Want to transform total strangers into not only loyal customers but brand evangelists? The secret is in the funnel . . . the sales funnel, that is.

Your sales funnel lays out a clear roadmap for how a lead navigates through their customer’s journey and your sales pipeline. The specific “stages” can vary—sometimes there are more, sometimes fewer—but generally, they’re defined by what the client is thinking or doing in regards to your offering.

Source: FitSmallBusiness

The reason this process is visualized in the shape of a funnel is that it represents the total number of customers at a particular stage. Nobody has a conversion rate of 100%, and you’re going to have some natural drop-off with each step.

What Are the Stages of the Sales Funnel?

The six stages of the sales funnel are awareness, discovery, evaluation, intent, purchase and loyalty.

In this case, the funnel we’re going to take a closer look at is:

  • Awareness: Prospect Leads
  • Discovery: Qualify Leads
  • Evaluation: Make an Offer
  • Intent: Negotiate
  • Purchase: Convert
  • Loyalty: Deliver and Evangelize

Want to know how to create your own sales funnel? Read on to discover step-by-step what each stage entails and how you can crush it.

1. Awareness: Prospect Leads

Awareness refers to the lead’s awareness of their problem—particularly, the one you solve. It will always be at the very top of your sales funnel for one simple reason: people can’t buy your solution if they don’t know that they need it.

This is where leads enter your funnel, and so your success attracting customers here will directly correlate with your total number of conversions down the road. The more people who are aware they have a problem, the better—and it’s your job to make it happen through lead prospecting.

Lead prospecting is the way you identify and connect with potential customers, and the techniques used fall into one of two categories: outbound and inbound marketing.

Source: HQ SEO

Outbound marketing is when you actively “go out” in search of leads. This is what you may consider traditional marketing—think cold calling, cold emailing, advertising, asking for referrals, going to trade show, etc. Basically, you’re spending your time and money to try to find the diamond in the rough . . . and generally, are sorting through the rough by hand.

Inbound marketing is when you lay the groundwork so that leads can come to you. Typically this is done by offering free content that is adjacent to your solution and demonstrates your expertise in the area, like a blog or social media. Inbound marketing is slower than outbound marketing because it’s about building trust and relationships over time—not selling outright. But it’s also way more affordable and evergreen.

Usually, teams will utilize a mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques. To figure out what you should do in your unique situation, build out a customer avatar, which is essentially a profile for your ideal client. Getting to know your audience will help you determine where they hang out and how you may best appeal to them.

2. Discovery: Qualify Leads

After your client knows they have a problem, they begin to search for the best solution—also known as the Discovery phase. At this point in time, they’re hoping to “discover” all the options available to them.

When you’re looking to buy something, how do you choose? Imagine, for example, that you need a new vacuum cleaner. To pick one, you might:

  • Research what features you would like
  • Ask friends and family for recommendations
  • Read online reviews
  • Browse home goods and appliances stores

As the customer, you’re accumulating a list of options to consider before eventually narrowing down your search. So, what should a seller be doing to be sure you discover their product? The answer is qualifying leads.

Qualifying leads means determining which leads are a good fit for your offering. To do this, you want to return to the customer avatar we mentioned before. What do your ideal customers look like? Which leads fit that description the best?

Source: Digital Marketer

To return to our vacuum example, if you sell Roombas, not every single person looking to buy a vacuum is your ideal customer. You aren’t targeting hospitals, factories, or housekeepers—you’re targeting middle to upper-middle-class families. There’s no point wasting money and time trying to sell to people who don’t fit, so at this stage, your goal is to help leads weed themselves out.

This can be accomplished in several ways. If you are an account manager and have the time to dedicate to individual leads, you may qualify leads manually—that is, by using your CRM to see which leads line up with your ideal customer in terms of industry, business size, revenue, needs, etc. If you are selling to a broader audience, generally you can weed out clients by crafting your inbound and outbound marketing strategy to target a specific type of person.

For example, instead of cold-calling every single business who may need parts manufactured, you only cold-call businesses that make more than $5 million a year.

Leads who qualify become known as prospects, or prospective clients. It’s better to have one qualified prospect than one hundred unqualified leads, so don’t be afraid to niche down.

3. Evaluation: Make an Offer

Once a prospect has compiled a list of potential solutions, they enter the Evaluation stage. This is when they weigh their options to determine what offer best suits their needs. Some things that make massive differences here are:

  • Price
  • Success guarantees (money back, etc.)
  • Features
  • Benefits
  • Testimonials

During this time, your prospect is comparing your solution with your competitors’. As a seller, it’s your job to craft the most compelling offer you can. And the truth is, we all love shiny packaging. So, how can you make your proposal stand out from the rest?

Source: Sales Force‌‌

If you offer custom-tailored solutions to your clients, you may have the ability to really make a unique proposal or pitch for your prospect. In this case, you want to consider personalized touches like tone, specific timeline, exact deliverables, references to their specific problems that you will solve, budget breakdown, etc. Essentially, you want to show your client that you’ve gone the extra mile to pay attention to exactly what they need.

If you offer broader solutions, you can still do pretty packaging—just maybe not quite so custom. For example, you may offer every customer a money-back guarantee. Putting this up-front can give your client the added peace of mind they need to sign on the dotted line.

Running into difficulties getting deals over the finish line? Before you assume the product or service itself isn’t working, return to the language of your offer—it could be that your solution is excellent, but you’re explaining it in a way that doesn’t speak to the prospects’ current headspace.

4. Intent: Negotiate

If you haven’t noticed already, we’re really taking a look at each micro-decision your prospects make—and this next stage is no different. “Intent” can mean different things depending on who you ask. And, to make things even more complicated, the placement of the stage in the sales funnel can vary.

“Intent” is the prospects’ intention to buy. If you place this stage earlier in the funnel, it would go between Discovery and Evaluation and would represent that the lead is a serious shopper—instead of casually browsing, they intend to buy.

Source: Up Lead‌‌

If you place this stage where we do—between Evaluation and Purchase—it refers to the time when your prospect has chosen your product but hasn’t yet signed the dotted line.

We think the placement here is most helpful if you are making custom proposals and offer solutions at a higher price point because it gives you another opportunity to consciously move clients through their customer journey.

For example, during this time, many prospects may opt into a free trial, request a product demo, or schedule a consultation. This gives you an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of your product and learn more about their use case so you can give more specific data to help them in their decision, like KPI improvements for businesses like theirs.

Assuming your proposal is a bit more complex, this is also the time when you may negotiate. If so, here are some principles to keep in mind:

  • Decide ahead of time what concessions you’re willing to make
  • Be sure you’re negotiating with the person who can actually pull the trigger
  • Don’t “split the difference”
  • Approach the negotiation like a trusted partner—not a seller
  • Emphasize benefits instead of features
  • Be willing to walk away if the offer isn’t right
  • Avoid negotiation no-nos

Negotiating is what many people think of when they hear the word “selling,” and it can be a bit daunting. But just remember that the objective of any negotiation is to come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial. Your prospect will benefit from your solution, and you’ll benefit from your prospect’s business, so there is more than likely a scenario that’s a win-win for all parties.

Relying on your empathy is also a great way to close the deal. Check out this article to see five awesome empathy-driven sales closing techniques.

5. Purchase: Convert

Finally, you’ve made it! You’ve wooed your lead, ensured they’re your ideal customer, beat out the competition, made the offer, negotiated the proposal, and now it’s time to seal the deal. You’ve officially entered the Purchase stage of the sales funnel.

This is when the prospect “Converts” into a client or customer. But your work is far from done. As a sales representative, it’s your job to make sure that the conversion process goes as smoothly as possible—and to take advantage of any possible upsell or cross-sell opportunities.

It may seem obvious, but you want to make purchasing as easy as possible for your customers. Simplify, simplify, simplify—make walking across the finish line a breeze by:

  • Minimizing the amount of additional information they must give you
  • Emphasizing your benefits (yes, still!)
  • Offering to walk them through the process (on the phone, in-person, or with a live-chat)
  • Including FAQs or testimonials (if the process is online)
  • Accepting multiple payment methods (simple but important!)

Upselling and cross-selling are can’t-miss opportunities to take a deal to the next level. In fact, business-to-business companies generate an average of 90% of their customer lifetime value (CLV) after the initial sale. So, take the time to offer your customer something else that you know would benefit them even more, whether it’s an upgrade or related solution.

Source: Instapage‌‌

Did your prospect stall out at this stage? Don’t worry, it happens—all it means is that it’s time to follow-up with your prospects. If all seemed well and then for some reason the customer never pulled the trigger, be sure to touch base. It might be that something changed and now the customer needs to circle back to another stage in the funnel.

6. Loyalty: Deliver and Evangelize

You’ll sometimes see this stage called “delight.” By this point in time, you’ve already sealed the deal and (presumably) gotten paid. So now it’s all about blowing the customer away so that you can retain them longterm and earn their referrals.

Obviously, customer retention is a basic goal here—once you’ve earned a customer, you want to keep them. Some simple but effective ways to accomplish this socially are checking in regularly with your customers, meeting up for coffee, updating them with new offerings, sending thank you cards, and just generally treating clients like friends rather than accounts.

Source: Super Office‌‌

And, because we love analytics at Map My Customers, you can also use data to predict which clients may churn and win them back before it’s too late.

In terms of evangelizing, referrals are one of the most valuable assets your company can have. 92% of people say they trust a referral given to them by a person they know. You can encourage referrals by incentivizing your customers when they do so, or by just asking.

Putting It All Together

In sales, it’s all about closing the deal as efficiently as possible. Once you have a sales funnel that works, it’s time to optimize your pipeline to make it easier, more cost-effective, and less time-consuming. To do this, audit your funnel and find places where leads are dropping off. For example, if you have a lot of people who ask for demos but aren’t converting, maybe reconsider how you structure your demos and the type of information you give during them.