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The events that have occurred in 2020 have altered the sales cycle’s path in dramatic fashion. As online shopping has accelerated on a massive scale, retailers have had to pivot to take advantage of those opportunities. Some have been successful and some have not, but one thing is clear: if you are reading this and you sell a product — whether B2B, services, or retail goods — and you are not actively pursuing your online sales strategy every day, then you are losing revenue to your competitors who are.
The sales funnel represents the customer’s journey to purchase what you sell. While the length of the purchase cycle and the actions may differ depending on the product or service marketed, unless you’re selling low-cost items under $10 or so, most customers pass through the same stages of the process before completing a conversion.
Whether you realize it or not, the sales funnel exists everywhere. In fact, you’re reading this article — which means that you’re in Kahn Media’s sales funnel right this very minute. Hi!
But we’re not trying to sell you something just yet. We want to educate you first, so let’s get started. The basic version of the funnel is Awareness > Interest > Decision > Action > Retention.
- Awareness: This is placing your brand onto the customer’s radar. It typically takes 5–7 impressions before a customer will consider interacting with your brand. This stage is where multichannel marketing will ensure that the consumer recognizes your product and logo.
- Interest: This stage reflects the user realizing they have a need or problem and searching for more info about how to solve this.
- Decision: The user has decided to take action to solve their need or problem and is price shopping while weighing the costs and benefits of a purchase.
- Action: The consumer has accepted the cost and is ready to complete the target action.
- Retention: The user has become a converting customer and continues to be loyal to your brand, bringing you recurring business. This stage can also involve the customer becoming an advocate of your brand by spreading the word to others.
Remember that people make purchasing decisions. The sales funnel streamlines and automates the process to the consumer until they make the purchase. And with today’s ad tracking tools, it is possible to see their actions during every step.
All digital marketing should address a specific stage of the funnel; this should be identified in the campaign’s planning stage. Our D2C Sales Checklist can help with this.
The most critical step of the sales funnel process is to set up conversion tracking. Conversion tracking tags are a bit of HTML code installed to your website to provide reporting on site-side events. Without it, you will be blindly spending money with no way to gauge the ROI of your campaigns or make informed decisions.
The conversion tracking for most platforms comes in two parts:
- Base codes: Tracks visitors of any page of your site
- Event codes: Track specific actions those users make
- The action could be anything from lead form submissions to product views to completed purchases.
Most popular web content management systems offer plugins for the major marketing platforms that allow for easy integration of conversion tracking tags. With conversion tracking set up successfully, most marketing platforms will be able to optimize your ads for specific events by using algorithm learning to target users most likely to complete your target action. The results you will see are night and day with proper event tracking compared to not tracking your efforts. Data is king.
Choosing the correct attribution model and window is crucial for accurately tracking your campaign’s performance. The attribution window is the period after interacting with an ad when a conversion action will be counted.
Specific platforms allow you to adjust the window time frame, while others like Facebook are the same for everyone. It is essential to match your attribution window to your sales cycle realistically. If you are selling cars, your attribution window should be much different than someone selling apparel. Generally speaking, products with a more extended decision phase or a higher price point should have a longer attribution window. If you are unsure about what to choose, your Time Lag report in Google Analytics can give you a good idea of your sales cycle length.
The second part of attribution is the model.
News flash: the days of last-click attribution are dead.
There is a reason this model is being phased out by almost every platform. It is not accurate or applicable to the way people shop anymore. It gives 100% of the conversion credit to the last campaign to be clicked and disregards all other prior activity, meaning the campaigns that played a part in the earlier purchase stages like Awareness, Interest, and Decision, have been under-credited.
While sometimes this is the only option, using time decay or position-based attribution models will provide a more accurate representation of how your customers behave. It is important to understand how these factors play into one another so that you can determine the length of your sales funnel and the time it takes for your customers to make a purchasing decision.
Five Tips To Get Started
- Utilize a multi-channel strategy: Your customers don’t use just one platform, so why should you? With more search networks, social media platforms, and apps popping up daily, it’s important to think not just about how customers act within one channel but rather about their entire journey and the unique role each platform plays. You may be gaining a ton of interested customers from places you aren’t even aware of, and for this reason, it’s vital to monitor Google Analytics. You’ll learn how users are finding you and how they are converting. The Top Conversion Paths, Referral, and Assisted Conversions reports are particularly useful for this information.
- Market on as many platforms as your budget allows: It is more effective to take a small budget and devote it to addressing one stage of the funnel completely, rather than stretching your funds too thin, trying to check every box. Research your situation and focus on the channels that are bringing the highest-converting and most-engaged traffic. For example, if you sell B2B tax software, it’s probably not the end of the world if you aren’t on TikTok. Focus on what makes sense for your brand.
- Start with ads that address the stage closest to the target action or conversion goal: This strategy gives you substantial ROI in a short period and does not require a large budget — it is essentially targeting the low-hanging fruit. These ads could pinpoint cart abandoners on an e-commerce site, downloaders of your free content, or lead form abandoners.
- Build campaigns that address the actions you desire: Depending on the marketing budget available, work backward building campaigns that address the next closest stages to your target action, and work backward from there. The further a customer is from converting, the more effort and marketing dollars it will require to transform them into a converting customer. It also becomes more difficult to attribute ROI to top-funnel marketing efforts, but that does not make them any less crucial.
- Identify the indicators for each level of the funnel: Before setting up a funnel-based campaign strategy, you must understand what the customer is thinking at each step. Any interaction with your brand is a form of intent, and as a marketer, it is your job to decode their behavior to determine where they are in the sales cycle to speak to them effectively. This is the point where physically talking to your customers can provide you with invaluable information. How were they introduced to your brand? Where did they find information about you? How long was it before they chose to purchase your goods or service?
Before creating any campaigns, write out each step of the funnel and then list every action a customer might take in that stage across all channels. Everything from liking your post on Facebook to searching your reviews on Yelp to viewing your brand’s mission statement on your website — every action counts, no matter how small. Once you lay out your strategy, it becomes clear where to spend your marketing dollars for each phase of your customer funnel.
Now that you have all your key user behaviors identified for each step of the funnel, how do you reach them? The answer can be marketing to a cold audience, remarketing (or retargeting), but is usually a mixture of both strategies. Remember, a complete funnel isn’t just wringing sales out of interested users but also acquiring new customers to grow your business.
In 2020, being active as a brand on social media is no longer optional — it is a necessity. Social media has revolutionized the way people discover, interact, and even shop with brands. At first, social media mainly addressed top-funnel users, giving them a direct line to see new products and exciting content from your brand, but within the past few years, the addition of e-commerce features like Facebook and Instagram Shopping has made it possible to capture sales from lower-funnel users as well.
Remarketing will play an integral part of your strategy and is one of — if not the most — critical components of a successful digital marketing funnel. It allows you to create endless possibilities for audiences using any condition you can imagine. With retargeting, you can identify users at an exact point in the sales cycle and then serve them specific messaging to progress them to the funnel’s next stage.
Experiment with any type of audience condition you can: video viewers, post engagers, all visitors of your website, visitors of individual pages of your website, users from specific traffic sources, and so on. There is no limit to the audience conditions you can create and no downside to testing as many as you can imagine.
It is important to remember that for every campaign (or ad set) targeting a remarketing audience, you also want to exclude — or create a negative audience — for users that have already taken your desired action. For example, if you target an audience of users who watched your video on YouTube with an ad driving them to your website, you would exclude all website visitors since they have already completed your target action.
Now you’ve done the hard part and convinced your customer you have a product or service they need. You’ve presented the benefits and overcome their objections — now they are ready to buy. There is nothing worse than reaching this point and then losing a customer because of a poorly optimized checkout process. You must make it as easy as possible for them to complete your target action. Clearly label each step, and guide them through each without distraction. If your action is a lead form, try to enable software that auto-fills user info. For e-commerce sites, integrating several options for checkout methods such as PayPal, financing, Apple Pay, and Google Pay make the checkout process faster, thus improving your chance of gaining a conversion. We also recommend that you run through your conversion process regularly from a customer’s viewpoint to identify any issues or roadblocks they may experience.
Google Analytics’ Goal Flow and Checkout Behavior reports provide insight into each step’s abandonment rates in your conversion path to help identify potential issues in the process.
Don’t forget about customers after they convert. This is another big mistake we see with online marketing. You’ve heard it a thousand times, but we’ll repeat it — it’s far easier to retain an existing customer than it is to find new customers. Just because someone completed your conversion action does not mean they are no longer valuable; in fact, it is the opposite. You should continue to engage them and give them reasons to be repeat customers: offer a loyalty discount, cross-sell by showing other products they may be interested in, make them part of your newsletter, show them new products, and what your brand is doing. Even a simple thank you message goes a long way.
Challenge: In October 2019, an automotive performance parts brand partnered with Kahn Media; the company had a specific goal to grow direct-to-consumer sales through their existing online channels. Before working with Kahn Media, this brand had done minimal PPC advertising, and most sales were coming from their distribution network.
Tactic: Kahn Media’s digital marketing team met with the performance parts brand and analyzed their core customer demographics and top conversion paths. Out of their customer base, Kahn Media identified five primary customer segments as the focus of the new paid marketing efforts.
Kahn Media’s digital marketing team then built out separate digital sales funnels to address each of these five segments incorporating campaigns across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Amazon. Each funnel contained content and messaging specific to that vertical to serve highly relevant ads for a better interaction rate. The Kahn Media team also evaluated the brand’s website to identify improvements that could help streamline the purchase process, then worked with a development company to execute these changes.
Result: Using this multi-channel digital sales strategy, the brand saw a 199.2% increase in direct sales year over year (2020 vs. 2019).