While the traditional sales funnel has certainly been disrupted by multichannel and omnichannel eCommerce, it still is an important tool in a marketer’s arsenal. But what exactly are eCommerce sales funnels, and how do they work?
But what exactly are eCommerce sales funnels, and how do they work?
Simply put, sales and marketing funnels are action paths. They are steps designed to get your customers to do what you want - often, this is to purchase your goods or services.
The funnel model illustrates the buyer journey, starting at the wide top of the funnel, narrowing as the customer becomes increasingly loyal to your brand.
The top of the funnel is where everyone goes in, with only the most interested buyers moving further down, ultimately resulting in conversions.
The Stages of the Funnel
Let’s begin by breaking down all stages of the funnel.
At the top, or widest level of the funnel, is is awareness. Potential customers come into the awareness stage via marketing campaigns, advertising, email marketing, Facebook ads, blog posts, search engine optimization, and more. This is where lead generation happens, and hopefully you collect some potential customer information, allowing you to further their trip down the funnel.
The interesting part of this stage is that not all customers are actively looking. They might just interact with your brand in passing, long before they realize that your products and services solve a problem for them.
The awareness stage is merely an introduction, and your goal is simply to provide potential customers with compelling and properly segmented information that will resonate with them. At this point, you’re providing value, not making a hard sale.
In order to offer customers meaningful education, consider investing in quality - not quantity - content; in longer form educational pieces or better yet, in visually engaging forms like videos and photos.
Make sure your eCommerce site is optimized for mobile, as well as other devices, and use this as a chance to build trust with visitors.
The next stage is interest. Remember, not all customers who are aware of your brand are necessarily interested. Often, it’s a timing thing.
Now may not be the right time for them to be interested in your products or services, but that could happen down the line. Each customer moves through the funnel at their own pace, and that’s OK.
However, once you do have an interested potential customer, they now spend more time getting to know you. A potential customer might visit your website, view specific product pages, or scope out your social media. Even better, they may sign up for your email list, and you can initiate a drip marketing campaign geared towards their interests.
This stage is a great opportunity to build a relationship with your customers, and differentiate your brand from competitors. Integrate social media onto your eCommerce site, so that they can continue engaging with your brand even once they stop browsing. Have clear calls-to-action, specific offers, and other guiding touchpoints.
Remember to address this important question: what makes your brand more interesting to a potential buyer? A solid content marketing strategy can help deepen a potential customer’s connection to your business.
Once someone is in the consideration stage, you can begin communicating with them in a more specific fashion. This includes special offers and perks, free trials, and other tactics to help them move down the funnel.
It’s also a great time to reinforce your brand’s trustworthiness and value. Utilize items like case studies, peer reviews, product ratings, testimonials, and other elements to help sway potential buyers.
In this stage, potential customers indicate they are interested in your products or services. If you are a B2B company, then perhaps the customer has vocalized this to their account manager or salesperson.
If you’re an eCommerce business that sells directly to customers, you may know that they have intent to purchase because they place items in their cart. Use this moment to reinforce what makes your brand the best, and why your product is most suited to your potential customer’s needs. What problem are you solving for them?
During evaluation, customers are making their final decision about whether or not to make that purchase. They may want to know product details, negotiate pricing (if that is part of your sales process), understand warranties, return policies, and other pieces of information critical to informing their choice.
At this point in the funnel, sales and marketing should be working together to convert customers and streamline their decision-making process. Provide them with helpful, meaningful information that will pull them into the final stage of the funnel.
In the last stage, a potential customer becomes an actual customer, and makes a purchase. Truly satisfied customers can turn into repeat purchasers, and just as significantly, into referral sources. A referral, of course, renews the funnel process, and that potential customer starts at the top, ready to complete their own journey through the funnel.
Happy customers are powerful ambassadors who have a potential for a loyal, long term relationship with your brand. They also have a direct impact on your bottom line, as referrals have some of the highest conversion rates.
An Example in Action
Consider a marketing funnel in context of your own buyer’s journey.
Perhaps you’re looking to purchase a new car. First, you would need some awareness of vehicle manufacturers and the types of vehicles available on the market. If you have this, perhaps you go directly to a brand’s website to learn more.
If you’re deciding what kind of car to purchase, you might evaluate one brand over the other, or electric versus gas. You’ll take it for a test drive, and move into the commitment stage, negotiating on final pricing. Finally, you’ll make a purchase.
Once you’ve had the car for a few months or even years, you might love it so much that you constantly refer friends to the same dealer where you got your vehicle.
B2B vs. B2C Businesses
While the marketing funnel might seem simplistic, there are differences between how a B2B versus a B2C customer navigates the process.
Most B2C customers are solo purchasers, or perhaps are relying on input from friends and family to help them reach a decision. They are also less likely to interact with a company representative. In the example of the car purchase, the customer will interact with a salesperson, and perhaps someone in financing, but that’s about it. For eCommerce businesses, chances are that a B2C customer will never interact with a company representative, unless something goes wrong.
Yet for B2B buyers, sales representatives usually become involved at some point throughout the funnel, typically towards the end. B2B buyers also tend to have multiple people involved in the purchasing process, with representatives from various departments weighing in and guiding the decision-making.
These differences don’t overly shift the structure of the funnel, but it’s good knowledge to have. Tailor your funnel (and associated content marketing) to your audience.
Not Just a Sales Funnel
Of course, marketing funnels don’t just work for the buyer’s journey. They work for actions beyond purchasing, too.
You can use funnels in a variety of ways to help move potential customers or even just casual website visitors through specific action sequences.
Perhaps you want to track landing page conversions or newsletter signups. The beauty of a funnel is that once you identify what actions you want a potential customer to take on your site, you can create a funnel for it, and monitor their progress.
This data is invaluable, helping you to identify where and why people abandon their cart or even their overall journey, and how you can optimize the customer experience to pull them further into the funnel.
Wrapping It Up
While a buyer’s journey isn’t always linear (especially in today’s digitally transformed world), it’s still a deeply effective framework to help guide your content marketing, sales practices, and eCommerce site.
Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.