Automating your sales funnel can solve one of the primary challenges most B2B organizations face: marketing and sales are often at odds. The sales team is working hard to work leads and close deals. They can be frustrated by a seeming lack of enough new leads coming in from the marketing team, or by a missing piece of information that has been omitted from a marketing campaign. Meanwhile, the marketing team is working hard to design messaging that will drive impact, and they can be frustrated when the sales team doesn’t properly utilize the materials they’re providing or when they go off script or violate set brand guidelines.

So, what’s the solution? Leveraging a sales funnel model complete with sales funnel automation can help get these two vital teams back on the same page with their efforts. And now you may be wondering:

  • What exactly is a sales funnel?
  • How do you go about automating your sales funnel?
  • How do you prove results?

Not to worry! This blog will provide you with actionable answers to all of your sales funnel automation questions.

What Is a Sales Funnel?

To understand the sales funnel, imagine a typical kitchen funnel you might use for pouring something into a bottle. The top of that funnel is the widest part, and it passes through the progressively narrower stages of the funnel until coming out the narrowest point at the bottom and filling the bottle.

In sales, the bottle represents your business, and your goal is to fill your business with loyal customers. Prospects arrive at the top of the funnel and trickle through before becoming customers. There are two big differences to keep in mind, though, between an actual funnel and the sales funnel. In the sales funnel, not everything that enters through is guaranteed to come out the bottom. The sales funnel also has specific stages, and it takes work to get people from the top of the funnel through each stage to the bottom.

Stages of the Sales Funnel

The sales funnel can be broken out into a few distinct stages. Prospective buyers at each stage of the funnel have a unique emotional and logical mindset, where specific types of information can help guide them to the next stage before ultimately making a decision.

1. Awareness

When prospects first enter the sales funnel, they’re in the awareness stage. At this point they know they’re dealing with an issue or experiencing a pain point, but might not be aware that a solution is available. If they are aware there are potential solutions available, they might not be aware of your brand within those possibilities. At this point, prospects react largely on gut instinct and emotional appeal to get “hooked” into a brand before moving to the next stage of the funnel.

2. Consideration

Once your customers are aware of your brand, they enter the consideration stage. At this point, they’re not only considering your brand but others that might offer solutions that meet their needs. There’s still a degree of emotion involved at this stage, but logic starts entering the picture. If a brand doesn’t appeal to their needs or meet criteria such as budget, features or desired customer experience, then that option will be eliminated from consideration. At this stage, it’s important to let your prospects know what differentiates you from the competition.

3. Decision

The decision phase is where customers have most of the information they need to pull the trigger and make a purchase but are weighing all of the final logistical details. Here, they are most likely to need the facts and differentiating information that will help them make a logical decision. At this point, information like discounts, warranty offers and excellent service are most important to help turn leads into customers.

4. Loyalty

Once a customer makes a decision, the funnel doesn’t end. You’ve added them to your customer pool, and you want to keep them there. It is important to continue giving your existing customers regular content and excellent service so that they remain loyal to your brand. Additionally, they may also recommend your products and services to friends and peers who might find them useful.

How Do You Use a Sales Funnel?

To develop a sales funnel for your business, you need to start by understanding your audience. Ask your current customers, top sales performers and key brand stakeholders about your audience’s needs. Consider developing buyer personas, which help you understand each of your ideal market segments based on demographic information, specific needs, common pain points they experience and any questions those buyers might have as they journey through the funnel.

With that information in hand, you can develop content that can assist buyers in resolving these pain points. By serving specific content to buyers based on their unique needs and expectations, you can help them get the information they need to build awareness, guide consideration and make a decision that keeps them loyal to your brand for years to come.

Benefits of Automating Your Sales Funnel

The modern buyer has come to expect content offerings that not only meet their needs in a general sense, but they expect to receive it quickly in a way that is extremely personal to their needs. In fact, customers have come to expect specific, dynamic content tailored to their unique needs based on their actions through personalization.

Automating your sales funnel allows you to deliver unique, personalized content to users in your funnel with minimal manual effort from your sales team. You can track user data in a secure manner that complies with privacy standards but also allows you to offer the dynamic content your users expect. In fact, users are typically aware that companies are collecting their data and expect them to use it responsibly when they opt into receive marketing messages. In fact, 53% of consumers would switch their spending to a provider that excels at personalizing their experiences without losing trust.

In addition to offering personalized content to each user, you can use data captured within an automated sales funnel to analyze performance and adjust tactics.

To begin your automation journey, you’ll input all of your customer data into your CRM system to identify:

  • Who your audiences truly are
  • The types of content they’re engaging with
  • Their most common questions
  • The information your brand is offering on each channel

With everything in one place, you’ll be able to clearly identify inconsistencies, gaps and opportunities to synchronize communication and adjust tactics as necessary.

How Do You Create an Automated Sales Funnel?

Automating your sales funnel first requires you to identify your audiences. As we mentioned earlier, buyer personas are an extremely useful tool to build the specific content your leads are looking for.

Next, you’ll need a solid piece of anchor content. This is something that your prospects would be willing to give their information in exchange for in most cases, such as a whitepaper, a buyer’s guide or other premium content that establishes your brand’s expertise.

Once this content is in a good spot, you should map out your buyer’s journey. Develop a range of supporting content in the form of blogs, videos and emails that address user questions. If you’re using a good marketing automation platform, you should be able to map user journeys that take different paths based on actions. For instance, if a user clicks through on a specific email, they might move to content in the next stage of the funnel. If they don’t, they’ll receive additional content that helps build awareness until they take the action that helps them move to the next stage.

Once you’ve considered your journey from opt in to the decision, including critical points for users to convert into the next stage of the funnel, you’re ready to begin building. Within your marketing automation platform, you should be able to build nurture workflows, create email templates, design landing pages and publish blogs to keep all of the touchpoints for your sales funnel automation in one central location.

How Are Funnels Measured?

There are a few core metrics you should be considering when looking at the performance of your sales funnel automation:

1. Open Rate

Because much marketing automation is email-driven, it’s critical to look at email metrics. In email marketing, the open rate is the number of times your email has been opened. This is a pretty obvious starting point for measuring the performance of your email automation efforts. If your emails aren’t getting opened, they’re obviously not going to have much impact on your marketing efforts and conversions.

If your open rate is low, consider changing your subject line and preheader text (sometimes called preview text). These are the first things a user will see when scanning their inbox and will have the biggest impact on the open rate. Be sure to also look independently at desktop and mobile open rates to understand where most users are looking at your messages.

2. Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Click-through rate, abbreviated frequently as CTR, refers to the number of times users click on an element in your email. This is often broken out into the various clickable items in your email. For instance, you might have a link, a CTA button and a clickable logo in the header of your email that takes users to a landing page or your home page. It’s key to understand not only how frequently your users are clicking, but also where they’re clicking so you can guide the user journey.

Be sure to not only look at CTR as a metric but also unique clicks. Unique clicks refer to the number of individuals who have clicked through, while your overall CTR includes repeat clicks. Both are useful metrics, as repeat clicks indicate a user has come back and clicked on your email multiple times and are highly interested in your content.

3. Bounce Rates

The bounce rate refers to two different metrics for email marketing and web traffic. In email marketing, bounce rate is the volume of emails that were returned undeliverable because of an invalid or deactivated email address. It’s critical to understand the quality of your lead database and maintain a low bounce rate. A high bounce rate can hurt your sender reputation with email services, resulting in more of your messages ending up in spam filters.

In website and landing page traffic, the bounce rate represents the percentage of visitors who visit a single page and then leave a website rather than visiting another page or taking an action (such as filling out a form). A high webpage bounce rate indicates that users aren’t finding what they’re looking for and are likely to “bounce” out to another site to find information. This metric, in addition to session duration (indicating how long a user is on your page), sends search engines flags about the value of the content you’re providing.

4. Unsubscribe Rates & Spam Flags

If your messages are resulting in a high rate of unsubscribes or ending up flagged as spam, that’s an indicator that something is wrong. A high unsubscribe rate could indicate that you’re either sending messages too frequently or that the content in your messages isn’t useful.

When measuring the performance of your email campaign, look at unsubscribe rates across the life of the campaign — if one message has an abnormally high unsubscribe rate compared to the rest of your campaign, remove it from the drip. If all of the messages you’re sending have an equally high unsubscribe rate, it might be worth pausing the campaign and rebuilding it.

Meanwhile, spam flags are an even worse indicator that your content isn’t being presented in a valuable way. High spam rates indicate that recipients are manually flagging your messages as spam or filters are automatically picking them up and users are never seeing them.

Having high spam rates can also damage your sender reputation, resulting in your future messages also ending up in spam and making your email efforts wasted.

5. Conversion Rate

Your conversion rate refers to users who take the desired action that moves them to the next step of the funnel. It’s not enough to simply track how many users have opened your emails and clicked on your CTA buttons, you need to also be able to map your efforts back to qualified leads and closed deals. Conversion rate is the most important metric to prove ROI for sales funnel automation efforts.

B2B Sales Funnel Automation & Optimization

A lot of marketing automation platforms aren’t necessarily built with sales professionals in mind. Many visual workflow builders adopt a “set it and forget it” model, allowing leads to move through the funnel autonomously. Once a lead provides their information, it’s critical to not only follow up with an email or download, but also a personal touch from an expert sales team member.

However, salespeople too often “go rogue” with their own processes and messaging, which may or may not align with what you’re providing in your automated sales funnel. To take control of all communication, both digital and direct from the sales team, look for content that empowers your sales professionals and marketing efforts to work in perfect harmony.

For example, SharpSpring Sales Optimizer allows you to include tasks and actions for sales professionals as part of your sales funnel automation. Your sales team will be alerted to opportunities when a lead engages with a specific piece of content, helping them close the deal when the time is right. Once the contract is signed, they can return that lead to the marketing team to add them to a loyalty pipeline that offers ongoing support and valuable content from your brand.

Having all reporting, CRM functionality and marketing workflows in one place lets your sales team reduce the amount of time they’re spending on administrative functions like scheduling appointments, gathering information and chasing leads that have gone cold. Follow-up tasks are automatically generated as part of automating your sales funnel, keeping the pipeline moving seamlessly, dividing workload evenly between your sales team and capitalizing on the most high-value opportunities first.

For more information on marketing automation and how automating your sales funnel can help your business, or to get a free, personalized demo, click here.

Naseem Shah