Occasionally I’ll stumble upon a digital product that is game-changing for our business! Oftentimes I'm surprised I'd never heard of the product before. It’s like a hidden gem that solves my problem perfectly. I’m sure these digital product creators had some success during their launch period, but most likely sales came to a halt in the months that followed.
What’s missing from their marketing strategy? Why don’t they continue to sell their product long after the launch? Answer: They don’t have an effective sales funnel.
Don’t let the term “sales funnel” intimidate you. I know it can sound big and complicated and something only professional marketers need to think about. I actually don’t love the term “funnel.” It makes me think about pouring as many people into the top of a funnel as possible and then shoving them down until a few people pop out the bottom.
Instead, I like to think in terms of my ideal customer journey -- guiding potential customers gently down a path while building a relationship and demonstrating tremendous value.
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What is a sales funnel?
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
A sales funnel or customer journey is a series of content (emails, blog posts, videos, webinars, cheat sheets, etc…) in a specific order that leads potential customers to your product and allows you to make sales on autopilot.
That’s my own definition.
In more specific terms, the goal is to turn cold visitors to your website into email subscribers (first) and then product purchasers (second). Again, it's about building a relationship. Relationship first, sales second.
The benefit of a properly executed sales funnel is two-fold: Email list grown and increased product sales.
I don’t want to be pushy… do I still need a sales funnel?
Yes! It’s not about being pushy… I’ve certainly been turned off in the past by some super aggressive marketing tactics or funnels, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you think your product can help people, wouldn’t you want to get it in front of as many people as possible? It’s not about convincing people they need your product; it’s about introducing your product to as many people as possible and allowing them to work their way through a process to see if it’s a good fit.
How to make your first sales funnel
You have a product or a key affiliate relationship you’d like to promote. Now it’s time to create your first sales funnel. Resist the urge to make it huge and complicated. Abby and I have found that some of our best funnels are simple, linear email series with a few product mentions throughout and one final sales email at the end.
We’ve also found that a free email course has a higher perceived value than something like a free eBook or other PDF download. People are more likely to sign up, and you have a longer time frame to demonstrate your knowledge, expertise, and teaching style (5-7 emails) versus a one-off eBook or other download.
Here’s how to make your first email series funnel…
1. Choose a single product.
Before you get started mapping out your funnel make sure you have a product in mind. If you have multiple digital products (like us), it’s tempting to try and mention or sell all of them in a single funnel. This will hurt your overall sales and potentially confuse your audience. They won’t be sure what you are recommending or which product they should start with.
If you have multiple (non-seasonal) products, start with your least expensive product. The nurturing is less intensive for your lower priced products. Eventually you'll have a funnel for each of your products.
2. Make a list of all existing content related to your product.
This could be blog posts, PDF files, mini eBooks, videos, cheat sheets, etc. The idea here is to think about what content you already have. For example, if you have a product on organizing closets, make a list of all closet-related posts on your site. We’re going to re-purpose these for use in the funnel.
3. Decide what to teach in your free email course.
To give you some examples, Abby and I have a 7 Day Start a Blog Challenge free email course that eventually leads subscribers to purchase our Building a Framework course. We also have a Build Your Launch List free email course that leads people to our BookBoss product. In both of those cases, we are teaching people the first step or pre-requisite of our course. It's all related. If people are interested in the free email course, it's only natural that they would be interested in the paid product. In both cases, we give away a tiny slice of our paid course for free.
4. Draft an email series.
5 to 7 emails is a good place to start. You can teach brand new material, but also link back to your existing content where it makes sense.
For example, in our 7 Days to Start a Blog Challenge, we link back to multiple articles most days. It doesn’t make sense to have a 2,000 word email, but it’s ok to link back to a longer article resource from your email. If you already have an eBook that you give away for free, you can split it up into pieces and use it as the basis of your email series.
5. Organically mention your product in the email series.
It’s never a good idea to make people think your free email series is just one long sales pitch. There should be a tremendous amount of value given even if someone decides not to make a purchase. But if you have a 7-day email series, you can mention your product and link directly to your sales page once or twice.
Most people need multiple exposures to a product before they make a purchase. It's rare for someone to click over to a landing page and make a purchase immediately. Multiple touch points are necessary.
6. Ask for the order in the final email.
In the final email, you should spend some time talking about your product, what problem it solves, who it has helped, and all the details about the product. Then ask the reader to click over to the landing page and make a purchase.
That’s your first funnel! It really is that simple! But please don’t confuse simple with ineffective.
I remember a few years ago when I was first laid off from my corporate job and Abby and I decided to give this full time blogging thing a try, we received some advice from a a seasoned blogger to create a free email course funnel. We listened, and it was a huge turning point in our business. Our income that month doubled in large part to the funnel we created.
Tools and tech for your first funnel
While it’s possible to create an effective sales funnel with just your WordPress blog and a free MailChimp account, there are some tools and tech that will make you’re life easier and your sales funnel more professional and profitable.
1. Email marketing service
ConvertKit is my top choice here. You can write an entire email course (ConvertKit calls them “sequences”) from a single page. The built-in ConvertKit automations allow you to easily add tags and perform other actions for your subscribers who are in or have completed your email course.
For instance, I always recommend you wait to add a new subscriber who is currently in the middle of one of your funnels to your general email newsletter list. ConvertKit makes this easy.
Of course there are more advanced email marketing solutions out there. For advanced customer journey mapping and activity based segmentation, I like Autopilot. It’s expensive and overkill for most bloggers, but Abby and I do have a segment of our list in Autopilot in order to take advantage of some of its advanced features.
Related: The Best Email Marketing Services
2. Landing page builder
What’s the best way to get people into your funnel? Email your current list. Where should you send them? Your email course landing page.
ConvertKit after-post forms and pop-ups certainly work for building your email list, but for a high-value free email course I recommend putting your best foot forward with a dedicated landing page. There you have the opportunity to showcase exactly what you will teach and the specific benefits and outcomes people will receive by going through your course.
Here are some of our ConvertKit landing pages:
ConvertKit has a nice, simple landing page builder that can get you up and running in a matter of minutes. Using their WordPress plugin, you can even host your landing page with any URL you choose. Abby and I use many ConvertKit landing pages and they all convert at over 50%.
If you feel limited by the ConvertKit landing page customization options, consider purchasing a truly custom landing page builder like Instapage.
Here are some of our Instpage landing pages:
The primary way you will drive traffic to your landing pages is through links in your existing articles. Make a list of your top 25 most trafficked posts and go through each one and add natural links to your new landing page where it makes sense. You can add a blog menu link and create a sidebar image with a link to your landing page.
Advanced funnel ideas and techniques
What preceded this section may have seemed fairly basic to some. If you have the “free email course” funnel down, here are some more advanced strategies and ideas to consider…
1. Webinar recording funnels.
If you have a lot of old webinar recordings, consider turning them into a funnel. Those video trainings can continue to work for you long after the live session has ended. Video helps potential customers connect with on an even deeper level. You can create a landing page offering the free video training, the first email will link to the video, and then you can follow-up with training emails or ask for the purchase.
2. Re-launch funnels.
I’ve seen this strategy masterfully executed as well as poorly executed. If you have a product that was first launched many months ago, consider re-launching the product to all the new people on your list who weren’t around for the first launch. You can write a series of launch emails in ConvertKit and then add a portion of your subscribers directly into this sequence.
3. Site activity based funnels.
If you use an advanced marketing automation service like Autopilot you can segment your list based on website activity. For example, if a subscriber visits a product landing page but doesn’t make a purchase, you can trigger a simple email with some additional training or information and also ask if they have any questions about your product. Sometimes these little nudges can make a difference.
4. Create pins for your funnel landing pages.
Abby and I have done this with some amazing results. You can create a Pinterest image and upload it directly to Pinterest, edit the URL and description, and start pinning to your boards or group boards. It takes awhile to get the momentum going, but we get thousands of visits to some of our landing pages because of these pins.
Here's an example of a pin that leads directly to the landing page of our Build Your Launch List funnel.
Funnels and full-time bloggers
Funnels are the linch-pin that allow bloggers to connect their digital products with a full-time income. They’re not hard to set up, but they are absolutely necessary for consistent and somewhat predictable income. My recommendation is to start simple and start small with funnels.
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This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.