3 Levers You Can Pull to Improve Your Online Sales Funnel
FACT: Marketing your product or service online is a numbers game.
No matter who you are as a business (e-commerce site, retail store, app developer, etc.), if you’re going to be marketing your business online, and especially if you’re going to be investing in paid advertising, you need to understand this very basic but important principle. Some will say that this is an oversimplification and that it doesn’t pay enough respect to the human aspects of making a purchase online (desire, emotion, trust, etc.). They’re right. But to really understand and internalize a principle, I find it helps to simplify…even to a near insane degree.
Let’s break down the numbers game of digital marketing.
Understanding Your Online Sales Funnel
You may already be familiar with a sales funnel. If not, it’s really very simple. Any seasoned salesperson will tell you that if you make 100 cold calls, some percentage of those calls will actually result in a live person speaking with you. Some percentage of those folks will then be interested in learning more, and some percentage of those folks will actually purchase. If you stack these stages top to bottom, you have a percentage of each group then moving down the funnel and getting closer to an actual sale.
An online sales funnel is very similar, the labels are just a bit different. It generally looks something like this.
For example, lets pretend we’re running an e-commerce store. Your funnel would start with unique website visitors, some of whom will click on a product, some of whom will click to check out, some of whom will actually purchase.
Obviously, the goal is to get as many unique website visitors as possible through your sales funnel and purchasing your products. While you can’t sit there and personally coach a website visitor through each of these stages, you can heavily influence this funnel through your growth activities. In my experience, there are three levers you can control to influence the success of your online marketing funnel.
Lever 1: The relevancy of new leads entering your funnel
This is a huge deal, and is so often overlooked. Many marketers or entrepreneurs will jump right to number two and focus on getting as many leads as they can. But it’s so much more important to be well-targeted, getting the right people to check out your website and products. DO NOT underestimate the importance of this. Anyone can drive a lot of traffic, but it takes a very smart person to drive the right kind of traffic, and a magician to drive a lot of the right kind of traffic.
I saw the fruits of this firsthand while I was running operations at Heyo. Someone on my team came up with a growth hack that he felt would drive a sharp increase in free trials. Since smart marketers test and learn, we decided to go for it. It worked…sort of.
Our free trial numbers shot way up. But the euphoria wore off about a week later when it became clear that none of those free trials were actually converting. The reason was that our product was really not at all relevant to these new “leads.” We instead opted for other ways to drive more relevant traffic into our online sales funnel.
Now, right now you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal, Chris? If that growth hack brought you 1,000 new leads per day, some of them would want your product, right?” That’s true, but you also have to weigh the cost of the flood of irrelevant leads clogging your pipeline, wasting resources, and taxing your customer support team. You also need to realize that having a lot of nonsense leads enter your funnel will also hurt the your down-funnel metrics (e.g. engagement, conversion). In general, it’s way more efficient and successful to just focus on a smaller volume of more relevant leads. Thats why I always recommend pulling this lever first.
NOTE: Keeping your lead relevancy high is much easier if you’ve already been recruiting by hand. If that’s the case then you already know your market very well. You know what makes them tick and have a persona in mind. (Some call this your avatar.) It then becomes a natural next step to only seek out prospective customers that are well within your target market.
Lever 2: The volume of new leads entering your funnel
This is intuitive to most marketers. The more awareness you can build, the more website visitors you’ll get, and the more revenue you’re likely to drive. Again, it’s tempting to jump here first, but I’d highly recommend that you have a very clear picture of your target market and ensure you are thinking about lead relevancy (see above) before you even think about touching lever 2. Having that knowledge firmly in place allows you to make smarter decisions about where to go in order to drive more traffic into your sales funnel.
For instance, let’s say that you run an online business selling shoes. If you aren’t focused on relevancy of new leads, then you might be tempted to invest in Google AdWords and bid on the search term “shoes” or “children’s shoes.” But if you know that your target market is busy moms who want fun, stylish shoes for their children but don’t have a lot of money, then you you’d bid on a term like “children’s shoe bargains” instead. Or, even better, you might ignore AdWords altogether and choose to sponsor a mom blog focused on frugality like $5 Dinners. NOW you’re thinking like a smart marketer. 🙂
If you have product/market fit, have a product that is organically growing, and know exactly what type of consumer your product or service is most relevant to, then it’s time to go out and find more leads.
Personally, I’m a big fan of a targeted lead generation strategy. Since you know exactly who your target customer (your “avatar”) is, then start with a very simple question: Where do your target customers tend to congregate? Your goal should be to have a meaningful presence in those places that allows you to interact with your target market as much as possible.
I love a good case study, so let’s try one on for size. I saw a product on Shark Tank one time that appealed to me as a parent of young children, the “Zipadee-Zip.” It’s basically a specialized set of pajamas that helps your baby to fall asleep at night. You can check out a cute one here.
(Did I just put a picture of cute babies in my article about the online sales funnel? Oh yes I did!)
Let’s pretend for a moment that we are the head of marketing and growth for this product. We don’t have to stretch our imaginations too far to grasp the target customer: Parents of young children, mostly moms (It’s a fact that women control 85% of all purchasing decisions.). So where do young moms like to congregate, both online and offline? Here’s my educated guess along with some examples for each channel:
- Parenting blogs (Somewhat Simple, Aha Parenting)
- Local event sites (A Child Grows , Timeout NY for Kids)
- Related online stores (Fat Brain Toys, Tea Collection)
- Baby expos (Drool Baby Expo , Atlanta Baby Expo)
- Local parenting meetups (Upper West Side Moms, Moms Club)
- Mommy and Me classes (Gymboree, Music Together)
That took me about 15-20 minutes (including sourcing examples through Google). It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start. My next step would be to strategize how I approach each of these channels. It will be different with each of them. For instance, I might come up with an innovative sponsorship for the expos. But with the parenting blogs, I might simply send some free samples to the bloggers with hand written thank you cards. Regardless, I think it’s best to select one channel and really work on it until you’ve turned it into a revenue generating machine. I have a saying: “Dominate don’t dabble.” Words to live by.
Lever 3: The overall user experience of your funnel
Let’s assume that you’ve nailed 1 and 2 above. You have a great product that solves a problem or fills a niche for a particular market, and you’ve studied and know that market very well, especially where to find them. You’ve also found solid channels to be able to create meaningful conversations with that market and have a nice flow of new prospective customers coming into your funnel. Life is good. Now what?
While you can always spend more time trying to source a higher volume of relevant leads, you also need to be vigilant about the overall health of your funnel. It’s probably time to examine the user experience of your funnel. Let’s again use the example of an online shoe retailer to illustrate this point. As you’ll recall, the steps in your online sales funnel likely include the following.
- Visitors come to your website.
- Some of those visitors browse your shoe selection.
- Some of those browsers add a pair of shoes into their cart.
- Some of those shoppers click to checkout.
- Some of those who started checkout will actually complete their purchase.
I’d recommend considering the following questions:
- Is my site navigation clean and logical? Is it easy for a browser to find what they’re looking for?
- Is my site well-designed? Does it feel professional and reputable?
- Is it obvious that my checkout process is secure?
- Do my pages load quickly?
- Are my calls-to-action clear? Do they stand out?
There are so many more questions we could ask to assess the overall health of our online sales funnel. But this is a good start. And if the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then there is definitely some user experience work that needs to be done.
Remember, having a good user experience is a critically important part of having a healthy funnel. All the relevant traffic in the world won’t do much good if your shopping experience is sub par. And let’s not forget the offline components of user experience. You might also ask yourself these questions.
- Do your products ship quickly?
- When your customer opens their package to get their new pair of shoes, are they delighted by what they see and how they feel?
- If their shoes come in the wrong size, is it easy and painless for them to make a return?
- If they have to call in to get customer support, are they treated like a human being?
The answers to all of these questions also impact the overall product and user experience. If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then you will likely have a very high conversion rate of website visitors to actual buyers. Additionally, since those buyers will have a good experience both online and offline, they’ll be very likely to buy from you again as well as tell their friends about their experience.
NOTE: In many cases, you might not be sure if your user experience is good enough. For instance, you might like your website design, but many business owners do not have a knack for design, much less formal training. So you may well be flat out unsure. If that’s the case, then it’s best to leverage usability testing to see what likely buyers think about your design and, more importantly, how they interact with it.
Words to live by
I know this can feel a bit overwhelming (Funnels and visitors and testing – oh my!). But the main point here is to help you identify what levers are driving the health of your online sales funnel and feel empowered to get those levers working for (and not against) you. If you are still feeling overwhelmed, then just ignore everything you read above and focus on these three principles that you can apply over and over again.
- It’s most important to know your target audience. If you know your target audience well, then you can create products and solutions that meet their needs, build relationships with them where they like to congregate, and tailor messaging and customer support to best resonate with them. It makes everything else better.
- Dominate. Don’t dabble. Your time is your most precious resource. When you have several marketing channels that could bring you relevant leads, it’s best to pick one channel to tackle at a time. You’ll be more successful really owning one channel rather than piddling around trying 4 different channels at the same time.
- Smart marketers test. User experience is a hugely important part of your business, and it’s vital to make sure that new site visitors and (especially) buyers are having a remarkable experience doing business with you. Run usability testing to assess this from the customer’s point of view.
I’d love to hear your about your experiences tackling your online sales funnel. What successes have you had? And what challenges? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂
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