Just about every business shares the same ultimate goal. Sell its product or service and then turn its one-time customers into repeat customers.
While this goal is simple, it is far from easy. The goal has a control problem. If you run a business, you’re in control of what you can do to achieve it, but, in the end, how consumers act is out of your hands.
Of course, there are steps you can take to influence consumers, and the most successful businesses are good at doing so.
The list of tactics for influencing consumers is long. It might mean hiring a sales team, buying advertising, or improving your product or service. All of those things can help a business attract customers and grow.
But to avoid turning this blog into a book, and like a really big book, we’re going to focus on one tactic to attract and retain customers—email marketing funnels.
What are email marketing funnels?
In order to understand how email marketing funnels can help your business, you first need to understand what they are.
A marketing funnel is a representation of how somebody goes from prospect to customer. An email marketing funnel refers to the same thing but applies to email marketing. So, when we talk about email marketing funnels, we’re talking about the process of turning prospects into customers using the tactic of email marketing.
There’s a somewhat common assumption that email marketing doesn’t really work anymore. It makes sense why some folks might be drawn to that intuition too. Email has been around for awhile, so it’s by no means a shiny new tool. And, there are so many new exciting ways market your product that naturally, email is forgotten.
Email may be worn and weathered, but it by no means is ineffective. In fact, 83% of B2B marketers still use email marketing. Now, only 58% of that 83 % find email marketing effective, but that doesn’t so much suggest that email marketing doesn’t work well, it just tells you that in order for it to work, you have to do it well.
That’s where email marketing funnels come in.
If you use email marketing but are only as deliberate as a ten-year-old playing Jello in the backseat of a station wagon, you’re not going to get too far. If you want email marketing to be successful, you need to be purposeful and have a strategy so that the right prospect is receiving the right content at the right time. That is what an email marketing funnel can do for you.
Building your email list
Before we talk about how to use an email marketing funnel, we need to tackle the email list first. A perfectly crafted funnel without anybody on your list to email is about as useful as the Mona Lisa floating around in space where no one can admire it.
Building your list is the one part of the email marketing funnel that doesn’t really involve email marketing. In fact, you might say building your list precedes the funnel and is separate from it, but either way, it needs to be addressed.
There are plenty of ways to build your email list. You can use opt-in forms on your website, social media, landing pages and plenty other tactics. If you want more info about it, check out this post on building email lists with lead magnets.
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of using email marketing funnels for your business.
Think of the top of the funnel as an opportunity to nurture your leads. Most of the folks you’ll be emailing during this stage are likely new to your email list. You don’t want to try to sell somebody something the moment they walk through the door. This is an opportunity to gain their trust.
You may be wondering how to establish trust over email. You’re in luck—there are plenty of tactics.
First is the welcome email. This is an automated email you send out after somebody subscribes to your list. This email serves as an introduction, and shouldn’t have a single ask in it. I recently signed up for a new Chase credit card, and when I did they sent a welcome email. It was great.
Nowhere in that email do they ask for anything from me. All they’re doing is telling me all the benefits that I get as a cardholder. It’s much closer to a present than it is a sales pitch. And we’re talking about credit cards here. I’m used to instantly trashing mail from credit card companies because all they seem to do is ask me to upgrade to a new card, so if they can resist an ask, so can you.
The nurture stage is not just about welcoming people though. One welcome email does not make a warm lead. There’s likely more work ahead before you should ask somebody to make a purchase.
This is where the content marketing/educational approach kicks into gear. Somebody is not necessarily likely to make a purchase after a simple “thank you for subscribing” email. But if you put in the time to provide them with educational content, they will grow to trust you, and when it comes time for them to buy, they will feel good about buying from you.
One of the who knows how many lists I’m on is BiggerPockets. It’s a website for real estate investors and it has everything from blogs to ebooks to ROI calculators. I’m no investor, but I have an interest in real estate, and I’ve found their educational emails to be terrific.
The email is long, and it has plenty of content below that including a featured podcast and even job postings, but there’s still no ask.
I’ve been getting these emails for well over a year now, and I’ve grown to trust them. If I got serious about real estate investing, I’d probably spend a few bucks on some of their paid tools.
Do you know why?
It’s not because I liked their welcome email. It’s because over time, they have gained my trust, and I believe that what they have to offer is truly valuable. The reason I believe that is all the content of theirs that I’ve consumed over the last year and change.
So, thanks to the power of email marketing you’ve nurtured a ton of leads. They know you, they trust you, and they’d be happy to buy from you.
However, just because you’ve nurtured them and prepared them to buy from you, doesn’t mean your work is done. Parting with hard-earned money is no fun, and even when someone needs something, they still might need a nudge to take the dive.
This stage of the email marketing funnel, the convert stage, is the nudge.
Let’s take another look at a BiggerPockets email. This time, not their usual newsletter.
Unlike the email above, they are clearly asking me to take an action, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. I’ve read dozens of their blog posts and learned a ton from them. I’m not the slightest bit off put by this ask.
Did I preorder the book? No. But that’s not the point. No email campaign can be expected to turn someone who is not interested in a product into an interested buyer.
However, if I wanted to get started in real estate note investing, I probably would buy the book. Maybe I wouldn’t have sought out the book, but when put in front of me like this from a brand I trust, I’d take out my wallet.
This is why the nurture stage is so crucial. When your contacts trust you, they’re much more likely to make a purchase from you when the time comes.
You might think the funnel ends when the sale is made, but you’d be wrong. Still, the funnel narrows.
A good business attracts a lot of customers, a great business keeps those customers coming back. And guess what, you can use your email marketing funnel to assist in retaining customers.
The retain stage of the funnel is much closer to the nurture stage than it is the convert stage. Sure, you’ll have opportunities to upsell to your existing customers, but this stage is much more about sending targeted content so that your customers can get the most out of your product.
A happy customer is one that’s going to stick around.
And—more valuable than an upsell—a really satisfied customer will turn into an advocate for you, bringing in new customers by word of mouth.
Automate it all
Managing all these emails and making sure they’re reaching the right people sounds like quite a bit of work. The good news, the vast majority of the work can be automated. This is the “setting up the funnel part.”
Using a marketing automation tool like ActiveCampaign, you can create conditions, so that contacts receive specific emails based on their behavior. This way all you have to is create the emails, the rest of the work will be automated away.
For example, once a contact makes a purchase, you can assign them a tag, so they start receiving the retain emails.
You’d be amazed at the number of communications you can send once you’ve set up your funnel. So what are you waiting for? Get to it.