If you’ve been struggling to increase your sales despite creating better offers, raising prices, and offering more value, it’s time to look at your sales funnel. Actually, it’s time to scrutinize your sales funnel with the eyes of a detective.

The term “sales funnel” sounds like a strategy that generates automatic or easy sales. However, a sales funnel is an organized system designed to move leads through a step-by-step process that eventually makes the sale. Multiple steps in the sales funnel gives you more control over how and when you present an offer to your leads.

No matter how great your offers are, if you’re not extending those offers to the right people at the right time, your sales will remain flat. A well-structured sales funnel will deliver these offers correctly. If you’ve tried everything else but you’re still struggling with sales, your sales funnel might have some leaks or disconnected components.

An intentionally engineered sales funnel directs offers to the correct leads

Your sales funnel is what allows you to reach your leads and customers in the most efficient way possible. A properly engineered sales funnel is able to track and identify where each lead is in the customer journey. This, in turn, allows you to market relevant offers and messages to customers based on where they are.

For instance, when a lead is still in the research phase, you can market to them with information to help them make the decision to buy. When a lead is ready to buy, you can market to them with more aggressive sales copy. You don’t want to send aggressive sales copy to someone who isn’t ready to buy – that’s a turn off.

How do you know who’s ready to buy and who’s not? How do you know what offers each lead should receive? It begins with collecting data and segmenting your leads according to what that data tells you about them. Data is a vital foundation for every sales funnel. A collection of data forms a pattern, and that pattern reveals information that couldn’t otherwise be seen.

You need a data-centric sales funnel

In addition to segmenting leads as they come in, you should be collecting data on customer behavior every step of the way. By tracking which links they click on in emails, their browsing history, purchase history, and more, you’ll end up with a pattern that will allow you to accurately categorize them for targeted marking.

An interesting example of how analyzing data can provide profound insight is how the KGB accurately identified undercover CIA agents during the Cold War. Their accuracy seemed like magic, but it was just great data analysis. They gathered publicly available information on deployed U.S. Foreign Service personnel, data from allied countries, and learned that their agents’ housing and pay patterns were different from those who were posing as State Department officers. For example, the data showed:

  • Undercover CIA agents had a higher pay scale than real FSOs.
  • Real FSOs usually returned home after a 3-4 year tour while CIA agents didn’t.
  • When CIA agents returned home, they didn’t show up in State Department listings.
  • Real FSOs attended the three-month training session at the Institute for Foreign Service.
  • CIA agents were often reposted within the same country while real FSOs never were.

This same level of insight is available to businesses that continually capture data from their leads. Knowing where your leads come from, what they’re interested in, what links they click on, and where they go after being exposed to your ads is priceless to the sales process.

Intentionally craft every step in your sales funnel

It’s not enough to create a series of 10 emails that get drip-fed to new leads over a period of two months and hope you get clicks and sales. It’s also not enough to dump leads into a queue for your sales team to schedule follow-up calls.

Yes, CRM software like Infusionsoft, Ontraport, and Salesforce make it easy to automate these and other processes, and you should be utilizing this technology. However, to be effective, these separate components need to be integrated into an overarching multi-step strategy. Without the integration of all automated processes, none of these processes are effective.

Each step in the sales process is actually an offer, beginning with the opportunity to receive a free download in exchange for an email address. If you don’t have a lead magnet, your sales process starts with whatever step you use to get people interested. For instance, if you’re a mail order business and you offer free information to anyone who writes to you, that ad is your first step in the sales process, even for people who don’t write. When a person received their requested information, that’s your opportunity to present them with a new, more interesting offer.

Keep increasing the offers as people move along their journey

Offers often start out free, but gradually require the lead to invest some cash. Even if it’s just $4.95 for shipping and handling to receive another free offer. Make sure you keep increasing the value of the offers you send your leads, and make sure those offers are relevant to each lead.

“Every offer is actually a series of offers designed to increase purchase size,” says ClickFunnels marketing expert Becky DeGrossa in an Ultimate Guide to Sales Funnels. This guide is a must-read. It’s packed with valuable information on building effective sales funnels from the ground up and busts some major myths and misconceptions.

The guide also describes, in-depth, the AIDA marketing model developed in the late 19th century by sales pioneer Elias St. Elmo Lewis. This model is used by marketing gurus everywhere, for good reason: it works.

AIDA stands for Attraction, Interest, Desire, Action. The ideal marketing campaign will grab people’s attention, capture their interest, create a desire for your product or service, and get them to take action to make a purchase.

A good sales funnel will continually create interest and desire throughout the various stages and steps. This is accomplished by continually creating new and interesting offers.

Some leads need to be gradually encouraged to put some skin in the game through multiple free offers that eventually require paying for shipping. Once they’ve got some money invested in your brand, you can begin presenting them with the offer for your main product or service.

As you collect more information about your leads, you can start tailoring your offers to appeal to their specific preferences. For instance, if you’re using Infusionsoft as a CRM, you can automatically tag leads based on the links they click in your emails. Links are one of the best ways to get leads to tell you what they’re interested in.

For example, say you sell pet products for both dogs and cats. A powerful and effective marketing campaign requires the ability to send ads specifically about cat products to cat owners, and send ads specifically about dog products to dog owners. If you didn’t ask your leads about this when they signed up, just send them an email asking them to click one link if they own a dog, and another if they own a cat. Or, a third link if they own both.

You probably want to cloak this in a well-written, entertaining newsletter that makes people want to click. Provided you’ve programmed your CRM to automatically apply tags, those clicks will allow you to start sending further targeted offers.

A good sales funnel requires intentionally crafted steps, and isn’t just “set it and forget it.” It’s a continual process of asking for more information, documenting that information automatically, and using that data to continue marketing.

The customer journey map is the pattern that emerges

The customer journey map tells the story of the customer’s experience with your brand. “It may focus on a particular part of the story or give an overview of the entire experience,” says SailThru.  “What it always does is identify key interactions that the customer has with the organization. It talks about the user’s feelings, motivations and questions for each of these touchpoints.”

The journey map also paints the picture of the customer’s greater motivation – the data you need for crafting an effective sales funnel.

Always keep segmenting and match offers accordingly

Categorizing leads is essential because it tells you how to interact with them.

Although it’s a mechanical process, a properly structured sales funnel doesn’t push all leads through the same steps in the same order. When leads are collected, they need to be segmented or tagged in order to categorize them.

For instance, say you get a new lead to sign up for your newsletter. They receive a welcome email and click the link inviting them to download a free ebook. This lead should be automatically tagged for showing interest in your product. As this lead continues to click links in your email messages, they should be further tagged and moved to a segment designated for people who actively take interest in your products (even if they don’t buy). These leads will be easier to sell than those who never click on your links.

Tailor your sales funnel components to your product and market

The traditional sales model involves an assembly-line-style process of gathering leads, performing sales pitches, and following up. This worked great when all decision-makers were in the same house or building. It doesn’t work so well today.

Not every business should build a sales funnel based on the traditional sales model.  Some products, like enterprise software, don’t benefit from the traditional sales presentation. The geographical distribution of decision-makers renders traditional sales pitches ineffective in this market. Today, many of these businesses expect a collaborative whiteboard experience, not a scripted pitch.

Each component you employ as part of your sales funnel should execute data-driven action. Nothing should be random.

Prioritize data if you want to see sales soar

According to ConversionXL.com, a CMO Council study confirmed that “over 50% of global marketers report that they have fair, little, or no knowledge of the customer demographic, behavioral, psychographic and transactional data. Just 6% say they have excellent knowledge of the customer.”

To be fair, this study was performed back in 2007-2008. Still, there’s no excuse for businesses to skip this important aspect of marketing.

Even as of 2014, according to the article linked above, 8 out of 10 marketers were relying on customer acquisition to generate sales rather than retaining their existing customers – a strategy that’s actually cheaper.

Also, the Consultancy’s Cross Channel Marketing Report from 2014 reported that only 2 in 5 companies surveyed “understand customer journeys and adapt the channel mix accordingly.” Unfortunately, this is what happens when you don’t understand the importance of a data-driven sales funnel.

Thankfully, most popular applications used by web marketers come with features that capture and categorize data automatically, as long as you program what you want it to capture. The solution is to spend more time strategizing to create offers that appeal to people at various stages in the customer journey. The more accurately you can market to your leads, the more sales you’ll get.

Frank Landman

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.