Sales Funnel: How to Build an Effective User-Centric Funnel

Paul Boag

Digital has introduced hundreds of new marketing channels to consider. How do we decide where to place our efforts? We need a sales funnel built around user behaviour.

The concept of a sales funnel (also known as a purchase or marketing funnel) has been intrinsic to marketing for decades and yet designing an effective one has become increasingly challenging as the number of digital channels skyrocket. Interestingly the answer to this dilemma may well lie in the discipline of user experience design, where some would frown on the whole idea of a sales funnel.

Among some user experience designers, the idea of a sales funnel is moderately distasteful, as it implies herding users down a predetermined path towards a purchase. They associate it with dark patterns, big data and manipulative practices.

However, a proper sales funnel isn’t like that.

What Makes an Effective Sales Funnel?

An effective sales funnel is about understanding the user’s behaviour and accommodating that in your marketing approach. It shares more in common with customer journey mapping than dark patterns.

A sales funnel should seek to identify weaknesses in the customer’s journey and address those weaknesses with appropriate messaging or calls to actions. It is about understanding and accommodating behaviour, rather than manipulating it.

How Customer Journey Maps and Sales Funnels Work Together

A good customer journey map will contain information that proves invaluable when creating an effective sales funnel. In particular, it should include:

  • Stages in the user’s journey you can build the sales funnel around.
  • Touchpoints that the user interacts with that you should be addressing in your sales funnel.
  • Actions that the user wants to take at each step of their journey.
  • Objections that you will need to address to move users down the sales funnel.
  • Weaknesses in the journey that need improving to prevent user’s ‘leaking’ out of the sales funnel.

In short, a good customer journey map should inform you when, where and how to engage with users throughout the customer lifecycle.

However, the customer journey map is not the whole story from a sales and marketing perspective. It complements and informs a sales funnel, rather than replaces it.

How then, do we use the customer journey map to inform our sales funnel?

How to Use a Customer Journey Map to Create an Effective Sales Funnel

For a start, we can use the steps we identified in our customer journey map and use them as the basis for a sales funnel. So, for example, a typical e-commerce journey might consist of the following steps:

  1. Discover a need.
  2. Research the options.
  3. Make a purchase.
  4. Receive the item.
  5. Post-purchase support.

Notice how the journey extends further than merely the purchase process. You could argue that we should not include steps that are outside of the purchase process in our sales funnel. However, as I explain in a post about BT Business, it is easy to lose a sale even after the deal is done. With that in mind, think carefully before focusing exclusively on the sales steps of the journey.

An example customer journey map showing the steps outlined above.
A customer journey map contains information that can inform a sales funnel.

Next, for each step in the journey, we should identify four different pieces of information that will help inform the sales funnel. These are:

  • What touchpoints we can use to reach our audience?
  • What messages do we need to communicate at that point in their journey?
  • What should we ask the user to do next?
  • How are we going to measure the success of this part of the funnel?
Example Sales Funnel showing the same ecommerce steps than before.
The sales funnel can build upon the same steps identified in the customer journey map

Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these, starting with touchpoints.

Identify Appropriate Touchpoints

One of the primary roles of a successful sales funnel is to help you identify how to reach your audience. With only limited resources available to you and a near-infinite number of channels from pay-per-click to social media, you need to know where to place your efforts.

A well-designed customer journey map should be able to tell you the most appropriate places to engage with your audience at any particular moment in their journey. That information can inform your sales funnel and by extension, where you place your resources.

Shows the vast number of channels marketers face.
Marketers have to decide where to place their limited resources.

Decide on The Right Messaging

As the user engages with your organisation, they will have different questions, objections and concerns at various points along the way. For example, early on in their engagement, they will have questions about whether you even offer what they need. Later this will turn into more specific questions around pricing and fulfilment.

To move a person on to the next step in the sales funnel it will be necessary to address these questions, objections and concerns in your communications with them.

That means you will need to have a clear picture of what they are so that you can shape appropriate messaging. Once again, this is where your customer journey map can help. It should have identified what these questions are and so you can design appropriate responses.

Establish Clear Calls to Action

Closing a sale is not a singular event, but instead, several smaller steps that move the customer progressively towards the final commitment. That is the crux of a sales funnel, to move somebody down the pipeline to the point of purchase.

Each step is usually associated with some call to action with each action being a slightly more significant commitment than the one before.

For example, a sales funnel for a charity might begin simply by clicking on a social media update. Then it might be reading a blog post, then signing up for a newsletter. Only then may it move on to signing a petition and eventually making a donation. However, even that might not be the end. They may follow up by asking somebody to commit to a monthly donation and then become a fundraiser. Eventually, they may even ask people to consider leaving a legacy. Each step builds on the one before.

An example charity sales funnel where each step builds on the one before.
A sales funnel consists of a number of steps that each build on the one before.

A good starting point for deciding on these next actions is to once again look at your customer journey map. That will show you what tasks the user is wanting to complete, as well as providing information on how open they might be to other actions.

Once you have your actions, you can start measuring each of them.

Measure Success

It is crucial that you track each step in the sales funnel because it only takes one weak link, and the whole thing can fall apart. You might have the best social campaigns in the world, but if your newsletter sign-up form sucks you will fail to make a connection that you can follow up later.

The only way you can know where the weaknesses are is to measure each step in the journey. That means key performance indicators are a crucial step in forming a successful sales funnel.

This kind of measurement is not only crucial for successful marketing, but it is also a backbone of effective user experience design.

Adopt User-Centric Marketing

Traditionally there has not been the most harmonious relationship between user experience professionals and marketers. However, I believe much of the differences are semantic. Ultimately, both disciplines are seeking to understand better the user and both realise that you need happy customers to create a sustainable sales pipeline.

One may talk about customer journey maps and the other sales funnels, but as you can see, they are closely interconnected, as are the disciplines themselves. We need to learn to adopt the other’s vocabulary.

Stock Photos from Alis Photo/Shutterstock