Let's talk about sales funnels.
Specifically, the customers' journey through a sales funnel. Because, at the end of the day, that is who it's all for, right? The customer?
(Yeah, I know. I'm skeptical too.)
First, let's define what a sales funnel actually is.
Google says it's the "buying process that companies lead customers through when purchasing products."
Which...sounds simple enough.
I have a thing, and I want you to buy it. In order to get you to buy the thing then, there's a process and steps and stuff.
At its most basic, a funnel has three parts:
- Lead generation
- Client/customer nurturing
You bring them in by empathizing with a problem they have, get them to Know, Like, Trust you, and then you close.
The ways in which you do this are infinite, but the reality of it is that if you try to skip any of these steps, your business won't be sustainable long-term.
"Okay. Well... what do I even need to build a sales funnel for???
The whole point of a sales funnel is that it allows you to create duplicable processes for lead generation, client or customer nurturing, and conversion.
It's not always that simple, but for the most part, building a funnel allows me to figure out what works and what doesn't when it comes to all of the operational parts of your business. Lead magnet, email list, social media, products or services, etc.
Which means that guiding a prospect through your funnel is going to be the easiest way to scale your business model (note that it's not the only way—just the easiest).
So the very first thing I have to do is...
Convince you that you have a problem.
"No Briar, I didn't sign up for this."
"That's gross, and I'm not here for that."
And if you think that's bad, just wait until we start talking about pain points!!!
Here's the deal.
We buy things because they solve problems. Or are pretty. Or are useful. Or make something work better.
But at the end of the day, almost all of those reasons come back to solving a specific problem. (Possibly except beauty, but most humans consider a lack of aesthetics a problem, so even pretty things have a function.)
What that means is that in order to sell your product, the very first thing you must do is identify the problem that it solves, and then, talk about that problem.
In as many different ways as possible.
So that I can...
Convince you that a solution exists for your problem.
Once you're aware that the problem exists, then we have to talk about the solution.
So, if you're a productivity coach, you talk about specific ways to take back your time, knowing that your clients will need your help to implement those systems.
If you're a jewelry designer, you talk about all the places to wear your pretty baubles, so that your clients will buy those pretty baubles, possibly commissioning custom baubles or wholesale bauble orders.
If you're an author, you talk about how your books build worlds that people want to get lost in, so that they buy more books.
I build sales funnels. So here I am, talking about funnels. Don't make it hard.
But!!! We're not pitching yet! Because as a buyer, we're still exploring potential solutions.
We're feeling our way into it, with all those adjectives we like to mock Gwyneth Paltrow for on social media. Organically. Collectively. Holistically. (She can keep conscious uncoupling, tho.)
There's a really fine line here, between talking about solutions, and selling used cars.
It's like those direct sales pitches you get in your inbox—the entrepreneurial equivalent of the unsolicited dick pic. Most of them are incredibly cringe-worthy and generally unsuccessful. Because I don't know you. I don't know your product or service. So your solution is worthless.
These days, I want you to buy me dinner first before you slide up into my DMs.
The truth is, we buy very differently than we used to. We value relationships and recommendations.
This isn't to say that you can't cold pitch. I love a good cold pitch. But it HAS to be incredibly targeted to be effective. Several of my current clients are people that I originally approached with a cold offer.
I planted seeds, and waited. And waited some more.
What we're actually doing is building sustainable relationships.
And the absolute best way to do that is for me to hold your hand, and...
Gently lead you to the product or service.
Notice I didn't say browbeat.
We're solving a problem here, not creating shame.
Aaaaannd this is where we really get into the meat of it.
Because for decades, most product advertisements crammed all three of these steps into one advertorial. Problem, solution, AND product, in one fell swoop.
That's a lot of information to digest at once, so the best way to force it down your throat is to play to your emotions.
It's the very definition of clickbait, only in visual form, and we've been doing it for DECADES.
And we're all sick and fucking tired of it.
Which effectively means that if I don't know you, I ain't buying your shit.
Let's look at some numbers here.
These are sales conversion rates for B2B and B2C businesses in 2016, in a survey conducted by Amplifinity.
- Verbal referrals — 32 percent result in sales
- Lead forms — 19 percent result in sales
- Email — 17 percent result in sales
- Print cards — 12 percent result in sales
- Shareable URL — 4 percent result in sales
- Social media — 1 percent result in sales
Not only is your list not dead, neither is your referral program. (Also not included here are speaking engagements, in-person events, conferences, trade shows, etc. The conversion rate on live events is VERY high.)
And this is amazing news for you!
This effectively means that we now buy based on social proof, and NOT pushing pain points. We aren't okay with buying out of guilt. We no longer want to feel obligated to purchase. And we resent the hell out of forced reciprocity.
There are no official numbers on this that I can find, but I've compared notes with a few other respected funnel designers. And the average course return rate is as high as 20%.
That's ONE IN FIVE, my friends. That's insanity. Average membership retention rate? Less than 60%. These are terrible numbers.
What that means then, is that the traditional high pressure sales funnels may drive sales, but they don't drive customer satisfaction. They don't drive referrals, and they don't drive retention.
That's a real problem, because we haven't even gotten to the important bit yet.
The part where I...
Convince you to buy my product.
This too sounds a little too much like a used car salesman, yeah?
"Briar, I don't want to have to convince you. I want you to think my product is so amazing that you're throwing money at me."
But the truth is, no one will ever be as happy to buy your product as you are to sell it.
So if you feel any shame around selling, that's probably gonna present some problems for you.
Because I NEED you to be excited about your product.
I need to know why it's amazing.
Mostly, I need to know how your product is going to solve my problem, AND how it does that better than all the other products that do the exact same thing.
Functionally, what's the difference between a Coke and a Pepsi?
Not a goddamn thing.
And yet, most people have a preference. A strong preference.
Now, my reasons for buying one over the other are varied.
Generally, it's taste.
But maybe there's a sale.
Maybe I like the version made with real sugar.
Maybe I just want to clean my toilet.
Whatever my reasons are, that is what I want to be sold on.
Features → Benefits → Value
Okay, now you know the basics of how a funnel works.
You know the steps you have to walk through to get to a sale.
So then how do you figure out the customer's journey through your funnel? How do you figure out what is most meaningful to your customers or clients?
Well, this might sound a little bitchy, but...have you asked lately?
I'm not talking about your net promoter score, or your last survey. When was the last time you interviewed a client and asked how your product made them feel?
Here's the thing about NPS and other point based questionnaires.
They can't capture the feeling.
You've probably seen some version of this formula before (h/t to Joel Klettke for this one):
"[Solution] provides [Feature] so that you can get/do/achieve [Benefit]."
The features are the tangibles. What, where, when, how, all that stuff.
Benefits then, are intangibles. How the product makes us feel.
Remember how I said that we're all tired of purchasing out of shame? Turns out, there's a lot of that going around.
But we still buy to feel things. These days, our primary motivator is safety. How will this product make my life safer? It may not be guilt, but it's still a close cousin to fear, and it still can feel a little icky to work with.
If your product doesn't solve an actual safety need (like carseats, bike helmets, etc.), then you should probably stay away from this one.
Other feelings include adventure, significance, relationships, wellness, success, growth.
If you're paying attention, you'll note that those things correspond pretty neatly with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which was never a damn pyramid, but instead was meant to inform us of the ways in which our needs and feelings exist in the reality of our lives.
Also known as the intangible benefits of life.
So for decades, marketing has played to those emotions. We've pushed your pain points. Hard.
We've manipulated you to feel a certain way, in order to get you to buy a product.
But there's been a sea change.
More and more, I'm seeing businesses look for a different approach.
What VALUE does my product offer?
It's no longer enough to sell some shitty Chinese knock-off and make a million dollars.
The returns on $20k coaching packages sold out of FB groups are no longer a beacon in the dark (if they ever really were).
And have you looked at all those guys from the good old days of internet millions lately? A large number of them have visibly aged, and not in pleasant ways.
What this says is that your customers aren't stupid, and they won't stick around if you don't make it worth their while.
So how do you determine the value of your product?
First, this one also requires a definition, because value is an important word.
- The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
- A person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life.
- Estimate the monetary worth of (something).
- Consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.
So, this isn't just about pricing, although that's certainly a factor.
And it's clear that our values are as intrinsic as emotion, because they exist for their own sake.
Most of the time when we talk about value in business circles, we're talking about the monetary exchange, rather than a person's standards or priorities. I'd argue that there is no discernible difference.
It's just that we don't want to talk about the fact that wealth, and the creation of it, is an acceptable value to have. It's not for everyone and doesn't have to be, but it isn't inherently evil. (Especially if you're pursuing generational or community wealth.)
So once you get over that, you can dive deep and take a closer look. What do your customers value? What are they passionate about? What lights them up?
How can you incorporate those values into your marketing?
How will you show those values corresponding to the problem you solve?
Finally, how do those values correspond to your products, now and in the future?
Figure that out, and you'll create customer loyalty that's almost impossible to fuck up.
It's customer loyalty that sustains a business long-term.
When your customers like what you stand for, they'll buy your shitty burnt coffee in airports and grocery stores, or your chicken sandwiches six days a week. Not on Sundays though. We're closed.
This does mean that you won't be for everyone, but I firmly believe that the more your audience can self-select out, the more they'll self-select in, too.
Because if we like what you stand for, we'll come back, over and over.
We'll tell our friends.
We'll listen to your podcast. (Because you like kid's movies and foul language.)
And we'll buy everything you ever make.
This is important, as it's about three times easier to convert an existing customer than it is to create a new one.
And at the end of the day, this approach benefits those customers the most. Because if you can create things that you know your existing customer base will love, and that will add measurable value to their lives, then you will have actually done what you set out to do when you started your business in the first place.
And THAT'S what you build the fucking funnel for.