Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The new year is an important time for entrepreneurs to reflect — what are we going to do differently this year to reach that next milestone in growth? You can take a magnifying glass to social media trends, your team or a number of other factors, but I’d like to draw your eye to the bare bones of the operation — the sales funnel. A sales funnel is kind of like the skeleton of your marketing; it holds the structure of the customer journey, which takes them from the first point of contact all the way to purchase.
It is possible your leads are getting lost somewhere down the pipeline, and it’s your job to find out where and improve it. To save you the agony of not knowing where to start, I will line up some suggestions.
Over the last 24 years of doing business, I have vetted my own sales funnels, which generate an average of 2000 leads and seven figures in revenue every week. I share my sales funnel secrets with my clients, and I want to share them with you too! Here’s what I have learned:
Find marketing tactics that warm up cold leads
Imagine spending hours in below-zero temperatures and then walking straight into a sauna. Wouldn’t it be better to get wrapped up in a cozy, warm blanket or sit by a toasty fire and warm up slowly instead? But that’s what some companies do when they first reach out to a cold lead with not-so-warm marketing tactics. The worst examples would be door-to-door salesmen, cold calls and spam text messages or emails.
To get prospects to warm up to you, you need to soften your strategy. Think wrapping them in a warm blanket, not shoving them in a flaming ring of fire.
Popular points of entry include radio/TV commercials, cold emails, social media ads, Google ads and direct mail. But here’s why I love using direct mail the most when it comes to casting that wide net at the top of your sales funnel: Direct mail is less invasive, less annoying AND sticks around far longer than the alternatives.
It’s not that sending emails is all bad; I actually recommend that my clients send emails as a follow-up method. However, it’s not the most effective form of advertising at the top of your funnel. First off, the cold emails could go to the spam folder. Second, they could get left unopened. Third, get buried in a deep sea of emails from other companies that are doing the exact same thing. Not to mention that your prospect may wonder how you got their email in the first place! If they didn’t give it over willingly, they are very unlikely to engage with you.
Direct mail, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be opened (as long as it’s a postcard), so the recipient is forced to look at it, they can read it on their own time whenever they are comfortable (no one likes getting distracted by annoying emails during the work day), and it has a higher chance of staying in the hands of the prospect as well. According to a study done by MarketReach in 2020, 75% of business mail stays in the home for over 4 weeks and is revisited an average of five times.
But I discovered all of this information just by doing research and from my own experiences and preferences as a consumer. My most personal experience is that I’ve tested direct mail as the first step in a sales funnel over and over again and have built an $83 million business on it.
While this is my truth, you will have to do your own exploration of cold sales tactics. I’d suggest trying direct mail consistently and tracking results, then comparing it with a few other selected strategies, such as Google ads or social media.
Automating your follow-up will deliver a consistent return on your investment
Marketing consistently is the key to long-term growth. However, it is much more difficult to be consistent when you or your team members are in control of the daily (or even hourly) tasks.
Automating your follow-up will save you a lot of time and help you stay consistent in communicating with leads and customers. I learned this pretty early on in my business when I started growing exponentially and simply didn’t have the time to do follow-up myself.
So, once you’ve got someone interested in your business, they visit your website for more information (which is why it’s so crucial to have an incredible website set up). This is when they start determining if you are worth their time, money, and ultimately, an action.
If they make a purchase or call you right away, great! Some people are quick to action, and you lucked out with a very hot lead that immediately took action.
Of course, most consumers aren’t going to buy right away or even call right away (if that’s required to make a sale), but some leads are hotter than others. A small portion will be interested enough to reach in to you somehow, whether they sign up for a discount on your website (hopefully you have a good offer on your website with a lead-capture form that makes it easy to convert), send you an email or even pick up the phone and call — these are the leads that have moved themselves a little further down the funnel. The next part of your funnel should be following up with them regularly.
You can accomplish this by automating emails that go out every few days, every week or month. You’ll have to find what works for your business. I personally follow up with leads that have reached in until someone asks me to stop because the number of people responding to a funnel email YEARS after they first reached in (and then going on to buy something) far outweighs the few who get annoyed quickly. I also automate follow-up to these leads using more personable postcards and setting alarms to call them if they’ve provided their phone number. There are a number of automation platforms that can be connected to your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to make this more manageable for you.
However, if the prospect doesn’t make a first purchase or convert on your website, you can still continue to move them through your sales funnel and deliver loads of follow-up in various formats.
One of the most common methods of follow-up today is first-party cookies that enable digital ads to make impressions on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google. These impressions will then remind them to consider you again and respond. It will also help lead them back to your website to discover more information about your products and services and bring them closer to the bottom of the sales funnel, a.k.a. conversion.
Typically in my sales funnel, these first-party cookies are established after the prospect receives a postcard in the mail and visits the website.
I’ll give you a quick rundown of how this sales funnel looks for my clients. We call this all-in-one funnel campaign “Everywhere Small Business.”
A postcard goes out to the prospect, encouraging them to call or visit the website.
Marketing coordinators set up digital ads on thousands of websites, including Facebook and Instagram, targeting the same people who are receiving the postcards ahead of delivery of the cards.
Call tracking captures all incoming phone calls so that staff can follow up and also improve customer service.
Even if a prospect does not become a customer initially, they continue to see the digital ads in their online feeds for at least three months after the mailing.
The bottom line is, the more you stay in front of your prospects, the more they will remember who you are and consider purchasing.
Keep your sales funnels alive by updating and improving them regularly
They say, “The only thing you can count on is change.” That is evermore true in marketing than any other industry because the trends keep evolving faster every year. The marketing tactic you relied on last year to bring your top-of-funnel leads down to conversion may not work the same this year.
Sales funnels are living and breathing entities that will either stagnate or perform based on the life that you inject into them. You can create a “set it and forget it” type of social media campaign, but that won’t last forever. The best marketing strategies are the most personalized ones that speak directly to your audience and keep the most current trends in mind.
So, how do you figure out what to change? You can research new marketing strategies all day long — that’s why you are likely reading this right now — but the real proof in the pudding comes when you perform A/B testing. Take a couple of new sales funnel ideas, and test them out. That’s how I figured out what worked for me, and I still do it today with the current direct mail innovations I’m working on.
By regularly reviewing your sales funnels and adjusting them based on performance, you’ll see a greater ROI and ultimately better relationships with your customers.