The whole world is slowly becoming automated. The independent market research company, Forrester, predicts that by the end of the decade, around 1 million salespeople will be replaced by automated, self-service systems. This means that those companies that want to survive have to prove their value to their customers. Managers around the globe are trying to improve their sales process by looking at everything from their reps’ daily activities to their sales pipelines. But probably the best place to look first is the company’s sales funnel.

What Exactly Is a Sales Funnel?

To put it simply, a sales funnel (sometimes also called the marketing funnel, sales pipeline or purchase funnel) is a visualization of the selling process for your organization. The concept of the sales funnel evolved out of the classic AIDA Model, first recognized by E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1899. Twenty-five years later, William W. Townsend applied this model to the funnel model, and outlined the concept in his book Bond Salesmanship.

As Townsend explained, the approach allows us to analyze the buyers as they go through each stage in the purchasing process and the understanding of the stages will help you “funnel” potential buyers into full-fledged customers. But many marketers still have a problem recognizing their funnel. As a matter of fact, according to the data gathered by Marketing Sherpa, more than 65% of marketers have identified their Marketing-Sales funnel. And how can you properly optimize your funnel until you have defined it?

Sales Funneling in 3 Easy Steps

Ok, your customers need to be led from awareness to purchase (and eventual brand loyalty) by way of incremental exposure to your brand and/or product. Townsend outlined those principle almost a century ago, and while they still apply today, the recent rise of social media usage (according to We Are Social’s data, there are more than 2.3 billion active social media users around the globe) has shaken the paradigm, offered a new way to pull in buyers and a new way to build off brand loyalty.

Step 1: Consumer Awareness

As numerous studies have shown, brand loyalty requires trust and since familiarity plays such a big role in earning consumers’ trust, rising awareness should be the first step toward building a new relationship. This is why, according to the research firm TrustRadius, 74% of small businesses consider raising brand awareness to be the top goal of their social media marketing programs. Social media awareness is all about providing compelling and visually pleasing content to your potential customers. And everything from your logo to the message of your brand contributes to your overall awareness.

Step 2: Interest

Creating and publishing attention-grabbing content will give people a good reason to start following your brand on Facebook or Twitter, but you have to treat your customers with respect and slowly develop a relationship. They also have certain expectations, for example, according to a recent HubSpot report, consumers expect brands to be active on at least three social media networks. What’s more, an Edison Research study discovered that more than 40% of consumers expect a response to their inquiry in less than 60 minutes. So talk to the consumers, answer their question and even chime in to conversations that don’t pertain to your marketing.

Step 3: Conversion and Sales

So once you got them hooked, you need to turn that social media follower into a paying customer. But don’t make the consumers hunt for a deal, you need to throw everything you have in front of them. Giveaways are great for putting some positive pressure on consumers’ shoulders. In fact, UnBounce managed to increase conversions by 700% three years ago, using a $500 giveaway. In addition, it is important to offer your buyers multiple payment methods, beyond standard credit card transactions, so it is smart to implement a platform like PromisePay and improve user experience for your customers.

Building Brand Loyalty

In a more traditional sales funnel, a sale would mark the final step; but the world of social media is a thriving community and a sale is only a small step toward a much larger goal of converting your customers into brand advocates. You see, while less than 20% of consumers trust influencers, according to Nielsen, more than 90% of them trust brand advocates. Loyalty simply creates new sources of customers that are already interested in your brand and product due to a personal recommendation from a friend.

Author's Bio: 

James D. Burbank has worked for years in traditional as well as online marketing. He has worked in Central Asia, Europe and Australasia in recent years.