You’ve got a team to manage and a business to look after.
You spend hours every day sifting through emails, talking to your reps, and figuring out what direction you need to take next to blow your profits through the roof.
Small, but critical, tasks eat up an inordinate portion of your time every day, leaving no time for your sales team in your schedule to set up an automated sales funnel. This is extremely common.
But there lies the irony: you don’t have enough time to set up a time-saving system.
On top of that, any kind of “automation” is associated with being robotic, impersonal, and one-size-fits-all. Any good sales manager and sales rep knows that this won’t fly with prospects.
Here’s the thing: it will take effort (and some tinkering) to get it just right, but it’s 100% possible to build a targeted and effective automated sales funnel that still shows your prospects there’s a real live person behind the screen.
In this article, we’ll explain how a sales funnel works, why it’s a good idea to automate yours, and how you can do it while still maintaining a human touch in your marketing and communication efforts to win over potential customers.
Let’s get started.
Here’s a quick summary of how sales funnels work.
Sales funnels got their name because they resemble a physical funnel: they’re wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. This represents the natural course of your sales process, where you start with many prospects, but only a fraction of them make it through the funnel to become customers.
A sales funnel has four stages:
- Stage 1: Awareness. Spoiler alert... potential customers will need to know who you are before they’ll buy from you. You can think of this stage as their introduction to your business: who you are, what you’re all about, and what makes you better than all your competition.
- Stage 2: Interest & evaluation. Once you’ve passed the initial credibility test, prospects will size you up to determine if your company and its solutions are able to solve their pain points.
- Stage 3: Desire. In this stage, the prospect is carefully evaluating the specifics of your product. They’re looking at features and details, your pricing structure, and the overall value you can provide to potential customers.
- Stage 4: Action. This is the exciting part. The prospect thinks you’re great. They’re ready to hand over their credit card number and seal the deal.
Just like any sales process, your sales funnel needs to be personalized and data-driven. You’ll need a solid understanding of your prospects and ideal customers so that you can cater each stage of the funnel to show your value as quickly and effectively as possible.
Why should I automate my sales funnel stages?
It’s a lot of investment to get your sales funnel to maximum potential. But once you do, it will more than make up for the time you and sales reps have spent working on it.
Here are just a few of the benefits of an automated sales funnel:
- Less time spent on menial tasks: Why pay your top salespeople to do mundane tasks like writing emails and updating your customer database? Automation handles these for you, so your team can focus on doing what they do best: building relationships and closing deals.
- Lower labor costs: By saving your team time with automated sales funnels, you’re also saving the costs of paying them to perform those repetitive tasks. Recent research found that automation can help companies reduce marketing overheads by 12.2%.
- Robust customer data: Data is the holy grail of marketing. Automating your sales funnel allows you to capture more customer behavior data and keep it in a centralized database to access whenever you need it.
- Better leads, conversions, and ROI: Improving your lead quality and sales funnel conversion rate is critical for maximizing ROI. If you know what your prospects want, based on how you set up your funnel, marketing automation can improve your lead quality, conversion rate and ROI according to a Liana Technologies survey.
Now that you know what a sales funnel is and the benefits of automating yours, let’s look at how to do it.
How to create an automated sales funnel without sounding robotic:
Stage 1: Awareness
The best way to build awareness is with killer content. Content like blog posts, infographics, reports, and videos are prime vehicles for educating your visitors while showing that you really know your stuff.
Keep in mind that your visitor may not even be aware that they have a specific pain point that you can solve. Or they may be looking for a solution to that pain point, but aren’t yet considering you as a contender for their business.
So your content in this stage should not be salesy or pushy. The goal is to provide your prospects with valuable information that answers their general questions about your company’s offering.
While you can do that with nearly any type of content, we’ve found automation to work well with the specific types below:
Blogging is a mainstay in the Awareness stage of your sales funnel. Publishing helpful blog posts regularly will encourage prospective buyers to actually explore your brand early in the customer journey. Additionally, you could grab the attention of people who are looking for information related to your services or products.
According to DemandMetric, organizations that blog generate 67% more leads a month than those that don’t. As the content begins to pile up, more and more people will become familiar with your brand.
But you’re probably wondering if you even have time to create a content calendar. With the average time needed to write a compelling blog post increasing to 3 hours and 28 minutes, you may skip the idea of blogging altogether.
Fortunately, tools allow you to automate a major chunk of the blogging process. If you’re struggling to find time for blogging, use these apps to take some strain off your schedule.
- BuzzSumo: What if you could focus your blogging efforts on topics that have the potential to go viral? With BuzzSumo, you can see a list of posts that have received a certain number of social shares in a specific period. This makes you aware of a topic’s potential. Of course, you still need to add your own personal touch to increase its appeal for internet audiences.
- Grammarly: Grammarly helps you ensure proper spelling and grammar in your blog posts automatically. It also suggests improvements for sentence structure and detects instances of double words. After all, great writing is key to making a good first impression on your prospects.
To get the most out of blogging, focus on creating articles that answer common questions in your industry or shows your target audience how to do something better.
For example, since Copper sells CRM software, our blog includes content about how to improve sales and build relationships with prospects. People interested in these topics are also likely to be interested in CRM software.
Social media content
Whether you run a manufacturing company, a digital brand, or a service-based organization, social media is a smart avenue for driving brand awareness. Publishing social media content gives you the opportunity to engage with your prospects, share branded communications, and forge important relationships.
For B2B companies, being active on social media can have a huge impact on lead generation, driving a plethora of prospects into their funnels. According to DemandWave’s survey of 179 B2B marketers, social media is the third most useful channel for driving leads, with 55% of respondents finding it useful for lead generation purposes.
But similar to blogging, effective social media content requires a good chunk of time. The good news is that there are a variety of automation tools to make it quick and convenient. Here are a few:
- Hootsuite: Instead of manually pasting the same content across different networks, re-uploading images and fiddling with different settings, get your social media calendar organized with this dedicated tool that automates posting for you.
- CoSchedule: Over 60 updates can be scheduled together using CoSchedule’s interactive interface. You can also use it to plan out your calendar or directly reply to comments from its intuitive dashboard.
- SocialFlow: SocialFlow keeps tabs on social media conversations and activities in real time. Based on its analysis, this tool will identify the best time for you to post in order to capture your prospects’ attention.
To get the most out of your Awareness stage content, be sure to craft your own blogging and social media plan. Also, add your personal touch to every article or status you publish—don’t just post a link.
Stage 2: Interest & evaluation
In stage 1 of your automated funnel, you got the visitor’s attention. Now, it’s time to tell them more about your company and what you offer. Don't get salesy quite yet, but you can begin to promote your company as a solution to the problems you discussed in the Awareness stage. This is where a lead magnet comes into play.
A lead magnet is something you offer for free in exchange for a lead’s contact information. Think of it as a little brand advocate within your funnel, building excitement around your products and services.
The more specific you are about the benefits of signing up for your lead magnet, the better it will perform in terms of moving prospects to the Desire stage.
So what could serve as your lead magnet? Here are a few options:
An industry report or case study
Offering your visitors exclusive access to a compelling industry report or case study is a great way to establish thought leadership. Thought leadership can have a significant impact on purchase decisions, with 51% of B2B buyers considering it a major element for researching potential vendors. Take a look at how Social Media Examiner uses it. The company offers a 40+-page report that features 70+ charts to anyone with an email address to trade.
An “ultimate toolbox”
Another popular lead magnet is the ultimate toolbox. This is a compilation of all the how-tos, videos, resources, and other documents that can help a prospect start their business. If you’re running a software-related business, you could also throw in a lower-end version of your program to make the lead magnet more compelling. A great example of an ultimate toolbox lead magnet is Digital Marketer’s ultimate toolbox. Whoever gets on their list gets access to 30+ resources including templates, swipe files, and more.
A webinar can be a great way to move your prospects further down your funnel because it takes a lot of commitment from them to sign up and attend. If they make an effort to go through the entire recording, they’re probably highly qualified leads who are ready to buy. Garden Connect, for instance, uses webinars to inspire and inform its prospects. One way to get people excited about your webinar is to make it exclusive (or just sound exclusive) to a limited number of people, as Garden Connect has done here:
Once you’ve decided on a lead magnet, use automation to deliver it to your prospects. Below are a few essentials:
- Landing page tools: You’ll need to host the lead magnet on a landing page. Tools like Instapage and Leadpages have templates that make it easy to create beautiful landing pages for enticing your website visitors.
- Opt-in tools: To capture visitors who are about to exit your website, you can embed the lead magnet in an opt-in form. Apps like OptinMonster allow you to create embeddable opt-in forms for just about any website or ecommerce store.
Pro-tip: Regardless of the lead magnet you end up choosing, let your personality shine through! Show your lighter side in webinar recordings and incorporate your ideas and opinions where it's appropriate to let people know that it’s a live human speaking to them.
Stage 3: Desire
Okay, now that your prospective customers are paying more attention to your offerings, it’s time to show that your company actually lives up to its claims.
In stage three of your sales funnel, your prospects will look at the different features and details of your offerings; they’re not entirely ready to commit yet. Because establishing trust with a lead takes time, this is where you send a series of emails to nurture a relationship that brings them to the final stage of your funnel.
When it comes to ROI, email has an average return rate of $40 for every $1 spent. What’s even more intriguing is that email tops the ROI rankings in a list that includes SEO and other popular marketing tactics.
You can opt to send any number of emails, but the best email sequences consist of 5-7 emails that move prospects towards the final phase of your customer journey. Here's an idea for an email sequence you can set up for prospects who’ve entered the Desire stage of your sales funnel:
Email 1: The welcome email
Nearly every email list out there will have a welcome email scheduled to land in your inbox once you click that subscribe button. It’s a great way to thank a subscriber for joining, build rapport, and get the ball rolling on the next steps to take. The following is an example from Virgin Airline’s email sequence. The design, copy, and call-to-action are all there to acknowledge a new subscriber and lay the foundation for long-term engagement.
Email 2: The lead magnet email
The second email should give prospects the lead magnet that was promised to them in exchange for their contact details.
Your job here is to offer more insight into what makes this lead magnet valuable; use the email to talk a bit about your research process or the experts you’ve interviewed, and most importantly how your reader will benefit from reading it.
Email 3: The social proof email
Social proof is giving people evidence of your brand’s popularity or success through customer count, reviews, success stories or testimonials. All of these elements can easily be integrated into your emails.
Email 4: The ask us anything email
Now that you’ve introduced your company, it’s time to gently nudge prospects towards the sale with your marketing strategy. A smart way to do that is to remove any concerns they may have about choosing you as their vendor. Send an email telling them that you’re open to answering any of their questions. Be ready to counter any potential objections in your response, like explaining that they’re eligible for a full refund even if they’ve already used your product provided they let you know that they’re dissatisfied within five days of making a purchase.
Email 5: The complete offer email
This is where you introduce your main product or service for the first time. Make sure to include a call-to-action because your prospects might already have decided to give you their business. It’s also a good idea to include a discount or bonus if they buy now.
Email 6: The last chance email
Just like striving for a goal in stoppage time and somehow scoring a winner, there’s a reason why urgency has a powerful impact: it forces you to forget everything and just work on the task at hand. Use the power of urgency by telling prospects that it’s their last chance to enter a secret group or grab a discount as Hotels.com does in its emails.
Remember: When you set up an email sequence, it isn’t enough to logically schedule each message to go out to your prospects. You also need to add emotions into your copy. Confidence, humor, anger, frustration—emotions give a face to your emails, making them more relatable and trustworthy than emails sent by a faceless brand.
It’s also a good idea to send emails “as a person” rather than a company so that they appear human. You can do this by including your personal name alongside your company name in the from part of our email, as done in Copper’s emails. The “from” part of our emails include ‘Siena at Copper,” which adds a personal touch to our communications.
Sometimes, your email won’t go directly into the prospect’s Inbox, but end up in the “Promotions” tab of their email account. In other instances, a glitch in your email marketing software will prevent your email from reaching a subscriber’s inbox altogether. To ensure your emails are being opened, use a tool that allows you to keep tabs on email activity.
Copper comes with an email-tracking feature that notifies you when prospects click, open, and engage with your emails, so you know exactly what’s happening with your email sequence.
You also have the option to send personalized messages to different groups of subscribers straight from your CRM, making it a whole lot faster and easier to nurture prospects.
Stage 4: Action
Now we go into the final stage of your sales funnel: where the decisions are made.
By the time a prospect reaches the Action stage, you know for sure that they’re regularly engaging with your blog posts, have subscribed to your email list, and are responsive to most, if not all, of your communications.
Because they’re close to buying your product or service, use tactics that encourage leads to become paying customers, such as:
If you sell a product or software that needs to be seen for someone to understand how it works, you could offer a demo to qualified prospects. While you could put together an actionable step-by-step guide with screenshots to act as your product demo, nothing works better than a product demo video.
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Learn how to run a sales demo that sells in this free webinar.
With over 58% of consumers thinking that businesses with product videos can be trusted, showcasing your product or service through a video is almost a must. In fact, you might be losing business to your competitors who may be amongst the 59% of companies who’ve already invested in product demo videos.
On the bright side, you could create a product demo video right now to entice current prospects. Here are a couple of tools to help get you started.
Demo Builder lets you create demo videos for product or service presentations in three easy steps. It’s equipped with features such as screen recording, boasts a simple interface to add animations and edit recordings, and renders product demonstrations in multiple formats that can be shared on any digital channel.
With Vyond, you can create a custom product demo from the ground up. Set scenes, pick characters, and choose from a range of backgrounds to showcase your product in action. There’s even a timeline that allows you to match sounds and dialogue with what’s happening in the video.
Pro-tip: Incorporate some humor and be sure your company name is clear, either pronounced or visually presented.
If you really want to win the confidence of your prospects, show that you’re confident in your offerings by providing a money-back guarantee, as iPage does on its website:
It takes time to optimize an automated sales funnel, so be patient.
While building an automated sales funnel can take a lot of energy and time, it’s the key to sustainability and long-term profits for your business.
For maximum impact, show that there’s a real, live human behind every communication in your sales funnel.
- Your content in the Awareness stage should include subjective opinions where they’re relevant.
- The lead magnet you create in the Interest & Evaluation stage should represent your brand personality well.
- In the Desire stage, remind prospects of your product or service by incorporating emotions in your email sequence.
- In the Action stage, reinforce the fact that they’re working with a human—consider having a person appear in the product demo video to make your brand relatable and more engaging.
The next step for your automated funnel? Automating as many of the tasks in your funnel as possible—so that you can actually spend more time having these valuable conversations and building relationships.