A sales funnel is a strategic process that, in essence, creates customers. It’s a literal step-by-step process that transitions potential customers or clients, into purchasers and repeat purchasers.
The ‘sales journey’ is broken down into stages – with tools such as emails, blogs, videos and eBooks aiding your potential client in moving along in their decision making process.
There is a compelling argument for rural businesses (which form a huge part of the equestrian industry), having a set strategy in place to harness digital marketing in this way. Namely that they need to make the most of online marketing, as they lack the footfall and on-street exposure that inner town/city and urban businesses benefit from. What’s more, for those in the business-to-business realm, it’s also worth considering that your competitors may already have this form of strategy in place.
If you don’t have a sales funnel already set up, then it’s certainly an element of your marketing that you should consider. Here we take a look at how a sales funnel can achieve the goal that every business aims for – a non-stop flow of consistent business.
What is a sales funnel?
A sales funnel is a journey where businesses will move through three groups:
Leads > Prospects > Customers
Let’s expand on these terms (which may at first appear to be merely marketing jargon).
Leads are the businesses in your target market who are yet to know anything about your brand, product or service.
You need to make leads AWARE that you exist.
Prospects are those businesses in your target market who, after some marketing steps (such as you publishing a blog post or sending an email to a buyer), have discovered your company.
Your need to make your prospects INTERESTED in your offering.
Customers are the straight forward group – those businesses who then make a purchase. However, even at this stage, whilst they may have decided to purchase, they may still be considering what package, product or service they want from you.
You need to help your customers make the right DECISION
Moving your target consumer through the sales funnel
Awareness – When a prospect gains awareness of your brand, they have realised that they have a problem that needs solving. The first point of contact may be a blog post, paid advert or social media post.
Interest – Interest is shown when the prospect begins to seek out a solution to his/her issue. Frequently this could be through a problem (rather than product or service) focused search.
For example, an equestrian retailer with a desire to boost their profit margins, may type in “equestrian retail how to boost profit”; however, they wouldn’t type in “equestrian wholesaler” or “horse rug manufacturer”. This is where content creation is critical. Your content strategy should be based solely around providing advice that helps your target market address their problem. Through your content you should subtly suggest that your product or service solves their problem. If you successfully create content of value (e.g. that understands your audience) then this suggestion will be taken care of.
Taking the same example from above, an equestrian wholesaler may create a blog post on the products with the largest margin – and go on to explain how to boost sales of said product. Meanwhile, a horse rug manufacturer may focus solely on educating businesses as to how they can make more sales, or more margin, through promotions of their product.
Decision – When a buyer reaches the decision stage the individual is ready to commit to your solution. Through the various points of contact (such as email, blogs etc.) they will have reached a stage where they trust your business. However they’re still exploring – considering various packages, options, products and mulling over available information to inform this purchase. Common tools to convert at this stage include sales pages, direct calls and brochures (although again, this all depends on your business).
If we continue with the examples we’ve already spoken of, then wholesalers or manufacturers may well send brochures to help the buyer in deciding which products are right for them; if the product in question is complex, then video content (such as an explainer video) may help the buyer in better understanding their needs, and how a product may fit within their range.
Beyond the three stages…
When a business makes a purchase the funnel has achieved its aim. However beyond this stage, for some, there are further stages that create a loop. This doesn’t apply to all forms of companies, however given that you’re in the business-to-business realm, it’s likely that your target market does have repeat needs for your product or service. If they do, then further marketing may ensure that continual communication secures ongoing business (which can be achieved through email marketing, blogging, direct mail and phone calls).
The sales funnel – Essential tools for each stage
Social networks (Awareness)
Social networks are intertwined with every aspect of personal and business life – you simply can’t afford to ignore them. First, begin by understanding your target market’s social media habits – find out where they’re spending their time, and focus your efforts on those platforms. Look for networking groups for the equestrian community and pages that focus on industry news. Get involved in conversations and contribute your knowledge.
Consider whether there are niche social platforms built for your exact area of business. For those who work in the niche equestrian creative realm.
Comment on other pages and profiles with valuable insight (note here that the operative word is valuable – don’t simply spam your link wherever you’re able).
You may also want to explore social media paid adverts – to serve up your content in front of people who’ve already shown interest in similar companies.
Cold calling and direct mail (Awareness)
Whilst we have focused so far solely on digital means of discovering leads, that’s not to say that traditional methods don’t hold value – indeed, for some businesses they may well be the most effective of all (particularly where the target markets don’t live their lives online).
Cold calling when undertaken by professionals can be incredibly effective. Despite what you may have heard, this medium results in companies securing 50% of sales when they’re the first business to contact the buyer in question.
Equally, if you’re dead set on a less aggressive tact, then direct mail may well be the way forward. This too, has garnered somewhat of an unsavoury reputation – when in fact the stats behind this form of marketing are illuminating.
“Direct mail outperforms all digital channels by nearly 700% in terms of response rates” (DMA)
Networking events (Awareness)
Putting a human face to a brand name and meeting people in person can pay literal dividends. Interactions at networking events can also help your discover new ways in which you can solve the problems that your customers face. This form of building a customer base is often essential if you’re a business-to-business company. These events may also have speaking opportunities – which are a great way of demonstrating your knowledge.
Blogs (Awareness and interest)
Blogging is so powerful for capturing the interest of leads and educating them onwards to becoming a customer. When creating content for your blog, consider using the 80/20 rule – 80% content that’s useful and user focused, 20% content that’s promotional and product or service focused.
Downloadable content/course (Interest)
Known as lead magnets, free content is ideal for harvesting those emails that could then be harnessed for one-to-one communications. Couple an informative eBook or video course that helps your target business in understanding their problem, and you’ll also be building trust and a brand image that shouts ‘go-to expert/supplier or manufacturer’.
Webinars (Decision and action)
Webinars provide a great way of opening up communication – when people view webinars (at least when done correctly) they feel connected to a business. What’s more, having invested some of their precious time, they’re already half committed to a purchase.
Video (All stages)
Video explainers are engaging, bite-size consumable and social media friendly. If you can create video content that addresses your target market’s current problem, or explores their concerns just before they’re ready to commit, then you have a tool that will seamlessly move an individual from one stage of the funnel, to the next.
Ultimately perfecting your sales funnel can be a long and demanding process, however the results achieved with an effective sales funnel in place can be practically unparalleled.
If you need even further guidance as to how you can get to grips with content marketing, feel free to contact us.
Tel: 01953 851513. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org