Sales Funnels 101

Sales funnels can be a confusing topic. Especially for beginning marketers or people trying to sell their own books or content online.

It really doesn’t have to be that complicated though.

Basically, a sales funnel is a series of steps in a buying cycle. Think of it this way: if you stopped to chat with a stranger on the street, what would you need to say to them in order to get them to buy your product?

Target Audience

Let’s imagine that you’ve self-published your first book about permaculture design, and you’ve invested in a booth vendor at the annual meeting of your local Gardeners’ Guild. The attendees at this conference are all gardeners of one sort or another, so they are your target audience. Actually, not everybody at this meeting is in your target audience; you’ve wisely focused your niche so that your target audience only includes gardeners who are currently doing or are interested in permaculture. (For those of you wondering, permaculture is a style of gardening or agriculture emphasizing sustainable techniques for growing self-sustaining perineal food crops. It’s what I do for a hobby.)


Now, at this meeting, the attendees all go through the vendor area to get into the main meeting room. All these people pass by your booth – this is traffic.


At this stage most of the attendees pass by your booth without noticing yet. They’re busy reading the conference handout or chatting with friends. But some people do notice you. These people become aware of you, and make a mental note to stop back at your booth.


Joy of all joys, someone has stopped at your booth to inquire about your book! This person is now a prospect. At this stage you are both trying to determine whether or not you’re a good fit for each other. Does your book have something to offer them, and do they have something to offer you? If they discover that they’re not interested in the topic that your book is about, they’ll move on. It’s also quite possible that they’ll leave and come back again later. Maybe they’re just casually browsing, collecting brochures. Many prospects will visit multiple times before taking any action.


The next stage of interaction with this prospective customer (fingers crossed) is to turn them into a lead. A lead is a prospect who has talked to you or given you some information about themselves. Most commonly it’s their email address or phone number. Or they might have signed up for your Facebook group. Or downloaded your lead magnet. There are dozens of ways to get a prospect to give you some information (thereby turning them into a lead). What’s most important is to never let them walk away without offering them some way to become a lead.

Usually this takes the form of a non-monetary offer that they can get in exchange for some personal information. Obviously you don’t want to strong-arm anyone, but if you don’t have an offer of some value (besides actually purchasing your book), they’ll remain prospects forever. Here are some examples of offers that can turn prospects into leads:

  • A downloadable excerpt from your book.
  • A research packet that contains extended information that’s not easy to find.
  • A PDF cheat sheet or quick reference for each chapter of your book.
  • Access to a private Facebook group.
  • Updates from your email newsletter.

Congratulations, you’ve got a lead! If a reporter has a really juicy story, they’ll call that a lead. If a cop has information that may lead to an arrest, that’s a lead. You just got a contact that may actually buy from you, that’s a lead!


Not all leads will buy from you, unfortunately. However, at this stage you’ve built a relationship with your leads. They know who you are, they know what you have to offer, and they’ve given you permission to follow up with them. So do! Don’t be shy to communicate with these people. They’ve implicitly told you that they’re interested in what you have to offer. Even if they don’t respond positively right away, you should still keep communicating with them.

It’s tempting to get discouraged and interpret silence as rejection. Don’t! The only form of rejection that you should accept is if they unsubscribe from your mailing list or ask you to stop emailing them. That does sting a little bit, but try not to take it personally. In fact, as a rule of thumb, if someone isn’t unsubscribing from your email list every time you send a message, you’re probably not sending enough messages.

The key takeaway here is that every opportunity will mature in its own time, and it’s your job to not drop the ball when they’re finally ready to buy. Keep offering your leads information about what you offer and opportunities to buy from you.

Here are some ideas for opportunities that you can offer your leads:

  • Discounts on your product.
  • Webinar invitations.
  • Offers to download your free material.

If you’re using any kind of lead scoring system (we use Drip), you can score a lead’s quality based on the number of interactions that they have with you during this stage. Are they opening all your messages and downloading every offer that you send? Then they’re a hot lead. Are they deleting your messages without reading? Cold lead. But don’t stop emailing. Never take anyone off your list unless they ask to be removed. The time may not be right, but that may change.


This is what we get excited about, isn’t it? Someone values your work enough to pay good money for it. Congratulations! You’ve successfully brought a complete stranger through your marketing funnel and converted them into a customer.

From Traffic to Awareness to Prospect to Lead to Opportunity to Customer, this person has stuck with you through thick and thin and has cooperated with you to develop a relationship with you. They’re a keeper! Remember, this may not be a one-time transaction. If this person likes what you do enough to pay you money for it, and if they obtain value from what you’ve sold them, they may like you enough to do it again. You may round out your product by offering consulting, webinars, additional ebooks, or other products of interest to your target market. Remember the ABCs of selling: Always Be Closing, and the ABCs of content marketing: Always Be Creating. Stay hungry my friends.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that the funnel steps I outlined above are based on Aaron Ross’ excellent book Predictable Revenue and conversations that I’ve had with startup founders.

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