How to Build Email Marketing Funnels That WORK

How to Build Email Marketing Funnels That WORK

This post was updated on June 3, 2022

Just about every business shares the same ultimate goal: sell a product or service and then turn one-time customers into repeat customers.

While this goal is simple, it is far from easy. It 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, you can take steps 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 these can help a business attract customers and grow.

But, to avoid turning this blog into a book—and like a really big book—we will focus on one tactic to attract and retain customers: email marketing funnels.

Table of contents

What is an email marketing funnel?

To understand how email marketing funnels can help your business, you first need to know what they are.

A marketing funnel represents 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.

Typically, an email funnel will consist of a series of emails that create an ongoing and progressive engagement and trust. The idea is to provide value and strengthen the relationship before pushing prospects directly toward purchasing. As potential customers move through your email sequence, you provide more detailed, specialized information. By the time they reach the bottom of the sales funnel, you’ve built the type of trust that makes potential customers willing to convert.

Why do you need an email marketing funnel?

There’s a somewhat common assumption that email marketing doesn’t really work anymore. It makes sense why some might draw that conclusion. Email has been around for a while, so it’s by no means a shiny new tool. There are many new and exciting ways to market your product, so email is sometimes overlooked.

However, email is almost always a part of the customer journey. It’s still the most common way businesses communicate with each other and an increasingly vital part of marketing to the public. If you’re not in customers’ inboxes, you can bet competitors are. Not to mention, email is an incredibly economical way to reach vast numbers of people.

Email may be worn and weathered but by no means 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. It just tells you that you have to do it well for it to work right.

That’s where email marketing funnels come in. 

4 Steps to selling with an email marketing funnel

Email marketing can have incredible power and reach, but only if done with intent and strategy. If you want email marketing to be successful, you need to ensure that the right prospect receives the right content at the right time. That is what an email marketing funnel can do for you.

There are four main phases to the process of moving people through your email marketing funnel: 

  1. Reach and engage your email list
  2. Nurture and educate prospects
  3. Convert and close business
  4. Support and grow

These steps will show you how to get more leads, engage them, build trust, influence them to take action, and finally become loyal customers.

4 steps to selling with an email marketing funnel
The 4 steps to selling with an email marketing funnel

1. Reach and engage 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 is 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 actually involve email marketing. In fact, you might say building your list precedes the funnel and is separate from it, but it needs to be addressed either way.

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 of other tactics. 

One of the most common ways to build your email list is by offering some asset or resource. These lead magnets promise users an ebook, worksheet, or other valuable content in exchange for their email address (and sometimes additional information).

icons labeled “Gated Content,” “Landing Pages,” and “Social Media”
Ways to collect email

If you want more info, check out this post on building email lists with lead magnets.

Tactics for growing your email list may vary by industry, but there is one key piece of advice that just about any business should follow; do not buy email lists. While the prospect of a wave of new contacts might sound tempting, purchased email contacts lack the very things that make a good lead: interest and intent. Furthermore, buying email lists can destroy your deliverability and your reputation. 

Even if you build your list organically, it’s good to make list maintenance an ongoing part of your email marketing strategy. That means looking for duplicates, undeliverable addresses, and unengaged contacts. 

2. Nurture and educate prospects

As soon as somebody subscribes to your email list or completes an opt-in form, they’ve moved past the reach & engage (often called the “awareness stage”) and are already in the second phase of the customer lifecycle: nurture & educate.

They’ve provided their email address in exchange for some type of value.

Think of the top of the funnel as an opportunity to nurture your qualified 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. 

Instead, 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 to your new email subscribers as soon as they subscribe. This email serves as an introduction and should avoid too many questions or information. I recently signed up for a new Chase credit card, and when I did, they sent a welcome email.

example chase sapphire welcome email
Chase Sapphire welcome email

Nowhere in that email do they ask for anything from me. The only thing the email contains is the benefits that I get as a cardholder. It’s much closer to a present than a sales pitch. And we’re talking about credit cards here!

However, the nurture stage is not just about welcoming new subscribers. 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. After a simple “thank you for subscribing” email, most people are not likely to purchase. But, if you put in the time to provide them with educational content, they will grow to trust you. Then, when it comes time for them to buy, they will feel good about buying from you.

One of the 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.

biggerpockets newsletter email
BiggerPockets newsletter email

The email is long, and it has plenty of email content below that, including a featured podcast and even job postings, but there’s still no ask. 

I’ve been getting these emails for 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. They have gained my trust over time, and I believe that what they have to offer is truly valuable. The reason I believe this is because of the content they’ve sent over the last year.

3. Convert and close business

Thanks to the power of email marketing, you’ve nurtured a ton of warm leads.

Those leads are now in what’s commonly called the “consideration stage” of the buying journey and are considering becoming customers.

If you did it right, 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 conversion stage of the email marketing sales funnel is that nudge.

Let’s take another look at a BiggerPockets email. This time, not their regular newsletter.

biggerpockets advertisement email
BiggerPockets advertisement email

Unlike the first email, they are clearly asking me to take 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 marketing campaign can turn someone not interested in a product into an interested buyer.

However, if I wanted to start real estate note investing, I probably would buy the book. Maybe I wouldn’t have sought out the book, but I’d take out my wallet when put in front of me like this from a brand I trust.

This is why the nurture stage is so crucial. When your contacts trust you, they’re much more likely to make a purchase when the time comes. 

4. Support and grow

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 retains them and keeps those customers coming back. And guess what, you can use your email marketing sales funnel to assist customer retention. 

The retain stage of the funnel is much closer to the nurture stage than the convert stage. Sure, you’ll have opportunities to upsell to your current customers, but this stage is much more about sending targeted email content so that customers can get the most out of your product. 

A happy customer is one that’s going to stick around. 

You can also continue to engage customers by notifying them of their accomplishments or usage of your product. For example, Canva sent a celebratory email after creating my 10th design. They encouraged me to keep using the product and share my milestone on social media.

canva celebratory email
Example of a celebratory email from Canva

Your warmest leads will help you grow your business beyond just a simple purchase. Even more valuable than an upsell—a really satisfied customer will turn into an advocate for you, bringing in new customers by word of mouth. 

Get started with automation fast using our FREE pre-built email automation template starter pack!

Automate your email marketing funnel

Managing all these emails and making sure they’re reaching the right people sounds like quite a bit of work, especially across the various email marketing funnel stages mentioned.

The good news? The vast majority of the work can be automated. This is the “setting up the funnel part.”

Using an email 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 do is create the emails and automate the rest. 

For example, a new contact makes a purchase. You can then tag them so they start receiving your customer retention 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? You can get started right now with a 14-day free trial of ActiveCampaign!

Never miss an update