Automating your marketing funnel can have ongoing benefits for your business.
Wouldn’t it be nice to gather leads, nurture prospects and lead people to buy from you, all with automated processes?
It might sound a bit robotic for dealing with humans, but the truth is, if it’s done well, marketing automation can be a very effective way of ensuring you keep up engagement with leads and see more sales as a result.
Let’s talk about your marketing funnel and what you can do to simplify it with automation:
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The marketing funnel
Let’s start with the basics of a marketing funnel. You may also hear it called a conversion funnel or sales funnel. It’s core purpose is to nurture potential customers, from lead generation through to making a purchase.
The marketing funnel is depicted with different stages, with marketing activities strategically selected to be the most appropriate for each particular stage. This is an important concept to grasp – you need to ensure that you have each stage of the funnel covered when it comes to marketing strategy. Someone who is very familiar with your product needs something more than basic, “here is what we do” content, for example.
Below is a diagram of the marketing funnel, taken from ActiveTrail. It depicts the basic stages of a marketing funnel. You’ll see slightly modified takes out there, but essentially all of them are outlining how a new customer takes a journey from learning about your business, to making a purchase from it:
A marketing funnel that has been well-planned can work like a machine for lead generation and sales, which is where automation is a big help. Your marketing funnel may be very basic to begin with, but as businesses learn more about what works for them, they often want to add more complexity and function to their funnel.
Typical activities for stages of the marketing funnel
The marketing funnel has some clearly defined stages, with different activities suitable for each:
- Awareness – This is the stage of the funnel that potential customers enter upon lead generation. So for example, they might have clicked on your social media ad, been directed to a landing page and then signed up for some type of content.
A critical step at the awareness stage is segmentation of leads, ensuring that people get the most appropriate nurturing for their needs. This is especially true if you have multiple “personas” in your target audience, or different products and services.
At the awareness stage, prospective customers are seeing you for the first time. You need to be able to quickly position your brand as a “preferred” alternative to others. You demonstrate authority and start to build the trust of new customers. Typically, you don’t come on strong with a sales message.
- Consideration – During this stage, you have the attention of your potential customers. They’re aware of who you are and what you do and they’re interested to know more. You will have lost some leads that came in who may have decided you’re not a good fit. This is why the funnel gets narrower as it progresses: you expect to lose some potential customers along the way.
Your aim here is to cultivate further interest and lead people to more detailed information about your products or services. Some typical activities might include producing content that talks about how to choose products or services like yours or what to beware of.
- Decision – This is the “action stage” of the funnel, where the new customer decides whether to buy or not. In marketing terminology, this is where prospects go from being “marketing qualified leads” to “sales qualified leads.” The sales team will usually get involved at this stage (if you have separate teams – otherwise, you switch to sales mode!)
The prospective customer is likely to be comparing what you offer to what competitors offer. Your job is to make the decision to go with your business as frictionless as possible. Typically, you might do things like incentivize the decision to make a purchase, or make yourself available for consultation.
Why automate your marketing funnel?
We will readily admit that building and fine-tuning an effective sales funnel can take some work, but the core point is that it will save you more work in the long-run.
An automated marketing funnel will:
- Allow you or your team to spend less time on menial tasks. There are a lot of small things that soon add up to large amounts of time that can be automated.
- Lower your labor costs. You need less people hours spent on menial tasks.
- Allow you to focus on more high-value tasks. For example, you could be having sales conversations with prospects instead of manually sending out emails.
- Improve your customer service. You can’t get to everyone right away, but an automated system can.
- Allow you to generate better leads. As you learn more about what works, you will notice patterns that help indicate how you might attract the right people.
8 automations for marketing funnels
Automation really is a key secret to successful marketing strategy. An important part of this process is that you should be so tuned into who your customers are and what interests them, that your automated processes seem natural to them.
Here are some automations for your marketing funnel, broken down by stages:
#1. Social media
Did you know that 1.47 billion people log into Facebook daily? Social media has a big role to play in building awareness, and while you can’t (and shouldn’t) automate it completely, you can help ensure consistency with automation.
In fact, consistency is one of the keys to getting results with social media. But maintaining a consistent schedule takes time and effort that business owners often don’t have to spare. A solution is to schedule social media posts using a tool such as Buffer, Hootsuite or Sprout Social. There are free versions available for businesses that don’t have a high volume requirement for posting.
The idea is that you can devote a chunk of time to curating and scheduling social media posts, rather than trying to post in-the-moment daily. It’s important to remember that while you can automate posts, you should still stay in touch and be ready to respond to any comments.
Of course, another big part of social media is the ability to use paid advertising. This is another aspect with great automation tools built in, like allowing you to schedule ads and to automatically adjust aspects such as pricing. You should also take the time to carefully target your ads, so that they’re automatically shown to people who are a good fit for your business.
#2. Lead generation
Whether it’s via social media, your website or paid advertising, you should always have an efficient method of lead generation. The idea is that you should be able to build an email list of potential customers so that you can engage them through email marketing later.
There are actually multiple ways you might automate lead generation into your marketing funnel. For example you might:
- Set up gated content or a “lead magnet” on your website. Visitors have the option of filling out a form to access the content, while their form details are automatically added to your email program or CRM system.
- Set up a specific landing page that you can direct people to from social media or other channels. They fill out the landing page form and it gives them access to content, a webinar or some other type of valuable resource.
- Use a lead generation tool such as ClickFunnels. Paid programs like this are designed to make setting up your funnel easy.
#3. Lead segmentation
As we mentioned earlier, segmenting your leads into appropriate groups is a critical task. Segmentation allows you to nurture leads in a way that is most relevant to them, rather than simply blasting the same email out to everyone.
Let’s take our One Week Website web packages as an example. The One Week Website package is targeted toward new business owners who need a simple starter website, however the One Month Website package targets small business owners who want a new website built from scratch. Typically, the second group will be more established than the first and may want to go beyond basics on a website.
These are two distinct groups, so it makes sense to identify which group a lead belongs to then send content that will be the most relevant. There are some things that will interest one group, but not the other.
Segmentation can be automated using your email management tool (such as Drip, Mailchimp or AWeber). Most of the simpler email management tools only offer a basic level of segmentation (such as assigning a tag to the lead to designate where they came from). Some of the bigger CRM tools (Ontraport, Zoho etc.) will offer more complex segmentation, allowing you to slice up your list in many different ways.
Here are some basic ways you might segment your list:
- By how they got there. For example, if they signed up for a particular lead magnet or attended an event.
- By preferences shown. For example, showing interest in certain topics or products.
- By actions taken – attending webinars, making a purchase, downloading something…
- By demographic information.
The “how to” for setting up segmentation will vary depending on the email provider you use. At a basic level, you set up rules that either add a tag to the person for easy segmentation, or put them on a certain list.
#4. Content curation and creation
Content marketing usually forms the backbone of the consideration segment of the marketing funnel. Your aim is to be seen as an expert in your particular area by putting out valuable content on a regular schedule.
Artificial Intelligence and other technologies are getting more and more sophisticated, but we’re not suggesting that you can automate the entire content creation process. While there are some tools out there that will write, in their current incarnation, they can only handle rudimentary pieces like sports recaps.
There are some things you can set up automations for to help with your content curation and creation though, including:
- Tools that recommend topics and content ideas. For example, BuzzSumo allows you to see the most popular content on any given topic.
- Tools that allow you to set up automated alerts, which help you to curate content for sharing or gathering ideas. For example, you can set up Google Alerts for topics you are interested in.
- Tools that assess your content. For example, Headline Analyzer will score how effective your headline is, while Clearscope will scan your post and score you based on your use of keywords for SEO.
- Content posting and sharing automation. For example, you can schedule blog posts ahead of time in WordPress and set up automations that trigger email and social media once it has published.
#5. Email campaigns
One of your most effective nurturing strategies throughout the marketing funnel will be use of email marketing (that is, if you write good emails!). Like other marketing strategies, consistency is important because it helps to keep you recognized by potential customers.
Email campaign automations are one of the best ways to maintain your consistency while keeping up engagement. Here are some things to automate, using your email service provider (or CRM):
- Welcome emails. If someone signs up to your list, you should always acknowledge their presence by sending an email. Make the best use of your welcome email by including information of value, such as how to follow you on social media or some suggested content.
- Email drip sequences. For example, perhaps the potential customer signs up for a lead magnet, which triggers an email sequence being sent to them. Each email should have a clear point and deliver value to the subscriber.
- Email contingencies. This means the sending of emails based on action (or even inaction). For example, you can set up automated rules that send a certain email to everyone who opened a previous email, and a different email to those who didn’t open the email.
- Re-engagement emails. If your email system can manage it, you can create a segment of people who haven’t opened any emails within a certain period. You then automatically target them with a few emails designed to get them re-engaged. If you get no response out of that, you can have them automatically removed from your list. This helps to keep your engagement statistics looking healthy and ensure that you focus your energies on those who want to be there.
Note: You might also send these emails for other stages of the funnel too.
#6. Emails for the Decision stage
We’re giving this its own section, separate to the last one on emails because here we’re talking about emails that are particular to the decision stage. The prospective customer is now at the bottom of the funnel and they’re either going to decide to buy now, to wait until later, or not to buy at all.
Here are some typical emails that you can automate for this stage:
- Invitations to book a consultation or demonstration
- Special offers or discounts
- Abandoned cart emails. These seek to remind the customer that they left something in the cart and encourage them to return to complete their purchase. Some businesses choose to offer an incentive, some don’t.
- Emails that highlight case studies or testimonials, helping the decision along.
- The “last chance” email, where you remind the prospect that an offer is about to expire.
- The “thank you” email after purchase. This might offer additional value such as tips for getting started or links to useful resources.
- Follow-up surveys to gather feedback.
Promoting upsells is a smart way to increase revenue without having to find new customers. In fact, you’re more likely to sell to someone who already bought than one who hasn’t purchased yet.
If you’ve been on ecommerce sites such as Amazon where you see recommendations like “people who bought this also bought …”, then you’ve seen automated upselling in action. There are a few ways to automate the upsell:
- Offer the upsell during the checkout sequence. For example, “try our premium service for one month at no extra cost,” “get a second widget at 50% off,” “upgrade to business class for just $500 extra,” “add a two year warranty for $60.” Your cart software should be able to help you to do this.
- Have an upsell widget in place on your website to make automated recommendations. For example, “people who viewed this product also looked at …” or “frequently bought with this product …”
- Have an automated email upsell after the sale. For example, Air New Zealand has a program known as “One Up.” This offers passengers the chance to bid on a seat upgrade to the next cabin class up. Emails are automatically sent out offering One Up and customers are alerted a few days before their flight if they’ve made a successful bid.
Hint: You will tend to have better success if you’re pitching the new customer on an idea that will help them rather than “spend more money now.” For example, if you sell leather belts you might say something like: “keep your new belt in top condition with this quality leather cleaner.”
Note: Your email upsell or cross-sell offers could lead into new automated email sequences.
Retargeting is the step where you aim to bring back people who have visited your website or viewed your ad. It basically means that you “follow” them around the internet (in a non-stalker way, of course!).
You have probably seen retargeting in action before. Maybe you liked one post for a brand on Facebook then noticed their ads popping up later, or perhaps you visited a website then saw PPC ads for that same website appear elsewhere. Retargeting is about being visible to prospective customers in the hopes that they’ll come back.
Here are some ways to automate your retargeting:
- Facebook pixel. You input this pixel into your website and set up event tracking so that actions can be triggered by events. You also clearly define the audience you wish to target to guide back to your funnel.
The Facebook pixel will track all events on your website and show corresponding ads to users who meet your defined profile. You can get quite granular with your targeting, setting up rules such as for people who visited a certain page within a certain number of days and took a certain action.
- AdWords remarketing ads. These are good to set up for people who abandoned the shopping cart, visited your page or signed up, but then left. If you’re using AdWords remarketing for the first time, you’ll need to set up a remarketing list.
You can automate the bidding for your ads if you’d like, but anyone who is budget-conscious may want to select manual bidding to avoid any surprises.
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An effective marketing funnel is an automation machine, yet maintains a balance as a “human” voice to engage with prospective customers. Before getting started on automating a sales funnel, it’s important to set goals for each stage and to have a good understanding of what will appeal to your target audience.
A great place to start is simply by mapping out your funnel on paper. Start with how you will generate leads and what you’ll use to entice them, then look at addressing content interests and needs. Always aim to be able to keep up communication with leads and nurture their trust.
Finally, remember to consider what happens once a customer has been through your marketing funnel and made a purchase. There’s often a good opportunity to continue to nurture them and foster loyalty. This is another great area to use those email automations. The bottom line is that it’s much easier to keep the customers you already have than to gain a new one!