The Internet is a big place. Advertising to the right people is difficult and expensive. Instead of reaching out to your potential customers, it’s smarter to let them find you. That’s called inbound marketing.
But there’s more to inbound marketing than blogging. Creating content isn’t enough unless you capture that traffic, qualify it, and turn it into sales for your SaaS.
A marketing funnel is a simple concept. It’s a visual representation of how prospective customers interact with your business and eventually become actual customers.
Think of a funnel’s shape. It’s wider at the top than it is at the bottom. Lots of people will be exposed to your marketing materials (the top of the funnel), but only a few will become customers (the narrow bottom of the funnel).
“You aren’t limited to using your funnel strictly for signing up and/or purchasing,” says Kissmetrics. “You can put funnels all over your website to see how visitors move through a specific website flow.”
In a perfect world, everyone who becomes exposed to your marketing materials would become a customer. But that just isn’t the case. Some people aren’t right for your product or service. Some people never planned to buy anyway. A marketing funnel will help you capture more people and identify who is most likely to buy your product.
A basic inbound marketing funnel has three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision.
Stage 1: Awareness
This is the beginning of your funnel, when prospective buyers become aware of their own problem and learning how it can be solved. At this point, the prospect isn’t ready to buy, so he isn’t willing to read sales copy or promotional materials. He wants solutions to his problems. If you try to sell to the prospective customer at this point, you’ll only turn him off.
The key is to capture your prospect by offering content that offers solutions. You can do this in a lot of ways, including blog posts, eBooks, email courses, reports, whitepapers, interviews, videos, podcasts, or anything else you think he’ll like.
When you’re creating content, make sure you do it with a clear understanding of your customer. Serve content in the format they prefer so they’ll be more likely to give it their attention. Figure out their problems and then create solutions that address them.
Stage 2: Consideration
At this stage in the funnel, the prospect is well aware of his problem and the need for a solution, but he doesn’t know which solution is right. He’s still exploring.
At this point, you need to make yourself a powerful resource in the prospect’s life so he automatically looks to you for answers. You can do this by getting him to sign up to your email list. Your website content should be optimized to capture as many sign-ups as possible.
There are lots of ways to collect leads. You can add sign-up boxes to your sidebars, the bottom of blog posts, toaster “popup” widgets, and whole-site overlays. Generally speaking, however, you will capture the most sign-ups by giving something in return.
Create a piece of specialty content that can only be delivered once the prospect surrenders his email address. This is called a lead magnet. (OptinMonster has some great examples.) Most people give away reports, eBooks, email courses, etc. Again, figure out what your audience wants the most and serve that.
Once a prospect signs up for your email list, they are considered a lead. Continue to deliver problem-solving content to your email list. This is called lead nurturing. Over time, you’ll establish yourself as an authority on your topic. The prospect will consider you someone who has added value to his life.
Stage 3: Decision
Eventually, the prospect will be ready to make a purchase. They’ll understand their problem and the type of solution they need. At this point, your job is to convince the prospect that your solution is the one they need to buy.
Your email tool should offer a way to tag or segment your subscribers. The goal is to serve content that a buyer would be most interested in to identify him from the pool of subscribers.
Here’s an example:
Each week, you send a link to a new blog post to your whole list of subscribers (this is the lead nurturing). But you also send a link to an article you’ve written that compares your product to your main competitors. A prospect who is in the decision stage would be interested in reading that type of content.
In this example, you would set your email marketing tool to tag anyone who clicks on the competitor comparison as a “hot lead.” Once you’ve given them time (about a day) to read the content, you or your salesperson would reach out to the subscriber personally to start your sales process.
Other than competitor comparisons, here are types of content that can be used to identify subscribers who are in the decision-making stage.
- Product/solution comparisons
- Personal consultations
- Product demonstrations
- Product trials
- Customer case studies
- Product/specification literature
If you’ve created quality content and qualified your leads well, your sales job should be pretty much over. Your inbound funnel would have provided all of the education. Your task is to explain to the customer that you’re available to solve their problem right now and how to get started.
The best parts of an inbound marketing funnel
The greatest advantage to an inbound funnel that relies on content to move prospects toward the sale is that the ROI is fantastic. Once you’ve built the funnel, it will require the occasional tweak and improvement, but it can last forever. Day after day, more people will find your content, become a subscriber, get nurtured by your content, and eventually respond to your sales messages.
The more quality content you create, the more avenues your prospects will have to find your business (this is called “widening the funnel”). If you commit to a consistent schedule of creating one piece of content each week, you’ll quickly create lots of ways for prospects to become aware of your business.
Improving the effectiveness of a marketing funnel is done in two ways:
- Capturing more people into the funnel. This is done by creating more publically available content and optimizing your website to capture leads.
- Optimizing how many people make it to the bottom. This is done by serving your email list well and smartly identifying who is most likely to buy.
Secondly, an inbound funnel (unlike a traditional sales funnel) can be automated to a great extent. Yes, you’ll have to create the content yourself (unless you outsource it), but the other components can be automated so you can make more content.
For instance, your website will automatically capture leads through your sign-up forms and lead magnets. Once subscribers join your list, you can set your email marketing tool to begin dripping a series of emails that nurture the prospect, culminating with content for prospects in the decision-making stage. Once you qualify your leads with specialty content, your email tool automatically begins a sales sequence that encourages the prospect to message or call you.
Expanding your funnel
You can use other marketing tactics to bring traffic into your funnel. Don’t be afraid to experiment with other tools. For instance, you might post on social media or buy Facebook or Google ads that point to specialty pieces of content, not product pages. You could guest blog on authority websites, have influencers plug your content, or use retargeting ads to bring old traffic back for another look.
I’ll leave you with this last piece of advice when it comes to building an inbound marketing funnel: Create the best content you possibly can and you’ll attract the most people.