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Sales - 10 min READ

Every Stage of the Sales Funnel Explained

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Author photo: Erica Hayton

Erica Hayton


As a sales rep, you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle for attention from leads and prospects.

The harder you try to sell, the harder that job becomes.

Giving your sales pitch too early makes you look like a used car salesman just trying to close a deal. Instead of buying, leads avoid you completely.

This is where the sales funnel comes in.

A sales funnel gives you a relationship-focused framework to follow, preventing you from giving your pitch too early. Rather than trying to sell your prospects on your products or services, the sales funnel allows you to educate potential customers to make a qualified, educated purchasing decision.

While the exact steps of a sales funnel can vary dramatically, it typically follows the same process: awareness, interest and evaluation, desire, action, and re-engagement.

At each stage of the sales funnel, you need to offer specific information, content, or answers that help your prospects move closer and closer to making a purchase.

Let’s break down exactly what happens at each stage of the funnel and how you can optimize each step to better appeal to your target audience.

Stage 0: Research and Preparation

Although research and preparation isn’t an actual stage in the sales funnel, it’s still incredibly important to creating future success. Before you get started, get to know who you’re trying to attract and who you are as a company.

Start by identifying your own brand values. What does your company stand for? What do you stand for as a sales rep? What qualities, characteristics, or skills are important to your team? What is your brand’s personality?

Understanding the core of your company gives you a foundation to create longer-lasting, more valuable customer relationships.

For example, Patagonia’s mission isn’t to sell jackets or hiking gear. Their mission is to save the planet. This larger “reason for being” creates a shared interest between the company and potential customers, encouraging shoppers to build a long-term relationship with the brand.

You also want to get to know your target customer beyond just a potential payday. Creating a buyer persona gives you the rundown of who your ideal customer is, what problems they’re facing, and what solutions you can provide to make their life easier.

Creating a buyer persona helps you see prospects as more than just a transaction––making it easier to develop long-term relationships in your sales funnel.

Your buyer persona will also make it easier to identify what content is needed during each stage of the sales funnel. Understanding your prospects’ goals, frustrations, and personality will allow you to tailor the information you’re providing to better address questions or concerns they may have.

Stage 1: Awareness

At the very top of the funnel is the awareness stage. The main purpose of this phase is to improve the visibility of your brand and start collecting leads. While you want to be sure you’re targeting the right group of people, it’s also okay to cast a wide net at this stage.

During the awareness stage, you want to bring attention to your brand but you don’t need to push any particular product or service. Instead, you should focus on sharing ideas, solutions, or advice.

Here are a few ways you can build awareness about your brand:

  • Sponsored social media posts
  • SEO
  • Guest posting or guest podcasting
  • Ebooks and whitepapers
  • Independent research
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • In-person events

Content at this stage in the sales funnel should be informative, but also fun and interesting. It needs to stand out in an already crowded space. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

Here's an example:

Example of a promoted social media post that can build brand awareness

Refer back to your buyer persona to identify areas where your target audience is hanging out. Get to know what social media platforms they use frequently and target those areas. Run advertisements on non-traditional platforms they might use, such as dating apps or video games if it fits within your brand persona.

The key here is to create content that will attract your target audience’s attention where they’re already spending their time––even if it’s not the “best practice” platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter. If your target audience isn’t active in those areas, don’t waste your time or money.

Determine a specific process or action that would push the lead to the next phase of the sales funnel, such as signing up for your newsletter or registering for a webinar. Have a clear conversion in mind, such as social media follows or email newsletter signups, and measure how many people you’re attracting compared to how many people are converting.

If your conversion rate is low, you’ll want to revisit the content you’re creating. Look for better posting opportunities or content that may be more appealing to your audience.

Stage 2: Interest and evaluation

Once a lead has converted from the awareness phase, they enter the interest and evaluation stage of the sales funnel. At this point, you’ve attracted a lead’s attention and they want to know more about a particular idea, concern, or question. However, they’re still not prepared to consider a purchase.

Your main goal at this stage is to build a relationship with your new lead to determine what their end goals are. You can do this through creating a consistent brand voice and message that your target audience can relate to, and sharing it through various content channels.

Here are some content ideas for the interest stage of the sales funnel:

  • Email campaigns
  • Blog posts
  • Lead magnets
  • Chatbots
  • Social media accounts
  • Free trials
  • Retargeting campaigns
Shift uses retargeting on Facebook to reconnect with prospects who have expressed interest in their tool

During the interest and evaluation stage, you want to put out feelers to see what your lead engages with.

Tracking what links they click in your email campaigns or what posts they engage with on social media can help you better understand what problems they’re facing and what solutions they might be looking for.

Be sure to follow up with your lead about any questions they have or additional information they need. Although they aren’t ready to purchase yet, you should focus on maintaining a relationship that positions you as a helpful expert. This will make it more likely that they come to you when they’re ready to buy.

You can also use retargeting to get your ads in front of previous site visitors. Retargeting through Facebook or Google Ads can bring leads who may not have converted the first time around back to your site to complete a signup or check-out process.

The transition between the second and third stage of the sales funnel may not be as clear as from the first to the second. As your leads start to become more familiar with what you offer and how you can help solve their problem, they’ll start to develop a greater interest in certain products or services.

Slowly ease them into the next stage by offering free trials, discounts, videos, or even 1-on-1 demos to increase their desire for your products or services.

Stage 3: Desire

At this stage of the sales funnel, your lead is a full-blown prospect. Not only have you caught their attention and got them interested in your brand, but they’re also actually considering making a purchase.

However, you’re not quite ready to close a deal.

Your prospects still aren’t 100% sure if your solution is right for their needs. They’re going to be looking for how well your offer fits within their budget, their current business model, and what kind of outcomes they can expect.

Here are some popular kinds of content to include at the desire stage:

Squarespace features testimonials from small business and celebrities to increase trust and convince prospects to convert

Your main goal at this point is to show your prospect what life would be like as a customer. You’ll want to show what kind of returns they can expect on their investment into your products or services, and make it as easy as possible for them to pull the trigger.

If they haven’t already taken advantage of a free trial or a discounted offer, this is a great time to offer one. The investment is low on the prospects’ end, and gives them a better feel for how your solution will make their lives easier without giving a full commitment.

Stage 4: Action

This is the stage where all the action happens. After properly nurturing your lead, you’re ready to seal the deal and convert your prospect.

But your goal at this stage isn’t just to get your almost-customer to buy. You should also set them up for success with your product or service. This means providing them with educational materials that’ll help introduce—and equally importantly, incorporate—the new solution to their daily lives.

Here are a few kinds of content to include at the action stage of the sales funnel:

  • Insider or customer success tips
  • Special offers
  • Product implementation or training webinars
  • Bundled packages
  • Follow-up email campaigns
The New York Times provides a special offer to convince the customer to buy

The first few days or weeks can make or break a potential long-term relationship with a new customer.

If the customer feels like you closed a deal and then disappeared, it may turn them off from making another purchase. This is especially true for subscription-model sales funnels that depend on repeat buyers.

Have a clear training system in place, whether it’s through email, phone call, or webinar. Check in consistently with your new customers to see if they have any questions or concerns. Give them some time to become familiar with the product and then check in again.

Don’t try to upsell or push an additional product right away. Instead, give your new customer some time to adjust to what they’ve already bought.

Once they’re more comfortable with your product or service, then you can start reintroducing your customer to the sales funnel.

Step 5: Re-engagement

Loyal customers can be the best thing for any brand. Just a 5% increase in customer retention rate can result in a 25% to 95% increase in profit. And happy customers aren’t just more likely to buy more, they’re more likely to tell their friends to buy as well.

Re-engaging with these customers who had a positive experience with your brand can encourage them to make an additional purchase, as well as give you referrals that lead to new conversions and customers.

Here are some ideas to re-engage customers:

  • Referral programs
  • Upsell campaigns
  • Re-engagement email campaigns
  • Product-specific webinars and tutorials
  • Live demonstrations

Essentially, your customers should never run out of content to engage with. Even if they’ve already purchased and are pleased with the solution you’re providing, you’ll want to create offers, information, and advancements that will keep them interested.

At this stage in the sales funnel, focus on keeping your long-term relationship going. This could be through introducing new features and products that customers might be interested in or encouraging your customers to become ambassadors for your brand.

Content at this stage should go beyond just selling.

Webinars, tutorials, and demonstrations should extend your current customer’s knowledge on how they can use your products or services or give them pro-tips to truly master their purchase.

Measure your re-engagement content by the lifetime customer value of each individual. Identify how long they’re staying a customer with your brand and how much they’re spending during that time.

This can help you identify if you’re reaching people who are invested in your products or services.

Your sales funnel stages should always appeal to your target audience.

There isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to creating a good sales funnel. However, in order to understand how a sales funnel and its stages work, you need to understand how your target audience thinks about the buying process.

While these content options for each phase of the sales funnel can get you started, you’ll see better results from paying attention to what your audience is asking for––just make sure to have each stage of the sales funnel covered.

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