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Understanding and creating your sales funnel

FACT: Very few entrepreneurs and business owners consider themselves ‘natural sales people’.

The task of ‘selling’ is often viewed with fear and a lack of comfort but the reality is that most small business owners will have to engage in an amount of selling activity to help grow their business.

Only in the world of retail does the customer walk in to buy off you (on the assumption that your signage, marketing and location are right!) – for other businesses, especially B2B organisations, an understanding of the sales funnel is essential.

The sales funnel concept

The concept of a sales funnel is simple enough:

STEP 1: Have enough contacts feeding the top of the funnel (who have a need for your product or service at some point in the future).

STEP 2: Create automation and ‘white noise’ marketing activities that slowly nurtures and squeezes these contacts into ‘sales prospects’ in a gently tightening process.

STEP 3: Utilise analytical data monitoring (watch the metrics) so that you can identify a sales opportunity.

STEP 4: Use the knowledge and customer journey data (ie. what they’ve shown an interest in so far) to allow you to influence the sales activity, use the right language, focus on what they want, and ‘close the sale’

… get these steps right and your funnel has done its job.

Building the sales funnel

So, a fundamental part of the sales funnel process is to keep adding more and more contacts into the funnel in the first place.  So where to begin?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Linkedin – if you are regularly growing your Linkedin connections (and you should be!) you can look to include these contacts in your funnel.  Remember that some of your contacts might not be direct sales opportunities but might be great referrers.
    • To extract your LinkedIn contacts simply visit the ‘settings and privacy section and select ‘Privacy’ … scroll down and you’ll find an option to download your data.
  • Bought in databases – if you’re selling B2B then it’s relatively cost effective and efficient to buy a tightly targeted prospect database.  You should be able to select from industry sector, job title, business turnover, number of employees, geographic location, etc. to allow you to get a laser focussed list!
  • Networking – if you’re getting your business ‘out there’ on the networking scene, you will be meeting lots of new people and these can all be prospective referrers or contacts for your funnel.
  • Self-subscription from your own website – a common technique these days is to offer a document download, white paper, checklist or other valuable document to visitors to your website in exchange for their email address – these emails should then automatically enter your sales funnel.
  • Existing / previous contacts – for any established business, your current or previous clients and prospects should all remain within your sales funnel.  Have you got a referral programme in place?
  • Events and exhibitions – similar to the comment above on networking, if you are exhibiting at a trade show or expo, then your ‘purpose’ is almost certainly to create new connections and contacts – all get added into the funnel.

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Just a point to note here – you should always make it easy for people to exit your funnel if they wish to – unsubscribe options are a minimum mechanism to allow this and any requests should be respected accordingly.  The use of professional email marketing software (such as MailChimp) obligates this anyway.

Nurturing your sales funnel

Assuming you’ve now got an active programme to constantly feed and grow your contacts database, your next task is one of nurturing.  This is NOT SELLING!!!  Selling comes later but nurturing is a gentle and calm process that could also be referred to as ‘white noise marketing activity’.

Nurturing activity is often something calm and simple like a regular email newsletter simply updating your prospects on news and information – perhaps an educational article, a case study or simply industry comment … never a blunt sales message (easily spotted with headlines such as: latest offer, new deal, urgent news, etc).  These sales messages actively ‘push’ prospects away from you and towards the unsubscribe options.

The point here is based on the simple truth – most prospects in your funnel are not ready to purchase your product or service YET … if you try to sell to them at this stage you will simply irritate them and push them away.  However, if you gently nurture them through interesting communications they will not be offended.  More importantly, once they are ready to act, they will have become familiar with your regular contact and branding.  It’s important, therefore, to WATCH FOR INTEREST SHOWN (on email marketing, this is normally through the metrics of sustained opening and clicking) as this helps you identify the contacts who are nearing the buying phase.

For your contacts who are not ready to buy yet, if your nurturing is ‘passive’ enough then they will simply ignore you because the time’s not right … but they will be ‘amazed’ that your message arrived at ‘just the right time’ as soon as they become ready to move – hence the importance of your messages being regular!

Squeezing the sales funnel prospects

So, assuming your nurturing has now identified a sales prospect, your next task is to try to draw them to you without scaring them off.

The options here become greater but the important point to get across is to NOT TRY TO SELL YET!  Selling is a gentle dance and pushing ‘too hard & too soon’ is almost always fatal to the process.  Instead, take the ‘fishing’ approach of dangling just the right kind of juicy worm to get them to bite.

Options here will often include digital AND traditional techniques … just some examples include:

  1. Send a brochure / white paper / checklist / ‘something printed’ in the post.  Always make sure it is professionally designed and printed and always include a handwritten note and send it in a handwritten envelope with a proper stamp (not franked).  This then allows you to make a gentle sales call a few days later to ‘check they received it’!
  2. Connect on Linkedin and possibly on social media.  Make sure you personalise your connection request to make it more relevant to the recipient.
  3. Send an invitation to attend a networking meeting you’re planning to attend … this can be a very successful technique – something along the line of, “I’m attending ***event*** in a couple of weeks and wondered if you would like to visit this too – I’d love to also meet with you at the same time for a 121”.  Remember, you’re sending this because they’ve already triggered your sales funnel nurturing activity so they’re not ‘cold’ and likely to accept.
  4. Invite them to your own event – a social or business event is a great way to break the ice with a sales prospect.  Being the speaker at an educational seminar type event instantly elevates your status to ‘expert’.
  5. Ask if they would be willing to take part in some market research you’re currently conducting as you’d be interested in their opinions!

The point here is to ‘help them along’ the route to eventually asking for a sale – but consultative selling can be a slow and graceful dance!

Closing the sale

If you’ve nurtured, identified and squeezed, then eventually you’re going to have to start an actual sales conversation.  This can be formally done with proposals and quotes or more ad-hoc with a ‘pitch’ meeting or simple chat.

Generally, we would encourage the process of closing a sale to be a natural conclusion to a consultation where you’ve identified their needs, matched your product or service to these needs, handled any objections raised (often based on price, delivery or specifications), negotiated the financial aspects (including price AND payment terms) … and eventually you simply need to be bold and ask if they would simply like to proceed.

There are a wonderful and wide array of formal closing techniques and, for sheer amusement, we have created a list of them here … BUT, USE WITH CAUTION!  Cheesy selling is cheesy and customers are unlikely to respond well!

We see the process of ‘closing a sale’ to be the natural conclusion of a successful sales funnel process.  If you need help with your sales and marketing strategy then find professional help or contact Yorkshire Powerhouse to discuss your needs.

Sales funnel thinking from Yorkshire Powerhouse

Now you’ve read about the sales funnel – have you any more questions?

Here at Yorkshire Powerhouse, we’re happy to help as much as possible – is there anything else we can do to help you, do you have any further questions or can we help introduce you to an expert – please let us know:

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