Sales is a game of stages. Having a process is a necessity if you want to build a successful business long-term. This process is called a sales funnel.
When the lemlist growth team was formed, our core focus was on three pillars. Actionable content to grab attention, enjoyable product onboarding experience and major push to build a deep connection between the lemlist brand and lemlisters.
Our sales funnel lies on these pillars. Today, I'll talk about it in great detail and share all the secrets that helped us achieve some brilliant results. 👇
The most interesting topic would definitely be this exclusive insight into our sales funnel template where I'll walk you through the things we did across all stages of the funnel.
You'll also discover a bunch of kickass examples from companies operating in different industries that simply crushed it.
Don't worry, we'll cover the basics too...
What is a sales funnel?
I'm not much of a textbook nerd. I see no reason for being imprisoned by theory and suffer from information overload.
But, I have heard people speaking about "sales funnel" and "sales pipeline" as if they are the same. They're not. Here's the difference real quick...
Sales funnel represents the prospect's journey from their first contact with your company until the moment your product or service has been purchased.
Sales pipeline outlines all the steps of your sales process. Meaning, set of exact actions prospects needs to take to complete the purchase. Remember how you have these steps...
--> Contact Made > Meeting Booked > Meeting > Contract Offer > Deal Won
... that's a pipeline.
But the easiest way to think about it is... funnel feeds the pipeline. Without a funnel, sales teams wouldn't have leads to process in the first place.
We'll talk about pipelines and best practices in one of our next articles that are coming soon. Particularly after this conversation in the TSAC community...
Understanding sales funnel stages
It's not about having a funnel for sales and another for a marketing team. Any company has one funnel, but multiple departments have a different role to play in it.
It's bonkers to advocate for a one-size-fits-all model too. With so many industries, types of businesses and team sizes involved, there's no sense in copy/pasting someone else's sales funnel template.
There are similar patterns to leverage but at the end of the day, we ought to tailor it to our customers and their journey.
Top-of-the-funnel stage, or TOFU, is the playground for attention and discovery.
- Prospects are unaware of you, your company and your solution
- Quite often, they're not 100% sure about their problem
- They're not looking to buy
These three bullets translate into a pretty clear strategy. Make prospects discover the solution by being fully aware of the problem.
There are three types of weapons to choose from...
- Tone: are we educating, informing or entertaining?
- Strategy: outreach, content marketing, events & PR, advertising
- Format: cold emails, blog posts, social media posts, podcasts, how-to guides, infographics, Facebook ads, conferences, etc
The trick is to find out what works best for your needs and don't do everything at once.
Middle-of-the-funnel, a.k.a. MOFU, is where things get interesting. Where we turn prospects into leads.
- Prospects are starting to evaluate whether you can solve their pain
- They now know who you are
- You're competing and your rivals come in all kinds of forms
Keep in mind that they are now very well aware of the problem. Their questions are super specific, BS sensors are sharper and they have certain expectations you need to meet. This is the time where you deliver things in greater detail.
The armory changes a bit...
- Tone: are we educating or incentivizing?
- Strategy: drip campaigns, content marketing, remarketing...
- Format: email sequences, retargeting ads, lead magnets, communities, case studies, webinars, special offers...
Finally, there's bottom-of-the-funnel stage or BOFU.
- Prospects are ready to make a choice
- They may be going through your free trial
Imagine somebody standing on the edge of a swimming pool, hesitating to jump. As if they just need a little nudge.
In the sales world, your job is to identify your nudge. Here's your armory here...
- Tone: are we bragging or selling?
- Strategy: demos, free trials, product marketing, social proof...
- Format: onboarding sequence, targeted follow-ups, customer success stories, solution comparisons, FAQs, special offers...
The best BOFU tactics remove last-minute hesitations and give compelling reasons for prospects to say: "Yes, I want to buy this".
How to create a sales funnel
We now have our framework. We understand the sales funnel stages and different intent behind each. Let's go and create one now...
Phase 1: Research & investigation
There's a strong reason why studying film is one the most frequent things athletes do before and after a game.
It allows them to break the plays down. Identify weaknesses. Realize where opportunities lie. Prepare better.
In the world of digital marketing, your film is research. Start broad...
- Who are your direct competitors?
- What about indirect competitors?
- Can you spot any patterns?
- What are people saying about your rivals?
Once the broad questions are taken care of, begin scratching beyond the surface to find out more. These questions will vary based on the industry you're in, but you will adjust easily...
- How does their sales funnel look like?
- What kind of assets do they use? (e.g. forms, emails, videos, images...)
- What are the language and tone they're using?
- Are they feature-focused or is it about social proof? Or both?
- How do their landing pages look like?
- What call-to-action buttons do they prefer? Where are they positioned?
- Do they offer discounts, free trials, etc? What else?
- How do they upsell? What's their churn?
Of course, you won't go buy stuff from all your competitors. You might do that for top players only. Imagine acting as a prospect on a demo call with your competitor... 😅
The goal is to understand why competitor X chose a specific approach and identify the ones generating successful outcomes.
Make no mistake, you're not copying anyone. You're emulating things that are driving results. The rest comes down to whether you're capable to outwork and outperform your competitors. Let me remind you... 👇
Answer the WHYs and the HOWs, and make sure you document the answers in a file you can always go back to.
Tools to help with research:
- BuildWith--> see the tool stack running on a website and understand what your competitors are using to gain advantage
- Adbeat --> spy on your competitor's ad strategies and improve your own campaigns
- Ahrefs --> study anyone's website performance, organic traffic, backlinks, top pages, content engagement...
Phase 2: Content for the sales funnel (including lemlist examples)
In this section, we're going to focus more on examples. We'll break down what worked for some businesses and try to get inspiration from each.
☑️ TOFU talk
For example, at lemlist, our TOFU strategy evolves around educating our audience through actionable articles and how-to guides. Articles are then distributed across our community, subscribers, personal LinkedIn profiles and company's Social Media accounts.
Social Media is probably most interesting to discuss as we distribute one same article more than once and in different forms. Memes and funny conversations have really been great for us, both in terms of engagement and traffic.
And having a laser focus on producing highly-actionable content based on work from the trenches brought us both attention and credibility.
General Electric famously leveraged podcasts to create a "Black Mirror" style show and tell a fictional story which was based on the actual work within the company. And that was in 2015. Check the reviews... ;)
“We hit on all marks. I’d like to say the reception didn’t surprise me, but it really did. I thought to get into the Top 20 would be incredible and I didn’t think we’d hit a million downloads.”
Andy Goldberg, GE’s Chief Creative Officer
You probably remember what kind of a viral impact Dollar Shave Club was able to create thanks to a super-entertaining video.
What they did is they took a relatively boring topic and turned it into an incredible piece of content that grabbed everyone's attention. To this day, this video has over 26 million views.
My favorite SEO tool goes by the name of Ahrefs. Their team managed to impress with an insanely creative tactic that generated huge buzz at an SEO conference. They decided to put metrics for the keyword "coffee" on coffee cups.
Considering this was an SEO gathering, everyone literally took a photo and shared it on Social Media. Attention hacking and brand boost in its coolest form.
A recent example is this dude, Tom Hunt, who caught the eyeballs of marketing people with his incredible guest posts. One that grabbed my attention involved a breakdown of how Ahrefs became what they are today.
Afterward, I got an email from Nathan Latka (imma big fan) that shared this case study on Clickfunnels. The author? Tom. He has a saying btw that every guest post is a networking opportunity. I imagine he got a tone of them. As deserved.
🤔 Ideas for you:
- Work in a startup? Put a professor's hat and show them how you used it in a tactic that generated awesome results. No selling, tell a story.
- Promoting a service? Become Sherlock Holmes and identify real problems in your space. Speak authentically about them and be driven by results, not promotion.
- Selling products? Go wild and connect your products to topics people like to talk about (e.g. shoe laces to sneakers).
- Growing a personal brand? Become an expert by documenting all the ups and downs of your journey.
☝️ Mind the key takeaway:
As you see, there are many ways to do this, but the goal remains the same. Grab attention and provide value to people in an engaging way. TOFU is about stories...
☑️ MOFU talk
MOFU is the make-or-break moment. What you do next, in most cases, defines if somebody will give you their trust or not.
At lemlist, we're focused on adding people to our TSAC community. In it, we're trying to accomplish several things.
- Provide people with increasing value
- Deliver features they need to crush cold email outreach and sales
- Emphasize with their position as we all experienced similar challenges at some point, learn from others and talk about different things that unite us
By listening to what they have to say, we get amazing feedback. It's simpler to invite them to a specific webinar or a closed beta.
Of course, we also send a tone of emails (newsletters + drip campaigns) and do some retargeting occasionally. All these efforts allow us to enjoy a great inflow of qualified leads in our free trial.
For Webris, an SEO agency from Miami, their CEO is non-stop on camera producing super relevant videos, as well as writing top-quality blog posts. Since Webris ranks high on Google, their TOFU content brings people on target pages.
Afterward, you start seeing specific videos through retargeting ads that transfer you to dedicated landing pages that aim to grab your email. Best part? All automated.
Lead gen landing pages and forms are far from a novelty. As we know, it's never about the channel. It comes down to how good you are at using it.
For example, Hubspot is one that comes to mind. Their "The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2020" promises to give you incredible insights into this dynamic world of ours. But, in order to access it, you have to leave your details.
If you take a closer look, you will see their forms require more data than just a name and email. I imagine this heavily influences the quality of their leads.
You can even create quizzes and gamify specific components.
Take Gary Vee's #60SecClub. People leave a comment whenever Gary posts something on Instagram and they have a chance to win what they've asked for. Plus, it glues people to Gary's content but, more importantly, he brings unselfish value to persistent individuals.
🤔 Ideas for you:
- Work in a startup? Give them detailed, but engaging info on how to fix a problem.
- Promoting a service? Offer a trade. Their email for your content nugget. After that, nurture them and overwhelm them with more value.
- Selling products? Organize giveaways and send some samples.
- Growing a personal brand? Organize a small event in town and make it about a specific topic. Meet people, but also show them your skill by speaking about a specific strategy that worked.
☝️ Mind the key takeaway:
Remember, MOFU gives you the opportunity to produce increasing value. You already got the attention and it's time to make them love you even more.
☑️ BOFU talk
The secret weapon helping prospects feel confident in their decision to buy.
For lemlist, a typical example is our onboarding sequence when somebody signs up for the free trial. It's their first taste of lemlist and we need to be obsessed with making it an enjoyable experience.
In fact, we've just released the 4.0 sequence, based on the tests we run in the 3.0 version and considering the evolution of our product in the meantime.
On top of that, social proof is a big component of our BOFU strategy as well. Case studies, testimonials and word on the street play a role beyond measure.
I don't need to tell you about the importance of social proof. Companies use it in many different ways. Think both G and I are big fans of how Facebook tells its customer success stories. It's just fantastic content.
Also, whenever somebody types "your company name + reviews" query on Google, it's super important to see positive and encouraging stuff.
For me, User Generated Content also belongs here. Take Netflix or Coca-Cola as two examples.
Former used Social Media to spread the word and go viral (e.g. Bird Box, Narcos), whereas the latter absolutely dominated with “Share a Coke” campaign, where they put customers’ names on the bottle labels.
Both managed to literally privatize attention for a while and "converted" thousands of people down the line.
Guarantees, refund policies, carefully written FAQ content, kind customer support, seamless checkout experiences, upsells, product comparisons... they all have a role to play in removing doubts and making people feel confident in their purchase decision.
🤔 Ideas for you:
- Work in a startup? Create a wonderful first experience with the product.
- Promoting a service? Social proof in different forms. You want people talking about you, but take it one step further than typical testimonials.
- Selling products? Offer return guarantees and make them worry less. Make sure you got a fantastic customer support that's willing to go the extra mile.
- Growing a personal brand? Do something upfront for your target and knock them off their feet.
☝️ Mind the key takeaway:
Understand where the hesitation is coming from. Work towards removing it in any way possible.
Phase 3: Reporting and interpreting data
When you have a funnel in place, your next task is to analyze the performance and fix leaks... if they happen... and they always do.
The objective here is to chase perfection. We can never accomplish it, but it's damn sure we can relentlessly chase it. For example, here's what we analyze at lemlist.
Website --> Free Trial --> Activation/Usage --> Paid
In short, there are three main goals we measure in Google Analytics:
- how many people signed up for a free trial?
- how many of them are active during trial?
- how many were we able to convert?
Later comes the big stuff... MRR, ARR, Growth, Churn...
For instance, if we get 250 free trial subscriptions this week, 80% of them are active during trial and we get 20 paid users at the end, there's evidently a problem.
Then we gotta go back and see what we did wrong. This is where data interpretation and context behind numbers matter most as they help us narrow down reasons (e.g. didn't communicate the value properly, poor onboarding experience, missing features perhaps, etc).
And this is where carefully detailed metrics for all funnel stages come into play. Let's go step by step...
Our sales funnel template that generated $720K ARR
By now you already know what kind of content we use for every stage. In this last section, I'll show you how we put all the pieces together and how we track progress.
To have any leads, we need to grab attention. The only two ways to do that in my mind is with a great product and engaging content.
Nevertheless, we need to measure if that content is actually grabbing eyeballs. Specifically:
- Are people coming to our website?
- Where are they coming from?
- What did we do good to deserve this traffic? Can we replicate it?
- Why are we failing to rank for a specific keyword?
- Why is traffic going down for a specific channel?
- What are people saying about us?
- Are they sharing our stuff on Social?
Ultimately, I'm trying to understand are we feeding our funnel well enough.
When leads arrive on our website, I'm curious to see how they behave. So I go a little deeper into Google Analytics and Ahrefs.
- How's our free trial conversion rate going?
- What page is performing best?
- What are the main flows to free trial subscription (e.g. do they go to the pricing page or are they converting straight from a feature page)
- Are people consuming our content? How? Where?
- What do they do after reading an article?
- How's the blog conversion rate doing?
- What did we do good? What didn't go as planned?
Phase 1 of data gathering is now completed. Based on numbers and trends, I can comprehend where to double down and how to adjust my strategy.
Free trial is where we need to shine. It's one thing to impress someone by talking about unique features, a whole other to make them understand the value of them.
That's what we try to do during these two weeks. Specifically:
- Did people send a cold email campaign? How are their results?
- Are people using most important features?
- What vertical do prospects go to? Are we segmenting them right?
- How are the onboarding emails performing?
- How many people requested a demo? Show vs. no show?
- What's our free trial conversion rate?
- How many people during trial become TSAC members? Did we get them to connect with G on LinkedIn?
- What features are we missing?
Overall, there are multiple layers of data here.
Product: how are people using it, what are they loving and is there something that's missing?
Conversions: how many users become customers after trial? Were we able to sign prospects before trial ended?
Attention: if we get them to join our community or connect with G on LinkedIn, did we manage to expose them to relevant content.
Whatever happens, the goal is to have enough information to address whatever happens after free trial.
The vast majority of our users go through the free trial first. Bigger accounts and advanced outreach players move to paid immediately.
Regardless of how they converted, we then start to keep an eye on their lemlist journey. We're assessing:
- User activity levels
- Lifetime value
- Needs and wants, favorite features, etc
- Upgrades vs. downgrades
- Voluntary vs. temporary churn + reasons
Once summed up, we have the context behind our main KPIs (MRR, ARR, Growth Rate, Churn).
We're able to, as prospects move down the funnel, add tags and segment them. This makes it easier to set up drip campaigns and run remarketing ads.
More importantly, we end up having a huge data pile we use in many ways: future sales campaigns, content ideas, identifying funnel leaks, spotting opportunities, adding and prioritizing features, hiring new people, etc.
And same applies to user segmentation.
That's precisely why you need a funnel and this obsession with metrics. We'll never be perfect, but it doesn't matter. We're not planning to quit chasing perfection.