Having structured sales funnel stages mapped out will give you and your team insight into your buyer’s journey. Armed with this information, your sales efforts can more effectively meet the needs of prospects and data-backed sales management decisions can be made to help skyrocket sales efficiency. Thus, creating a more reliable revenue stream.
But, you may be wondering where to start when it comes to how to build a sales funnel. Plus, even more importantly, how to ensure it will enable your team to be effective. We’ve got you covered! In this article, we’ll break down what a sales funnel is, the steps to take to build one, and how to make sure your sales funnel will help optimize sales revenue.
What Is a Sales Funnel Exactly?
Every customer goes through a buying journey, going from never having heard of your company to (ideally) being a long-term customer. This buying journey is depicted in what is known as a sales funnel.
Unlike the sales pipeline, which is from the seller’s side of the process and includes all of the sales activities that your team performs, the sales funnel maps out each stage of your customer’s journey. It is known as a “funnel” because, much like an actual funnel, the initial/top stage where a prospect first hears about your product or service is the largest section, with the largest number of leads. Then, each stage gets smaller and smaller as it goes down the process and leads are qualified and worked and prospects decide to buy (or not).
Understanding what exactly your sales funnel looks like and the process it entails will help you and your team start to seamlessly move prospects from leads to customers.
From a managerial perspective, with clear sales funnel stages, you’ll be armed with the information needed to proactively take advantage of growth opportunities, pinpoint unnecessary friction on the buying journey, and plan for long-term growth.
There are four core stages of a basic sales funnel:
- Awareness - The prospect first hears about your product or service.
- Interest - The prospect evaluates your offering against their level of interest and your competitors.
- Decision - The prospect is ready to make a decision and is trying to determine the best option for them.
- Action - The prospect takes action and either buys your offering (or not).
The specific sales funnel stages can vary depending on the business but they will always revolve around those four major aspects.
How to Build a Sales Funnel Step by Step
Mapping out what the sales funnel looks like for your business doesn’t have to be rocket science. Here are four steps to follow to get you started:
Step #1 - Outline the Target Audience
The first place to start in visualizing the buyer’s journey is to pinpoint the characteristics that your target audience shares. You have to dive deeper than just standard demographics. Try to uncover what challenges and pain points your audience is really facing and how your team/products could help. Understanding what drives your prospects will help make your sales funnel more effective and easier to complete.
Use hard data to put together the most accurate picture. This data can be pulled from places like:
- Your sales CRM
- Your customer service agents
- Customer surveys
- Social media insights
- Your website’s Google Analytics demographics and interests data
Check out our post on the best sales funnel software tools.
Step #2 - Create Buyer Personas
Now it’s time to take that research and bring it to life by creating buyer personas. Group your customers into a persona based on what your customers want from your product, how they will use it, and the most beneficial features for them. Then you can craft a detailed buyer’s journey for that persona. (See step #3)
Make sure to create a buyer persona for each main group in your audience and use them to guide your team’s sales process.
Step #3 - Map Out What Your Sales Funnel Looks Like
Now that you have more information about what the target audience and buyer personas look like and how your products or services may be solutions for them, you can start to map out what your business’ sales funnel looks like. Start with the four core stages mentioned above and go from there as necessary.
If your sales CRM does not have the capability to enable you to visualize and track your sales funnel, there are a variety of sales funnel templates you can start with.
Remember, an effective sales funnel will mirror the sales actions/activities (sales pipeline) of your reps. This means the stages of the sales funnel will revolve around the steps your customers take to go from initially hearing about your product (in the prospecting stage of the sales pipeline) to a closed sale (the closing stage of the pipeline). (More on this in the tips below)
Part of this step should also include looking at your team’s current average win rate. This will help you determine the number of deals you need in each of the early sales funnel stages for your team to meet their sales goals.
Step #4 - Ensure You Continue to Tweak the Sales Funnel as Needed
Once you map out your sales funnel, it is not set in stone forever. Make sure to monitor the sales funnel alongside your team’s sales pipeline to determine where it may need to be tweaked, stages added, or where friction might be occurring.
For example, you may decide that the decision stage of your sales funnel actually needs to be broken down further into Consideration, Intent, and Evaluation stages to better fit your high-value business clients. Or, when evaluating your current sales funnel you may determine that working sales automation into parts of the sales process that involve tedious, time-consuming tasks will reduce friction in the buying journey and free up your reps to better focus on strategy and building long-term relationships.
You also want to ensure your sales reps and customer service agents are keeping in touch with existing customers and fostering those relationships. They can be a great source of feedback to help you and your team continue to improve the buyer’s journey.
11 Tips to Ensure Your Sales Funnel Is Successful:
Make Sure Your Sales Funnel Mirrors Your Team’s Sales Pipeline
To help ensure you are mapping out a complete and accurate sales funnel, it is a good idea to line it up with the other side of the journey.
For each step in your sales funnel, examine what sales actions your reps will take to help move the prospect from one stage to another. For instance, say the prospect is in the interest stage and is using a trial version of your product. What additional information may they need or want at this point to encourage them to convert?
Considering the sales funnel from the rep’s perspective can help you ensure everything is mapped out correctly along the buyer’s journey.
Don’t Overcomplicate Your Funnel
Bigger doesn’t always mean better. Your sales funnel shouldn’t look like a convoluted flow chart or cluttered infographic. It should clearly and simply outline the buyer’s journey for your product or service.
A clear sales funnel means a direct and effective sales pipeline. According to a study by Hubspot, shorter, more direct pipelines provide clearer insight into the opportunities within them, such as which opportunities have had their close dates pushed back—a reliable indicator that it is unlikely to convert. Plus, a more simple pipeline will also free up your employees to spend more time selling and less time on non-selling activities.
Think About the Quality of Your Lead Sourcing
Chances are, your team’s lead sourcing probably could use a refresh. What new lead generation tactics could your team use based on your new sales funnel? Think about the type of prospects that consistently make it all the way through your sales funnel. Are your salespeople researching actual decision-makers like these who can use your product, or are they wasting their time with irrelevant leads?
You want to ensure lead sourcing efforts are driving not just dozens of random leads in, but leads that have a higher chance of being quality prospects. Your sales reps shouldn’t be wasting time pitching leads that have no chance of converting.
“Improving lead quality means measuring, better targeting, educating, creating strategic conversion paths, and optimizing based on the data you build.”
Ellison Jusino, Hooklead
Driving in new, quality leads all comes down to effective prospecting. So, your reps should be letting the insights gained from the sales funnel and your industry help guide where leads are found. For example, CRM mapping tools with built-in lead generation can help boost prospecting efforts, but if your target customers are active on LinkedIn your reps should be utilizing LinkedIn as a prospecting go-to as well.
Your reps need to find the routine that works the best to drive in leads that fit the target audience. These initial prospects would be in the beginning stage of the sales funnel and will help fill the top end of the sales pipeline with high-quality leads.
Separate the Qualified Leads From the Unqualified
When you have clear sales funnel stages mapped out, you’ll be able to see exactly where leads start to separate themselves. This usually happens between the interest and decision stages. Of course, not all leads are going to be ready to buy right away. So, the leads need to actively be qualified and those that are not quite ready to move to a conversion stage need to be separated out. This will laser focus your team’s efforts where it matters most.
Once the leads are separated and qualified, your team can get to work in engaging these leads even further and moving them down the sales funnel.
Evaluate if Your CRM Is Really Still Working For You & Your Team
Even thinking about shifting your data into a new software is enough to make any manager twitch. But, it’s best to decide to fix your sales CRM situation as quickly as possible.
Re-evaluating your needs and wants when it comes to a CRM service will/should take careful thought and a fair amount of time. Do you really understand what is driving prospects through the sales funnel and converting your customers? Is your CRM collecting the right data to enable you to pinpoint new opportunities and overall trends? Does it display it in the right way?
If the answer to these questions is no, it may be time to switch to a new CRM to truly optimize sales success.
Clean Everything Up
Salespeople are generally very optimistic, but a dose of realism needs to happen every so often. Make a routine out of cleaning up, organizing, and assessing the quality of your records. All of the sales data and records should be current, updated, and reasonably formatted.
“Many sales funnels tend to look like a messy fridge — filled with moldy leftovers and expired bottles of salad dressing.”
Michael Stamatinos, Omorfi Inc.
Remember, a clear and simple sales funnel is the catalyst to an effective pipeline. And a smaller pipeline with great leads is better than a huge pipeline filled with low-quality and hard-to-understand opportunities. Plus, keeping it neat will make your analytics more accurate, which will only help you report accurate numbers and forecast helpful trends.
Invest in Content That’s Actually Useful For Your Prospects
This may sound like a no-brainer, but a little content planning can go a long way. Take an honest look at the educational materials and marketing content that you’re offering your prospects and customers.
Does your content feel fresh, on-trend, timely, and relevant? Is it actually answering real questions your prospects have, or is it useless fluff? Think about how you can stand out from the crowd when it comes to your sales content.
Build Consistent Engagement
When your team has a good amount of qualified leads who are in the early stages of the sales funnel, it is important to contact them quickly, start to engage them, and build a rapport. The key here is that your reps become useful sources of solutions that will meet the needs of the prospects.
Engaging with the prospects and starting to build a beneficial relationship means ensuring they get content that will help answer their questions. Your team can use a variety of different ways to determine the type of content or engagement that works best for your target audience. Then work that into the sales process moving forward. Creating a sales cadence with consistent communication and engagement schedules can help with this.
Focus on Early-Stage Opportunities for Improvement in Your Sales Funnel
The point of regular funnel and pipeline reviews is to spur more sales. So, the best place to start is by looking at what is happening at the beginning stages of your buyer’s journey. Look for any places where they may be encountering excess and unnecessary friction in the early stages of the sales funnel. These are opportunities for improvement in the sales process to help streamline the buyer’s journey.
Plus, managers have more clout at the beginning versus the end (when a personal relationship has been cultivated between the salesperson and their customer). Course correction is easier and more effective before a lot of investment has taken place.
“Early-stage opportunities are essential for proper pipeline management… Because late-stage opportunities are out of a manager’s hands.”
Jason Jordan, Vantage Point Performance
Focus on Effective Closing Techniques to Convert Prospects Into Customers
Further down your sales funnel, there should be a good amount of prospects who are more educated on your company’s product or service and have developed a sufficient interest. This is where your reps should be using a variety of effective tactics to give the final push needed to close deals. To help make this as effective as possible, it’s important to remember to:
- Keep sales pages and proposals clear and simple
- Use images or video when possible
- Test multiple call-to-actions (CTAs)
- Make it easy for them to become a customer
Examine Your Oldest Prospective Customers
How quickly does your average sale close? For some lucky companies, it may be a matter of hours, but for others, closing deals may take months. Regardless, keep your current average in mind as you examine your oldest leads.
Considering the factors that caused them to stagnate in the buying journey could illuminate more information, giving you direction on where to make improvements. Also, pairing the age with the step in the funnel or pipeline can reveal very telling trends. Or, at the very least, it may communicate where more training would be helpful for your sales staff.
Clear Sales Funnel Stages Will Help Your Team Drive More Deals to Close
As you can see, having a clear and defined sales funnel in place is critical. Doing so gives your reps the foundation needed to understand the buying journey and perform the most effective sales actions. Thus, enabling them to consistently close deals and meet sales goals.
If you follow the steps and tips above to build robust sales funnel stages, as well as continually look for areas of improvement, you’ll be well on your way to ensuring the success of your team’s sales efforts.
Start confidently building out your sales funnel today!