For the last fifty years, every company would live or die by the strength of their sales funnel.
Closely scrutinized by everyone internal to the company — from individual sales reps all the way to the CEO — the sales funnel has been a staple of sales culture for decades.
What Is A Sales Funnel?
A sales funnel is a metaphor for a traditional sales process from beginning to end. It is called a funnel because of the conical shape that forms as you add additional criteria to each deal.
On a macro-level, a sales funnel will start with a large number of potential buyers at the top Based on certain criteria, this pool of potential buyers is reduced to a fewer number of prospects. Towards the middle of the customer journey, the number of prospects reduces to a handful of opportunities, and after the decision-making stage, the sales process ends with a closed-won or closed-lost deal.
As each individual deal moves through each phase, the probability of closing the sale will change. The further along the sales funnel, the more information is exchanged and more apparent it becomes using the product will be advantageous to the customer. At this point, there is a higher potential for that deal to be ultimately successful unless the deal is moved to closed-lost in which case, the probability moves to zero.
During my sales career, I’ve seen the sales funnel solve several problems for sales leadership:
It was a clearly defined process to model how to close more deals.
It helped quantify the value of future sales.
It allowed sales teams to build statistics around the size and the number of deals required to mathematically exceed quota.
The sales funnel helped define a methodology to teach salespeople how to move customers through a logical sales process and into a closing sequence to maximize rep productivity and cost per lead.
Sales Funnel Examples
With this definition of a sales funnel in mind, let’s walk through a few real-life sales funnel examples.
Audible is an Amazon-owned producer of audiobooks and spoken-word entertainment. This platform builds awareness and brings potential subscribers into their sales funnel by partnering with authors of books featured on the platform to promote their audiobook using a free one-month trial for the service. When users sign up for the free trial, they are given 30 days to use the service before being automatically enrolled in a monthly subscription.
HoneyBook offers business management software for creative entrepreneurs. Their business personality test lead magnet helps business owners identify their strengths, having participants provide their email addresses to receive their results. Based on the results of their quiz, they are then added to an email nurturing campaign that provides tailored business advice for their personality type, with the option to begin a trial using HoneyBook.
Now let’s discuss how to create your own sales funnel, and if using a sales funnel is the right approach for your business.
How to Create a Sales Funnel
Define the problem you want to solve for your customers.
Create a preliminary offer to generate leads.
Qualify leads to confirm interest in the product.
Nurture your leads by offering a demo or trial.
Close the deal.
Track the final results and analyze sales data.
Track the final results and analyze sales data.
A traditional sales funnel describes discrete stages of a potential customer from first touch to closed deal.
But the modern sales process has changed dramatically in the last few years and those changes make the traditional sales funnel obsolete.
The best part of the traditional sales funnel was that salespeople could move prospects through at their own pace based on their needs to close a deal. Today, customers are in control of the sales process. A modern buyer spends more time upfront researching a purchase before they engage with a salesperson, reducing the value of sharing information.
Armed with extensive online information, a modern buyer requires different skills from a salesperson and frequently exhibits different behavior than buyers of the past. A modern buyer may get very excited about a purchase and spend a lot of time in the research phase and then abruptly stop, ending the sales process sometimes without any reason at all. Often, modern buyers want to reduce the friction of buying and using a product to make it easy for them to achieve the value.
These behaviors are why we suggest that you leverage a flywheel instead of a sales funnel.
The flywheel is a model adapted by HubSpot to explain the momentum you gain when you align your entire organization around delivering a remarkable customer experience that produces happy customers who drive referrals and repeat sales.
How does the flywheel work?
To get your flywheel spinning you need to add force to it by making significant investments in programs and strategies to acquire and retain customers.
But once you acquire enough initial customers and you ensure their success and happiness, they become a force for your flywheel. This is because either they buy from you again or they bring in new customers by promoting you to their network. This is the key to keeping your flywheel spinning without continuing to invest all your resources in acquiring new customers.
This model lets your customers show the value that they have experienced to your prospects. Rather than having your sales team explain your product/service, it provides a credible third party with actual user experience to explain the value. A flywheel allows you to reduce SG&A costs, focus on the customer experience, and find better good fit customers.
Using a flywheel, you can build a community or ecosystem of customers who help other customers. For a modern sales process, a flywheel is a better model than a sales funnel because it leverages current customers to attract and engage new prospects.
How do you build a flywheel? Start with 3 simple steps.
1. Understand your current customers are more powerful than any other influence.
Prospects trust the stories and experiences of your current customer base. In fact, 84% of consumers trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation. Leverage this by making sure you have lots of use cases, customer testimonials, and references that showcase your current clients explaining your product or service’s strengths.
2. Have your strong customers create social proof.
Social proof is the psychological idea that people determine what’s correct by finding out what other people think is correct. Customer reviews are 12x more trusted than descriptions that come from manufacturers. Social media is a powerful tool for creating social proof. Let the stories and experiences of your happy customers create converting content for you.
3. Identify areas of force and friction.
Force moves the sales process forward. Areas of force include accurate and timely information, a good understanding of the problem, your ability to listen and overall responsiveness. Friction slows down the sales process. Essentially, when your prospect has to jump through too many hoops or faces obstacles or inconveniences throughout the sales process, this creates friction which makes your job more difficult.
By identifying areas of force and friction, you can double-down on the activities that will bring more momentum to your ability to drive the sale, and remove unnecessary obstacles to create a frictionless experience. This will keep the flywheel moving forward, and your buyers happy.
Continue honing your sales strategy by reviewing these popular and effective sales methodologies.
Originally published Mar 31, 2020 7:30:00 AM, updated June 15 2021