Why Authors Need to Understand the Sales Funnel

UPDATE 2019: The sales funnel continues to evolve to be more user-friendly. The latest version can be found here: https://cksyme.com/funnel/ . The funnel is also accompanied by a chart that shows the effectiveness of different social media channels in each funnel stage.

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It is impossible to succeed at selling anything without understanding why people buy. And understanding when, where, why, and how people buy is not guesswork. We have access to enough reliable marketing data to boil it down to a simple process. We can accelerate our understanding of buying behavior by looking at a newly remodeled tool: the sales funnel.

The ABCs of Buying

Marketers and psychologists have been keeping track of the how and why people buy products for decades. A tool that best describes the process today is the same tool we used 20 years ago when I first started in marketing; the sales funnel. This funnel-shaped diagram explains the phases people go through before they buy a product. It has been updated considerably since social media came along—some would say disrupted—but the basic process of buying is still the same as it has always been.

sales funnel

*High strength for all social media channels

Understanding the Six Phases

There are six basic phases a buyer goes through in the sales funnel. There is no time limitation on any phase. A buyer could go through them all at once if they are highly motivated to buy. They could stuck the first phase and never move out. In each phase, a potential buyer needs to engage with information that will motivate them to buy. Here are the phases:

  1. Introduction/Discovery: This is when you first hear about or see a product. Whether or not you move on to the next phase depends on several factors including your received need for the product. This could be through word of mouth, a television commercial, a post on a friend’s Facebook page, a tweet, a Facebook ad, a display at a bookstore or an online search to name a few. Not all social media channels are good at discovery. In research by AOL Platforms and Converto in late 2014, the study found that YouTube and Facebook were the social media channels that aid discovery the best. Twitter was on the bottom.
  2. Awareness: The more a consumer hears your name or the name of one of our books, the more aware they are of your product. In general, all social media channels are good at awareness.
  3. Research: Another phase where all social media channels shine. Brands on social media are anxious to give people all the information they need to make a good buying decision. All channels scored high here.
  4. Word-of-mouth: This is social media’s strongest point in general. Friends sharing with friends, recommending their favorite books, and leaving reviews all happen at this stage. And remember, consumers trust each other much more than they do brands for information—almost twice as much in some studies.
  5. Purchase point: Now we get to the tricky part—leading the horse to water. You move people through this phase by giving them opportunities to buy when they are ready. And not posts that push but tools that are ever present and allow people to make a purchase at any time no matter what your posts say. This is the Buy Now button on your Facebook page, the Freebooksy app that has a full listing of every book you have on Amazon right under your cover photo and also listed on the left tab of your page. It is also a board on Pinterest that is always there when people visit that has all your books for sale. For those who do not visit your site directly but get your posts in a feed on their own page, the purchase point can be a post with a link to buy. This is where good copywriting and calls to action can produce a sale.
  6. Conversion or sale. Next to Introduction this is the most fruitful phase of the funnel. This is where someone clicks buy, sign up, or download. This is an action that produces a sale. In the AOL/Converto research mentioned above, YouTube and Facebook again have the highest rating. Twitter again brings up the rear.

Keep in mind these two factors

  • There is no timetable on how fast people move through the funnel. It can be instantaneous or they can get stuck in Discovery forever after you appear on their radar.
  • All social media channels are not created equal when it comes to being able to move people through the funnel. Make sure you take advantage of the channels most likely to engage and sell. Don’t make engagement the only criteria for choosing a social media channel. Every social media channel can sell a trickle of books if you work at it. Spend your time wisely on channels with better returns that match your audience.

In order to sell effectively on social media, we need to understand the how, why, and when of the buying process.