Case Study: How We Planned & Implemented a Profitable Holiday Sales Funnel

We used Facebook ads & a creative email marketing strategy to build a profitable holiday sales funnel that helped us 3x our sales numbers. This case study breaks it all down...from the type of audiences to target with your Facebook ads, to the changes I will be making to future email marketing campaigns. I cover what we did, what worked, what we learned, and exactly what I'll do differently next time. If you want to use Facebook ads and email marketing to build a profitable sales funnel to help you meet your holiday revenue goals this year -- read this post!

In addition to helping solo entrepreneurs and small business owners market & sell online, I also own a local bakery with my younger sister, called Spilt Milk. We are just finishing up our marketing push for Thanksgiving pie pre-orders, and I thought I’d share all about our holiday marketing & sales funnel with you today. I know many of you are probably prepping for the Christmas season or thinking about 2018 goals, and I definitely think you should consider how implementing a funnel (whether automated or even partially automated) can help your business. This approach can work for ANY type of business. The case study I’m sharing today is for a product-based, brick-and-mortar shop...however many of these same concepts and techniques can be repurposed for other types of business.

I know I love reading these case studies for other businesses, because I always am able to grab an idea or two that I’d like to try with my own business. I also find it super inspiring to hear about other people’s wins! Hopefully you’ll agree ;-)

I also wanted to share because the marketing plan we followed this year used two new techniques I’ve been wanting to experiment with: Facebook ads, and pre-launch list building. I have been reading TONS about both of these things lately in the online business community, and I was excited to have a chance to put both to the test in my brick-and-mortar business, where I had full control over the creative AND the budget! (I do love learning from client projects, but it is nice to be able to push the envelope a little further every now and again...and that is what I tried to do this time around!!)

A little background, before I dive into the post today…

Our bakery mainly focuses on pies and gourmet pastries. We are coming up on our 1-year anniversary at our retail location, so this will be our second Thanksgiving we pre-sold pies for. Last year, we had only been open a few weeks before Thanksgiving rolled around, so it was a little bit of a “hair on fire” situation when we took in about 100 special orders. This year...we are aiming a little higher. We will pre-sell pies for pick up Thanksgiving week, and we will also bake as many extra pies as possible that we’ll sell on a first-come, first-served basis the week of Thanksgiving.

With that said, I had two goals that I was aiming to hit during our pre-sale period:

  1. 500 email list signups (we were starting from 212, so I needed 288 more)

  2. Pre-sell 400 pies for Thanksgiving

Last year, ALL pre-sales were organic and we only advertised in-store, posted a couple times on Facebook & Instagram, didn’t send ANY emails to our list because...we didn’t have a list yet!.

Even so, we still managed to sell just over 100 pies for Thanksgiving, which at the time felt INSANE.

Our business has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year, and now we have a full kitchen staff AND a much larger customer base. We set our holiday revenue goal much higher this year, and are hoping to end our year on a strong note with holiday sales. I knew we would have to up our marketing game if we wanted to hit that big revenue number, so the goals I set for this year were aligned with meeting that $ number.

After following the strategy I am outlining below, we were able to churn out our two biggest months EVER -- with sales numbers projected at just over $80,000. About 25% of that sales number can be directly contributed to the holiday sales funnel I'm sharing in this post today. 

Keep in mind that is our total SALES number, not our net profit after expenses. We will have a better idea of net profit after all Q3/Q4 invoices are finalized. I anticipate it will be around 5%.

What We Did

Because we have held pre-sales for holidays in the past, I knew to expect that most of our orders would happen on our website, and that most of the traffic would be driven there via email marketing campaigns, and social media. So … my general plan this time around was to:

  1. Grow our email list BEFORE opening pre-orders (I use Mailchimp for this business...check out this post for info on how to choose an email marketing platform!)

  2. Sell to our email list

  3. Sell on social media using regular, unpaid posts AND paid Facebook ads*

  4. Of course, we also sold in the shop...but I am not going to cover that in this post

*Side note: I have used Facebook ads before, but it always had felt like I was throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks...I didn’t fully understand Facebook ads before this big holiday sales push. I did a TON of research up-front and tried to be strategic with how I approached our ad spend. I hate wasting money and we have never really used paid advertising much for this business, so I wanted to be sure I was getting a good ROI and I wouldn’t regret marketing with Facebook ads!

1 - Grow Our Email List Before Opening Pre-Orders

We started planning our holiday menu and our holiday marketing strategy at the end of July. I know that seems REALLY early, but I am convinced this is the reason we have done so well with sales, and it isn’t even November yet. At times I felt a little sleazy (sort of how stores start putting out Christmas decorations in September!!), but at the same time I feel grateful that we are able to bake for so many people this holiday season, and very glad to continue to grow our business!

So back in July, we settled on what we’d be offering this year, and came up with a holiday sales revenue target. From there, we broke our revenue target down into how many units we would have to sell to achieve that goal, and how many customers we’d have to bring in to sell those units.

In July, we had 212 people on our list. I wanted to get that number up to 500 so that conservatively if we had a 10% conversion rate on sales, we could do between 50-100 units just from the email list. I figured that would be a pretty good start to hitting our goals. I came up with these projections based on past conversion rates from previous holiday pre-sales. To be conservative, I decided on a number 5% lower than what we usually see. I didn’t want to be disappointed if we undershot our projections!

Starting in August, I decided to do a few things:

  1. We used to have a newsletter signup on our website, but it was sort of buried in the footer. There was also no real incentive for people to sign up for the newsletter, which..I know, I know is BAD. I teach this stuff to my clients ALL the time, preach about it in all my workshops, and harp on it in blog posts whenever I get the chance. I finally took my own advice and fixed this. Instead of “newsletter”, I changed it to the Pie Club. I put together some snazzy copy and came up with some fun reasons why someone would want to join. I added a pie club signup page to our main navigation bar, AND left a signup form for it in the footer, but redesigned it so it’d be a little more prominent. Boom - done and done. Almost immediately after I created the Pie Club, we started getting organic signups to our email list from cold web traffic. This never used to happen. Ever.

  2. I decided to incentivize Pie Club signups further, by advertising that Pie Club members would have first dibs on pre-ordering Thanksgiving pies AND I pushed that there would be a special “bonus” for Pie Club members only related to Thanksgiving orders. I put a little chalkboard sign on the counter at our shop talking about the Pie Club and letting people know how to sign up, as well.

  3. I updated the link in our Instagram profile to send people to the Pie Club signup page, and posted several times throughout August and early September advertising the Pie Club, trying to drive signups

  4. I posted several times on Facebook about the Pie Club, and Thanksgiving pre-orders but did NOT run any ads yet.

On October 1st, we hit 500 subscribers!! That was one of my goals for this holiday pre-order period, so I was super excited that we met it. In fact -- I don’t have our online order system set to automatically import email addresses to our email marketing software (Mailchimp), so we probably hit the number even before October 1st.

We grew our email list by over 300 subscribers in 1 month without spending a single cent on Facebook ads!

Niiiiice!!

We opened up “pre-orders” for Thanksgiving pies on September 16th to our Pie Club members, and a week later (September 23rd) to the general public. Side note: we got a lot more email list signups during that week, because people were wanting to place orders, but they needed to sign up to grab the link.

I think this strategy of building our list in advance worked REALLY well. Our conversion rates for our list are really high...that week alone, we took 41 pre-orders, and sold 106 units. I was happy with that, because it exceeded my conservative goal for email marketing sales for the ENTIRE order period...and we hit it in 6 days!

We built up anticipation for the pre-order by rolling that in as an incentive to join the Pie Club, so our customers were ready to purchase when we opened orders.

2 - Sell to Our Email List

I already mentioned the special “early order” option we put together for our Pie Club members (aka email list subscribers). When we opened orders on September 16th, anyone who was on our list received an email bright and early in the morning letting them know they could now pre-order, using a special link I sent them.

I put all the info in this email about our menu and the pie raffle, as well. Like I mentioned above, our list responded very well to this initial “open cart” email blast. Over 30% of all the pre-orders we took in happened this week...which is awesome.

We hit the overall sales target I had for our email marketing campaign in less than one week. Our efforts really paid off!

I sent two additional emails to our list during the pre-order period … one “reminder” email a couple weeks into the pre-order window, then a final “last call” email about 1 week before we closed down orders.

In retrospect, there are a couple things I want to experiment with and do differently for our next holiday pre-sales period...but more on that later in the post!

3 - Sell on Social Media

Unpaid:

We use Instagram & Facebook pretty extensively in our business, and we have a fairly active following on these two platforms. We’re really going for “quality” over “quantity” when it comes to social media marketing, since our end game really is in-store, local sales. Therefore, our audience is mainly local to the Chicago / Oak Park area. Because most of our followers are also our target customers, we tend to see strong results when we promote on Facebook or Instagram.

This was the case for this holiday pre-order campaign, as well. It’s hard to measure exact conversion numbers from unpaid Facebook and Instagram posts, but I am glad we posted extensively throughout the pre-order period. It seemed that many of our customers needed to see several “reminders” before placing their order, so this helped keep it top-of-mind for anyone who already followed us on social media (“warm” traffic). We also had people sharing our posts, so that helped leverage the viral power of social media to get the word out even more. We had lots of new customers place orders this Thanksgiving season, so I know this mixture of frequent social media posting combined with our paid advertising campaigns helped us reach a new customer base.

If you have a following already on social media AND are planning to use ads, don’t forget to also post your offer on your social media page to take advantage of organic traffic/sales from your existing “warm” audience. I’ll talk in a second about a few different paid Facebook ads strategies that you can use to leverage your “warm” audience (aka existing followers), as well!

Paid Ads:

As I mentioned earlier, this was the first time I really got strategic about using paid Facebook + Instagram ads to pre-sell holiday orders. I was pleased with the results we saw, and would definitely do this again!

Side note: If you’re interested in seeing a longer post or maybe a live workshop that goes into more detail about our Facebook ad strategy and how we set all this up, leave me a comment below! If there’s enough interest, I’ll be sure to put something together for y’all.

I wanted to try out a few different things with our ad strategy, including marketing to both WARM and COLD traffic. I lumped “warm” traffic into 3 different buckets:

  1. Our existing email list subscribers (aka “Pie Club Members”)

  2. Our existing Facebook followers

  3. Anyone who had recently visited our website

I considered “cold” traffic to be anyone who was NOT in one of those three buckets I just mentioned.

The first thing I did was make sure we had a Facebook pixel installed on our website. We use Squarespace to host our site, and it was really easy to get the pixel set up. I also installed some custom tracking pixels to track conversions on our site. I decided to track two different conversions: an email list signup, as well as a completed order.

Install the Facebook pixel on your website to track how your ads are performing. This will also give you the ability to retarget people who visit your website later on, using a custom audience.

If you haven’t used Facebook ads before, let me give you the 30,000 foot overview of pixels and what we used them for…

Basically a pixel is a small snippet of code that lets you track who is visiting your website, and what they’re doing on your site. You can use this information to track how well your ads are performing, and also to re-target people who have visited your website and taken certain actions on your site. For example, we used our Facebook pixels to:

  1. Deliver Facebook ads to people who have recently visited our website

  2. Deliver Facebook ads to people who signed up for our email list, but who hadn’t yet placed a holiday pre-order

  3. Track the ROI on our ad spend ($ spent on ads vs. $ spent on pre-orders from customers who saw those ads)

Many people use pixels to retarget people who viewed specific items on their site, with ads for those specific items. Have you ever been browsing for something online, only to see ads for that same thing appear in your social media feeds? They’re using pixels to track your browsing behavior, then “reminder” ads to you later on for those same products you’re interested in.

I was very impressed with how easy it was to get the Facebook pixels set up on our site, and how powerful they were in terms of the additional targeting options they gave us!

While I was learning about Facebook ads and researching them prior to getting our ads up and running, I kept hearing again and again that we would have to experiment and tweak our strategy as we go to find what works for our business. I definitely found this to be the case with Facebook ads. I ran different ad sets throughout the pre-order period that were optimized for different outcomes. I’ll talk more about this later in the post...but if you are getting started with Facebook ads, I would definitely encourage you to play around with the target outcomes and see what works for you.

When you create a new Facebook ad campaign, you'll need to select your marketing objective. We experimented with "traffic" as well as "conversions", and saw great results from both. We loved the detailed reporting options that allowed us to see exact ROI when using the conversions marketing objective!

We tried running ads that were optimized both for conversions, AND for link clicks. The ads we ran that were optimized for conversions had lower reach and click-through numbers, but it was dead-simple to see how many orders came in because of these ads. The ads we ran optimized for clicks had MUCH higher reach and click-through numbers, but I wasn’t able to see exactly how many orders came in because of those ads specifically. BUT, I did notice a sharp uptick in orders while running the click-through optimized ads, so I am sure we got orders in as a result of those ads, too. I will definitely play around with this more in the future!


If you're just getting started with Facebook ads and would like to grab my "quick start" checklist ... enter your email below and I'll send you the PDF! Super useful to help you get going with the basics if you've never used FB ads before.


Our Results

Still with me?! If you’ve read this far, it’s probably obvious by now that we had a multi-pronged approach to marketing for this holiday pre-order cycle. This is something I really stress whenever I run a sales funnel workshop...you have to diversify when it comes to what you do to attract customers or clients to your business. This worked really, really well for us this holiday sales cycle.

I mentioned at the beginning of the post that I had two goals for the Thanksgiving pre-order period:

  1. 500 email list signups (we were starting from 212, so I needed 288 more)
  2. Pre-sell 400 pies for Thanksgiving

We blew that first goal out of the water, which I was super, super proud of. We didn’t even use ads to grow our list, but still with just the organic social media posting and pushing the email list in-store, we were able to hit 500 subscribers and even surpass it. As of last week (5 days before we closed down pre-orders), we were at 537 subscribers.

I’m super proud of that win!!

This is going to be great for future holiday ordering cycles, and I’m also really excited that having a bigger list will help us connect with our customers more, get feedback from them about new products, and do lots of other fun things with events, classes, and a new recipe blog I want to launch in 2018. Really cool stuff.

As for the 2nd goal, we did NOT end up hitting our pre-sale number. At last count, we were at 265 pies pre-sold (135 short of our goal). I think there are three major reasons why we didn’t hit our goal:

  1. My sister and co-owner is our head baker. Her husband also works with us, and he is 2nd in command in the kitchen. Last week, my sister had a baby! We knew she would be giving birth right before Thanksgiving, and we were super, super apprehensive about doing a huge sales push for Thanksgiving orders if she (and her husband) might not be able to be help out with orders. We decided back in July when we had our initial Thanksgiving planning meeting that we would push up our pre-order window to account for her needing to be out on maternity leave. That would give us time to plan for temporary staff and whatever else we would need to do, if she wasn’t able to be there to help out. This was the main driver to us doing an “early” sales push for Thanksgiving this year, and I think this had an overall negative impact on our sales numbers. (Still, we got a baby out of it so….can’t complain!!)

  2. Because we did our Thanksgiving marketing push earlier than usual this year, we will completely miss the press cycles for Thanksgiving. We live in a big metropolitan area (Chicago), and last year we were featured in a couple different articles around Thanksgiving time that gave a boost to our pre-order numbers. We knew our pre-order window would be closed by the time these articles came out, and that we would miss the sales boost they would have normally given us. I think missing this press window hurt our chances of hitting 400 pie pre-sales, for sure. BUT, with that said we were featured on a major TV news segment on September 15th -- the day before we opened pre-sales for Thanksgiving orders. We knew that segment would air on the 15th, so we leveraged that date and decided to start pre-orders immediately after it aired. Hopefully this helped soften the blow of missing the November press cycle...and I’m hoping that we can instead use any press that comes our way to advertise “day-of” walk-in orders.

  3. Third and probably most impactful to our sales numbers is that it was just too darn early for most people to be thinking about Thanksgiving. I am sure we will start to have tons of people asking about pie orders after Halloween, but we closed down pre-orders on October 22nd. I am hoping that we have a strong showing the week of Thanksgiving for walk-in orders, but we will have to see!

Cute baby = worth it!

With all that said and all those lessons learned, I am still thrilled with where we ended up on pre-orders. Sure, we did not hit our “400 pies” goal number. BUT we still pre-sold a heck of a lot of pie, we have a new adorable baby to hang out with, and now we can focus our remaining marketing efforts this season on week-of walk in sales.

What else we’re doing before Thanksgiving…

So, I’ve told you all about our holiday sales & marketing funnel. I’ve shared our numbers. I’ve told you about a few lessons learned. My main focus from now until Thanksgiving is to do everything I can to help us hit our overall revenue goal, even though we fell short on pre-sales.

In order to hit that revenue number, we will have to get plenty of customers to visit the bakery the week of Thanksgiving for “walk-in” pie pickups...and we will be baking as MANY extra pies as humanly possible to support this goal!

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we plan to have a party for walk-in pie sales. Last year we had a line down the block of people waiting to buy pies, so this year we are going to have live music, free cocoa and coffee, face painting for kids, and free snacks for everyone. It should be a fun party...and hopefully it will entice some people to come on out and wait in line for a pie :-)

I am planning to do a few things in the next few weeks to help promote this party:

  1. Market day-of pie sales using Facebook ads. I will target visitors to our website who have NOT yet purchased a pie, as well as people who “liked” our Facebook page, but didn’t yet purchase a pie. I will be creating audiences for both of these groups, and have earmarked a small advertising budget to show these folks ads for our Thanksgiving “party”

  2. Take advantage of media/press opportunities that come up in the month of November to advertise the Thanksgiving pie-pickup party.

  3. Put together an email blast to our email list subscribers who have NOT yet purchased telling them about the party, and encouraging them to attend.

  4. Create printed flyers advertising walk-in pickups at the party that we can pass out to anyone who asks about Thanksgiving orders in-store.

We'll use Facebook's retargeting options to continue to push day-of pickups to folks who have already interacted with our sales page. Facebook pixels make it easy to do this type of retargeting.

What I’ll do differently next time...

I learned a LOT during this marketing push, which was definitely our biggest and most organized sales push ever. I am glad we did as much up-front planning as we did, since it helped me stay focused on our end goals and prevented me from getting nervous and changing course mid-way through the marketing plan (which I tend to do a lot)! I also loved that I was able to track how we were doing as we went along, which helped keep me motivated and focused.

With that said...here are my biggest “lessons learned” from all this:

1. Focus on what works

Email marketing has always converted best for us, and it was no different this time around. The majority of our sales came from the emails I sent out to our list. I knew this would be the case again, which is why I did such a big push to grow our list prior to opening pre-orders. I’m glad I did that, but I think I could have done a better job of sending more sustained, regular emails out to the list throughout the pre-order period. I only ended up sending 3 emails in just over 4 weeks, which I don’t think was enough. Next time, I will plan these emails better and schedule them in advance so I don’t have to think about it.

2. Don’t set a cutoff date

We cut off orders too early this year. We knew we’d have to do that going in, because we wanted my sister to have a relaxing maternity leave and we didn’t want to stress about it. Next time if we’re able, I would rather set a target number of where we want to get to, and leave orders open as LONG as possible...at least until mid-November or the week just prior to Thanksgiving...if we can.

3. Tweak my Facebook ads strategy

Like I said earlier, I was somewhat nervous about “wasting” money on Facebook ads. We’d run them before, but this was definitely the most we’ve ever spent on ads and I was very nervous we wouldn’t get an acceptable ROI from our ad spend. In the end, I am more than happy with how Facebook ads performed for us, and I would 100% be willing to make this investment again in the future. In fact, Facebook ads will continue to be a key component of our marketing strategy. Next time, I will also:

  • Run more ads to “warm” traffic. I did a bit of this this time, but I should have done it more. I suspect that these ads will convert well for us, and I’m excited to see how these do in the future.

  • Experiment more with custom audiences. Now that I am starting to get more data about who is actually purchasing our products, I can use Facebook audience insights to glean more info about these people, and target ads to “lookalike” audiences. I’m excited to see how this can help us reach a new customer base who will be interested in our products!

  • Do a better job of monitoring our ads for “trolls”. We had sort of a problem with people posting negative, mean comments on our ads. I didn’t expect this, since it’s not something I see on any of our normal social media posts. I ended up deleting these comments, but I was so shocked to see them that I really waffled about whether or not I should remove them...so they stayed up for several hours (in some cases several days) before I deleted them. Next time -- I will delete these comments off the bat.

4. Use the right tool for the job

Instagram ads didn’t convert for us, but I think they DID work as an awareness tool. We spent a little bit of money to run Instagram ads toward the middle of our marketing campaign, but I shut these off after a few days because they just weren’t converting into sales. I would consider playing around with Instagram ads again, but I would use them more as an “awareness” tool, rather than expecting someone will pre-order on the spot after seeing our ad in their feed.

Overall - I’m thrilled with the results of our first serious sales and marketing campaign we ran for this Thanksgiving season! We blew last year’s numbers out of the water, and we grew our customer base by leaps and bounds. I’m really excited to see what we’re able to do for the rest of the holiday season this year with these lessons learned!

I have to say my #1 takeaway from all this is really in the power of Facebook ads. I am excited to continue to use Facebook ads, and experiment more with all they can do. It’s a very powerful tool, and I can’t believe how accessible they are to the average business owner. If you’ve been wanting to try Facebook ads...please, do!!

Don’t forget to comment below if you want me to put together a more detailed workshop on Facebook ads for small business owners. If there’s enough interest in something like that, I will get one scheduled.

Thanks for reading!


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