11 Ways to Improve Conversation Rates at Every Stage of the Funnel

Sean Lund-Brown

There’s nothing "lucky" or "magical" about business success. It’s the result of niche skills applied to concretely defined needs. Everything boils down to how a business sells, what it sells, and how it can put that process on an endless loop.

In short — it’s all about the sales funnel.

The sales funnel is a fundamental concept that breaks down the different stages of sales and e-commerce. When managed correctly, a sales funnel can launch a business from the unknown to rock star heights, and it’s easy to mistake for a stroke of good luck.

What is a sales funnel?

A simplistic way of understanding the sales funnel is to imagine a physical funnel at work—you pour in from the top. Some of what you're pouring sticks to the filter while the rest heads straight where you want it to go.

It's pretty much the same with sales. At the beginning of the process, several people poke their heads into your funnel, curious and just interested enough. But not all of them will make it to the bottom, which leads to your conversion basin.

Marketers see the sales funnel as the process through which a prospective customer turns into an actual customer. It follows a number of steps, covering what needs to occur from the time a lead learns about a business to the conversion itself.

Buyer psychology: a necessary process

In any case, all marketers must realize that a lead is not necessarily going to make a purchase after one visit to a website. Time is often a factor in the buying process, and it may take several weeks of reading your blog posts, browsing competitor sites, and reading reviews before the buyer commits. This is where understanding buyer psychology is key, as lots of factors can influence when, why, and how someone makes that click to order, subscribe, or buy.

The good news is, marketers can work with this process and turn it in their favor.

Customer responsiveness

One of the ways marketers can positively impact buyer psychology is through responsiveness. How long does it take for you to respond every time someone tries to reach you, whether for an inquiry or to seek customer support? The time you take measures your responsiveness, and the lower you can make this value without compromising other areas, the better your impact. It’s about speed and quality.

If it takes you five days to answer a simple question, whether through email, social media, or other channels, you could lose that customer before you even had them, even if you gave them the best answer in the world. According to Hubspot, 79% of customers generally expect a response to social media communication within 24 hours.

Again, this comes back to the basics of buyer psychology, and its lesson for marketers is: be responsive. What is particularly important about this customer expectation of speed is its effect on the sales funnel. Besides dictating how fast the funnel moves, responsiveness can also steer the sales funnel across every stage.

Stages of a sales funnel

Some marketers break down the sales funnel into four stages, but logic tells us a fifth is as indispensable. While research and preparation do not constitute one stage, it is nonetheless crucial as it creates the road map for the entire journey. But how do you prepare for your sales funnel?

Before you get started, know your audience and who you are as a company. Begin by defining your brand. What are the characteristics, special skills, and values that you want people to remember you by? Once you have laid these on the table, it will be easier to nurture long-term relationships with your customers.

For instance, a vegan food brand can position itself as a business that offers a healthier food alternative and a lifestyle that is kind to animals and the Earth.

As part of your preparation, you'll also want to really get to know your customers. Creating a buyer persona allows you to define your target customers, their problems, and solutions that you can offer them.

Furthermore, getting a good grasp of your buyer persona will help you decide on the content that will actually work at every stage of your funnel. When you know what they think and how they feel about things, you will know what information and solutions to provide.

Stage I - Awareness

Most processes begin with awareness, and the sales funnel is no exception. This is where you make people not only see but feel your brand and begin to gather leads. At this stage, you may want to avoid pushing any product or service and just focus on being helpful without a cost.

For example, offer tips and advice. Write ebooks and whitepapers. Conduct free webinars. Post infographics on social media.

Again, the idea is to be helpful, but don't be boring or demanding either. Stand apart from the crowd, let people know you exist for a purpose, and they’ll come to you naturally.

Review your buyer persona and see where you're likely to find these people. Which social media platforms? Which apps? Which vlogs?

Find them and then create content that will make them stop and look. If you're selling photography gear, don't spend as much time on Facebook as you would on, say, Instagram. It's easy to think you need to cover all platforms, but don't even do that. Just cover where your buyer persona fits — or else you'll be wasting your time and money.

Once you have their attention, develop a certain process or action that would take them to the next stage of the funnel. This can be as simple as signing them up for your webinar or newsletter. Whatever your goal, aim for clear conversions and compare how many people looked versus how many converted. If your company has a low conversion rate, you need to improve your content or find better places and timing to post.

Here are three suggestions to improve your conversion rates in the Awareness stage of the sales funnel:

1. Define your audience based on available customer data

There's no need to look far in this stage. Start by digging into your customer email lists and find common attributes among those customers who are currently subscribed or have signed up for freebies. You can also take a look at your recent conversions and those who have interacted with you through your content—for example, those who engaged with your videos, posts, and pictures.

These are the people who are most likely interested in your brand. Defining your audience helps you scope wider while still keeping your focus.

2. Optimize your Google Shopping feed using negative keywords

Enhancing your Google Shopping feed simply means making sure that your products are well in tune with your customers’ searches. Google Shopping feed works by reconciling your customer queries with your list of products, hopefully with the help of negative keywords to ensure precision.

Negative keywords simply tell Google which keywords you have nothing to do with. So, this means that your customer’s query will more likely return the right product or products in the search results with the elimination process performed by negative keywords.

When it comes to negative keywords, always make them part of your digital Google Shopping campaigns because they allow you to concentrate strictly on keywords that are relevant to your customers.

As important as defining your negative keywords is, remember that keywords alone do not drive shopping campaigns. Defining the product groups in your Google Shopping product data feed will also make all the difference.

When you start a Google Shopping campaign, you will find that all your products are lumped together. This is not good. All your products are getting the same exposure. If you want a good ROAS (return on ad spend), this is certainly not the way to go.

After all, some products give you more profit and higher conversions than the rest. This is why it's best to take the time to group them according to specific factors, like profit margin, conversion rate, and price. Based on those three factors, the goal should be to even out all of your products in one set as closely as possible.

3. Develop a referral program

This step can give you two separate, albeit related, benefits. First, it helps boost potential customers’ awareness of your brand. Second, it will help you sharpen your focus on the right prospects. For these reasons, referral programs are always best developed in the initial phase of your sales funnel instead of the last stage, which is retention. After all, people first have to like your product before they can recommend it to others.

One example of a tried and tested referral program is giving incentives to customers who bring in other customers. With good planning, this program always works because it puts your brand at the center of everyone's attention. Let's go back to your vegan food products. If you gave a customer one extra pack of vegan hotdogs with every referral, you're offering value and at the same time rewarding the referral.

Imagine if you created a referral program, but instead of giving an extra pack of your vegan meat, you offered them tickets to a rock concert. This may not work as effectively for two reasons: first, you are dividing their attention between you and the rock band or singer; and second, you wouldn't have known for certain if your original customer wanted to go to a rock concert and appreciated the reward, as opposed to eating your vegan meats that you already know they love.

Stage II - Consideration

Consideration is the phase where you want to gauge what type of content your lead will likely engage with. If a lead proceeds to this stage, that means you have successfully captured the person's interest, and now they want to know more without necessarily being ready to make a purchase yet. At this stage, that means you want to go deeper with what made them come in the first place. What are their goals? What were they looking for?

Start building a relationship. Once you know what they've come for, you can develop a suitable brand voice to which they can relate and may open up to. It will turn into a voice you can share through different content channels, such as email, social media, blogging, etc.

For instance, what types of posts do they put a like on? What links do they click in your emails? Which articles did they likely read to the end (you can usually see how much time they spent on that page with the article)? When you know what they're interested in, you'll know what to give them.

Don't hesitate to follow up in case they need more information. Even if they're not about to convert just yet, you'll want to keep the lines open and maintain the role of authority. This will increase their chances of choosing you and not your competitor when they're ready to make a purchase.  

Retargeting is another technique where you put your ads out before older site visitors. You can still work on those leads by asking them to go back and finish signing up or complete the checkout process.

However, keep in mind that moving from stage two to three in the sales funnel may not be as straightforward as getting from stage one to two. Now that they know more about you and what you can do for them, they'll start to focus on specific products or services. You can make the transition easier for customers by offering discounts, free trials, and other options that will boost their intent to buy.

Within the Consideration stage, there are two more techniques you can use to amp up your conversions.

4. Encourage user-generated content

Who doesn't appreciate user-generated content? It creates a communication link between your current customers and your prospective customers. And even if you already know your product by heart as a marketer, this link will bring your existing customers closer to your prospects.

Simply put, user-generated content advertises your brand in the most natural way: in the real world. It doesn't matter what you're selling. Whether it's food or software, this type of content lets people in on what's really happening with your product. Is it really good? Does it really work? Your existing customers will answer those questions with their content, and they do have a natural way of sounding more credible than any company-produced reviews or testimonials.

Besides, content production can be time-consuming and even expensive. Even if you have the money to pay a content marketer, finding the right people who can really capture your voice isn't easy. User-generated content helps tie those loose ends.

You can invite your customers to produce content for you in several ways, and it doesn't have to be fancy. For example, if you sell a certain brand of gym shoes, you can post a Facebook status like: "Statistics prove that the right gym shoes can help you get the most out of your workouts. We'd love to hear your stories about XXX and how it has helped you achieve your fitness goals."

This is a cost-friendly yet effective way of promoting your gym shoes. Studies have shown that people tend to stick to brands they feel emotionally connected with. When you show your customers that you value how they feel about your product in relation to their personal goals, such as achieving fitness, you are definitely striking that chord. User-generated content is also unique and value-driven by default so that automatically makes your brand more memorable.

5. Highlight the benefits of your products in your product descriptions

It's crucial to brand your products right and focus on what's in it for the customer when writing product descriptions. Remember, this may be about your sale, but this isn't about you. It's about what the customer needs and wants. Many brands get too engrossed with their messaging that they forget what really matters to the people who will decide to buy or not.

Again, branding is beyond important, but there are places where it takes a backseat to simple, helpful, straightforward consumer information. Product descriptions are one example. You should write them in a way that helps customers see the value in your product. Don't explain or even mention the features yet. To touch base with your lead, tell them your product's benefits.

Let's say you own a restaurant and you're trying to market a low-carb pasta dish on your menu. "Pasta made from almond flour" or "pasta with only 5g of net carbs" is a feature, while "being able to enjoy good pasta without busting your low-carb diet" is a benefit. You need to know the difference so you can word your product descriptions correctly and get the results you want.

Stage III - Decision

If your lead gets to this stage, you haven't only caught their attention. They're also about to convert. But not yet. They will likely take time to consider things like the cost of your product and how it will figure in their budget, or whether your product, which they're really interested in, will actually deliver in terms of their expected results.

At this stage, you may want to offer them testimonials, case studies, consultations, and other steps that are likely to erase any last-minute doubts. Ultimately, you'll want to prove that being your customer will bring them more benefits than not. Try offering them discounts or even a 100% free trial to speed up their conversion without requiring full commitment.

While in the Decision stage of your sales funnel, these tips can help inch you closer to a conversion:

6. Be easy to contact

Let's say you've done a pretty good job at branding, your product descriptions are benefit-centric, and your ads are really catchy and professional. But somehow, a lead needs you to confirm a few things about your product or has a question that you have not addressed on your FAQ page. What does she do? Where does she go? Most likely, she'll look for some way to contact you, but how reachable are you?

This is where customer service comes in, and easy communication access is the first requirement. Nowadays, this is only possible with certain tools such as live chat, emails, and extensive help desk pages on top of your FAQs.

While these technologies come with a cost, they play a critical role in your marketing efforts and thus make a worthwhile investment. They fill all the gaps in your customers' knowledge that can keep them from making a purchase.

Suppose you have a website visitor who is very interested in one of your products but has a few questions about it. You have a live chat feature through which a customer service representative can provide quick answers. In that case, that transaction can quickly move down the funnel and give you a sale. Regardless of your industry, providing customers with an easy route to you is a must.

7. Turn exits into assets

Somewhere between 2% and 5% of website visits will actually end up in a sale, according to Hubspot. While that sounds a little sad, you can still have a shot at making that 95% - 98% of bounced visitors useful by putting an exit-intent strategy in place. There's nothing you can do with people who'll just come around and leave, but at least you can try to make their visit helpful in some way.

Savvy marketers, for example, may have an exit pop-up show up every time a customer closes a page. The rationale is to give the visitor a little more time to stick around and rethink his decision to abandon the page, or at least find something to return to in the future.

According to iPaper, the conversion rate of an exit pop-up can range from 3.09% to 28%. That means your default website conversion rate of 2% or 3% can improve substantially if you put a pop-up for each exit.

Unfortunately, some marketers think this is the end of their funnel just because the prospect has decided between buying and not buying their product. Funny how they can miss what happens or may not happen next: the actual purchase. A customer still has to go to checkout, and they can still decide not to go to checkout anyway—which is exactly why it's important not to stop here.

Stage IV - Purchase

The Purchase stage is the conversion stage. This is when all your efforts to nurture your lead will actually pay off. Still, this is not where the sales funnel ends. Just because they've converted doesn't mean you can leave them to their own devices. You need to give your customers all the information they need to know about your solution or product so that they can maximize their benefits from it.

Remember that the relationship you’ve built over the course of the funnel can be easily severed within days or weeks after purchase, especially for subscription-based funnels. If the customer feels that you have no more time for them or are no longer as responsive to their needs as you were before they made the purchase, they can backtrack and never give you the repeat business you want.

Therefore, take time to listen to them for as long as they reasonably want you to, whether it's through phone calls, live chat, webinars, emails, and beyond. Give them time to get to know the product they have purchased and check in from time to time, not to sell other products but just to be there if they have questions or concerns.

As soon as you feel that they have grown more comfortable with your product or service, give them a little more time before mentioning another product and pulling them back to the funnel.

Here's one particularly sensitive step you need to make at this point in the process.

8. Keep your checkouts smooth and hassle free

Many things can make your checkout rough around the edges. People may suddenly see hidden prices, or they may find the process too long and meticulous. Figuring out the best checkout system for your business involves a bit of trial and error, but it's worth the hassle.

Aim to keep checkout simple by remembering a few things. For example, the fewer the number of form fields, the better their chances of getting filled out. This goes without saying that you should ask for information only if it is directly related to the purchase. Also, avoid surprises during this process, such as fees or even lead times. Both of these charges should be indicated on the page or pages before the lead gets to your form.

Stage V - Retention

Did you know that a mere 5% hike in your customer retention rate can earn you up to 25% more profit, as data from Bain & Company suggests? You don't just want more customers, but also more repeat, loyal customers. When they're happy, they're likely to make more purchases and even recommend you to their circles, which means more potential sales.

To increase your customer retention rate, you can offer referral programs, live demonstrations, re-engagement email campaigns, and all that. As long as you're there and your connection with your customers is there, they will always expect you to develop new, engaging content. Keep making it, then, and also continue to introduce new products or features that may appeal to them and make them want to keep spreading the word about your brand.

Here are at least three more steps you need to take to increase your conversions, particularly in this stage.

9. Invite your website visitors to create an account  

You still want to keep the checkout process as lean and clean as possible, but try to strike that balance between not annoying your visitors and still encouraging them to create an account on your site. Or, you can try this workaround: offer the account signup after the customer completes the checkout.

10. Upsell, cross-sell, and offer add-ons  

Good email marketing is like keeping the ball rolling between you and your customer. It's a rather effective strategy, as Constant Contact notes that your ROI can be $42 for every $1 you spend on marketing.

That said, use emails to offer upsells and cross-sells, as well as add-ons. By doing so, you are tapping people you know are interested in your products. Just send them an email and make sure it is relevant to your recipient's experience with your product. If you see that a customer has just made a purchase, follow this up with an email that offers add-ons. Whether you send it immediately after the purchase or after a while doesn't matter. The email will still hold value.

11. Utilize Smith.ai to help capture and convert leads

We have covered responsiveness and how it plays into your success formula for increasing your conversion rate. But human as you and your team are, you can only handle so many calls, chats, or emails from your leads and existing customers. Unless you can attend to every single one of those communication attempts promptly each time, you have so much to lose.

For example, a customer may ask a question about the source of ingredients in your vegan hotdogs — and because you’re busy fulfilling orders, this query sits unanswered in your Facebook Messenger inbox for days. After spending months writing blog posts, creating referral programs, and analyzing customer data, a lead like this can fall through the cracks.

The worst thing is when you have converted customers who decide to un-convert because they felt left out or taken for granted after giving you a sale. Whether you're guilty or not, that is not how you want the picture to look. However, you don’t have to worry about solving all these problems yourself. There are tools that can help you avoid losing customers to full inboxes and delayed replies.

With Smith.ai, you can be sure that someone is talking to your customers and taking down notes while you couldn't. Smith.ai provides 24/7 virtual receptionists who capture and convert leads by phone, website chat, texts, and Facebook. We can get answers to your prospective customers’ questions, qualify leads, and help you give your current customers reason to stay loyal to your brand.

Make more conversions out of your leads with Smith.ai

The sales funnel can work for your business if you know your target audience and build a relationship with them from the first blog post all the way through to purchase. With a few important processes and tools in place, you can use the funnel to your benefit and see your conversions grow.

Customer communication can be demanding, but you don’t have to be overwhelmed by the task of converting your leads. At Smith.ai, we can follow up with your leads for you through phone, chat, texts, and social media messages. Our team can offer more information about your brand, your products, and services — all while you focus on other crucial needs of your business.

Learn more about our services and our 14-day, money-back guarantee by booking a free 30-minute consultation.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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