Entering your local grocery store you might not think about it. As you walk through the store, you are actually walking through a life sized and physical sales funnel. Here in Finland, the first thing in a store are usually the fruits and vegetables or the bakery. Fruits and veggies are colourful, fresh, juicy, inviting. The bakery hits you with a delicious scent. You didn't go to buy that freshly baked rye bread, but somehow it ended up in your shopping basket.
The grocery stores place the most regular items in different parts of the store layout. The bread is here, milk is over there. You have to travel across the store to get what you most regularly consume. On the other hand, some complementary products reside close to each other. Bread and cold cuts, cookies and jam. More expensive items, and items seen as luxury, reside at your eye level. So that when you scan the shelves, they are the ones you see the first. Besides, they don't play that music by accident. Music sets the tone, helps to create the nice and relaxed atmosphere. (At least, that's the idea.)
Store layouts are meticulously designed and actualised, to make sure you will spend as much as possible. The more you spend time in the sales funnel, the more money you will spend.
For anyone who has interest in sales funnels, I recommend a visit to an IKEA store. Those stores follow the same layout, a complex maze, which is designed to stop you from leaving too soon. Your quick trip to buy that new couch turns into hours of strolling around the store, and filling the yellow bag with all kinds of things.
There's a set path, through the showroom divided to different types of "rooms", by the restaurant, into the endless shelves of things, to the warehouse of furniture, and finally the checkout. Right there, when you already see the checkouts, are the last upselling bits. Towels, anyone? Napkins, candles, maybe something season related? Perhaps you fancy a new blue bag to carry all that stuff you didn't come to buy. It is ingenious.
Both grocery stores and IKEA make smaller or bigger changes to their funnel now and then. Some products are seasonal, only available for a limited time. Other products are temporarily moved to more prominent locations, to be featured for a while. This way, especially if you are a regular shopper, you won't become numb and start to feel like your shopping is premeditated. Nothing is better than an impulse buy.
The common thinking online these days seems to be that sales funnels are automated email sequences. They can be that too, but that's not all they are. An American advertising advocate Elias St. Elmo Lewis developed a model known as AIDA in 1898. It mapped customer journey through awareness, interest, desire and action. The funnel concept, based on AIDA model was suggested in 1920s. Throughout the time, the concept has been reinvented again and again, with added steps or changing the names of the steps. That said, the original idea of sales funnels was created way before emails even existed.
A sales funnel is series of steps designed to guide a person to go from being aware of a product or service to making a buying decision.
IKEA stores do this by sort of trapping and confusing shoppers, in order to get them to spend more. Grocery stores do something similar, while trying to make sure you'll really get what you came for. And email funnels work through this with building anticipation, repeating the message in different ways, and adding as much personalisation as possible.
You don't have to use emails for creating sales funnels. As an example, your website alone can work as a sales funnel. Whether it's an actual web store, or your business site with a blog and services, you structure your site the way that it directs the visitors to become your clients and customers. Whichever page they land first, the navigation, internal links, buttons and calls to action, and the content in general, funnels the people browsing your site towards the final sale.
Your online sales funnel can exists across different platforms. Maybe it starts from Facebook, takes a tour inside your blog, through a free online course at Teachable or other similar platform, enhanced with your email list, and finally to the point where your lead becomes a paying client or customer. The sales funnel can have pretty much any length. Some funnels are longer, taking more detours, others are shorter and getting faster to the point of a sale. This depends on what you sell and for whom you sell it.
Whichever technical solutions you use for your online sales funnels, you can take cue from IKEA and grocery stores.
The former sets you up to the mood of buying with the showrooms. They don't hard sell the stuff, but rather show how you could fill your smaller or bigger living space or (home) office with the furniture and all the other bigger and smaller items. At this point it's more about the vibes, than actual purchase. In your online sales funnel you can accomplish this in many ways. Educational and entertaining content, such as videos, photos and blog posts, is a soft start.
Following the grocery store way of setting core items in different parts of the store, you can spread your educational and entertaining content so that getting all of it, the people must stay on your email list, keep on watching your videos, follow your blog, and so forth. This can be accomplished with a series, which takes a certain topic and digs deep into the various aspects of it in several different posts.
Similarly as the grocery stores place cold cuts nearby breads, you can link to the complementary content from your blog posts.
IKEA stores keep you hanging around by creating a defined path. While there are shortcuts too, following the path is the safest way to go, if you don't want to get lost. Your website navigation, and internal linking can work as a defined path for your website visitors. While they can jump to other places too, you can firmly direct them to go to the right direction with the right wording and some well placed (and more prominent) links. Perhaps it is a link somewhere around your blog posts, directing to your about page, and then a link from the about page directs to your services. Just don't make it too confusing, people don't like to click around very much.
And like the stores do, don't keep your online sales funnel completely the same all the time. Create new opt-in gifts for your email list and test different wordings in your confirmation emails. Change the words in your calls to action, and feature different content in different areas of your website and social media.
There's no set length of a sales funnel. The stores know that longer you spend in time in them, the more money you will spend. The same can apply to your online sales funnel, with caution. If you get a person to stick on your website for a long time, and click around the links, they are more likely to subscribe to your email list and even buy your products and services. However, since people online have a short attention span, making them run circles may cause frustration and the loss of a potential customer. Rather than forcing your website visitors to spend more time on your site, you can make your site and its content so interesting, that they want to roam around.
On email funnels, moderation with the amount of emails is also recommended. If your sequence is very long and the content is fluff, you will see many unsubscribes.
When setting up your online sales funnel, whether it's through email sequences, your website alone, or combination of social media, blog posts, free online courses, and emails, think about grocery stores and IKEA. Set the atmosphere, spread the most valuable free content through your funnel, link from your blog posts to complementary content, create a defined path and guide your leads through it, and change your funnels. The longer you can keep someone on your funnel, the more likely they are to buy in the end.