Without a lead funnel (more popularly known as the sales funnel), your business is a dud.
There’s nothing you’d accomplish without one. If you choose to ignore funnels, you might as well ignore any expectations you might have about making any sales, growing your email subscribers, or bringing anything fancy like marketing automation to work for your business.
Lead funnels are gold, and they work like a charm when you do it right. While it’s also called “sales funnels”, I’d rather they were called “lead generation funnels” or simple “lead funnels”.
Why, you ask?
No one buys from you the first time they land on your website. Or even the second time. Or a third time.
Your visitors need time to trust you. You have to build that trust with them. To do that, you could give away free trials, free samples, free eBooks, free checklists, content upgrades, and maybe an entire kit of resources like I do.
Because the immediate goal of your sales funnels is for you to gather leads (not sales). Your actual conversions come in later (after you nurture your leads).
You’d often need to invest in a marketing stack – a set of online tools, solutions, and services to build your lead funnel. But you could also hack things together to build sales funnels without ever investing (if you don’t want to invest in tools to save time and headaches).
Either way, you’d need funnels.
Here’s how to go about building one. We’ll start with prerequisites, main constituents of a sales funnel, how a complete funnel looks like, and a sample marketing tech stack used to build a funnel (and there are many ways you can make these sales funnels work).
Get into an Action-oriented Marketers’ Mindset
Because the term “lead Funnel” sounds fancy, too many marketers, business owners, and bloggers go to great lengths to come up with an offer. I know a business owner who couldn’t come up with an offer every after 3 years (yes, three years) and that’s ridiculous.
Then, there’s another business owner (a client) who took 8 months to come up with a 4-page special report on Social Media.
Look: don’t sweat it. Strive to provide value within your free giveaways, reports, eBooks, or content upgrades but don’t pretend like you are launching a new product. Time is precious and when you waste months and years just trying to come up with an offer, I’d only ask this:
“What’s the f*&^%$ ROI for all that time you wasted?”
Your sales funnels don’t have to be perfect; they only have to be functional. They just need to work.
You can cut, chisel, and slave away to perfection “after” the funnel is launched.
You’d only have to decide the following to make your sales funnel work:
- How do you get traffic to your landing pages?
- What offer are you making? [More below]
- Which email auto responder are you going to use?
- How do you measure your efforts?
- Do you have to take care of any integrations and basic setup needed?
You can test all your decisions, design elements, offers, colors, buttons, and your fancy theories — one after the other, as you go along.
Sales funnels: What You Need Before You Start
Hustle: Get Relevant Traffic
There are several ways to get traffic. The basics are obviously for you to blog regularly, do SEO, get on social media, let your existing email subscribers know when you publish new content, and several others.
Trust me on this: you don’t want “any” traffic. You need traffic that gravitates to your website because you can solve their problem.
You’d have to do the hustle here: publishing regularly, promoting your content on social, building links, doing guest posting, and all that jazz.
Think & Act: Make an offer
Don’t free when you read “offer” – you don’t have to sell your house for this. Here are a few very common offers most businesses make:
• Content upgrades: pick some of the best performing (or most valuable content you already have) and package it as a PDF, videos, infographics, or some other variation of your original content. Then, Give it away.
• If you are a SaaS business, give a free trial.
• Are you into training or coaching? Do you have online classes or training courses? Give a 7-day sneak peek?
Selling an eBook or an actual book? Let your visitors get first 2 chapters for free.
• Ecommerce store? Offer a discount
If you run a service or consulting business, you could have potential clients signup for appointments, book your time, or get a free 30 minutes or 1-hour free consulting call.
Take no more than an hour to think of what you’d need to give away. You can test offers later.
Build Landing Pages
The first step of the sale funnel is a landing page. One landing page for every offer you make (and this is usually relevant to your business). Don’t even bother with sales funnels without landing pages.
Landing pages are stand-alone pages that are designed with a specific goal: get visitors to signup for your offer.
The rules are as follows:
• One Landing Page per offer.
• No clickable elements on the page – no navigation menus, no other links, no social media buttons, and nothing else that distracts visitors.
• Make sure you follow conversion-centric design. Read the Unbounce Blog to learn more.
• Don’t experiment with your design skills when it comes to landing pages
• “Looks” don’t matter; only conversions do.
• Don’t fuss with the design and elements.
• Don’t hire developers to help you with landing pages. Just use tools like Unbounce, LeadPages, Wishpond, or InstaPage.
• Always build two versions of your landing page (all the landing page builder tools mentioned above provide you with A/B Testing). Here are some fantastic A/B testing experiments that you could learn from.
Typical landing pages (with two variants A & B) look like this:
Don’t like the look of the page? I don’t care about how it looks when this exact page converts at 44% overall (and that’s before we even start doing A/B testing).
Email Marketing Automation
Visitors will turn into subscribers (or leads) on your landing pages. After that, you’d need an email marketing automation system to:
• Thank your leads for signing up.
• To deliver what you promised in your offer (the coupon code? The free eBook? The checklist? Or more information regarding the offer?)
• To nurture your leads with more information using sequential automated emails (since they won’t even bother checking your first email yet. Chances are that they didn’t even act on the offer you gave them).
Mailchimp is completely free to start with and comes with automation that you’d need. If you choose to work with content upgrades, have plenty of services, or if you need advanced segmentation, you’d need to work with Converkit or Drip.
Read the comparison between MailChimp and Drip if you want to see how these email marketing automation systems differ in functionality.
Here’s how my workflows are set up on Drip (triggered by various content upgrades):
Resource Kit offer
Measure results of your sales funnel
Unless you are working with something complicated, you’d have one or two generic goals for your website. You’ll typically set them up with Google analytics.
You also have the option of using any of these analytics tools. Additionally, using Mouseflow, for instance, you can also keep a lookout for form analytics, heat maps, and other details that you can dig your head into.
Google Analytics, however, is a must. I’ll show you how I set up Analytics for my website to give you an idea. You can wing the setup process that’s in line with your business.
To measure goals in Google Analytics, you’ll need specific (but hidden) pages like “thank you” pages that only load when a certain action is taken.
Thank you page when people use contact form: /contact-thanks/
Thank you page when people signup as leads for your offer:/lead-thank-you/
Thank you page when visitors purchase something from you:/sale-thank-you/
Once you have pages like these ready, sign into Google Analytics, go to admin, and click on goals. Setup basic goals like Inbound emails from Contact form and Lead signups (this one comes from your funnel landing pages, website pages with offers, opt-in forms etc.)
Set up goals in Google Analytics for your contact form
Set up goals in Google Analytics for your leads
Check your Goals Overview in Google Analytics
You’ll find goals in your Google analytics dashboard and when you start populating some data, this is how it’ll look like:
If you use tools like Unbounce, you also get landing page level critical metrics to know how your sales funnel (at the landing page level) is working.
For the landing page variants shown above, this is how it looks like:
Now, depending on the marketing stack you are using (or not), you have the ability to test every single part of your sales funnel:
- If your funnel starts with ads pointing to landing pages, you can test ads natively, within respective platforms such as Google Adwords or Facebook Business Manager. If you need to, you can also use AdEspresso for Facebook advertising and test ads themselves.
- If you use Bloom Opt-In plugins for WordPress from Divi, A/B testing is possible with relevant results to see how your opt-in forms perform.
- If you use OptinMoster or SumoMe, both tools give you the ability to do A/B testing and you can keep an eye on the results.
Popular landing page builders like Unbounce, LeadPages, Wishpond, and InstaPage — all provide you with built-in A/B testing.
- Email Marketing automation tools such as MailChimp, Drip, and others allow you to do A/B testing for subject lines, email copy, and more.
Finally, How to Build The Sales Funnel (s)
Some parts of the funnel are external — like the ads or the links through which your visitors arrive from. Beyond that, it pretty much works like a manufacturing line is setup: different machines work to achieve something specific within your funnel.
The sales funnel could be as simple as this:
Opt-in forms — Trigger auto responder — deliver free [something] or give access to [something]
But you’d need a tool stack to help build the sales funnel quickly and efficiently. It could be as simple as this:
The choice of tools is up to you. Don’t waste time trying to rack your brains to come up with the “perfect” tool, because it isn’t there. Instead, start with what you have or what you can easily start with and take it from there.
You can always change your marketing tools (with a wee bit of admin pain).
Here’s the marketing stack I use:
Stay committed to make your sales funnels work.
You won’t make money on day 1 (and congratulations, if you do). You should be able to put up sales funnels for every offer you make. Following the nurturing sequences you build, you’ll nudge your email subscribers (or leads) to buy from you when they are ready to buy from you.
When you build sales funnels, you don’t have to depend on Google or Facebook to build your fortune — email lists with subscribers who’ve heard from you, those who like, and prospects who’ve already expressed interest in your offers are all you need.
How do your sales funnel look like?
Clay Collins, founder of Leadpages, wrote about The Centre Thesis, he dwells on the future of marketing technology.
“In a lot of ways, traditional all-in-one marketing software is on a collision course (albeit a long one) with irrelevance.
Five years ago, traditional marketing suites could actually be the go-to solution for handling all your marketing needs across your business, or multiple businesses.
Today, this is unlikely.
In the near future, it will be almost impossible”
When I first read it, I just gave it a passing read. I understood where Clay was getting at. I knew, however, that he was tugging at my heart since I sit right there lounging at the interception of that imperceptibility that he talks about.
The tides have indeed turned. While I absolutely love and respect the modern all-in-one marketing automation systems like InfusionSoft, OntraPort, The RainMaker Platform, HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot, I am afraid they just won’t cut it.
What’s often just a feature bolt-on in an all-in-one marketing solution is usually the “only” product with years of expertise on that product niche alone.
Now, when it comes to the choice of marketing automation tools, there are no right or wrong answers. It’s just that you’d have to know with absolutely certainty if these are the right choices for you.
Download The Simplest 1-Page Funnel Checklist to Quadrapule your Marketing Results Today
We can agree to agree that we all need automation. It’s just the how that we need to address:
The WordPress approach to automation
Chances are that you are on WordPress. More than of the Internet is on WordPress anyway.
For the average joe to be able to do marketing the right way, you’d need tools. Plenty of them.
You’d have to stitch these tools together
With tools like Divi, Elementor Plugin, Beaver Builder and Hosting like Flywheel and WPEngine, setting up a website on a rock-solid hosting platform takes less than a day.
With the hosting and design taken care of, here’s what else you’d need:
Hosting Your Website: Shared Hosting or Managed WordPress Hosting Like FlyWheel or WPEngine.
Tools to help you grow email signups: Sumo me or Bloom Plugin
Email marketing Providers: Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, ConvertKit, or Drip?
Landing Pages: Unbounce or LeadPages
Ecommerce: WooCommerce or Ecwid Plugin. Brenda Barron of WpMuDev has a list of the best eCommerce plugins for WordPress, and that’s worth a read.
Social Media Management: HootSuite or Buffer
If you are just starting out, the setup above covers the basic digital marketing that you’d need to do. Then, the only challenge that remains is to:
1. Do blogging, get on social, and everything else you need to do for the digital marketing hustle.
2. Get traffic
3. Grow your email list
4. Sell later to the list you built.
- Setup Google Analytics (Also set up eCommerce analytics if you have products or services to sell).
- Add Mixpanel or GoSquared to the mix
- Use Mouseflow too, if you wanted to.
For this to work, you’d need your setup (above) to work in tandem. One with the other. All the time.
The Big Marketing Automation Tools Conundrum
The big appeal for all-in-one marketing automation tools is that they provide hosting, allow you to build websites, have analytics built-in, and email marketing is taken care of.
Each of the points that you had to do above is taken care of for you so that you don’t have to work with 16+ tools to make marketing work.
But then, that’s just the promise.
Marketing automation tools invest and only work on making their respective tools better. Mailchimp has more engineers and staff working on email alone compared to The Rainmaker Platform (and their RainMail feature), for instance.
Download The Simplest 1-Page Funnel Checklist to Quadrapule your Marketing Results Today
When you consider all-in-one automation tools, you’d have the consider the following:
- The total cost of using the automation tool you are considering
- Integrations (or the lack of Integrations) with other tools you might already be using for your business.
- Your ability to set up automation in sync with your business.
When you take all the three points together and then start shopping, you’ll often see:
- Some marketing automation tools necessitate complete migration on to their systems. HubSpot, for instance, uses its own CMS and it’s a different beast compared to a WordPress-based system you might be using. Are you ready for that?
- Not all automation tools allow for integrations with everything. Let’s say you switch to Ontraport, you’ll find that it easily integrates with WordPress but if you have anything to do with eCommerce + WordPress, it’s not going to be straight forward: Ontraport has its own shopping cart system that you can use when you are on a pro plan. Now, if you have WooCommerce enabled (like I do), how does this work exactly?
- Let’s say you use Drip for your email marketing and automation. Did you know that Drip doesn’t directly connect with WooCommerce? You’d need a separate extension for that. Also, Drip only works with premium versions of SumoMe.
Why All-in-one Automation tools don’t appeal to me?
The answer is simple: the individual tools that I use (and you might be using them too) do what they do exceptionally well.
WordPress is the easiest CMS to use. It allows you to integrate with possibly anything else you might want to use it with. There’s an ecosystem of tools, services, solutions, plugins, and themes that you have the option of using.
The hosting options available for WordPress? You don’t have those options with the big boys.
Mailchimp is spectacular with straight-line automation. Paul Jarvis bets that Mailchimp can actually do what Drip and Convertkit do just as easily (if you knew how).
Nothing comes close to what Unbounce helps you do with Landing Pages. You’ll see that HubSpot landing page builder lacks character and oomph. Ontraport’s landing page builders (OntraPages) leaves a lot to be desired.
Even if you built landing pages with Infusionsoft, Ontraport, or HubSpot, you are still somewhat limited to use them in conjunction with the rest of their systems. It’s a miracle how HubSpot’s own landing pages (the ones they use for their own campaigns) even convert with forms as tall as a building.
I saw a few examples of landing pages built with Marketo and Pardot. I don’t know the results that those landing pages get but from the looks, they are butt ugly.
Automation Tools: Will I Use them Or Not?
I won’t. At least not now.
The diplomatic answer would be that I’d use it these tools can match my purpose, allow me a certain degree of freedom, and make those individual systems that they claim to offer (like their website or blogging platform, email marketing tool, their dashboard, their analytics, their landing page builders, the actual automation) work as good as any of the existing tools I use.
But I don’t think they’ll get there. They have grown too big and they do well for themselves. Their support won’t care about the average joe writing in crying that his favorite email marketing tool, the landing page builder, and WordPress won’t integrate. Their target audiences don’t like to hack things together. They want ready-made systems so that they can focus on what “they” think matters to them.
They’ll call InfusionSoft “Con-fusion soft” but still use it anyway.
What do you think?
Download The Simplest 1-Page Funnel Checklist to Quadrapule your Marketing Results Today
Disclaimer: I used Hubspot on behalf of clients several years ago, and I am HubSpot Certified Inbound Marketer (which is an indication of my understanding of Inbound Marketing, and not Hubspot). I don’t use Hubspot. This post is more like I am writing out what I am thinking when I am shopping around.
TL;DR version: HubSpot might be appealing. Other businesses might have the money to spend. If you are just starting out, use WordPress + marketing stack. It’s work, but you’d have to put in the work anyway.
Hubspot always gets my respect. It’’s perhaps one of the most influential companies online and they’ve always practiced what they preach. The company is a living, breathing example of Inbound marketing done right. Their solution is well-built and takes care of everything related to marketing for you.
What is HubSpot? Why HubSpot? What Can It Do?
Hubspot is a popular all-in-one software for marketing, sales, and marketing automation. It’s designed to let you focus on your business and make your inbound marketing efforts count.
You can start for free with the HubSpot Marketing, HubSpot Sales, and HubSpot CRM.
For the free version of HubSpot Marketing, you’ll need a website URL to signup. You get free analytics, lead capture forms, and contact tracking.
Free: Get the ultimate list of tools to build your marketing stack
HubSpot hosts the website and lets you modify or build websites on their own CMS. From the very few designs I’ve seen, I hate them all from a marketing standpoint (and this has nothing to do with Hubspot really. It’s the companies sounding bigger and boisterous than they really are).
Here’s an example of a really busy looking website:
The website with HubSpot CMS then has everything you need for Blogging, content marketing, SEO, and social media.
You also have integrated analytics, thanks to Lance Cummins from Nectafy
Hubspot lets you build landing pages to help convert visitors to landing pages.
It has email marketing built-in — with paths and drip campaigns.
Finally, you get Hubspot CRM which is, well, a CRM.
I am guessing HubSpot Sales is a separate product and you’d get sales tools like Sidekick, outreach, sales email templates, and solutions for your sales process.
Is HubSpot Worth the Money? HubSpot’s Fan boys Speak Up
The only big setback I see with HubSpot is the price. It’s clearly for high-growth companies and startups that have the cash to spend. It’s not for everyone. Also, you’d only get the best of what HubSpot has to provide is when you actually be a good customer and do Inbound Marketing to the T.
To see how it was done, read Lance Cummins’ post on his experience with HubSpot. Apparently, he’s very happy.
You’ll also do well to read Marcus Sheridan’s post on HubSpot. He’s gone one step further with his happiness quotient.
I respect their opinion.
To find out whether Hubspot is right for you, you’d have to use it. HubSpot comes with its own CMS, analytics, and bells and whistles.
Do you need HubSpot?
Jeff Pelletier — cofounder and CEO of BasetWoMedia — sums it up best:
“I think we can all agree that Hubspot is quite expensive compared to the options available for building your own similar toolbox – we currently use, for example, WordPress along with various plugins for SEO, CTA’s, and Popups; Campaign Monitor for newsletters; Google Analytics for stats, etc.
With a list of 1000+ newsletter subs, and a decent social media following along with roughly 2000+ readers per month to our blog which converts to a half-dozen weekly downloads of our various ebooks (ie. “leads”), we’d already be well into the Pro pricing plan to accomplish the same thing.”
Now, I firmly believe that there’s no one, single, all-in-one marketing solution that can really do everything. Some tools excel at one thing while the others excel at others. A few others seem to have gotten very comfortable selling to very large companies.
Understandably, tools like Marketo, Pardot, and Hubspot are not even trying to woo small businesses, self-employed professionals, bloggers, agencies, and others.
Hubspot swings right at the high-growth companies, those with the money, or their uncle’s funding.
HubSpot expensive, and there’s no denying it. The pricing is based on contacts and the more you grow, the more you’ll pay. Smart business for HubSpot but you’ll end up paying a lot especially when you are just getting started.
For seemingly simple things (as on today), the pricing tends to get a tad ridiculous.
Basic pricing starts from $200 per month, billed annually. There’s an onboarding fee of $600 for 100 contacts in total. it’s not clear as to what qualifies as a contact, and I am guessing leads in their CRM database. The pro plan is at $800 per month and the enterprise plan is $2400 per month. All plans are billed annually (and that means you pay for an entire year upfront).
Then, all the conceivably simple things come in as add-ons.
A website starter package at $300 per month, and starter at $100? Ahem. Reports at $200? Why pay money to spend on ads, apart from the ad budget or for paying consultants?
Who buys this stuff?
HubSpot Vs WordPress Marketing Stack
I believe that everything HubSpot does can be done so much better if you are willing to stick different systems together. Yes, it’s work. Yes, it means multiple logins. Of course, it’s a pain in the ass.
But business is a pain in the ass. You chose this path then why make a fuss about the work it entails?
The WordPress Marketing Stack Approach
There’s no kidding with WordPress. It’s huge. Every tool, SaaS application, software, and even all those Marketing Automation tools tend to integrate, work with, or connect with WordPress in one way or another (except HubSpot, with the exception that they’ll help you migrate away from WordPress)
Use tools like Divi Builder, Elementor Plugin, Beaver Builder to build any kind of a website you need. Use hosting like Flywheel and WPEngine, setting up a website on a rock-solid hosting platform takes less than a day.
With the hosting and design taken care of, here’s what else you’d need:
Email Marketing: GetDrip, Mailchimp, Convertkit, or Campaign Monitor.
CRM: We use GetBase. You can use anything
Landing Pages: Unbounce, and LeadPages, Wishpond.
Analytics: Google Analytics, GoSquared, Mixpanel, and many others
Tracking: Do we really anything more than Google’s UTM tracker, when you are just starting out or even when you are established?
Now, this post isn’t about the list of tools you need; it’s about this:
Unbounce and Leadpages give you a lot more in terms of landing pages compared to what HubSpot lets you build.
Getdrip, ConvertKit, MailChimp and Campaign Monitor give you so much ease, simplicity, and complete email marketing with automation built in.
The kind of tracking and analytics that you get with Google Analytics (along with Data Studio and several other tools) and in combination with others like GoSquared and MixPanel is unmatchable.
To bring these different solutions to work together is “work”. It’s indeed hard to do so. But then, I don’t see how you can settle for less in terms of functionality, elegance, and effectiveness while sacrificing “the work it takes to make marketing work”.
See where I am getting? I’d say stick to WordPress, find the tools you can work with, and stitch things up.