The No-Nonsense Ten-Minute Guide to eCommerce Sales Funnels

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If you’re reading this you’re probably familiar with the loose idea of a sales funnel, but what do the four stages actually mean, when the rubber hits the road? For those who’ve never seen a funnel before, it’s got four bits:

Today, we’re breaking down ecommerce sales funnels step-by-step to help you supercharge your conversions, and it won’t take longer than a lunchbreak. Let’s go.

  1. Awareness

    Taking somebody who doesn’t know about your brand, and getting them to know about your brand. What counts as ‘awareness’ seems to vary from marketer to marketer, but most definitions will require at least a visit to your site (rather than passive viewing in, say, a Facebook feed). This is just classic marketing—most of us don’t need help here. Getting people to your site is hardly easy, but it’s well-trodden ground for most of us. On the off-chance there’s any newbies reading, here are some basic techniques to pull eyes to your content:

  • Figure out which social media platforms best suit your product
  • Be aware of high-traffic days/hours for your industry, and upload accordingly
  • Exploit the curiosity gap
  • Images > text
  • Humans > objects
  • Verbs > nouns
  1. Interest

Not all your content needs to sell something, and indeed the modern customer is a little turned-off by constant sales offers. Good marketing strategies on social media will share a lot of non-marketing content—jokes, memes, blog posts, insights into daily life at the company.  Relatively few of your customers are going to jump straight from awareness to purchase: they need warming up to you first. You want to do three things at this stage:

  • Remind them you exist
  • Remind them that you’re quality
  • Don’t annoy them

Be funny, human, and engaging. Don’t be pushy: the best customers are those who’ve come down your funnel on their own. The biggest thing you want to ask from them at this stage is their email: incentivise making an account by offering them free/extra/exclusive content, and get them on your books for later.

  1. Decision

This is where you want to start getting a little more direct. Not that the word is ‘decision’—it’s something the customer does, not you. It’s something you lead them to, but it’s ultimately something they do. They like you at this point: you’ve got their attention, and you’ve been giving them value. Now, you hit them with an offer.

Discounts are good, limited-time discounts as better. FOMO is real, and can be a powerful tool for the canny marketer. The classic limited-time discount is a timer (only five days left!) but I’m a big fan of a sales limit (only 4 discounted packages left!) because they hit that FOMO button harder, they make the desire more immediate (if you’ve got five days left, the customer can leave it for four days. Who knows when the next four packages will sell out? If they want to get in on the offer, they need to buy now), and they’re less common so they stand out more.

It’s also good to make clear that they’re getting this offer because they’ve been interacting with your site. People like being rewarded for their actions, and by clearly connecting their action (creating wishlists/interacting with your site/subscribing to a mailing list) to a reward then you’re much more likely to secure their future loyalty—you’re lighting up the parts of their brain that encourage future similar behaviour.

  1. Action

This seems like it should be a hard stage to mess up, but you’d be surprised. There’s a reason the funnel narrows out here: shopping cart abandonment. Somewhere up to 90% of all online shopping carts get abandoned, and there’s a whole host of reasons for this, but the short version is this:

  • You surprised your customers with hidden costs
  • You added extra screens/buttons/layers that you didn’t need. Streamline your checkout.
  • Your checkout’s load time was too slow.
  • You looked suspicious: the user’s browser threw up a security alert, or something about your site just gave them a bad vibe about giving you their credit card information
  • You didn’t optimise well for mobile, and bad mobile layout put them off
  • Your site was confusing, and they couldn’t figure out how to buy
  • They had questions, and no way to ask them

Or, in short, make it as easy as possible for them to get through this stage. The ideal action stage is invisible: the customer clicks on your offer, and gets to the end of the checkout so quickly and smoothly they didn’t even notice the stages they passed through.

And that’s it. If there’s one big thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that movement through the funnel is slow, and erratic, and isn’t going to catch everybody. Your job isn’t to make it perfect, it’s to make it as smooth and unobtrusive as possible—it works over time, and it works better if the customer is unaware of it. You don’t cook a whole turkey in the microwave, and you don’t make sales by jumping down a customer’s throat. Work low and slow, and you’ll see your conversion numbers climb and climb.

The next stage in improving your eCommerce game is bringing in the professionals, but managing professionals requires its own skillset. If you’re ready for that, you might want to read about How to Manage Developer Productivity.

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