customized for your site and your business, you can utilize tools designed for success. Many digital marketers rely on tools like ClickFunnels, Sumo, and Wishpond.

The goal is to automate this process. You'll want to have a landing page that specifically caters to your target audience. You'll need to understand how they're finding you, and what they want. Creating pre-written emails designed for different stages in the sales funnel process will save you a lot of time and help your conversion rates.

Once you implement your sales funnel strategy, be sure to evaluate what works and what doesn't. After all, a sales funnel is only a tool. You need to shape it and adapt it to fit your business’s needs. Being flexible and nimble are important qualities for success with sales funnels and beyond.

This article was written by Compose.ly writer Suzanne Wentley.


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