Build Your Business:

Creating a Sales Funnel

Here is an overview of the online sales funnel process. This example is designed for school programs and could be expanded well beyond the three keyword examples at the top.

September 3, 2014

Last month, we talked about lead generation and the importance of specialization and creating a complete offer for potential customers. This month, let’s continue the conversation by discussing the process of developing a sales funnel.

The term “funnel” references the visual of a wide mouth that spirals down into a small opening. Large quantities of people will come to your website, but only a few will leave as new customers. Your job is to design a funnel process that delivers a steady stream of profitable customers for the business.

The concept behind a sales funnel involves multiple steps, using progressive messaging until you get prospects ready to accept to your offer. The messages delivered are designed to move them one step closer to making the purchase from you. The idea is to keep you in front of your market, providing expertise and value to them in advance of the sale. It greatly helps your prospects become comfortable with you as you increase their trust and familiarity of your business and services.

People don’t make purchases the first time they visit your website for many reasons. They may just be shopping and are not ready, or they may need approvals. It’s more likely that they may need more information before they’re comfortable with you. They also may want to check out companies on other rating and review sites, such as Yelp, BBB, Merchant Circle, Google+ or others.

It’s well documented that more than 90% of the people who leave your website without purchasing won’t be back. Thus, it’s essential to capture their email addresses when they come to the site so you can continue to stay in touch with them. The idea is to provide continuing education so they can make the best possible decision, while building trust and authority in their eyes. Of course, the content will be crafted to position you as the only complete solution. In the process, you’ll also connect and engage with the prospects in a way they’ll appreciate.

The education process serves another purpose. Even if someone does not buy from you, he will know much more about your operation than any of your competitors. When friends ask if anyone knows someone who prints or embroiders T-shirts, your company will be top of mind. While we wish this would happen naturally, the reality is we need to push it along with some help.

The process begins by attracting Internet traffic to your site. This can come from more than 100 different sources, but the most common are paid ads like Google Adwords or Facebook Ads. These ads are known as pay-per-click (PPC) because you only pay for them if someone clicks the ad and are sent to your landing page. Done correctly, they can bring you more business than you can handle. Done incorrectly or poorly, you’ll flush your money down the drain.

Another approach is to spend a ton of time and frustration with search engine optimization (SEO) for your pages to show up first in the search results. This isn’t nearly as effective as it once was. Today, the biggest sources of traffic to your site come from YouTube, content sharing and social media referrals. This is a big change and will be the subject of another future article.

Landing pages and your website’s homepage differ. The landing page, where paid traffic “lands,” is very specific, whereas your homepage is more general. You can have dozens of different landing pages based on the specific target areas from which you’re driving or attracting traffic.

Examples of landing pages are school uniforms, safety shirts for contractors, events or festivals, contract printing or your own clothing line. You can create segments by geographic area, like cities, or by market segments, such as schools or events. The more precise you are, the better you’ll understand where your business is coming from and how fast it’s growing.

Once the visitors hit your page, the idea is to capture their email addresses before they purchase anything from you. This is called traffic conversion. Your goal is to convert the traffic into the development funnel. Only a small percentage of the traffic that hits your pages will be ready to purchase. Your goal is to cultivate, develop and ripen those who aren’t ready yet.

Conversion optimization involves a lot of strategy. Consumers today have been conditioned to be stingy when it comes to divulging their valid email addresses. They will often create “junk” addresses because they know they’ll receive all kinds of junk email there. To overcome this, it’s important to only deliver valuable, high-quality information. Respect your potential customers as you would want to be respected if you gave out your email address.

The idea of the landing page is to keep visitors on that page, or to exchange something valuable for their email addresses and allow them to go deeper into the site. The landing page also is known as a doorway page or gateway page. It should have very limited navigation. The focus should be on why you are their solution when it comes to having apparel decorated. Anything you can do to reduce risk and build confidence will benefit you.

An example of something valuable is a comparison guide that talks about styles, colors, fabric content and printing options. This would arm prospects with the terms and technology, and give them information to ask better questions. Other examples might be guidelines for art preparation or printing on technical performance fabrics. Anything that will make the process easier and more understandable will be well-received.

The content should be aimed squarely at benefiting the potential client. Under no circumstances should it be about you, all your awards, your big building on the busiest corner in town, equipment, etc. This is just more of the same to visitors because they hear every company tout the best quality and prices, finest equipment and so forth. This kind of content is essentially meaningless. Your site visitors don’t really care because it isn’t about them. They want to know what’s in it for them and why they should be doing business with you.

To capture email addresses, you’ll be using a mailing list program that allows you to create the landing pages, opt-in forms and follow-up email sequences. The opt-in process can be comprised of one or two steps.

I always use the double opt-in for my pages. It shows respect for visitors by requiring them to click on a confirmation/verification link that is sent to the email address used to sign up. By using the double opt-in process, you guarantee the authenticity of the sign-up address and you can confirm visitors wanted the materials they requested.  

The confirmation page also gets the prospects in the habit of being rewarded for their action. When they click the confirmation, they will be delivered to a thank-you page, where they can download or access the content for which they signed up.

The next step is important. Make sure that you include live links back to your webpages or order page in both the content download (PDF) or on the content page to which they’re delivered. This is a process flow. Remember, your objective is to move prospective customers one step closer to an order through each interaction with you. By having live links in the content and embedded in the PDF download, you guarantee customers can get back to a place where they can take action by ordering from you.

What happens if they don’t immediately place an order after receiving the free content? The answer is more follow-up. Keep layering useful information that builds toward an order. Don’t give customers everything they need in the initial free content. I call it “useful-but-incomplete information.”   

The follow-up sequence also is known as an auto-responder sequence. These are prewritten emails that progressively engage the reader. The mailing software delivers the messages automatically. Each step in the sequence is designed to further educate or to provide case studies of how other customers used your services. The case studies are in story form, which makes it easy for your prospects tell their friends and associates.

The follow-up sequence is prescheduled. You set the timing in advance based on hours, days, weeks or even months after the initial contact. This sequence is about moving customers toward a purchase or reminding them of what you do so they can share with their friends and colleagues as the need arises.

All of this sounds pretty complicated and intricate. Your first thought may be to just be happy with putting up a webpage and hope there is some business to be gained from it. Most of you will admit that approach hasn’t worked so well in the past. The funnel process takes some time and thought to build, but the results are enormously worth it. Once in place, the sales funnel will be working for you 24 hours a day, all the time. It’s pretty much hands off once you have it working.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll show you how to use mailing software and services to set up newsletters, broadcast emails, auto-responder sequences and much more. I’ll also show you how to use the built-in analytics to track the open rates of your messages and the actions that result from them.

Mark Coudray is a respected and well-known industry innovator and strategist. His works have been published in more than 400 papers, columns, features and articles in every major publication in the United States and abroad. Coudray has been an active member of the Academy of Screen Printing and Digital Technology since 1989, and has written for Impressions since 1978. For more information or to contact Mark, email him at