Weekly Sales Funnel Challenge: Wrap-up

This week, I challenged you to write about your target market in detail. How did you do?

Here’s my answer to this challenge:

My target market is made up of entrepreneurial small business owners who are just starting their businesses or trying to grow them. They are focused on the web (primarily) and looking to sell products and/or services via the web. They are often do-it-yourselfers on a limited budget. They have an interest in marketing, and especially in internet marketing, but they are also overwhelmed by the possibilities as well as the time and money expense to market successfully. They connect with other business owners locally and through the web and are always looking for an extra edge to grow their businesses. When they aren’t working on their businesses, they are spending time with family and friends and sometimes they are working at day-jobs that they desire to leave.

Knowing your target market in this way helps you to make decisions about what marketing channels you’ll use to connect with them and what you’ll say to them when you meet.

The most common reason for sales funnel failure

The web has dramatically reduced the barrier to entry that people once faced when they wanted to start a business. Today, someone with some talent, aspiration, and an email address can create their own empire.

But not everyone can.

There are a lot of talented, aggressive marketers out there who do start a business and make a fortune, but there are many talented, aggressive marketers out there who do not. This latter group has a sales funnel that is bursting at the seams with contacts but it’s not going anywhere. They aren’t making any money.

There are a lot of reasons this could be the case (maybe the product falls short of the promotion that was given earlier, maybe the Prospect isn’t motivated to buy) but in my experience, the top reason for sales funnel failure is because the entrepreneur didn’t ask for the sale.

I blame marketing

Marketing is fun, creative, and it can be easy to do. You write something, you put it out there on the web, and you get people who are interested. With some thought and experience, you start creating a lot of good, targeted content and the right people are attracted into your sales funnel. A lot of web-based marketing content keeps chugging along, long after you created it, bringing people into your sales funnel even while you sleep.

Marketing is a popular topic. It has a sex appeal to it. People like to talk about it. People like to “do marketing”. Marketing is all about building a relationship with a sales funnel contact around a specific topic (the benefits you offer).

But then there’s sales

Sales seems like hard work. It doesn’t seem creative or fun. Asking for the sale feels like an interruption in the relationship. Everyone wants to be a marketer but only a few people will admit they’re salespeople.

Marketing is fuzzy and difficult to measure. Sales is clear (you made a sale or you didn’t) and it’s easy to measure.
Marketing is quick to do (you write an ad or you publish a press release). Sales can take a long time (there are sales presentations and you have to overcome objections).
Marketing doesn’t require very much (just some creativity and a place to publish your content). Sales requires a willing listener and some persistence.

In spite of all this, sales is what makes a business successful. Sales converts Prospects to Customers, marketing doesn’t. Sales brings in the cash, marketing doesn’t.

It’s easy to spend a lot of time on marketing — and marketing IS important to do — but many businesses need to spend way more time on sales than they do. The most successful entrepreneurs I’ve met are good marketers and relentless sellers.

Sales isn’t as bad as it seems

Sales isn’t a break in the relationship with the contact. It’s moving the relationship forward to help add value to the contact. Good sales should feel like the next obvious step in your interaction with the contacts in your sales funnel. Earlier in your sales funnel you gave them some free, generalized value (i.e. maybe from some free advice on your blog). They benefited from it. Now your “sales pitch” is really just showing them how they could benefit even more from some specific, personalized value (i.e. from your consulting services).

Take a hard look at your sales funnel

Is it a sales funnel? Or is it really a marketing funnel without ever turning into a sales funnel? If you do a lot of marketing but never get around to the “Buy Now”, then it’s time to inject some sales into your sales funnel by asking for the order.

One last kick in the ass

In ANY business, there are going to be challenging tasks and easy tasks. It’s easy to do the easy tasks (obviously!). But it’s the challenging tasks that will make your business successful. Marketing is fun and easy, but it’s the challenging task of sales that will make your business successful.

6 steps to create your own sales funnel strategy

Your sales funnel is the journey that your customers take to get from Never-Heard-Of-You to Buy-Something-And-Tell-Their-Friends. Sales funnel strategy, then, is the roadmap you create to tell those travellers the quickest, easiest route to get to the sale.

So how do you create a sales funnel strategy? Here are six steps to get started.

Sales funnel strategy step #1: Start with the end in mind

Like other types of strategy, your sales funnel strategy will only be as good as the clarity of purpose you are trying to achieve. If you define your end goal as “business success”, any strategy will fall short because “business success” sounds nice but it’s as easy to nail down as pond scum.

Clearly define the goal you are trying to achieve with your sales funnel strategy. If you’re just starting a new business, your goal might be “To make my first sale”. If you already have a business and are working on your existing sales funnel, your goal might be “To maintain my current level of sales while I halve my involvement in the marketing activities leading up to each sale”.

A purpose for your sales funnel strategy gives you something to work toward. It can be a big purpose (like “I want to earn $500,000 in the next calendar year”) or it can be something much smaller (like “I want to increase my existing sales by 5%”).

In my experience, the purpose of any sales funnel strategy usually involves a more specific version of the following general goals:

  • To increase the number of contacts in the sales funnel
  • To increase the speed through which a contact moves through the sales funnel
  • To increase the amount of money a contact spends on a sale
  • To decrease the investment (of time/money/effort) that the business puts into each contact in the sale funnel

Sales funnel strategy step #2: Assess what needs to change

Now you need to figure out what elements of your existing sales funnel need to change to achieve the goal. There can be any combination of elements in your sales funnel that need to change. It all depends on the size and scope of your purpose. These could include some of the following:

  • The number of steps in a stage
  • The order of steps in stage
  • The goal of a particular step or stage
  • The media used in the step or stage
  • The messages used
  • The target market that enters the sales funnel
  • The location of the paygate
  • The deliverable
  • … These are just a few. There are so many more elements in a sales funnel that could be changed.

At this point, you don’t have to know how to change these things. Just start with figuring out what needs to change to get your sales funnel to reflect your purpose outlined earlier. And, in my experience, you’ll continue going through each of these steps (below) but you’ll come back to this step again and again throughout the process.

Sales funnel strategy step #3: Determine your influence

Not all of the sales funnel elements listed above can be easily tweaked by you to get where you need to be. Sure, some can: Changing the number of steps in a stage is all about you lifting the hood on your sales funnel and getting your hands dirty. Easy enough!

But some of the elements in your sales funnel aren’t directly changed by your effort. They’re only influenced by you based on other things you do. For example, changing your target market isn’t as easy as making an adjustment with a wrench. However, there are things you can do to influence who is attracted into your sales funnel.

Let’s look more closely at the target market example. If you want to change your target market, you can’t flip a switch but you can do some of the following to influence who becomes your target market:

  • Change your messages to speak to your new target market
  • Ensure you are communicating in the places where your new target market is listening
  • Review your offering to make sure that it is attractive to your target market
  • … There are other ways, too, but this gives you an idea

For the moment, let’s call these things “areas of influence” — they’re the decisions and activities you make to influence the things you cannot easily change.

Sales funnel strategy step #4: Get specific

Okay, it’s easy to list out what you can influence. Now comes the roll-up-your-sleeves part of strategy development. Start listing in detail the changes you need to make for each of the areas you influence. Again, this is going to be pretty straightforward for the stuff you listed in step 2 that you have direct control over (like the number of steps in one of your sales funnel stages). List out specific things you can do to make changes.

But let’s use a more challenging example of trying to change your target market. Since you can’t directly change your target market, you list out areas of influence that can compel change in your target market. Next, you list out specific things you can do to change those areas of influence:

  • The first one is “Change your messages to speak to your new target market”. For this area of influence you might write out specific messages that resonate with your target market. You should test some of those messages in different ways to find the messages that really resonate.
  • The second one is “Ensure you are communicating in the places where your new target market is listening”. For this area of influence you might identify areas where your new target market spends its time. This will probably follow with a period of research to make sure it’s the right fit for you.
  • The third area of influence is “Review offering to make sure that it is attractive to the target market”. For this area of influence you might review competitive offerings to see what your target market is buying from the competition and map your offering against theirs to see if you have a point of difference that your target market is interested in.

Sales funnel strategy step #5: Implement

You’ve created a big list of to-dos in step #4, now it’s time to implement those to-dos. Implementation can trip people up because they see a giant list of to-dos and it’s almost overwhelming. The best thing to do is review your list to make sure that the to-dos flow in a logical order (stuff that needs to happen first does indeed happen first) and then schedule each one in and start crossing them off of your list.

Yes, I’m making it sound simpler than it is. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing it but I’m realistic enough to recognize that it can be (or at least seem to be) more complicated than that. But I also believe that action – even if it’s not 100% correct every time – is superior to inaction. Just get out there and start making those changes.

Sales funnel strategy step #6: Make course corrections

With any strategy you create, course corrections will be the norm. You need to implement the strategy but then measure, troubleshoot, and make changes as you go because of the innumerable unforeseen and unpredictable situations that can affect the success of your sales funnel strategy.

This is normal. You won’t ever create a foolproof strategy that creates a flawless sales funnel. But creating a sales funnel strategy that makes sense and works toward what you need to achieve – with some adjustments along the way – is the next best thing.

A quick word about strategic development

I love strategy and strategic development. It’s a complex analysis and it’s as much an art as it is a science. By writing this list, it may seem like I have over-simplified strategic development. However, my hope is to empower entrepreneurs to try doing some of their own strategic development and strategic management on their own. Yes, strategy can be so much more complex that what I’ve listed here, but entrepreneurs don’t have to be scared off by the idea of developing their own strategy, they just need to know how to get started.

If you’re an entrepreneur and want to get your hands dirty with some straightforward, workable strategy, follow this list. (And if you find that you want to get more advance, or you don’t want to get your hands dirty on the strategy, that’s where a consultant comes in… but give it try first!)

9 ways to add value to your next ebook (so you don’t have to fill it with royalty-free images)

You’ve finished writing your ebook. You sit back in your office chair and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a long document, brimming with a mix of wit, personality, and (of course) your expertise on the topic. You’re certain that it will offer your readers the insight they’re looking for. But something’s not quite right.

After you look at it again, you start to wonder: Is it just a giant “wall” of text? Does the ebook really pop the way you’d like it to pop?

A common, initial temptation is to google “royalty free images” to shoehorn throughout the content to break the up the text (and add to your page count!!!). But is that really the right thing to do? It’s tempting. It’s easy. But it doesn’t add value.

Instead, here are 9 ways that you can add value to your next ebook. These ebook elements will help to break up that wall of text, they’ll add some visual interest, and they’ll help your ebook to really pop in the mind of your reader.

Ebook value-add #1: Callout boxes

These are boxes that you see in magazines all the time. They’re filled with additional information, facts, tips, and hints. They’re often pretty “listy” (bullet lists or numbered lists) although I’ve written plenty that were formatted as paragraphs. Use these to add extra context or background, or to add some additional tips that your readers might want to learn or be reminded of. Don’t add more than one per page and try not to add one on every single page. Check out some of your favorite magazines for ideas. In some of your callout boxes, you can reiterate ideas that were spread across several pages, or you can show how the current point fits into a larger list. This is also a good place for an anecdote, quick tip, or to highlight a special link that is related to the topic.

Ebook value-add #2: Examples

Although you’ve probably used examples in specific situations throughout the body of your text, (for example, in this sentence) it doesn’t hurt to pull together several concepts into a longer example that is formatted in a different way. I tend to use examples to illustrate several concepts with a fictional story. But on a related note, I also use…

Ebook value-add #3: Case studies

Case studies are (usually) true life examples (perhaps “anonymized” to protect the subject of the case study). These can be used in a similar way as an example. However, since case studies are usually true life, I tend to use them less as illustrations of a point and more as inspiration or proof of the content. So I tend to use both in my ebooks. Strike a balance so you don’t overwhelm your readers, but remember that everyone learns differently, and some people respond better to examples while others prefer case studies. (Personally, I’m a case study person).

Ebook value-add #4: Appendix

One appendix (or several appendices) at the end can be a great place to put all that background information that you want to write but that you doubt your readers will always want to read in the body of the text. It’s the stuff that is important to know but, once you write this, you think that most of your readers will probably already know quite a bit of it. Chances are, you’ll write it into the body of your text and pull it out. (In many cases, I’ll write the first 5 chapters of an ebook, then pull out the first 2-4 chapters and put them in an appendix because my good sense and experience tells me that those first chapters were just warm-up and the real reason people bought the ebook started in chapter 3, 4, or 5.) There are other things you can add into an appendix: Industry information, lists of tips and ideas, a long reference list, step-by-step instructions, interviews with people, etc.

Ebook value-add #5: Templates

I love adding templates to an ebook. I like templates because, if you are a business trying to build a brand, templates are a great way to get people printing and using stuff that has your brand imprinted right on it. On the other hand, templates that have been shoehorned into ebooks can look funny if the header, footer, and page number of the ebook appear in the template. Often, I’ll create a file that has the ebook plus individual PDF documents that are each a separate template. The sky’s the limit with templates.

Ebook value-add #6: Resource lists

I like to add these usually at the end of a chapter. These can link to other content in the ebook, other content online (including specific blog posts you’ve written, which is something I advise my clients to do), Squidoo lenses, Amazon books, and other digital products (via affiliate links). The goal here isn’t to replace your wall of text with a wall of links. I wouldn’t have more than half a page of links at the most, preferably less. Think of it like this: Many of your readers might skip over this resource list, but some of your readers will want more information, now or in the future. They’ll look to your chapter and they’ll dig into some of your links for more information or another perspective.

Ebook value-add #7: “You will learn” overview

We all learn in different ways. I learn best when someone gives me an overview of what I’m about to learn and then gets into the lesson. If I don’t get an overview first, I struggle with trying to fit each individual piece of information into the big picture. So devote the first part of each chapter to an overview (a bulleted list or a couple of “big picture” paragraphs) outlining what the chapter is about.

Ebook value-add #8: Glossary

You’re an expert but not all of your readers are. They need a little extra hand-holding, and that probably includes definitions and explanations of key concepts. A glossary can be arduous to write (trust me! I’ve written a ton of them) but your readers will find it helpful.

Ebook value-add #9: Now it’s your turn

I find that my ebooks tend to become a little academic after a while. They might start off with lots of practical advice but I’m just wired to talk about concepts over practice… and most people who are sharing their expertise will probably trend that way, too. So, by adding a “Now it’s your turn” element periodically throughout the ebook, you’ll force yourself to step back from the concepts and consider what your readers will want to do in this situation. Then give practical, step-by-step instructions.

A WARNING TO LAZY PEOPLE

Most ebook writers will read this post and hopefully find some ideas to inspire them to add value to their ebooks. But some writers — the lazy ones! — will see this as a way to add bulk to ebooks for a padded page count. That is not my goal here. You could use these ideas to add bulk to your ebooks, but that won’t generate customer loyalty or long-term profit. It won’t wow your buyers with extra value. It only wastes your time (time you could spend adding value) and pisses readers off.

But to the rest of us — those who actually want to build a loyal and happy readership — these are useful ways to make your ebooks more valuable to readers. So, on your next ebook, why not add a couple of these elements!