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How to Create a Successful eCommerce Sales Funnel + Tactics to Test

Do you have a robust consumer-focused marketing model? What does your customer journey look like? Can you tell me about re-engagement paths?

Let’s set the jargon aside for a moment and think about jam instead. To make jam, you need fruit and a whole lot of sugar. You boil the sugar and the fruit together for a set amount of time, and then you pour the hot mixture through a funnel into sterilized jars, which you seal to secure your confection.

“I didn’t come here to learn to preserve raspberries!” I hear you, “How does this relate to ecommerce?”

The answer? It’s all in the funnel.

Your business is a Mason jar, and consumers are the jam. You need a sales funnel to bring them in, and we’re going to teach you how to create one. 

In this article, we’ll learn about:

  • The buyer’s journey.
  • Typical barriers to purchase.
  • The four main stages of an eCommerce sales funnel.
  • How to optimize each part of your marketing model.

By the time you reach a conclusion, you’ll be a pipeline marketing maven. Let’s get started.

What is an eCommerce sales funnel?

Simply put, an eCommerce sales funnel is a visual representation of your customer journey. Consumers enter the top of the sales funnel and move down, stage by stage until they (hopefully) become repeat customers.

Some consumers slide through the funnel quickly, going from a lead to a fan in the blink of an eye — they see something they want; they buy that thing; they become a brand advocate. Other consumers navigate sales funnels like three-toed sloths, taking months or years to reach your checkout page.

So, which consumers do you target? The answer: both. If you craft your sales funnel carefully, it’ll act as an effective conduit for quick decision-makers and procrastinators.

Every business has a unique sales funnel — but basic pipeline anatomy stays the same across the board. If you sell low-cost items (for example beauty products, apparel, toys, or pet products), your sales funnel will probably be fairly short.

Why? Because the cost won’t be such a barrier to purchase. Using the same logic, if you’re in the luxury market (high-end watches, expensive jewelry, cutting-edge tech, or vehicles), your sales funnel will likely be longer.

Do you need a sales funnel for your online store?

In short, yes — you absolutely need an eCommerce sales funnel for your online store. 

Winners keep score, and successful businesses invariably think about where their customers come from. A well-planned sales funnel can help you drive traffic to your site, improve your conversion ratio, build your customer base, and grow brand awareness.

You need data to build a funnel. Before you begin, think about where your leads usually come from. Do people interact with your company on social media? Can you capture consumers via Facebook or Twitter ads? If you figure out where your potential customers “live,” you can target them appropriately and usher them into the top of your pipeline.

4 stages of an eCommerce sales funnel

We mentioned sales funnel structure earlier. Now we’ll look at four main funnel components, and then we’ll talk about tactics you can use to optimize your marketing strategy.

1. Awareness stage

Consumers in the awareness stage are brand new on the scene. They found out about your company via Google (this is where SEO tactics pay off), or a paid Facebook ad or an influencer. Are you a legitimate company, or are you running a scam? Do you sell a product they might like? Do they have a problem you can fix? These folks don’t know yet.

You need to make a great first impression — and fast. You need to educate these folks about your business and favorably position your brand. Think of yourself as a gardener: this is the seed-planting phase of your marketing plan.

Tactics to try out:

Use social media: Social media sites aren’t particularly effective eCommerce sales platforms, but they’re fabulous places to find new leads. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram offer two main marketing tools: paid ads and pages, or profiles. You can use both avenues to grow brand awareness and boost your business success.

In a recent survey by Blue Fountain Media, 90% of respondents said that social media helped them gain considerable exposure for their companies. Search engine rankings, brand reputation, inbound traffic, conversion rate, and brand loyalty all improved after social media marketing campaigns.

“Successful companies in social media function more like entertainment companies, publishers, or party planners than as traditional advertisers.” – Erik Qualman.

Create ranking blog content: Starting a new blog is a fantastic organic marketing strategy. You don’t need a massive advertising budget to create high-quality content — you need to find your unique brand voice. Consumers regularly subscribe to blogs they find interesting, and they share posts they find relatable. If you produce good content and position yourself as a thought leader, you’ll naturally drive traffic to your eCommerce site.

Blog posts make great advertorials, too. In a nutshell, advertorials are advertisements disguised as editorial content.

They read like journalistic articles and blend in with host sites — magazines, blogs, online newspapers — where they explain expensive or complicated products. Successful eCommerce companies often use affiliate blogs as advertorial hosts.

eCommerce sales funnel example

Create look-alike audiences for Facebook ads: When it comes to marketing, big data is your friend. Imagine marketing your product to 100,000 clones of your best current customer. Science fiction? Actually, no. Facebook Lookalike Audiences make it easy to find people whose characteristics match your existing consumer base.

Facebook Lookalike Audiences are easy to set up. You begin with a source audience — a custom group you create with page fan, pixel, or mobile app data. Facebook AI analyzes that source audience and then delivers your Facebook ad to a brand new similar audience. Hello, increased conversion rate.

2. Consideration stage

By the time they reach this juncture, consumers know who you are and what you sell. 

They’ve identified a need — a “pain point” — and they’re looking for solutions. They begin to think about buying your product. They might decide to subscribe to the RSS feed on your blog or your newsletter. If you offer a paid content upgrade, you’ll see an uptick in interest at the consideration stage.

This is the mid-funnel phase. You have to work a little harder to get results — a call to action won’t cut it here — but you’re one step closer to checkout. You need to show these people customer testimonials, curated product descriptions, and other compelling content.

Tactics to try out:

Utilize social proof: What is social proof? It’s essentially peer pressure wrapped up in a tasteful bow. Tooting your own horn is one thing, but when real consumers praise your product, you gain genuine street cred. Trustpilot or Google reviews, on-site testimonials, and social media comments are all forms of social proof. 

For best results, display as much positive social proof as you can on each product page. Respond to complaints and tackle customer service issues promptly to build a good reputation. The more successful you look, the more successful you’ll become.

“When people feel insecure about something, they look around for validation. Show them that other people trust you.” – Francisco Rosales.

Optimize product pages: Great product pages drive conversions. According to a recent study by eCommerce experience platform Salsify, consumers across the board expect to see at least six good-quality images and two videos per product. Use crisp, clear, professional-looking images, and make sure they’re optimized for online use so that they load quickly.

To bump up your SEO strategy, write unique product descriptions — and make them interesting and relatable. Begin sentences with action words; tell readers how your products will improve their lives. 

If applicable, use drop-down lists and radio buttons to make customization intuitive. Make essential information (dimensions, shipping costs, etc) easy to find, and end with an enticing call to action (CTA).

eCommerce sales funnel example

3. Purchase stage

Consumers in purchase limbo want to buy — but they’re not 100% convinced they want to buy from you. Not yet, anyway. 

Your job at this stage is to make the decision as easy as possible for them. You need to prove that you’re better than the competition: you offer better products, or better shipping options, or better aftercare, or better prices.

Try adding an exit-intent popup to your page. These clever little ads appear when consumers try to leave your site: offer a discount, free shipping, or a time-limited bundle proposal to give your conversion rate a lift.

Tactics to try out:

Reduce checkout friction: Evaluate your checkout process. Is it frictionless? Are there nasty surprises lurking in the shadows? A 2019 survey by the Baymard Institute found that half of the customers abandoned their shopping carts because of unexpected shipping fees and other unplanned expenses. A further 21% left because they found the checkout process too long and complex.

Nix hidden postage costs, enable an easy-to-navigate payment gateway, and, if you can, offer a variety of alternative payment options — PayPal, Apple Pay, Klarna, and cryptocurrency. Encourage account creation at this stage, too. Eliminate as many form fields as possible, and only ask for essential information. 

If visitors don’t complete checkout, send them abandoned cart emails enhanced with coupon codes.

4. Retention stage

Your eCommerce sales funnel doesn’t end with a customer’s first purchase. Repeat customers are an invaluable part of success — after all, it’s much cheaper and easier to retain a customer than to attract a new one. This vital, final part of the marketing pipeline keeps your consumer base coming back time and again.

Points-based loyalty programs, value-driven client accounts, subscriber-only special offers, and periodic customer retention email series all help maintain a healthy connection. If you run a larger company, consider using a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to nurture rapport.

“Loyal customers — they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you: they insist that their friends do business with you.” – Chip Bell.

Tactics to try out:

Implement cross-sells and upsells: Don’t be afraid to use personalized email marketing to offer existing customers upsells, cross-sells, and add-ons. You can use your subscribers’ purchase histories to hone product recommendations, reach out, and ask for feedback. Many big-name brands send follow-up emails every 30 days — not too often, but not too infrequently, either.

Many popular SaaS eCommerce platforms support loyalty plugins. To get started, simply install the app, tailor your loyalty program, and promote it as much as possible. Many eCommerce retailers also create referral programs.

Best practices for your eCommerce sales funnel

Let’s end this guide with a sales channel strategy best practice recap. Implementing these tips will help you maximize conversions on your site:

  • Make sure your navigation is easy to follow: Create easy-to-use menus that take customers where they want to go. Optimize your site search to help visitors find the products they’re looking for.
  • Make it easy to buy: Streamline your checkout, eradicate unexpected shipping expenses, and offer consumers multiple payment options (PayPal, Apple Pay, Klarna, and cards).
  • Remove hesitation: Erase as many barriers to purchase as possible. Offer free shipping and free returns, answer presale questions with a chatbot, and display security badges in a prominent location.

Wrapping Up

To create an effective eCommerce sales funnel, you have to understand how each part of the buyer’s journey works — and why. A well-planned marketing pipeline can help you gain new leads, retain existing customers, and build brand awareness for a brighter future in eCommerce. Business intelligence tools and analytics can help you understand which marketing tactics are the most successful for building a strong sales funnel. 

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