How To Build a Successful & Profitable Sales Funnel

A “trend” I’ve noticed lately with online marketers and gurus is that tons of people seem to be talking about sales funnels. The allure is passive income, of course...making money while you sleep...watching the dollar bills roll in while you sip mojitos on the beach somewhere fabulous.

Set up these 6 simple automated emails and you’ll have an evergreen funnel that runs on autopilot! Sit back and watch sales happen!

Truthfully -- this is a massive oversimplification of what it takes to build a successful, profitable sales funnel.

Build A Profitable Sales Funnel

I’ve written at length about what a sales funnel is and why it is different than a simple automated email sequence (read a couple recent guest posts here and here if you’d like). One thing I haven’t done outside my virtual workshops or paid programs is talk in detail about what you SHOULD be doing with your sales funnel (specifically), and how to approach it if you don’t already have a profitable funnel running for your business. 

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time! Hopefully this will be a valuable resource you can refer to when you're ready to get started building your funnel...especially if you haven't had a chance to attend one of my workshops. 

Everyone has their own reasons for pursuing a career of entrepreneurship and business ownership. Sure, everyone likes a cool cocktail on a sandy beach every now and again...but most people who start their own business do it because they ENJOY working hard. They ENJOY helping other people. They want to LOVE the career they wake up to every day. I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who wants to hang up their hat and never work another day in their life. That’s just not how entrepreneurial folks operate!

So, put the myth of the cocktail-sipping, cash-hauling business owner aside. A sales funnel isn’t going to prevent you from ever having to work on your business again. Even after you implement your funnel, you will still be working incredibly hard on your business. You will still be busy.

What this WILL do is help you automate and streamline some of the repeatable processes in your business, help make it more clear what can be outsourced to a VA or automated with technology and software, and free up your time to focus your hustle on high-value activities (whatever those may be for your business). 

Before we dive into the meat of today’s post...I want to clear up one more thing about funnels that I think trips a lot of new business owners up. When you first start your business, you are going to feel totally overwhelmed and overworked. You’re on information overload. You’re just trying to keep your head above water. Most of your time is going to be spent on chasing the next dollar (i.e., marketing and sales) so that you can keep the lights on.

In the early days, you’re probably not going to have time to worry about process automation.

Once you’ve been bringing in a stable income for a few months, and you start to feel comfortable with your cashflow, you will naturally start to build more efficiencies into how you do business.

That is the point when I would recommend you seriously start to consider spending time on your sales and marketing funnels.

There are a few benefits to waiting until this point to worry about your funnels, namely:

  1. You know your product / service inside and out
  2. You know there is a market for your product / service … because you’ve sold it to a few customers, and you have proven to yourself you can make a stable income from it
  3. You understand all the different facets of how your business runs, because you’ve been in the shit the last few months trying to juggle everything, and keep the ship from sinking as you get your business off the ground and making money

You’ll still be very busy, but at this point you will probably start to have a little breathing room (or, you will start to see how you can make a little room for yourself by outsourcing, hiring, taking a small amount of time off, etc).

So -- let’s talk about funnels.

If you’re reading this article, you probably already know what a funnels is (at least at a high level). For clarity’s sake, let’s just review so that we’re all on the same page.

A funnel is "officially" defined as a consumer-focused marketing model that illustrates the theoretical customer journey toward the purchase of a product or service.

In layman's terms, I prefer to use this definition:

A funnel is the journey your customer will take as they transition from a total stranger who is unfamiliar with you and your business, through to a delighted customer who is ready to refer you to all their friends, family, and network.
— Me!

If you attend any of my workshops or enroll in my courses, you’ll hear me use that definition again and again.

A funnel is a process. It’s not just a series of automated’s much more than that. It takes more than a few emails to move from “total stranger” to “delighted customer”. The notion that you would be able to build a profitable funnel by grabbing swipe copy from an online guru and replicating their automated email sequences is ludicrous. As I said earlier -- anyone trying to tell you that is grossly oversimplifying the concept!

(Sadly, gross oversimplification sells because it comes off as “attainable”. It makes it seem like anyone can achieve what this six-figure/seven-figure entrepreneur did with just a few easy steps. But...I digress.)

I teach my clients and students a five-stage framework for constructing a successful and profitable funnel. Here’s the graphic I use to illustrate the framework:

Sales Funnel Graphic

Every person who comes into contact with your business and who ultimately becomes a customer will go through these five stages:

  1. Attract
  2. Engage & Educate
  3. Build Interest & Desire
  4. Take Action & Convert
  5. Retain (and Refer)

Whether you use automated email sequences, webinars, online summits, in-person events or trainings, live speaking, sales calls, blogging, Facebook ads, podcasting, affiliate marketing, guest posting...whatever, those activities all will correspond with one of the five stages of your funnel.

It’s your job when building out your funnel to make sure you have all five of those stages covered...that you are guiding your future customer through your funnel with care and consideration every step of the way. How exactly you do that will depend on lots of different factors…

  • What type of business you have (brick and mortar, online, wholesale, service business, etc)
  • What sorts of products you sell
  • Who your customer is
  • How your customer makes purchasing decisions (HUGE … is it an impulse buy? Are they buying for a team of people? Is it a giant investment? Does it need to be professionally installed? Etc. Etc. Etc.)
  • What industry you’re in, and possible regulations or compliance issues that might apply to you
  • Your budget
  • Your personal preferences for doing business

And any other myriad of considerations I’m not thinking of right now!

Bottom line -- there is no “one size fits all”. There is no “steal my swipe copy and watch the money roll in”. There is no “follow this formula and you, too, will be successful”.

  • There is knowing your business and customers inside and out.
  • There is experimenting.
  • There is measuring.
  • There is automating and streamlining when you hit on a formula that works.

That's all hard work, and there's no shortcut or "one-size-fits-all" template someone can give you to copy from. I can teach you the framework, but I don't know your business. YOU do!

To get started, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How am I attracting NEW customers to my business?
  2. What do I do to engage with new customers when they express interest in my business?
  3. How am I educating my future customers about my products and services?
  4. What am I doing to build my customers’ interest and desire for my products or services?
  5. What am I doing to instill a sense of urgency to buy with my customers?
  6. Am I asking for feedback after customers work with me or buy from me?
  7. Do I have a process in place to make it easy for my customers to refer me to others?
  8. Am I re-selling or up-selling other products or services to my customers, to earn their repeat business?

^^ This is a LOT of work. It's a lot to think through. These aren't simple questions you'll be able to nail down in just a few minutes. They are meant to invite deeper thought and reflection on how you're running your business.

At each stage in your funnel, you’re moving people along towards becoming happy, paying customers. If you understand what the stages are and what their purpose is, you will have an easier time effectively marketing & selling to your customers. Your messaging will be more focused, your customers will be clear what the next step in the process is, and you will stop driving yourself crazy with shiny object syndrome (I need to do webinars...NO, I need to do Facebook ads...NO, I need to be hosting events...NO, I need to be emailing my list...NO, I need to be guest blogging!)

Approaching your funnel in this systematic way will also help you measure its effectiveness more easily, and make strategic tweaks and changes based on how your marketing and sales efforts are performing with your customer base (i.e., are they buying?!).

Let’s talk through the 5 stages in more detail. I’ll also give you some ideas for practical marketing and sales strategies you can use at each stage.

Stage 1 - Attract

This is the stage where you are getting new eyeballs on your business. There are obviously LOTS of different ways to attract new business, be it through affiliate marketing, guest blogging, optimizing your website or blog to get more organic search traffic, using paid advertising, social media, hosting in-person or virtual events, etc.

Whatever the latest marketing trend is, it will likely fall into one of these four categories:

  1. SEO (optimizing your content so people find it organically when searching for topics on Google, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc)
  2. Paid Advertising (self explanatory, I think)
  3. Affiliate (You’re working with someone to capture traffic from their audience it guest blogging, participating in a summit, being a speaker at someone’s event, hosting a viral giveaway, creating an affiliate or referral program of your own, etc)
  4. Referral (You are well-known enough where people send traffic your way without you needing to do coverage, getting picked up by a round-up, being featured on someone’s blog or website, being asked to be a guest on someone else’s show/channel/group, etc)

You’ll spend a lot of time working the “Attract” phase to get new eyeballs on your business, and there are plenty of effective ways to do this! Don't let anyone tell you there's only one way or one best way. There's a lot you can (and should) experiment with.

Stage 2 - Engage & Educate

At this stage, you’ve successfully attracted someone to your business. They’ve said “yes” somehow:

  • Walked into your store
  • Signed up for a workshop
  • Opted in to grab a free download
  • Joined your Facebook group
  • Requested a discovery call
  • Liked you on Instagram
  • ...whatever else

Now it’s your job to engage with them...make them feel welcome, show them that you understand their problems/pains/desires, and begin to share about what you do and why.

At this stage, you might be hosting events, webinars, using automated email sequences, getting on the phone one-on-one with people, engaging on social media, sharing content on your blog, conducting weekly podcasts, delivering a free ecourse...whatever it is, your job at this stage is to engage & educate your customers, and keep them moving along in your funnel.

Stage 3 - Build Interest & Desire

At this stage, you’re starting to filter down to potential customers who actually are a good fit for your business and for your paid offers. You’re starting to eliminate people you can’t help, or who aren’t ready to buy for whatever reason. You’ve established some level of trust and rapport with the people who are still hanging around in your funnel.’re ready to start building interest and desire for your paid products.

You may use some of the same strategies you were using at the “engage & educate” stage, but now your messaging and focus is different. Your audience already knows you...and your relationship with them is deepening.

How do you need to tweak and adjust the marketing and sales strategies you employ at this stage of the funnel to reflect that?

Stage 4 - Take Action & Convert

By this stage, you’re actively asking for the sale. You’re telling people clearly how to buy. There may be sales pages on your website, invoices delivered over email, a sales script you’re using on a phone call, a pitch deck.

What about up-sells, and down-sells? How is the actual money transaction happening? Once they do they get a receipt, and any other info they’d need to get started?

Finally -- What can you do to make your new customer feel like your only customer?

Stage 5 - Retain & Refer

Often the most forgotten stage of the funnel! You closed the deal...your customer is what?

What are you doing to either earn their repeat business, or get them to refer you to others? You can automate a lot of this stage using various software and technology. Think: automated follow-up emails, thank-you letters, reminder emails to leave reviews, and referral incentives. Don’t let your customers forget about you. How can you stay top-of-mind?

Two things before I sign off today:

1 - I created a sales funnel roadmap you can use to get started mapping your funnel.

If you got value from this post and you'd like to start implementing for your business, sign up below and I'll send you my sales funnel roadmap . I think you’ll find this to be a valuable resource as you begin to build out a funnel of your own.

2 - If you want to learn more about funnels, I have an ecourse that goes into a LOT more detail!

My funnels course walks you step-by-step through the 5 stages of a profitable funnel, and also guides you through how to implement a funnel on your own. It also includes tech tutorials, and you get access to my private Facebook group, so you can get one-on-one help implementing your funnel!

Thanks for reading!