In this article, I’m going to teach you about sales funnels. What they are. How they work.
And most importantly, I’m going to give you sales funnel examples in action so you can see exactly what it takes to make an effective one.
And we’ll see plenty of cool metaphors in the meantime.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Sales Funnel?
- The 4 Sales Funnel Stages (AIDA)
- Sales Funnel Examples
- Example 1: The Streaming Service Signup
- Example 2: The Consultant’s eBook
- Example 3: The SaaS Demo
- What Makes a Sales Funnel Work?
What Is a Sales Funnel?
You know that game show, American Ninja Warrior? Or perhaps the original inspiration, the Japanese game show Sasuke?
It’s basically an intense obstacle course for talented athletes. Up to 100 people enter the first stage of the course. The best athletes complete this stage and make it to the second stage of the course – it might be a few, or it might be half the pack.
This continues for each stage until only a handful of people are left in the final stage of the course. These are the best athletes, who all have a chance to claim the title.
So what does this have to do with sales funnels?
It’s actually a decent metaphorical model to understand sales funnels. Instead of stages of an obstacle course, we have stages of a funnel. And instead of the best athletes making it through to each subsequent stage, we have the most qualified leads.
Maybe not quite as exciting, but it works.
So what’s the point?
If you’ll indulge me in my metaphor a bit more – creating a sales funnel is like designing the obstacle course. Too hard, and you won’t get any qualified leads. Too easy, and you’ll have too many unqualified leads to sort through.
If it’s not interesting, no one will want to run on it. And if you appeal to couch potatoes, no athletes will show up.
That’s a lot to keep in mind.
Obviously, this metaphor stretches things. But the fundamentals are similar. With a fluidly designed sales funnel, you can capture the biggest possible audience, filter them efficiently, and end up with the greatest number of conversions by the end.
The 4 Sales Funnel Stages (AIDA)
Different industries and different sized companies have different types of sales funnels, with expensive and B2B companies working with longer, more complex funnels.
Still, most sales funnels revolve around the same main stages of development, which include:
At this stage, a total stranger learns about the brand (or the industry) for the first time. They recognize that they have a need and discover that a solution exists.
Here, the lead is interested in the product. They’re actively researching the subject and are eager to learn more information that could help them make a decision.
Now, the lead is gearing up to make a final purchasing decision. They’re reviewing multiple competitors and are comparing different products. They’re on the verge of buying and need one final push.
Finally, there’s a call to action – a motivating instance designed to push an interested buyer to make the decision. See this list of call to action examples for help with ideas.
Sales Funnel Examples
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for.
Let’s see some sales funnel examples in action.
Example 1: The Streaming Service Signup
We’ll start with a sales funnel example for a hypothetical streaming service – think Netflix, but it caters to fans of an obscure sci-fi genre.
So how does this sales funnel begin?
Stage 1: Initial discovery
Everything starts with an initial introduction to the brand. This streaming service places ads with a handful of channels that all cater to sci-fi fans – giving it a great chance of appealing to the right people.
Social media ads and search engine ads are some of the most effective, allowing the streaming service to target their ideal demographics directly.
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All of these ads contain persuasive copy that directs viewers to a specific landing page.
Stage 2: Reviewing options
On the landing page and the main website, this streaming service wants people to have information they can review when considering a purchase. They include a brief breakdown of different tiers of plans, with pros and cons of each, and compare these plans to competing streaming services.
The goal here is to get people to sign up for a free trial.
Stage 3: Considering the purchase
The free trial is meant to help customers use the streaming service and evaluate it in real time. It’s backed up with an email drip campaign, providing customers with a steady pulse of emails persuading them to purchase a subscription.
Stage 4: Closing the deal
A “final” email goes out when the free trial is up (followed by reminders if the “final” email doesn’t cause them to convert), pushing customers to sign up for the full service. A sales rep may also follow up with a phone call.
Example 2: The Consultant’s eBook
For our next sales funnel example, we’ll consider a marketing consultant, operating as an individual who can help businesses succeed with actionable advice, direction, and coordination of resources.
Here’s what their sales funnel looks like:
Stage 1: Brand exposure
This consultant has a few different channels to get exposure to new people. But most notably, they publish regular new guest posts on a variety of online publications. They’re well known as an advisor and guest author – and are active on social media.
All of these resources and channels establish links pointing to one of a few different landing pages.
Stage 2: The eBook
Each of these landing pages recommends a different eBook, meant to provide valuable information to people struggling with marketing. To download the free eBook, a visitor must simply provide some basic information – including their email address.
Stage 3: Ongoing follow-up
Once someone signs up for the eBook, they’re considered a prospect. They then enter a pool to receive ongoing follow-up emails in a drip campaign. Steadily, they receive information about the brand, newsletters with new content, and special offers – including a free consultation.
Stage 4: The close
A combination of emails and phone calls push the prospect to the close. A simple call to action (CTA), like a formal offer to block off time for a free consultation, makes it powerful.
Example 3: The SaaS Demo
As a final example, let’s imagine a SaaS company. They make project management software, designed to keep your team in communication and productive.
Their sales funnel looks a bit like this:
Stage 1: Outreach and discovery
This SaaS company uses a wide variety of tactics to get exposed to new potential customers. They have a team of talented salespeople who are constantly expanding their professional networks. They have a client referral program. They also work with dozens of marketing and advertising platforms.
All these channels are designed to get people aware of and interested in this product – and all of them lead people to the main website.
Stage 2: The product tour
On the main website, users are given a thorough tour of the project management platform. They see how it works, what it costs, and how it compares to competing products on the market.
Throughout the site are prominent CTAs, all of which guide people to sign up for a free demo – where they can see and tinker with the product in more detail.
Stage 3: The demo
Once a person signs up for a demo, a salesperson will reach out and schedule a meeting. They’ll see what the product has to offer and will get to partake in a free trial of the full software.
Stage 4: Ongoing follow-up
At this point, the prospect is followed up with a number of times. They receive ongoing emails, phone calls, and support – ultimately guiding them to purchase the full version of the product.
What Makes a Sales Funnel Work?
Now you’ve got some sales funnel examples to start building your own from.
Some sales funnels work. Some don’t. What’s the difference?
I wish it were that simple. The best sales funnels tend to have a few things in common:
- Consistency. The reason you need to create a sales funnel is so that your entire sales team can consult the same document and put it into practice. Everything needs to be streamlined and consistent if you want it to work.
- Fluidity. Leads should smoothly transition from one stage of the sales funnel from the next. There needs to be a high mobility factor, with calls to action and convenient links to push people deeper into the funnel.
- Audience targeting and filtering. It’s important to qualify your leads before you try to sell to them. You can use these sales discovery questions to help with that. The early stages of your sales funnel should serve the purpose of filtering out people who aren’t a good fit for your brand. You want to distill your lead pool down to the most qualified candidates so your close rate is much higher.
- Volume scalability. This won’t apply to all businesses, but it’s often a good idea to design a sales funnel that’s scalable – in other words, it should work with a pool of 10 leads as well as a pool of 100,000 leads. Automation, simplified processes, and intuitive platforms can all help you achieve this.
- Reflexive improvement. Sales funnels should always be treated as works in progress. As you learn more information, you should adapt them.
But most importantly, good sales funnels are customized. They’re fine-tuned to suit your specific business and your specific customers.
Each of these sales funnel examples uses email as part of the sales process. So, it’s important to have insight into the effectiveness of your sales emails.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.