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What is a Sales Funnel and Why Should Content Creators Care?

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“What the heck is a sales funnel?”

I remember that thought going through my mind when I first started to get serious about my blogging. I forget where I first saw the term, but I certainly didn’t know the definition of sales funnel or why it mattered to me as a blogger.

More and more, I saw it, though. And not just for bloggers. It seemed like everyone was talking about it – podcasters, business owners, video producers – pretty much everyone creating content online.

So I decided to get to the bottom of it. What is a sales funnel? And since understanding this concept, I’ve been able to take my online content to another level. So today, I wanted to do a little 101 lesson for anyone out there who doesn’t know what a sales funnel is or doesn’t think it applies to them. I assure you, it matters, even if you don’t think you work in sales!

A sales funnel can be illustrated with this simple graphic:

sales funnel So let’s say you’re working in a traditional sales setting. The first level, the wide pool, might be 1,000 names and numbers you’re given to cold call. Of that wide pool, most people hang up on your or say they aren’t interested, but maybe 10% or 100 people show some interest. They’re in that second level. Once you explain your product more, maybe 10% of those, or 10 people, are willing to come into your office to discuss more – they move to the “very interested” level. And over those 10 people, maybe 1 person actually takes action and buys the product.

The theory is that the more people you put into the top of the funnel, the more people who will come out the other side having taken action. If 1,000 cold calls = 1 sale, I need to call 10,000 people every month to make a quota of 10 sales.

The reason to look at a sales funnel is so you can make improvements. 10,000 people might be WAY too many people for me to call every month. So, to meet my quota, maybe I need to improve my pitch so that instead of 10 people being interested in coming into my office, 50 people are interested. If I still make sales to 10% of them, that means 1,000 cold calls is worth 5 sales instead of 1, so I only have to call 2,000 people every month to meet my quota.

Or, looking at the sales funnel, I might determine that I need another step or level. Maybe instead of inviting people to the office as the next step, I ask if I can send them more info in the mail as the next step, and from there I follow up with the ask to come into the office to hear about the service or product.

But Why Should You Care?

As a content creator, you may or may not be selling a product/service. But you do have an end goal, an action you want your audience members to take. When someone lands on your website, what is it that you most want them to do.

Let’s say that you have an ebook to sell. Someone who comes to your site for the first time probably isn’t going to buy it right off the bat, unless they had a strong word-of-moth recommendation. Instead, you have to move them down that sales funnel. This is what it might look like for you:

sales funnel 2 Your funnel might have more steps. But think about what moves a person from level one, where they’re visiting your site for the first time, to the final level, where they’re buying your ebook. Then look at the conversation rate of each step. How can you boost the percentage of people who move down the funnel, so more people are making it to the end of the line? (This is an awesome guest post on proven techniques for boosting your conversation rate.) Or what can you do to add more steps? If you’re jumping right from reading posts to trying to sell your ebook, people might not respond as well because that’s a big action to take. But if you’re asking for something smaller, like signing up for a mailing list, more people might be inclined to move to the next level.

Like I said, this works even if you don’t have a product to sell. For example, let’s say that your goal is to get as much traffic as possible because you make money through sponsored posts, and the more traffic you have, the more sponsors will be willing to pay for these posts. In this case, your end goal might be for people to share your posts on social networks. So, your funnel might look like this:

sales funnel 3 The more people you get to each level, the more people who will come out the other end of the funnel sharing your content. So maybe you need to start at the top can think about ways to get more people to see you links. Or maybe you need to work on your headlines so that more people who see the links move to the next level and click.

You can create a sales funnel for ANY goal you might have. Just think about the action you’d most like new visitors to take, then write out the steps someone would take to get there. Go back and analyze your conversion for each step to see where you can improve.

Now that you understand what a sales funnel is, will you start using it? Leave a comment to tell us your plans (or what you’re already doing to funnel people to your final goal)!

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


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  • Katie Daggett

    Great post, Allison! I work with many B2B companies helping them to create online content and have used the sales funnel to help explain how creating certain types of content can help them move prospects down the sales funnel. It really is a useful tool to help understand this point. For example, at the top of the funnel, visitors might be in the early stages of researching a solution to a problem their business is facing and coming to my client’s website for information/education, so they may read blog posts, case studies, articles or white papers. As they move closer to purchasing a solution, they may be looking for a product sales sheet, that details specific product/features, or sign up for a webinar, to learn more about the solution (product/service) my client offers. It also helps to pinpoint the place where marketing might hand a customer over to sales, once they are far enough down the funnel. A really useful tool for anyone creating content – for themselves, or for a client.

    • Allison Boyer

      That’s a really good advantage for a business – the hand-off from marketing to sales.

      And for content creators, the “hand-off” might be from “giving people stuff” (like free content) to “asking for something” (like the purchase of a product). At what point have you given enough stuff that it’s time to start asking for stuff instead? A sales funnel can help you figure it out.

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