Human behavior is erratic and unpredictable. This lack of understanding never sat well with retailers, and so for almost a century merchants have been trying to organize and quantify the sales process.
The result, after decades of refining and updating, is what we call the sales funnel (or sometimes the “purchase funnel”): an easy-to-remember and easier-to-understand series of phases the average customer passes through before making a purchase. By knowing these stages and what they entail, salespeople and marketers can fine-tune their strategies, catering their approach to the appropriate headspace of the shopper.
But what are these stages, and how well do they fit into ecommerce? In this article, we give a basic overview of the sales funnel, geared specifically to modern-day ecommerce. In later articles we’ll dive into specifics on how to utilize your content strategy at each stage of the ecommerce sales funnel, so if you find this interesting, keep checking back for more.
The History of the Sales Funnel
Originating with the scientific management movement at the turn of the twentieth century, the sales funnel started as a way for salespeople to better grasp the stages of the customer journey up to final purchase. One of the leading advertising gurus at the time, E. St. Elmo Lewis, is credited with the first sales funnel model, the classic AIDA approach.
The reason it’s referred to as a “funnel” is because the amount of people decreases with each stage. That’s just the way sales work — at the early stages, you’re appealing to everyone, but as you narrow in on closing, you deal with smaller pools of people.
While the details have changed, the framework of Lewis’s original outline still remains true. These are the usual four steps a typical customer has always passed through before buying something — all that’s changed are the methods to reach customers at each interval.
Since the AIDA model, various companies have each adapted the sales funnel to their own unique styles and goals. As such, differing interpretations of the sales funnel have emerged — none better or worse, just attuned for different scenarios. You find a lot of discrepancies in the names of the stages, sometimes even the number of stages, but most usually still resemble their AIDA roots.
For our series of articles, we use a broad interpretation with all-inclusive tips, so you’re free to incorporate your own individuality without losing sight of the bigger picture. We also incorporate a fifth, post-sale stage, because in ecommerce, what you do after a sale has just as much impact on your business than what you do before.
1. Attention (Brand Awareness)
… getting customers to know you exist.
What’s widely referred to as the attention stage of the sales funnel is, in this day and age, better known as brand awareness. This is a company getting its name out there and introducing themselves to new potential customers.
The attention phase revolves around both advertising your brand to new markets and making sure you make the best first impression. For online brands in particular, this relies heavily on social media and content strategy, with no other goal than getting people to remember your name.
2. Interest (Brand Value)
… getting customers to consider buying from you.
The next logical progression from getting people to know you exist is getting them interested in buying from you. This is where we enter the traditional tactics of marketing and advertising, but still targeting wide-ranging groups.
The interest phase is where you begin to demonstrate your brand’s value points — why should customers buy from you instead of other stores. If you can’t convey that, your customers won’t move to the next stage.
3. Desire (Decision Making)
… getting people excited about buying from you.
There’s a big difference between piquing your customer’s interest and getting them to seriously think about buying. That’s the domain of the desire, or decision-making, phase: turning a passing interest into a personal passion.
The desire phase is the transition from selling your brand to selling an actual product. In the first two steps, you’re showing off why people should shop at your store, but now you’re showing off particular products and their selling points.
One of the most important phases, the desire stage handles more imperative matters like tackling customer objections and offering better deals than your competition.
4. Action (Closing)
… getting people to actually part with their money.
Arguably the most difficult phase, closing is always a sensitive area in commerce, online or off. The action phase deals mainly with getting your customers to say yes, but more ambitious salespeople can also tack on upsells or complementary purchases while they’re at it.
For ecommerce, this phase deals with the designs of the product page, shopping cart, and checkout process — all of which have high incidents of cart abandonment. Because it’s so volatile, this is perhaps the most technical phase, dealing with minutiae like the placement, color and, wording of call-to-action buttons.
… getting people to write reviews and start them on the sales funnel anew.
For online sellers, your work isn’t over just because you made a sale. More the realm of ecommerce than brick-and-mortar stores, the post-sale phase has its own array of goals and best practices to secure more purchases in the future.
The post-sale phase is often about eliciting feedback like reviews, improving customer satisfaction, dealing with returns, and putting out any fires early. This is the most personal of all phases, and includes direct communication like emails, texts, or even phone calls.
Conclusion: More Specific and Actionable Tips to Come
This article is just our introduction to the topic of the sales funnel, for those who want a bigger frame of reference before moving on to more advanced techniques. We’ve release a series of articles on specific, directly applicable tips on how to improve conversions at each stage. In each step of the series, we review what the customer is thinking, what your ecommerce goals are, and how to attain them for each of the five stages: