Aside from traffic and lead generation; the #1 problem businesses face is improving lead–to-sales conversions.

Tell me if this sounds familiar …

You have an amazing business and a product that “should” practically sell itself.

You’ve invested money to drive traffic to your website.

And look at that… it’s paying off!

People are contacting you!

You’re generating leads!

Problem is, your leads aren’t converting into sales like you feel they should.

Half these leads are just “looking for information” and the other half “will consider things and get back to you.”

What’s the problem?

The problem is how your company engages customers throughout their “buying journey.” Play it right, and the leads who actually intend to buy will quickly convert to actual paying (and referring!) customers. Screw it up, and you’ll lose even the leads who were interested.

Here are some more upshots of understanding your customer’s buying journey:

    • Improve customer satisfaction
    • Increase conversion rates
    • Boost referrals and customer retention
    • Make money (in case you forgot why you’re doing this)

So what’s this customer journey, and how can you create maximum impact in every stage of it? Glad you asked.

Your customer goes through six stages before making a purchasing decision:

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Stage 1: Interest

How do you know when people are interested in your business? They tell you. They enter their information on your website. They call you and leave a voicemail. Maybe they’ll tell you one of your old clients referred them to you.

The point is that someone has shown interest in your company – and that’s Stage 1 in your customer’s journey to purchasing.

The majority of these people may never buy from you – and the good news is that that doesn’t matter.

Because the goal isn’t to get them ALL to buy.

The goal is to figure out who’s genuinely interested and able to pay. And get THEM to buy.

Futurama Fry “not sure if…” meme

Time to figure out how to tell one from the other. Image Source: www.diylol.com

Follow these three simple tips to increase conversions at Stage 1 of your sales funnel:

1. Connect with your audience’s needs. Your customers aren’t all the same. They each have different “buying requirements.” The better you can tailor your marketing message to what they’re looking for, the higher your conversions will be. (Learn how to segment your audience with buyer personas here >>)

2. “Don’t spill your beans in the lobby” – wise words from David H. Sandler. When you’re trying to gain interest, don’t “go all the way on the first date” – wise words from Sina Fak. All you want is to pique your visitor’s interest to the point where they want to learn more. The goal is not to bombard them with so much information that they have no reason to contact you.  #saveitforthehoneymoon

3. Be cool. As soon as people feel like you’re trying too hard to sell them, it’s all over. The important thing is to be clear, concise, and make sure everything you present is thoughtful and offers value to your customer.

Stage 2: Evaluation

Your leads are looking for a reason to buy.

But they want to be sold.

They want to feel like they’re making the best decision and getting the best deal.

Give them a GOOD reason to buy. Image Source: www.memecrunch.com

That’s why Stage 2 of your customer’s journey is to acquire more information about your offer and how it benefits them.

To move your customers to the next stage of the journey, you need to show your customer the value you provide, and explain why they should choose you instead of a competitor.

Always think about how you stack up against all alternatives. Not only direct competitors, but all other possibilities your customers could choose.

If you run a cleaning business, for example, an alternative to hiring your company would be to do the cleaning myself. And to grab my attention, you’ll need to frame your offer in a way that tells me why I should get my cleaning done with you instead of doing it myself.

That’s why Stage 2—the Evaluation Stage—requires you to connect your offer to my needs.

The better the connection, the more likely I am to buy.

This is exactly what I addressed in my buyer personas article. If you haven’t read it already, head over and give it a look – I’ll wait. The point is that you’ve got to find data-driven ways to target the right marketing message to the right audience.

Follow these three simple tips to increase conversions at Stage 2 of your sales funnel:

1. Find out why your customers aren’t buying.

Sometimes we think we know why, but the real reasons are completely different. The simplest way to find out is just to ask your customers directly! Send them an email or give them a call, and ask for some honest feedback. You’ll be surprised how many respond. Alternatively, if you’re online, you can run short surveys using Qeryz or Quaraloo, and ask people what you can be doing better. One way or another, make sure you get some insight on how you can improve.

2. Don’t waste good resources on unqualified leads.

We’ve all done it. Maybe it was a slow month. Maybe you’re just trying to hit your sales target. But chasing after potential customers that you know aren’t right for your business will distract you from finding the “OMG I’m so happy to have you as a customer” customers we’re all looking for. The same way potential customers evaluate whether or not you’re a good fit for them, you need to evaluate if they’re a good fit for your business. If they’re not a good fit, just say “NO!” It’s so much easier to go the extra mile for customers when you genuinely want to see them succeed.

3. Segment your leads.

This will help you understand what to do next within your sales funnel. There are a lot of different ways to segment leads but here are 4 levels I typically use to segment leads based on Interest Level to decide which Stage they fit:

  • Interested: They’re genuinely interested in your company and ready to purchase right away.
  • Somewhat Interested: They’re ready to purchase, but they’re shopping around to see what you can offer versus your competitors. They just want a “ball park” quote.
  • Not Now; in the Future: They’re interested in learning more about your service, but they aren’t ready to buy just yet.
  • Completely Unqualified: They’re looking for pool supplies and you run a hair salon.

Stage 3: Consideration

Fact. You spent a lot of time and money acquiring your leads.

Fact. They contacted you because they’re genuinely interested in your service.

Are you just going to let that lead go to waste because they’re not hot, wallet-out, ready-to-buy interested today!

Crying baby meme

Hold on or let go. Your choice. Image Source: www.memegenerator.net

Of course not! If a prospective client has a need for your service, but for some reason they can’t make the jump right now (money issues, not enough trust, unsure) – you need to maintain communication and nurture them until they’re ready.

When you nurture your leads, you establish a relationship, build trust, and demonstrate your “worthiness” to potential customers.

The length of time a lead stays in the consideration stage (and the length of time you will need to nurture them) depends on your product, and on how big of an impact it will have on your customer’s life.

For example, imagine a software company that targets large businesses with a product that requires major onboarding from all levels. This company’s potential customers will stay in the consideration stage much longer than they would for a company that provides Internet service and offers its customers a “30-day, money-back guarantee.” The quicker the onboarding, the shorter the customer’s patience.

Now, how important is lead nurturing?

Critically. Extremely. Cosmically.

This is how important it is: The latest studies from Forrester Research show that companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost.

Follow these three simple tips to increase conversions at Stage 3 of your sales funnel:

1. Focus on creating value. It doesn’t matter how targeted, personalized, or sales-ready your content is. If it doesn’t create value for your customers, it’s meaningless. Think critically about not only the topic, but also how you present your content so your audience finds it useful and engaging. Here are some great tips by the folks at KISSmetrics on how to create valuable content.

2. Create an email nurturing campaign. No matter what anyone says, email is still one of the best ways to connect with your customers. In 2014, eMarketer cited email marketing as the most effective digital marketing channel for customer retention in the United States. Establish a sequence of emails that will communicate your company’s message, build trust, and, most of all, provide value to your customers. Here’s 50+ free emails templates created by my friend Sapph Li from the Art of Emails to help you get started.

3. Create a remarketing ad campaign. Have you ever visited a website and felt like their ads were following you on every other website you visit afterward? That’s remarketing. It’s one of the paid advertising tactics most underused by small businesses; mainly because most businesses don’t understand how it works or how to use it properly. Here’s a step-by-step guide to building your first remarketing campaign.

Paint Core ad on CNN

Remarketing Ad on CNN website

Stage 4: Commitment

You finally have a customer – sometimes after months of nurturing – who’s ready to commit to a purchase. They’re sold on your product and agree to move forward.

Now it’s time to negotiate terms and manage expectations.

Why is this so important?

Because a happy customer will refer more customers to you.

How do you create happy customers? By managing expectations, then delivering on them.

Be very clear about what you’re delivering, when you’re expecting to deliver, and for how much.

“Too damn high” Jimmy McMillan meme

Manage expectations wisely, avoid disappointing customers. Image Source: www.quickmeme.com

Clearly outlining deliverables will have an enormous impact on your customer’s happiness at the end of a transaction.

I know, I know… You’re a business that “under-promises and over-delivers” right?

But it’s better to be consistent and clearly outline deliverables than to try to surprise your customers with something they didn’t ask for or expect you to do!

Think of the Commitment Stage as if you’re laying up for a slam-dunk. You haven’t scored the point yet, and you still need to make your way to the net without getting blocked.

Follow these three simple tips to increase conversions at Stage 4 of your sales funnel:

1. Be transparent. It may seem scary to mention anything that could potentially cause you to lose a customer. But it’s important to be honest about your product. “Omitting” downsides can surprise your customer and leave them dissatisfied. You’re better off mentioning potential problems, challenges, or defects upfront, and proposing a solution to address the situation if it arises. This way, you demonstrate that you’re in control; and your client gains confidence and trust in working with you.

2. Clearly outline deliverables. Create any uncertainty about your offer, and you’ll start to see delays about finalizing the purchase — or worse, cause your customer to back out at the last minute. For example, if I’m about to purchase a service for house cleaning online, I’ll want to know these things:

  • Exactly what time they’re coming to clean
  • How they plan on getting in
  • How long they’re going to stay
  • How many rooms they’re going to clean
  • What items are not included in the service
  • Whether I need to provide cleaning supplies
  • How much will all this cost?

If any of these items are missing, there’s a good chance I’m going to delay my purchase or find a cleaning company that answers my questions upfront.

3. Create a sense of urgency. When given the chance, people have a tendency to procrastinate on making a decision. That’s why it’s important give people a logical reason (keyword: logical) to buy now, as opposed to later. The goal isn’t to force them to buy, but instead to stop them from procrastinating. There are a number of ways to create direct or implied urgency. Here’s a great article by the folks at ConversionXL on creating urgency.

According to the latest research by Forrester, 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly.

Stage 5: Conversion

Congratulations! You’ve made it through the trenches.

You’ve received payment and you’re ready to deliver your product.

Squirrel with outstretched arms

Yes! Payment! But is that really the end of everything? Image Source: www.pinterest.com

This is when most businesses think the “selling” portion of their job is done. And it very well could be.

But if you stop here, you leave a treasure horde of opportunity on the table.

You should be thinking about the next stage of your customer’s journey:

Satisfaction.

Your objective at the Conversion Stage is to create positive and memorable experiences for your customer.

Your customers aren’t just buying the product or service you offer. They’re also buying the experience and customer service you provide.

One of my favourite Toronto-based companies is Freshbooks. They provide cloud-based accounting software that’s not only functional, but also kickass in the user-interface department.

That being said, Freshbooks has a number of competitors that provide equally functional accounting software with good UI.

What separates Freshbooks from the rest is their customer support – in other words, users’ experience in using their product.

I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than two minutes to talk to someone in support at Freshbooks, and I’ve always had my questions answered in under five minutes.

The experience you give your customer after they purchase is every bit as important as the product or service you’re selling.

Follow these three simple tips to increase conversions at Stage 5 of your sales funnel:

  • Pay attention to detail. It’s the little things people remember and talk about. You don’t need to make any dramatic gestures; just think about how’d like to be treated if you were in your customer’s shoes. For a cleaning company (let’s stick to that, I’m on a roll), a small gesture could be as simple as writing a short “thank you” note, or leaving some complimentary incense in the bathroom. The point is to engage your customer in a way that will stand out in their minds.
  • Always listen. Take a genuine interest in what your customer has to say and be respectful of their mood when resolving any issues with your company. According to McKinsey, 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they’re being treated.
  • Assume responsibility. Your customer is always right. Even when they’re wrong. The best businesses in the world are founded on this principle. Do whatever it takes to make your customer happy, because one bad review or word-of-mouth could cost you a lot more than the cost of servicing one unhappy customer. At the same time, this principle only works if you choose your customers carefully. So know who you’re doing business with, and focus on finding customers who make you want to go the extra mile.

As this research from Parature explains, it takes 12 positive customer experiences to make up for one negative experience.

Stage 6: Satisfaction

Throughout your customer’s journey, you did everything in your power to ensure their complete satisfaction.

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Congratulations! You’ve made it this far! Image Source: wifflegif.com

Now that the work is done – it’s time to follow up.

Now is the absolute best time to ask for a referral or a review – hopefully both –to pitch any upsells your company offers.

Referrals are the backbone of any good business, and reviews build confidence and the trust of other buyers. You need them.

The sad truth is, most satisfied customers won’t give referrals or provide reviews unless they’re reminded or given an incentive to do so.

It’s amazing how many companies say they “built their business on referrals” …but don’t have any clear system in place to promote them!
If you’re getting reviews and referrals naturally without lifting a finger, just imagine how many more you could be getting if you simplified and incentivized the process!

You provide an excellent service. You should get rewarded for your good work.

Follow these three simple tips to increase conversions at Stage 6 of your sales funnel:

1. Keep it simple. Many clients would happily write a review, but don’t know how to go about it. Make it easy. Give your customers the tools they need to refer or review your business. Here are some suggestions to ease the process for them:

2. Create case studies. When you have a great customer success story that you absolutely want to capture, create a case study. This way you can highlight all the important details of your work, and thoroughly explain what happened. Remember, your goal is to educate potential readers about your process and capabilities – not to show off your case study. The case study needs to create value for your readers. Most people will also let you quote a testimonial to include in the case study. A verbal testimonial is much easier to get than a written one.

3. Give something away. Money isn’t your only compensation. Target big clients in your industry and offer your services for free in exchange for a testimonial. After you’re done, you can leverage their story to get bigger higher-paying clients in the future.

Some final thoughts…

You work hard in your business to provide a great service and outstanding quality.

You deserve referrals – but you need to give your customer the tools and a reason to refer their friends to you.

Understanding the journey your customer takes at every stage of the sales funnel means you can improve their experience with your company, not just your final product.

If you’re only focusing on the final product and not your customer experience, then you’re just a commodity.

Your success depends on the experience you give your customers.

Before. During. After.