5 Best Practices To Improve Your Sales Funnel
Filling your sales funnel is a 24/7 imperative. Without a steady stream of leads in the pipeline, your sales cycle is inconsistent and unreliable. Optimizing your sales pipeline mitigates the risk of having lulls in new business. With consistency, your firm is better positioned for efficient and sustainable growth.
Improving your sales funnel isn’t simply a matter of flooding it with prospects. Be scientific and strategic in your sales approach. Implement these five best practices to increase the flow of qualified leads and grow your funnel.
- Segment Your Customers
Identify your average and best customers. Thoroughly understand who they are, what they need from you and what you provide to them. But, more important than determining who your customers are today, identify who you want your average and best customers to be tomorrow. In order to appropriately qualify leads, you have to know what those leads (and eventual customers) look like.
- Assess Your Offerings To Your Customers
Along the same line of thinking as the first best practice, you must revisit your points of product and service differentiation. Ask why your customers continue to choose you over your competition. If you’re not speaking to these differences in your sales process, quality leads might not make it down your sales funnel.
- Apply What You Learn To Lead Qualification
What triggers within your pool of prospects have you identified? What set of questions comprehensively identifies your next sale? What set of questions disqualifies poor prospects within your sales pipeline? The better you’re able to qualify and disqualify your leads, the more efficiently your sales funnel flows.
- Be Ready To Adjust
The only way to maximize the effectiveness of your sales efforts is to constantly adjust to your prospects’ and customers’ needs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to make drastic changes. As any scientist knows, the difference between a good experiment and a great one is often a simple tweak to the hypothesis.
- Take Advantage Of The Power Of Sales Metrics
If there’s only one best practice you remember, it should be that your sales metrics are critical to your efforts. Generating a substantial return on your investment in your pipeline requires a specialized approach. Only your sales database and CRM tells you what’s going on with your prospects – and boils it down to an exact science. As much as conversations with customers and prospects inform you about your efforts, only your data tells you the real truth about what is and isn’t working.
Of course, there are important metrics and indicators that you should be tracking and analyzing on a consistent basis. These include:
- Total number of contacts currently available
- Number of contacts needed now and in the future, based on the absorption rate of your contact list
- Average length of your current sales cycle versus your desired cycle
- Frequency of desired communication (including type of correspondence)
Current and desired close rate in converting prospects to leads, and leads to customers
With these best practices, your strategy has more direction and a calculated approach. It is the formula to improving your sales funnel and generating more consistent leads and sales.
How to Build a Conversion Funnel That Will Triple Your Profits
Ever feel like you’re doing everything you can to improve your conversion rate, but people just aren’t buying? You’re following all the best practices, like having a single call-to-action and using enough white space.
You’ve got your content broken down into relevant areas that readers can easily scan and your offer is irresistible. Your form only asks for the bare necessities, yet you’re still not seeing the results that you want.
Don’t worry, you’ve done everything right…
Set-up-wise, that is. But, there’s more to conversion optimization than just page layout, form design and copywriting. In fact, very few companies even do this one marketing tactic, let alone do it right.
The one thing is: lead nurturing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Neil, I already do lead generation! That’s not my problem! They’re not clicking! They’re not converting!”
But, therein lies your problem. Your customers aren’t some mass-produced assembly line commodity and that’s exactly how “lead generation” approaches them.
If I were treated like some cookie-cutter-stamped thing instead of a person, I wouldn’t be giving you my business either.
Why Lead Nurturing Matters
Let’s look at where customers are coming from. No matter how they get to you, as many as 73% of leads are not even ready to be sold to. Even from the pool that are qualified, half of them aren’t ready to buy. That puts the odds against you. right out of the gate.
But, every cloud has a silver lining…
Companies who properly nurture their leads see a 450% increase in qualified prospects. And, those who take the time to nurture and grow those customer relationships, see 50% more sales at a 33% lower cost.
And, remember what I said about the nearly 3/4ths of customers who weren’t ready to be sold to and the 50% that weren’t ready to buy? After nurturing those leads, 15-20% of them become customers and they typically make 47% larger purchases than those who aren’t nurtured.
That’s a lot of numbers to be throwing around, but the core message is clear:
When people know that you care about and anticipate their needs, they’ll reward you with their wallets.
So, how can you start anticipating what the potential customer wants and deliver it before they even ask? The answer is: a conversion funnel.
What Exactly Is a Conversion Funnel?
A conversion funnel, or sales funnel, is the path that a prospect takes through your site that ultimately results in a conversion. Because the amount of traffic (visitors) your website gets will likely be larger, with prospects dropping off at various points in that path, those that do convert will be a smaller percentage of the original group – thus the funnel shape.
Why do they drop off? There can be any number of reasons, ranging from technical errors to disconnects between your ad and your landing page and so on. Each of these drop offs increases your bounce rate and lowers conversion rate.
As you build your conversion funnel, you will learn how to identify and fix these “leaks,” so that more and more of your visitors become loyal customers.
In the past, you may have seen examples of conversion funnel visualizations. Here is an example of a sales funnel chart:
Essentially, traditional sales funnels are generally a variation on AIDA (attraction, interest, desire, action) — but conversion funnels are not quite that simple and straightforward. Potential customers shouldn’t be treated like cattle — they’re not designed to be wrangled or sorted.
A conversion funnel is less exclusive and places more emphasis on customer behaviors, nurturing and retention at each step of the customer journey.
More questions are asked at each level of the conversion funnel:
- How do we make the customer more aware of our brand?
- How do we entice them with an irresistible offer?
- Why would they not act and what can we do to fix it?
- How can we recognize and anticipate their needs?
A conversion funnel is more open-ended and understands that the true art of converting doesn’t just end at checkout. Here is a conversion funnel chart:
A conversion funnel is a continuous mission of getting, keeping and growing your ideal customer base, while using technology, social media, and other available tools to meet their needs more efficiently. It’s lead nurturing, behavioral targeting, retention and referrals, all rolled into one marketing strategy.
Sounds overwhelming? It’s not, when you break it down piece-by-piece. Let’s take a look at each element of a conversion funnel on its own and learn how to implement it:
Step 1: Attracting Customers
When it comes to getting people to want to learn more – is quantity more important than quality? Oftentimes, the goal is to “fill the funnel as quickly as possible,” even if the leads aren’t exactly high quality.
You’ll spend more time filtering out the inactive and uninterested website visitors, when you could be spending your valuable time creating offers, content marketing and solutions that truly resonate with people at each stage of the buying process to increase conversion rate.
To do that, it’s vital to know what your target audience wants.
- What are your competitors doing?
- What needs are being unmet?
- Where can you outperform them?
- Is there area that you can capitalize on and dominate?
There may be several ideas here — write them all down.
At this stage, we’re looking at how your solution benefits people from multiple angles. Every potential customer is at a different point in the sales funnel and having a multi-pronged attraction phase will help you to generate more targeted, high quality “hot” leads than just casting out your digital net and hoping for a bite from any traffic source.
Here’s an example of a landing page for a school specializing in nutritional courses.
Looking at this page, you can see that it’s a typical lead generation form – asking a lot of questions, but giving little value in return. Consider this page from a student’s point of view:
- How do I talk to someone if I have questions?
- Where might I find the course catalog?
- How much does it typically cost to take a course? Is financial aid available?
- What do other students say about the courses?
There’s just no substance here to make a prospect want to take action. “The world’s largest nutrition school,” means nothing to a potential student. “We’ve helped over X students make a difference in global nutritional awareness,” is much more meaningful.
You’ve got the numbers to back up the statement, plus the emotional appeal of making a difference. Add in some social proof and you’ve got a compelling content marketing message that gets right to the point.
What’s more, you need to show the potential customer how you’ll deliver value, not just tell them. And, it needs to be something they’d value, not something you think is valuable.
Here’s another example of a website from a printing company specializing in architectural blacklines. This is directly from their services page:
That’s a lot of equipment and a lot of information required to be able to send them files. Why not build a viable mailing list and nurture potential customers at the same time?
For example, in exchange for a little bit of info, architectural firms could receive a free checklist on how to get CAD plot files into print-ready shape or a free report on why blueprints are costing them money (and how blacklines are more durable, accurate, etc.) Or a drag and drop tool which checks and approve the file format.
But, even after the customer has clicked the ad or website link, there’s still no guarantee that they’ll find your offer enticing or worth acting on – which is why you need:
Step 2: Encouraging Action
Once they’ve landed on your page (you do have a set of landing pages for your campaign, don’t you?), it’s incredibly tempting to let your copy and your design do all of the heavy lifting. But, you can do even more to compel that action – by creating an emotional investment in your website visitor.
How do you create that connection?
The answer isn’t found as a one-size-fits-all campaign, but rather in a series of “quick wins” with the customer.
For example, the CEO of Zappos states that, from the customer’s very first call to them, they’ve created a touch point that will make-or-break that customer’s impression of Zappos from that point forward.
As everyone knows, Zappos’ customer service and social media presence is legendary, because they’re emotionally invested in their customer’s satisfaction. This call-center touch point is a “quick win,”
Walgreens Pharmacy is another example. They spend a great deal of their time simply listening to their customers and not guessing as to what they might want. When the commute home became too hectic and time-consuming, Walgreens was one of the first to offer drive-through prescription pickups, streamlining their sales funnel.
Recently, with the consumer push toward embracing a healthy lifestyle, Walgreens purged its shelves of tobacco products.
When their non-English-speaking customers had trouble reading their prescription pamphlets, Walgreens had them printed in 14 different languages.
When older patrons complained about not being able to read labels, Walgreens instituted larger print versions. In all of these cases, they listened and answered, instead of guessing and hoping for the best.
The Customer Disconnect
Another common problem is the disconnect. You click an ad or a link on a page expecting one thing and getting something totally different — the exact opposite of a quick win.
Here’s an example from a finance site:
“So. we’ve established that the first step to take should be to set up a Roth IRA.” Clicking that link should take me to steps on how to do so, but instead I see this:
See the disconnect? When a customer expects one thing, but is given something completely different, no matter how good that “different” thing is, it can make for a sour impression and a lower conversion rate.
Getting “quick wins” to guide potential customers through each step of your conversion funnel is all about encouraging customers to take one small step, whether it’s writing their first tweet or rebuilding their first small engine by taking it apart one piece at a time.
One of the best places to create an atmosphere that’s ripe for quick wins is your email list. Compared to your typical email list blast, nurtured emails get 4-10 times the response rate.
Marketing automation company Eloqua did a detailed study on how personalization can affect email open and click-through rates. These marketing automation emails contained not just the prospect’s name, but their location and other items as well:
Some of the most popular marketing automation and email marketing services, like Hubspot and Infusionsoft, let you target customers based on actions that they take (or don’t take), while helping them to sort and segment themselves by specifying what type of content they’re looking for.
In some cases, especially in the B2B world, some people are just too busy to bother with deciding what content they want — so they do nothing. Business executives receive an average of 120+ messages per day, so your email marketing campaign needs to get their attention – and quick.
What would you do?
Here’s a perfect example. Look at Seamless, a company whose main customers are people who are so busy that they don’t have time to grab a bite to eat. They know this and everything they do is geared toward the busy: from short, mobile-friendly messages to apologies for the interruption:
That email is just a little nudge to remind them that there’s a discount event going on tomorrow. That’s all. The follow-up email looks like this:
Again, short, sweet and sharable.
As you can see, the key to encouraging action is to help your prospects help themselves, which in turn helps brand awareness. Good behavioral targeting and a keen understanding of what your “tribe” wants are crucial in this process. If you don’t know, sites like topical forums and Quora are brimming with these kinds of questions.
Just look at a sampling of questions from Quora.com —
An example of Quora questions related to WordPress and blogging
And, speaking of giving them what they want, that doesn’t mean that you can sit back and let the system do all of the work. No way.
You’ve got to create a content plan that anticipates, meets and exceeds their expectations — a tall order to fill by any standard.
So, where do you start?
Step 3: Crafting a Content Plan
A content plan isn’t just about writing what you “think” will resonate with your target audience – but rather about knowing precisely what they want at every stage in the conversion funnel. You’ve got a lot of layers involved and some of them might even overlap, so it’s vital to understanding exactly where all of your readers are at each stage of the process.
Let’s walk through an example together. Say you run a local computer repair service. You want to create content that addresses the needs of prospects at every stage in your conversion funnel.
So, for those in the Acquire stage of the conversion funnel, you’d want to use your local media outlets and social media platform, as well as content in your blog posts, to address some of their most common computer concerns and perhaps even a how-to or two.
At this point, it’s all about getting people familiar with your service, increasing brand awareness, convincing them of your expertise and encouraging them to trust you with their valuable data such as credit card information.
Activating customers would primarily be urgency-based, as in, “my PC won’t turn on.” “I keep getting the blue screen of death!” and “my hard drive is making a strange crunching noise.” They need help now and are willing to do just about anything to get out of a painful digital situation.
Of course, once the problem is solved, you fear you might never hear from them again, as is so often the case with service-based offers.
This is where things like outreach programs (perhaps an “introduction to basic PC backups” program at the local library) or lead magnets such as contests and events (“share your worst computer horror story!”) can really pay off and bring in potential customers from many traffic sources.
Loyalty programs are icing on the cake and a terrific foundation for repeat business and referrals in the service industry, while upgrades and new software make the perfect option for up-sells and cross-sells.
One of the most under-utilized and highly beneficial pages that you can include is a “Start Here” guide for beginners. Referring back to our computer fixing example, BleepingComputer.com does this through their 3-step Welcome guide:
Their visitors are going to range from 70-year-old grandmas with their first computer to a frustrated mom of 4 whose son just downloaded a “game” that ended up being a virus. With just three easy steps, anyone can get free help using their computer or direction when trying to rid it of spyware or other junk.
Notice how BleepingComputer has made each of the individual steps as easy to follow as possible.
How can you create a welcoming area for first-time customers, regardless of traffic source? First, make it abundantly clear exactly how using your site will benefit them and what steps they should take first. For example:
Hi and welcome to (Your Site Name). If you want to (what the customer wants) and get (more of what the customer wants), this is the best place to learn.
My/our goal is to (help you/show you/teach you, etc.) how to (benefit), whether it’s from (one method of getting that benefit) or by (second method of getting that benefit). To get started, just follow these simple steps…
See how you’ve taken the steps to instantly identify what they came there for, how you can deliver it and which ways they can go about getting it?
After this is the perfect opportunity for content marketing and to tell them about your free, irresistible offer. The fact is that if someone has scrolled through the welcome guide to get to that point, chances are they’re at least somewhat open and receptive to what you want to share.
Then comes the part that so many people forget (or never have time for, because they’re stuck on the first three steps).
Step 4: What Happens Next?
Moving near the end of the conversion funnel, you have all of the content marketing activities that end in -sell: cross-sell, up-sell and next-sell. But, don’t forget the people part of the equation in your rush to sell, sell, sell.
If you want to build a conversion funnel that practically fills itself with referrals, you need to make your lead magnet offer as enticing as possible to both the giver and the receiver.
Dropbox has one of the best referral programs in the business and this marketing tactic is a major factor that contributed to their enviable growth. The key components here are two-fold:
- You get something for referring a customer (in the case of Dropbox, free space)
- Your referral gets something for nothing (more space in their account)
The more friends you invite that end up subscribing, the more space you get for your own account.
Here again, it’s not just about casting a wide net and seeing what you can catch. Referral programs, social loyalty programs, content marketing tactics, whatever you want to call them — they all have a specific set of steps toward the end goal.
Services like Ambassador and Referral Candy each have simple programs that you can quickly set up on your own. The good news is that many of the steps to creating a rewarding referral system are the same as setting up a conversion funnel:
- Identify the market that would be best served by bringing you referrals. I don’t mean the market that would best serve you, but rather the ones that could benefit the most by sending potential clients your way.
- Let that market know what kind of customer you’re looking to attract. The last thing you want is to spend time chasing down prospects that aren’t the right fit. Remember the referral has to be just as beneficial to you as it is to the one doing the referring.
- Teach them how and why they should bring that referral to you. What will the person doing the referring get? What will the referral themselves get? How exactly should they refer you? Remember, you’re not the only one asking them for referrals, so taking the time to share what works best for you (and why it’s in their best interests) will help you stand out from the pack.
- Make your system rewarding. People and companies need motivation, not just education. Take the time to brainstorm the kind of rewards system that gives people more than enough reason to send qualified prospects your way. Money is a good motivator, but it’s not the only one.
- You’re banking on borrowed trust. Don’t ever forget that. Sometimes, a prospect’s perception of you is a direct correlation between how much they trust the person giving the referral – and they may trust that person wholeheartedly. If that’s the case, a great deal of that trust is in your hands. Use it wisely.
- Rinse and repeat. The system part of a good referral system is that you’re always working to convert prospects at various stages of the referral process. Even if they choose not to become customers at this point in time, there’s always the future.
You know your product or service like no one else, so you’re uniquely suited to offer advice and suggestions that will help the customer get more value out of your offer. Listen more than you speak.
Oftentimes, customers will share their frustrations, but, in doing so, give you more details about how they’re actually using the product or service. This puts you in the perfect situation to streamline the sales funnel, and create a more customized upsell wherein you both win.
Remember, you don’t have to follow some kind of pre-fab script here. Gauging the timing of when to present the up-sell or cross-sell, or possibly even skipping it completely are all the hallmarks of a strong conversion funnel.
If you’re running into issues where the customer is getting cold feet because of pricing, then you haven’t demonstrated the value to them well enough. You know your product or service has value — it’s reflecting that and integrating it into the customer’s life or business can makes them see that value as well.
Once you’ve got a solid referral system in place, it’s time to test.
Step 5: Testing Your Funnel
So many times, conversion optimization experts will place the majority of their focus at the top of the conversion funnel — the acquisition part, with very little concentration on the bottom of the funnel, where the online sale happens and conversion rate increases.
What’s more, you likely have many pages – all clamoring for organic traffic and a limited budget with which to test.
To figure out which pages to test first, look at:
- Prioritization – Do you prop up your worst performing pages or surge full speed ahead with your best performers? Most experts would say the former, but I often focus on the latter. Let’s face it, there are any number of reasons why your worst performing pages are your worst performers. It could be:
- poor quality referral traffic
- a disconnect between what your content marketing promises and what your page delivers
- technical issues
- a less-than-stellar lead magnet offer, etc.
You’ll make more profits and delight more customers by turbo-charging those best performing pages.
- Ease of Implementation – How easy is it for you to implement this new conversion funnel in your existing landing pages? Are all of the steps in place? If it’s going to be overly time-consuming or technically challenging, move on.
- Conversion Value – This ties in with prioritization. What is the conversion value of these potential customers? How targeted are they? How aware are they of your brand and your universal selling proposition? In other words, how likely are they to convert?
Once you’ve narrowed down precisely which pages would benefit most from your new sales funnel, it’s time to put it in action and track the results.
Setting Up Google Analytics (The Free Way)
The first and most common way to start testing your new conversion funnel is through the creation of conversion goals.
These systems track a potential customer from the moment they land on a page from their traffic source, and document where they go (or where they leave, increasing bounce rate) and how many of them ultimately converted.
The most common way to do this is through Google Analytics. It’s free and can be set up easily on your site, whether you’re using plain HTML or a third-party content management system like WordPress.
Google Analytics tracks website visitors on your site and lets you know a variety of details about them. including how long they stayed, where they came from (traffic source) and even what browser or system they’re using.
First, you’ll need to log into Google.com/analytics to either create or log into your account. Each website you manage is known as a “property.”
Once you add your website, you’ll need to click on the Admin link to find the relevant tracking code.
Copy and paste this code, in its entirety, on all the pages that you want to track. You can go back to your analytics dashboard to determine that the tracking is properly installed. Now, it’s time to create conversion goals.
Creating Conversion Goals in Google Analytics
On the left side of your dashboard is a section called Conversions, which, when clicked, will open up a sub-menu:
Conversions is located at the very bottom of the Analytics dashboard
There are four different types of conversion goals that you can track: Destination, Duration, Pages/Screens per session and Event.
You can either create your own or download some that other users have created and then customize them for your unique needs and user experience:
Examples of conversion goals that you can import
If you want to create your own, simply click New Goal, give it a name and choose the type of goal you want.
Then, fill in the details. For example, if you wanted users to register on your site and wanted the registration success page to be considered as the “goal,” you’d enter its URL here, like so:
Now that you’ve created a goal, it’s time to create the funnel to support that goal. Turn the Funnel on:
Now you’ll see that you can add the individual funnel steps here. Below is a case study from Shopify on their sales process and how a customer might browse and order shoes:
Going through the individual funnel steps
If you have previously created and added properties to your Google Analytics account, you can choose “Verify this Goal,” to see how they would have converted using your previously collected data from the prior week, and this impact on your conversion rate.
Then, simply choose “Create Goal” to finish. Your newly created goal will become a part of your Google Analytics report, so that you can see how different factors affect your conversion rate, such as time of day, location and more.
Setting Up a Goals with Optimizely
Optimizely is one of the most popular conversion tracking and management systems, with free and paid (credit card) options available to suit your business needs. To get started, log into your Optimizely account and go to the Editor. Next to the start/pause experiment button is an icon of a flag with a check mark. This allows you to add new goals to your conversion funnel experiments.
You can edit a goal, remove it from that experiment or remove it from all experiments that include it. Let’s create a completely new goal:
Creating a new goal with Optimizely
You can save a great deal of time by sharing goals between experiments, rather than having to re-create them each time.
If you want to add a previously created goal, simply click “Add a Saved Goal.” Then, just move your mouse over the existing goal that you want to add to your new goal and press “Add.” If you’d like to create a completely new goal from scratch, you’ll just need to choose the type of goal that you want to add.
Like Google, Optimizely has several different types of goals that you can track, and use to build a sales funnel report:
Pageview Goals – Track the number of times a certain page was seen
Click Event Goals – If it can be clicked, it can be tracked. This type of goal triggers when someone presses their mouse button, so all clicks around the item that you want to track (like the search button below) will be counted.
Custom Goals – Track how many times a certain item was clicked. This is not for URLs, but rather things that would ordinarily be difficult to track, such as AJAX forms or specialized scripts.
You can also create revenue goals by assigning a monetary value to an element or page, as well as engagement goals, which is the default.
I don’t recommend setting up engagement goals, because it’s such a broad definition — any click, submission, drag and drop, highlighting of text, etc. can be counted as “engagement” and is not a reliable metric to base decisions on.
Bringing It All Together
Now that you’ve identified the individual goals, it’s time to string them together into a conversion funnel. Optimizely calls this multi-page tests.
To do this, first choose a multi-page experiment. You do this from the Editor, by going to Options > Experiment Type
Now, much in the same way as you added individual steps to your goals before, you’ll add individual pages to your conversion funnel. Just click the Add Page link at the top. You’ll then be presented with this page:
Now, you’ll need to create the variations that you want to test (the multi part of multi-page testing). In this example, Crate & Barrel wanted to test which specific holiday message would encourage more credit card sales:
Which message would resonate more with potential customers?
Once the pages are defined, it’s time to create a seamless user experience across all of them, to ensure a smoother marketing and sale process. So, users who saw the original home page would continue to see original versions of the pages across their time on the site and users who saw the variation would continue to see variation versions, or micro funnels.
To do this, go to Options > URL Targeting and you’ll see the options available. You’ll want to specify targeting conditions for each page here:
For more details on URL targeting and specifics with Optimizely, please see their help page.
I’ve Got My Funnel Set Up and Tracking Data, Now What?
Even after you’ve gathered the data into a funnel chart, you’re still not done. According to a study from MarketingSherpa, expanding on a successful split test is not a strength of many companies.
Here’s what they do after a successful test:
It’s good that most companies are using tracking metrics, but look at the poor numbers on reviewing tests, deciding on research questions and looking at opportunities for future optimization. These are the things that you need to be looking at in your marketing funnel and formulating, in order to get measurable results that you can act on.
Getting results without a concrete plan is like running headlong into a brick wall without realizing that you could’ve swerved to avoid it!
And, even after you’ve formulated, tested, analyzed and decided, there’s still the issue of…
Step 6: The Conversation After the Conversion
Remember that a conversion is simply one piece in a very large customer relationship-building and experience-generating puzzle. Funnel conversion rate is not the be-all-end-all of your marketing effort with that customer. Sometimes, the conversation after the conversion can make just as much of a difference in filling your funnel as chasing down every source of reliable traffic.
As with so many of your efforts before it, the after-conversion checklist involves paying close attention to your customer. Your work is not done the moment you get that blip on your conversion optimization radar. Even after the click, the sale or the subscription, your customer is still asking, “did I make the right decision?”
They need that reassurance and a gentle push to the next step. They might feel abandoned, confused and distracted, if they’re dropped right down onto a thank you page or a member’s area. They start to question what value they get out of your product or service, which makes them second-guess their steps thus far.
This is why it’s so vital to have a “conversation after the conversion” — and take a look at things from the customer’s point of view, for example:
- How easy is it for them to get started using your product?
- Are instructions clear and appropriate for their level of experience?
- Who do they contact if they have questions? (“Customer Service” is not the best answer here — the last thing you want to be associated with is a giant warehouse with staffers stuffed like sardines in their cubicles). Can they contact you using social networks? Who are your customer service people? How many years of experience do they have? People talk to people, not machines.
- How do they go about returning or getting a refund? Although it’s unfortunate, it’s a fact of business life and could very well be a blessing in disguise — teaching you more about your conversion funnel process and where there may be gaps.
Remember that the conversion funnel is an ongoing cycle. The process is always shifting and your conversations with your customers are always evolving. What served their needs yesterday may not be adequate enough today.
Always be asking yourself “what can I do to make their experience with me absolutely unbeatable?” and live up to those expectations. Those are the kinds of actions that not only fill your conversion funnel, but keep customers beating a path to your door.
With this in mind, have you started creating your conversion funnel yet?
I think we can all agree that measuring the ROI of content is hard. In fact, it's the #1 challenge for marketers (according to a recent study conducted with SmartInsights). So why not get a jumpstart on measuring marketing effectiveness by first measuring your sales funnel efficiency?
Pinpointing inefficiencies in your sales funnel is vital as it helps you spot and plug the leaks that are a detriment to your ROI.
This article delves into effectiveness of your sales funnel. If you haven’t created your sales funnel or need more info on how to automate your sales process online then check out this helpful marketing automation resource. Before diving straight into the 5 metrics you can use to help gauge funnel efficiency, first we must understand how a sales funnel works. So, let's investigate!
Sales Funnels Online
Inbound marketing uses valuable online content to send targeted prospects into a funnel to be successfully converted into paying customers. This sales funnel can be represented visually:
image source: Sales Funnel infographic created by 98toGo
Let’s start at the top… at the top of the sales funnel.
Attractive content helps generate traffic online and lures TOFU (Top-Of-Funnel) prospects. Marketing automation can then move these prospects efficiently through 3 stages of the buying process, from Awareness (TOFU) to Consideration (MOFU) to Decision (BOFU), warming up and qualifying these leads for the sales team along the way.
Nurturing prospects (moving leads through the sales funnel) can be evaluated and measured in a true closed-loop marketing system. Below I talk about what tools to use and which metrics to focus on.
Image sourced from chiefmartec.com's marketing technology landscape
As you can see – there are many players in the integrated marketing software space.
What tool and which metrics are best for gauging sales funnel efficiency?
Transparency Alert: I rely on the marketing platform tool called HubSpot, and also use Google Analytics. HubSpot is a best in class closed-loop marketing automation software. I regularly use HubSpot and its analytic tools to measure our own marketing efforts at 98toGo and the results of all of our clients.
Do you know which measures to look at to evaluate success? Traffic sourcing and specific engagement stats are the key measures to start with.
1) Traffic Sourcing & Engagement Stats from Content
First – concentrate on measuring efforts to attract leads to the business.
Explore both traffic (visits, or views) and engagement from various sources of content to see where potential business is coming from and whether they are taking the initial step to becoming a customer or not.
Every business must attract enough visitors to start the flow into the top of the funnel. Over time, quality content should help increase visits to the website. Then its vitally important for that same website to engage those visitors and induce them into taking action. Visitors that don’t take action don’t become leads. Marketing isn’t easy. The truth is, even most marketers feel ineffective (according to the Content Marketing Institute's Study below):
It’s a numbers game. So let’s do the math. A typical website converts approximately 1%-2% of its total traffic. So, if traffic is 100 visitors a month, expect about 1 or 2 new leads per month.
Tip: Analyze blog page views. Effectual content marketing efforts include regularly posting blog articles on the business website. However, if blog page views are low, it is likely that either people aren’t connecting with your content (usually a problem with headline or topic) or they can’t find it.
Check out below the “page performance” snapshot from HubSpot that highlights blog post views overall and reveals their engagement rate. By engagement I mean CTA% (Calls-To-Action click rate). This measures the ability of content to cause target customers (blog readers) to take a desired action. In this case the engaging action is to click on a CTA button that leads to an offer.
There are other engagement measures for a blog (such as comments and links), however focusing on getting readers to enter the sales funnel is the engagement metric I’m focusing on here.
Simply put – engaging blogs are those with a high CTA%.
The fourth blog post listed in this image below was more engaging, even though it had fewer views:
source: data from actual HubSpot Page Performance report (Cedar Creek)
A worthwhile goal for any sales funnel is capturing more and more TOFU leads. It is essential to offer visitors something of value to pique their interest – then visitors will interact with the website content and pursue offers by filling out contact forms and becoming leads.
Tip: To boost CTA% on blogs make sure a CTA offer is placed within the blog article and is highly relevant to the blog topic content itself.
Other nifty measures of engagement to monitor and adjust content strategies accordingly include these three helpful ones from Google Analytics:
- Average session duration = reading content & visiting multiple pages
- bounce rate = initial impression of content (lower % is best)
- pages/session = stickiness of content and ability to drive depth
2) Call-to-Action Effectiveness
Directly measuring CTA click-through rates is vital in gauging sales funnel efficiency. If the rates are low, then there’s not enough flow of leads coming into the funnel. Efficient funnels start with click happy websites – sites with offers so appealing, visitors can’t help but click.
This chart from our HubSpot portal provides actual results over time from two very different buttons. Button B had more textual info [“Calls to Action. Explained Here. Learn How to Convert Now”] and the data shows it had more engagement and ultimately produced two lead submissions:
source: data from actual HubSpot CTA report (98toGo)
Tip: Start by analyzing TOFU activities such as CTA offers designed to bring info-seekers into the sales funnel. Run A/B split tests using different variations of CTA buttons, and compare results to examine which ones ultimately convert at a higher percentage. Pick a winner, then rinse and repeat.
Move onto evaluating click rates for MOFU and BOFU CTA buttons. If rates are low it could reveal: either the CTA buttons are not on relevant blogs, or that potential customers are not finding value in the offer or the messaging/design needs work. Solve the issue by closely looking at where these buttons are placed and re-evaluate the offer or the messaging on the button. Know that variations testing (also called A/B split testing) could help solve the problem of messaging on the buttons themselves.
3) Landing Pages Submission Rates
The next step in measuring sales funnel efficiency is to make sure dedicated landing pages get form fills. Any friction occurring between button click to landing page goal completion results in lower submission rates.
Measuring this takes extra work to set up goal conversions in Google, but is really easy to access in HubSpot. Below are results of views that resulted in a form submission for 7 different TOFU offers and one MOFU & BOFU offer.
Note: two offers underperformed our internal benchmark of 35% for landing page submission rate. These pages likely have form friction and should be tweaked:
source: data from actual HubSpot Landing Pages report (98toGo)
Tip: Consider checking out the smart techniques for landing page optimization from these experts:
- Ultimate guide to landing page optimization (unbounce)
- How to make a landing page that converts (Kissmetrics)
- ebook: Optimize landing pages for conversions (HubSpot)
4) Email Click Rates
Effective email sequences warm up leads to become likely customers. Setting up “nurturing” emails to automatically be sent to potential customers is a cost-effective marketing practice.
Optimally, emails served up to leads in the sales funnel do two things: 1) they remind these prospects of your business’ products/services at a time that MAY coincide with that prospect’s consideration or buying decision; 2) emails stimulate further with helpful content that moves prospects efficiently through the sales funnel.
Smartly crafted emails create more opportunities to progress further into the pipeline and ultimately result in sales for the business. The goal is movement – from Top to Middle to Bottom of Funnel – by educating people in your sales funnel about your service/product and how it may solve their particular issues or challenges.
Measuring the performance of email marketing tactics is one step many business owners and would-be marketers neglect.
Another mistake some marketers make is focusing on email metrics that are less important or impossible to control. Measures such as delivery rates and bounce rates are somewhat important as they attempt to measure “deliverability”. However, delivery rates and bounce rates are difficult to control – as these metrics are likely pointers to problems on the recipient’s server side or with their email provider.
The measures that indicate efficiency are open rates, click rates and, most importantly, click-to-open rates (CTOR).
Higher open rates suggest the headline and relevance of the email’s subject line caught the attention of your lead (prospect). Open rates over 30% are solid. The 2013 Silverpop Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study reported that U.S. open rates for emails averaged 19.7%, while Epsilon’s Q4 2013 analysis showed an overall open rate average of 30.9%.
Click rate measures action – the prospect clicked on a link within the email. A high click rate indicates:
- Your emails have interesting content that subscribers want to read
- Your emails have content which compels readers to take action
- Your emails have very clear calls-to-action
The two studies previously cited reported benchmark click rates of 3.6% – 5.4%.
Good news for those using email nurturing campaigns – open rates and click rates are significantly higher for those using automatically triggered emails (nurturing sequences) vs. “business as usual” emails.
For me, using HubSpot to automatically deliver emails and to measure results has revealed some interesting results. Compared to benchmarks cited above, actual results for TOFU Email 3 suggest it is a weak performer:
chart source: 98toGo actual TOFU & MOFU data
However, before taking action to radically overhaul or change emails based on open rates and click rates, let’s dig deeper using a better metric.
Pro Tip: calculate click-to-open rates (CTOR). Neither open rate nor click rates tell us about the true level of engagement of our email audience. People who did NOT open the emails can’t click within them, so this skews click rates. The CTOR formula = # of clicks / # of opens. With CTOR rate we can gather valuable info about exactly how engaged our target audience is.
In the above chart the “Example email” had poor open rate (6.0%) and a poor click rate (3.0%), however, its CTOR rate of 50% is much higher than the rest. From this info, we can derive that most were NOT interested in opening up the email. Yet those who did were very active.
One action step upon discovering this high CTOR engagement rate is to create a new email list (segment group) for those that didn’t open the Example email and try to reengage them with new subject lines and content.
Because lead nurturing is automated and marketers often forget about it after they’ve set it up, it also tends to be under reported. Make sure you revisit your email analytics from time to time to evaluate performance. Email open rates and click rates are a great start, but these metrics don’t reveal the complete story of the job to be done. Sure, we’ve measured engagement, but now let’s determine if we’ve moved prospects closer to becoming customers.
5) Measuring Email Marketing Automation Performance
Marketing automation is meant to shorten the sales cycle. It does so by creating touchpoints that move a prospect forward in the buying process.
HubSpot’s answer to better marketing automation is called Workflows. The Workflows tool is multi-faceted. It is used to set up the email nurturing sequence, to establish conditions and triggers that qualify people, for setting timing of email deliveries, and to measure the performance.
Tip: Set a goal for your marketing automation and measure it.
Goal example #1 is to convert someone from a Lead to a Sales Qualified Lead. [In other words… movement from Top of the sales Funnel to the Bottom of the Funnel.] Goal example #2 is to convert leads to customers.
Below is a screen capture of how to evaluate performance of your marketing automation using HubSpot’s Workflow tool. This is a snapshot of an actual workflow’s “Overview” screen with a high level snapshot of the overall performance: 156 leads started and 41 have met the goal (becoming customers) for a 26.2% conversion rate. Bam! Here’s the key performance metric to gauge sales funnel efficiency: conversion rate.
image source: HubSpot
This is a good starting point to tell if the marketing automation is working or if it needs some tweaking. HubSpot’s Workflow tool also details more specific data on each step of the email sequencing including click rates.
For even more information on measuring ROI – check out this free eBook which explains how to measure your ROI with analytics.