What is a Sales Funnel?

Not a sales funnel

Simply put, a sales funnel is the list of steps someone takes to become your customer. 

Let’s consider the simplest possible example. Say someone runs a grocery store. It’s located near a bus stop. This implies people coming by all see the shop and some go there to shop. That’s a conversion.

Look at the stages. There’s pre-existing traffic, they all see the shop, some visit and buy. The people who simply stare at the shop from the bus-stop are top of the funnel. They have seen your brand, they might even know the name but aren’t really interested in buying anything at the moment.

The people who enter the shop upgrade themselves to the next level and this goes on.

With conversion rate optimization all we want to do is get more people to the second stage where they interact with the brand. We want people to move from top of the funnel to the middle of the funnel.


Why is Understanding a Sales Funnel so Important?

That’s because a sales funnel holds the key to everything else you do on your website.

Since the sales funnel is the path a customer takes to arrive at your shop and buy from you, understanding the funnel is crucial to improving your sales. If one day, the road between the bus stop and the shop is broken people won’t come by. If you don’t know what’s wrong you can’t fix it.

Sales funnel optimization begins with a proper understanding of what the sales funnel can do for you.


The Stages of a Sales Funnel

Typically, a sales funnel looks like a pyramid. It gets narrower as users go through it because at any stage you have more prospects than you have buyers.

A prospect may enter your site through a link on social media, through word-of-mouth, through  guest post you wrote elsewhere.

If the prospect signs up to your email list seeing a lead magnet then the prospect becomes a lead. In most cases only 1 in 10 people sign up. Even fewer purchase something. That’s the reason we compare sales funnels to funnels.


4 Stages of a Sales Funnel

To understand how sales funnels work you need to first understand why someone purchases something online and what are the stages the person goes through before buying something.

Once that’s clear, understanding and leveraging sales funnels is going to be very easy for you.


To put things in perspective the different stages in a sales funnel are Awareness, Interest, Decision, and finally action. The short form AIDA refers to these stages.


The mentality of a person in stage 1 is entirely different from someone at Stage 4 and requires a completely different approach.


This implies you need to understand AIDA correctly. In the next step we are going to do that.

The Awareness Stage

At this stage your potential customers are just becoming aware of their problem or what’s missing in their lives. 

The Awareness stage is when you catch someone’s attention online. This attention-generating activity can come by in many different forms. This can be in the form of UGC content someone shared on their wall, a brand’s mention, a photo, a quip, an article online, an ad, anything.

This is the first brush the prospect has with your brand. This first contact can stick or erase itself from their memory.


Think of the awareness stage as a place where you are trying to vy for the attention of the brand among so many similar products. You’re giving them hints to choose you.


The Interest Stage

When in the interest stage, users are going over articles about the products, browsing pictures on social media, talking to others, doing comparisons, reading reviews to name a few of the activities they engage in.

This is the period when you can gather their interest in your product by creating some kickass content they’re going to love.

Stay away from pushing your products directly. That can appear off-putting to prospects.


The Decision Stage

This is the stage where the customer is nearly done with research. He’s done reading reviews and comparing products. He’s ready to push the buy button. This is the time to put your best foot forward. This is your chance to swoop in with a discount or coupon code and fly away with the customer.


Action Stage

You invite action immediately after the decision stage. He purchases the product based on the reviews and the interaction he’s had with your site. However, the work isn’t done yet. The bottom of the funnel doesn’t imply you stop wooing the customer. There are multiple opportunities to sell. Does Amazon stop courting you after the first sale? No.

Even if you can’t sell immediately, there’s an opportunity to turn bottom-of-the-funnel prospects to product evangelists for your brand. They can pull in more customers.


How to Build a Sales Funnel

Here we’re going to look at all the things that can inspire you to develop a good sales funnel and attract prospects.


Start by analyzing the behavior of customers online

A sales funnel is as effective as the person making it. And the measure of a person’s effectiveness is based on how well he knows his audience. You are marketing to a particular section of people online who are going to benefit the most by working with you. 

You need to effectively find out what their motivations are, what they like, and dislike, and things of this nature.

How do you know your audience online?

Fortunately, gathering data on visitors and creating a profile for their behavior is a cakewalk online. You can use heatmap tools to understand where they’re clicking on your site. This helps you understand if your calls to action are living up on the page or are secluded somewhere else.

A heatmap tool gives you an idea of how far they scroll, how engaged they seem with the content and the changes you need to make to make your CTAs more noticeable.


Get their attention

The next step involves getting these people’s attention. 

The single best way I’ve seen that gets people’s attention smack dab is content. For instance, Single Grain publishes hundreds of articles on their blog. These blog posts drive leads further and further into the funnel.

They have content targeted at different stages of the funnel all designed to draw leads in. 

Unbounce for example posts hundreds of case studies and blog articles all of which tie back to its product: Unbounce helping it drive sales and generate a bunch of revenue.


Most content marketing starts at the middle of the funnel. But there are several ways to include content and benefit from the same at the top of the funnel.


Content marketing pieces that go viral often boil down to creating a single story that picks up hundred of links. SEOTravel did this by creating an infographic map where they included every single location where Game of Thrones was filmed.

The next thing was even simpler. Send a link to the story to journalists who covered the show.

It resulted in 11000 visitors to the site in under two weeks.

The news piece picked coverage on Washington Post, Mashable, Business Insider, and more such sites.

There are now more than 100 new domains, high-authority ones linking to their site.

They were able to use a popular topic and create an extremely relevant piece of content for the travel industry in which they were in.

The outreach as soon as the piece went live made it more successful. They reached out to different outlets all of which got them shares and then used the social proof to contact even bigger outlets.

This isn’t highly targeted traffic, but traffic nonetheless that can propel a site to bigger things.

The more content you create and the better it is the more you tend to draw attention inwards.


Get a landing page

I’ve often felt that a landing page is like Professor X’s helmet. Professor X has all of his psychic abilities inside that vast head of his. But the helmet helps him focus his mental energy to a point that he can map all the mutants on the planet from his chair, he can see places far away and communicate with them.

I digress. The point is, you might get conversions even without a dedicated landing page. However, a landing page makes it all the easier. 

I use Unbounce for creating landing pages and I’ve got a 20% discount offer that you must use. 


A landing page simply advises people on what they must do next. Copywriting, images and other elements make a difference but the single biggest factor is the call to action. It should stand out from the page.

That gets conversions.

Create email campaigns

Things become a bit easier when you create email campaigns designed to educate and lead them further along on the funnel. Email campaigns help communicate to prospects the value in your product.


How to Optimize Sales Funnels

In this section, we’re going to look at everything crucial that helps you optimizes sales funnels to generate more sales for you.

A/b test landing pages

When you create a landing page the obvious idea is to get more conversions. To do this you use the best possible techniques. You study all about your audience. You use the best design, the best CTA, and the best color combinations.

But at this stage, when you a/b test it can be humbling to know that some of your hypotheses are wrong.

The landing page might be perfect in your eyes but that’s not the case for your visitors.

Next, create more of the content that converts.

Whenever I guest post on some good site, I see they have a content plan in place. This is no accident. Sites that are doing well know that some of their content performs exceedingly well and then they change their entire content marketing strategy to create more of this content.

That’s why you should also create a content plan that furthers current efforts.

A good example is Fieldwire.

data driven content optimization

They boosted their high profile pages with data-driven optimization. By looking at keywords they ranked for they created more such content that targeted better traffic keywords and with just slightly some more difficulty. This combined with influencer outreach helped them land reviews and get interviews all giving them a boost.


Also, when selling there are some things that are going to work better than you’d have ever thought of. That’s where competitor research can help. It’s not to mimic everything they do. But to learn from what they are doing and to see if these strategies have any scope in your marketing angle.


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