how to create a sales funnel

In this article, we talk about how to create a sales funnel that works in a way that allows you to automate your marketing and helps you scale your income on autopilot.

Sales funnels are where marketing meets sales for every business, virtually. But what exactly are sales funnels and how do you create a sales funnel for your business online?

Digital sales funnels or online marketing funnels are an elaborate arrangement of different tools and elements.

Typically, when you create a sales funnel you will need to include the components of a complete inbound marketing system, like traffic sources, ads, offers, landing pages, email marketing, split testing. All of these marketing elements are combined and streamlined with the goal to help leads get into your sales pipeline and convert into customers.

In other words, when you set up a sales funnel, you have a complete online marketing system that allows you to attract people who are interested in your product and, with the right tactics and strategies, lead them to develop a lifetime of relationship with your business.

How to build a high-conversion sales funnel

how to create a sales funnel

Sales funnels, when you build them the right way, help you lay down a path for your visitors to follow, with the precise goal of turning those visitors into customers for life.

Without a marketing funnel, your web properties (websites and landing pages to be more precise) tend to be out there in the wild, without a purpose. When visitors come to check you out, they don’t know what to do next (or you can at least assume that they don’t).

By setting out a path for them to follow, you control your visitor experiences in a way that ends up adding value to your customers while you pull in revenue and profits.

Good, non-pushy, and high-engagement sales funnels that provide value upfront also make for a fantastic user experience (and hence a possibility of word of mouth, more sales, and referrals).

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to build your high-conversion sales funnels:

How to create a sales funnel: Start with an offer

All successful sales funnels and inbound marketing systems start with an offer of one kind or the other.

Start With an offer

Product-based businesses give away free samples or offer discount coupons.

Service businesses give away eBooks or free online courses (often called lead magnets) to allow their respective clients to get a taste of what might be involved while working with a business.

SaaS businesses or apps might give away a free trial (for 14 days or 30 days) to allow users to “use, play, and fall in love” with products before they decide to buy.

Some technology businesses and software companies (or their resellers) also give away free white papers, research findings, and other kinds of products packaged and bundled together.

You’ll need a way to convince, persuade, and invoke an action from your visitors in order for them to sign up as a lead first.

All of this is done to get leads for respective businesses because making offers like these is a low-friction way to build your leads pipeline.

Why you need an offer in your sales funnel

Also, when you make an offer, you are creating some sort of value upfront.

Three things happen when you sign up a lead for your business (at the top of the sales funnel):

  • You just got a lead for your business (that’s straight forward enough)
  • You got a vote of confidence from visitors, who now trust you enough to learn from you or to use your product. These are captive, high-intent leads who can very well be your customers tomorrow.
  • You now have a way to educate, teach, inspire, and motivate your customers to enrich their lives. Of course, you could sell your products or services too (and you own this audience completely).

You can’t have a funnel without an offer, so it’s imperative that you get that right.

Need some more help to create the best offer for your marketing funnel? We wrote a blog post about how to create the perfect lead magnet. Also, Mark Joyner has an entire book on The Irresistible Offer and you can download it for free.

Build single or multi-step landing pages

A focused way of presenting your offer, so as to ensure that your visitors don’t get distracted and pay attention to your message, is to build a landing page. A landing page is a standalone, dedicated page built exclusively to communicate your offer to your visitors.

Landing pages

Landing pages are built to ensure that you have your visitors’ attention, free of the regular distractions found on a typical website. Usually then, your landing pages don’t have a navigation menu or any links at all.

All that your landing page has are exactly the only elements you need (headline, subheadings, images, copy, and a call to action) to get people to sign up for what you offer.

As part of a high-conversion sales funnel, your landing page could be just a single page with just one offer. Alternatively, you could make different landing pages for multiple offers or if you want to test out various landing pages for the same offer.

In some cases, businesses also create multi-step landing pages which make the whole sign up process in “steps”.

For instance, for a real estate landing page, Page 1 takes only the Pin code of the visitor. Page 2 asks for the address, and page 3 for the email.

Determine and establish your traffic sources

You have an offer now, but you’d need people to see that offer. You want the whole world to know about your business, your offer, and your product. How do you do that? How do you get traffic to your landing pages?

To set up a perfect sales funnel is not enough if you don’t attract the right type of traffic.  

Organic Traffic: When you get everything right with your blogging, content marketing strategy (including content curation, podcasting, video, and other forms of content), and social media, you’ll start acquiring visitors organically through all of these sources combined.

Visitors find your website off of a search on search engines. Or they check out one or many of your updates on social media. Maybe they find one of your slides on Slideshare interesting and then come to check your business out.

Organic traffic also includes all kinds of referral traffic — people clicking through links on other sites that mention your business.

All of us at doneforyou firmly believe that if there’s one kind of traffic that you hope for in the long run, it’s organic traffic.

As you keep producing content, the number of visitors coming in through your content strategy increases continuously, slowly, and consistently.

Paid Traffic: If you need traffic to your marketing funnel way sooner than the time it takes for your organic traffic to kick in, you’d choose paid advertising on various platforms available to you. Such platforms are: Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, Twitter ads, LinkedIn ads, Pinterest ads, and mobile advertising.

Paid traffic is also a great way to generate leads quickly and hence make sales sooner.

The best part about getting traffic to your online sales funnels is that you’ll always know what works and what doesn’t. Based on the data available to you, make decisions and tweak your traffic generation strategy accordingly.

When designing your funnels, picking the right source of traffic can be a major cause of confusion. We’ve recently published an article where we answer all of your traffic questions extensively.

Cross-sells and upsells (Optional step to building your sales funnel)

Between the point on the landing page(s) where visitors submit their information to sign up for your offer and the “thank you” page that shows up “after” someone signs up, you could have an additional page that makes a “one-time” offer — something that you won’t offer again and that which still holds great value.

Another alternative is to obviate the need for an extra page and use the “thank you” itself as the cross-sell or upsell page while you still say “thank you”.

The only reason why cross-sells and upsells are optional is because you’ll try to “sell” something to apparently “cold traffic” — this is a little too early in the funnel to make sales pitches.

Making sales pitches early in the funnel (or at the top of the funnel, when they sign up for something free) makes it all a little too aggressive, pushy, and demanding.

If and when it’s done right, however, it works like a charm. See what Spotify does as soon as you sign up for a free account.

Cross Sells and Upsells

Now, whether or not this strategy works for you is something you’d need to test.

However, making upsells is one incredibly awesome way to boost your sales and bring in the cash flow.

Setup email marketing autoresponder sequences

Soon after visitors sign up for an offer you make, the need for engagement kicks in. Emails are the default (but you could also use modern ways such as live chat, using Intercom, or by using Drift).

But we’ll stick to email autoresponder sequences for now. When you’re looking to create a sales funnel that actually generates sales you don’t want to skip this part.

The first email that goes out to leads after they sign up is the welcome email, onboarding email, an email that packs instructions in, or just an email that delivers the actual offer you promised (coupons, PDF documents, videos, links to resources, etc.).

Here’s how the sequence is roughly laid out (and set up in a way that everyone who signs up gets the emails in the same sequence):

  1. Email 1: The welcome email, lead magnet delivery, offer delivery, onboarding email, instructional email
  2. Email 2: Follow up email
  3. Email 3: Feedback email for Email 1
  4. Email 4: Subscriber-exclusive information
  5. Email 5: More value packed in
  6. Email 6: Soft pitch to a paid product or service
  7. Email 7: Continue with Informational emails
  8. And so on…

Here’s the first email Airbnb “hosts” get when they express interest to host their homes (or part of their homes) for guests on Airbnb:


Create retargeting workflows

More than 90% of your visitors leave without doing anything on your website. Maybe they browse, read your blog posts, and they just leave. Life comes in between and they forget about you altogether.

The advanced (and painful) version of this behavior is seen with ecommerce shopping cart abandonment (where shoppers add items to their cart but leave without buying).

If you want to create a sales funnel you need to address the issue of abandoned cart properly.

The real money in paid advertising (where your hard earned dollars truly go to work) is when you do retargeting.

Also, retargeting campaigns turn out to be considerably cheaper with a much lower CPA (Cost per Acquisition) than regular campaigns.

For visitors who visit and leave without doing anything, you could do retargeting (across platforms or on any specific platform).

Do shoppers leave without buying anything and after leaving items on their respective shopping carts? You could use retargeting emails or automated abandoned shopping cart email campaigns.

Here’s how a shopping cart abandonment email looks like (Courtesy: Peel):

Retargeting Workflows

Depending on your situation and the way you have created your sales funnel, you’ll have to develop retargeting workflows to make those visitors who did show some interest come back and complete their respective actions.

Casual blog visitors who read and exit your site? Use retargeting on Facebook or on Web to bring them back to sign up for your free offer (top of funnel)

Are high-intent visitors browsing your products or pricing page? Use retargeting ads showcasing those products to have them sign up.

Are shoppers leaving items in the cart and abandoning their shopping midway? Use retargeting emails to nudge them to buy.

How to optimize your funnel with split testing

You have inbound marketing funnels set up for each of your offers, products, or services. You have an email marketing system working for you on auto-pilot.

You are doing everything right. Or are you? You never know until you test.

By doing A/B testing for all elements within your funnel (ads, landing pages, email subject links, calls to action, copy, headings, subheadings), etc., you have a data-driven approach to making your sales funnels work harder than they normally do.

Instead of accepting status quo on how ads, landing pages, or entire funnels perform. You could test elements out (one against the other, and doing one test between two similar assets at a time) and pluck out real champions.

Here’s an example of A/B Testing is Done, by Dustin Sparks of Unbounce

Split Testing

Analytics and tracking

A major advantage of using sales funnels on the web (and this also applies to your website in general and other web properties) is analytics.

With analytics, you can get a bird’s eye view of every single visitor, their history of browsing, sources of traffic, time spent on your website, number of leads who signed up, lead scores assigned to leads, full video recordings of what visitors do on your pages, heat maps, scroll rates, and pretty much everything you ever wanted to know.

While Google Analytics is the default tool you’ll use to track and record visits and all kinds of numbers important for you, your sales funnels will have separate analytics associated with them.

Your analytics can be simple or complex (often requiring more than one tool) depending on how you setup your funnels.

Let’s assume a scenario where you are using Facebook ads to drive traffic to landing pages created with Leadpages. Let’s also assume that you use Adroll for retargeting. Finally, all your email marketing is managed through MailChimp.

This is how your analytics will be like:

Facebook Ads — KPIs related to Ad impressions, reach, frequency, clicks, conversions, CPA, CTR, and all other ad related analytics are shown inside Facebook’s own ad analytics dashboard.

Landing Page Analytics — Leadpages will show you analytics at the page-level. Numbers such as visitors to either versions of your landing page (A & B), conversions on either of the landing pages, total number of conversions, etc.

Retargeting audiences — If you use Adroll for retargeting, you’ll get data on audience size, retargeting campaign level analytics (including clicks on ads, conversions, cost per conversions, ad budget for retargeting, etc.).

Bring it all together

When you bring it all in, and work with each of these steps inside your sales funnel, that’s when you have a sales funnel that works efficiently leading to a predictable marketing machine.

Each of the moving parts within a sales funnel (ads, landing pages, emails, retargeting audiences, analytics, tracking and reporting) has to be managed all the while your campaigns are on or when you get a regular stream of traffic from your organic campaigns.

As you can see, building sales funnels is one thing; managing them well enough is something else altogether.

The point?

You don’t just create a sales funnel. You also manage those funnels effectively, keep making tweaks to ensure that your funnels work for you, and use data continuously to make decisions to improve how your sales funnels perform.

How does your sales funnel look like? What’s the most difficult part when you create a sales funnel?