Creating an Automated Sales Funnel: A Step by Step Guide

Creating an Automated Sales Funnel: A Step by Step Guide

Sales are the lifeblood of any business. Many factors can influence your business’s growth, and there are a ton of competing interests for your attention and energy. The one finite resource that all companies have that may limit your business’s growth is time.

The ability to automate tasks to free up your time, energy, and other resources that allow you to grow your business is crucial.

What is an Automated Sales Funnel?

To understand an automated sales funnel, it’s essential first to understand the term “sales funnel.” A sales funnel describes the steps and flows a potential customer takes with your brand and product. It is the stage in the buying process your client may be at a given time and how you move them toward a decision-making moment. 

Before making any purchase, a consumer, knowingly or not, will base their decision on familiarity with the product and then look at possible other comparative options, including price points. But how do you get a potential customer to the decision stage of their purchase? 

Stages of the Sales Funnel

The sales funnel is the process by which a buyer may, or may not, act and is broken into three stages:

Top of the Funnel: Think of a sales funnel as the phase in the buying process your potential customer may be at any given time. One way to think about the sales funnel is that it is as wide of a target audience as possible in the funnel’s beginning or top.

Middle of the Funnel: This is the stage the audience and potential client has toward possibly buying your offer. 

Bottom of the Funnel: The bottom of the funnel is where the potential for a sale has become an active sale. This phase includes any new customers and any existing customers that can lead to repeat sales. 

Another way to think about each step is that the purchasing journey begins as complete as possible and narrows each step during the process. 

The beginning stage is the widest swath. This stage is where you’re trying to get your brand recognized by as many potential customers as possible. All too often, this stage is the most costly as it tends to be the least focused of your efforts and can lead to cost overruns in your marketing. 

The middle stage is where your potential buyer has become aware of your offerings and is considering buying. Here it is crucial to focus on the persuasive element of your marketing efforts. Providing an incentive for the customer to act is an integral part of your planning at this phase. 

By giving attention to highly targeting your potential customer, you can still attract as wide of an audience as possible and eliminate those who may not have anything but passing interest. 

Finally, the customer has moved from indecisive to action. This phase is the last stage and one where the sale occurs. 

But how do you move a potential customer through the various stages of the sales funnel? 

To move your customer along your sales funnel, you need to address the why, how, and when of their buying process. There are four essential stages of the buying process in the sales funnel.

Those four stages are defined as the AIDA model for marketing.

The AIDA Model

Defined in 1898 by St. Elmo Lewis, the AIDA model identifies how and why personalized selling is effective. Its simple definition of the buying process has allowed it to be widely used and understood since Lewis introduced it.

The process is broken into four phases of the buying process, and understanding each of these phases is essential toward moving the buyer into a purchasing decision.

  • Awareness: The first phase of the AIDA model is to create awareness of your services, products, and offers. Depending on the type of offer you have, brand awareness can take some time. Think about Apple releasing the first iPhone to the market. Most users were unaware of its value, or that of some of Apple’s competitors that were able to adopt the concept quickly and flexibly adapt to the marketplace.
  • Interest: Once your audience is aware of your brand, the next step is the interest phase. Generating interest can be accomplished in many ways, from an exciting marketing approach such as the iconic Apple iPhone ads built off the awareness and brand loyalists created by the iPod marketing strategy.
  • If you recall, the iPod advertising was of silhouettes and famous people going about their daily activity while dancing and listening to their iPods. This strategy created a demand for consumers to strive for the happiness and joy that the iPod promised.
  • Desire: The desire phase follows after brand awareness and interest. If the first two phases are implemented correctly, your produce or service will be more valuable and interest increased. This process is because you’ve virtually eliminated those customers that may be indecisive and unsure of your brand at this point of the process.
  • Effectively improving your potential customer’s sense of desire is achieved by creating a personal, emotional attachment to your brand. Much like the loyalty shown by adherents to the Apple brand, what you choose to offer, how you show the customer that it’s beneficial for them, goes a long way in increasing their desire for your products.
  • Action: The most coveted phase of the personal buying process is the action stage. Here is where the sale is made, and the services are bought. Getting your target customer to this stage rarely happens, but it is one you need to spur with a definite call to action, but one that doesn’t come across as pushy. If all the leading steps before this stage are done correctly, you give the buyer permission to act on what they desire.

One last stage that is occasionally discussed is the retention phase. By offering upsells or product enhancements and improvements, you can create a brand loyal customer that will continue to purchase your products.

Again, think about the loyalty of major brands such as Apple. Most of their customers may have bought an initial, lower-priced product such as an iPod or earlier version iPhone and then moved on to the next iteration of the iPhone or personal computer as Apple iterated their devices with upgrades performance improvements.

Why Create Automated Sales Funnels?

As sales are what makes or breaks any business, the ability to grow and increase sales is your business’s security. Whether it is to increase new business or build on existing sales, you know the need to continue to grow.

To focus your energy on your business’s growth, you need to free up time and other resources. The best plan to free up your time is to create a plan to automate your business areas to allow you to focus on other areas.

Optimally, free up your time is to create an automated sales funnel for new and recurring sales. 

Automation is the process of setting a process that requires little or no interaction for it to operate.

  • Increased Efficiency: By creating a process that can operate independently, with minimal involvement by the operator, you free up time to devote to other tasks. The benefit of an automated sales funnel is that you create efficiency in your operation and one that you can iterate as needed.
  • Free Up Time and Other Resources: Automacy will allow you to “set it and forget it” so that you can, in turn, redouble attention toward new sales, products, and offerings. Think of it as an opportunity to craft, create, or distribute a new product offering that has been hampered by your focus on the current sales process.

There is a pitfall to keep in mind with anything that operates on automatic. The problem is that with a hand’s off approach, the operation will only move along a path as it was set in the beginning. It must be maintained and reprogramed based on data of what is and isn’t effective.

Simply put, you need to keep in mind that automation only sets a trajectory; it doesn’t fool-proof the action. It is up to you to follow up with the process from time to time to ensure it operates on the most effective path.

To quote Bill Gates, “Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” 

While you need to be aware of problems with automating your sales approach, the benefits far outweigh the risk. By investing in automating your sales funnel, you will:

  • Decrease Expense and Labor Costs: One of the hidden benefits that automated sales funnels can offer your business is that by automating your process, you lower overhead on labor and time to a sale, which improves your ROI or Return on Investment. In the long-run, an increased ROI is a higher profit margin for your business.
  • Improve Your Data Points: Additionally, automating your sales funnel frees up more time to analyze the most critical data and what is not working. This analysis allows your marketing efforts to sharpen focus and better target your potential customers.
  • Find Better Leads and Create Better Conversions: The effect of better targeting customers helps eliminate cost overruns in your marketing, giving your efforts better-qualified leads and, in turn, increased conversions through your sales funnel.

By creating a system that allows you to automate your targeted customer’s buying process, you can devote time, energy, and resources that otherwise have been tied up. These insights offer a higher level of returns and a better understanding of who is buying when they make their purchasing decisions and how to best connect with them in the future.

Setting Up an Automated Sales Funnel

Now that we understand the need and the benefits of setting an automated sales funnel, the next step is understanding how to set one up.

There are four steps in setting up your automated sales funnel following the AIDA model of Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. Those four sections are Content Marketing, Lead Magnet, Follow-Up Offer, and Backend Sale(s).

The first step in the AIDA model is to create better brand awareness. There are a few strategies to consider that will improve your brand awareness, and they all begin with the type of content you publish and share online.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a process of sharing content, whether written content, videos, or social media posts that help expose your brand, but more importantly, your products and services to as broad an audience as you choose.

In short, content marketing is anything you decide to share that helps your targeted customer learn about all that you are offering. The most effective forms of content marketing are blogging, videos, and social media, usually tied in to each other to craft a compelling narrative around your products.

Think about your content marketing plan as a way to target your audience and lead them into whichever part of the funnel you would like them to be in. Beware, you could waste a lot of time and energy if you take a less than laser-focused approach to lead generation.

Blogging: One of the most prominent and most comfortable forms of content marketing to create brand and product awareness is written content. Every website has or should have a blog that ties content up with product offerings.

Your blog’s objective isn’t to create an immediate sale; instead, to improve the image of your brand and product offerings. The content should work to lead your potential customer toward the part of the funnel that you think the customer is at in their journey.

To be the most effective, you need to craft your blog posts in a way that does a few things for your audience.

Write your blog in conversational tones, and make your content tell a story. Lending personality to your blog makes your post easier to read and will create trust in your authority. Unless, of course, your services are specific and require a very academic or professional tone.

Identify something your audience sees as an issue, problem, or pain point. This could be an issue in the marketplace, a problem or pain-point that your reader may be experiencing, and offer a solution or better way to do something. This problem-solving technique will establish you as an authority and create trust in your reader that you can solve these issues.

Video: Video is highly engaging, easy to consume, and widely shareable. You can create a high-resolution video and quickly post it on your company website and blog.

In fact, the American Marketing Association states that “video will make up 82% of all web traffic by 2021.” Don’t skimp on the video. If you aren’t comfortable on camera, you can script out your video and hire freelance talent to produce it for you.

Again, like a blog post, identify a few issues and problems your audience may be experiencing and offer a solution. You can embed the video directly or include it in a written blog post to add a personal element.

Social Media Posts: It’s been stated that over 72% of all adults consuming one form of social media or another. This is a crucial platform in your content marketing strategy. You can create standalone posts or promote other content you’ve made, such as your blog posts and videos.

The best strategy to reach as broad an audience as possible is to cross-promote your content within as many channels as possible for the highest level of reach and engagement.

Set a publication calendar and use a third-party app to publish along all your various content marketing channels. You can outsource your content production as well to maximize your automation process.

Now that your content marketing strategy is in place, it’s time to focus on the next step you’d like your audience to take in your funnel.

The goal is to create something that attracts your reader’s attention and builds on the trust and authority you established in your initial content marketing.

This step is where you move the reader from awareness to interest and eventually desire and action. The key here is to create a lead magnet that attracts their attention and makes them want more that you have to offer.

The Second Step, Create a Valuable Lead Magnet

A typical lead magnet should target your specific audience and offer something in return for their information. For example, a B2B lead magnet might be a free white paper that identifies one problem in the industry and offers a free solution and a promise of more solutions if they sign-up for your email newsletter.

Another lead magnet may be a webinar that is directed toward a particular segment of the industry. You promote your webinar with a landing page that requests sign-ups, and you give the solutions to the participants’ specific needs.

The lead magnet should identify a problem with getting qualified leads in a particular industry and show a strategy to help your reader improve the types of leads they are generating.

By receiving the lead magnet, you capture the prospect’s information and add them to a squeeze page to direct them to the funnel’s third step, the follow-up offer.

The Follow-Up Offer

The third step of the funnel should be to make a second offer to your prospect. It should be in addition to the lead magnet offer and be more specific and offer much more detailed value than the initial product.

Again, the key here is added value to what your audience received already. You can approach this in one of two ways, an upsell or downsell of products. An upsell is a pricier product than what you offered previously, while a downsell is priced lower and is typically an add-on that increases the value of your previous product.

By creating value in your content and sharing across various channels, you increase your brand awareness.

Next, by making a low-to-zero cost lead magnet, you hope to capture the prospect’s information that allows you to direct them to the third step in your funnel.

From here, you make an additional offer, one that is priced higher or lower than your original offer but adds value to what the prospect already received.

The final step is where the money is – the backend sale.

The Backend Sale

The final step in the sales funnel is the backend sale. If you’ve set up your funnel correctly, from content creation to lead magnet and follow-up, you’re ready to pitch your sale.

After creating awareness of your brand, establishing some authority, and building trust in what you provide, this is where you highlight the benefits of your product or service.

Your focus here should be on giving the customer “permission” to make the sale that they’ve been moving toward making and should be enticing. If you provide lead generation as a product, enhance the attractiveness of your service by offering something in addition, such as around the clock customer service, or a weekly consultation, whatever will help separate your service from others.

Your automated sales funnel’s goal is to allow you to have your sales work independently and will enable you to focus your attention on other areas of growing your business. By automating your sales process, you can capture leads, analyze what is and isn’t working, iterate those actions, and reset the process more efficiently.