Sales funnel terminology – Why I prefer the term ‘sales funnel’ to ‘marketing funnel’, ‘marketing pipeline’, ‘sales pipeline’, and ‘sales process’

There are a lot of terms for sales funnels. This brief post explains why I prefer the term sales funnel instead of the many other terms that people use to describe the relationship between a potential buyer and potential seller.

When people search online to find information about the relationship between a potential buyer and potential seller, they use some of the following popular terms to find the information that I define as a sales funnel:

  • Marketing funnel
  • Marketing pipeline
  • Sales funnel (plus two common misspellings: sale funnel, sales funnell)
  • Sales pipeline
  • Sales process

WHY I PREFER THE TERM ‘SALES FUNNEL’

Why I prefer sales funnel over marketing funnel or marketing pipeline: Ultimately your business exists to earn money and you do that by making a sale. What actually makes up a sale may be different in your business than it is in other businesses, but it’s the sale that counts in your sales funnel, not the marketing. Marketing is a means to an end. By calling it a sales funnel instead of a marketing funnel, the emphasis is placed on the desired goal.

Why I prefer sales funnel over sales pipeline: In my opinion, sales funnel is a strategic term that describes the relationship you have with various stages of potential buyers – you’re not only building a relationship, you’re also qualifying and filtering. Therefore, the number of people you meet earlier in the relationship is quite high compared to the number who actually buy from you. Sales pipeline (again, in my opinion) is a tactical term. It’s a way sales people describe the group of potential buyers who are somewhere in their sales funnel. I’d say that these terms are relatively interchangeable but I prefer sales funnel over sales pipeline because the relationships you have with your prospective buyers is best represented and planned through a funnel shape.

Why I prefer sales funnel over sales process: You’ll find that I do use the word sales process frequently in my blog. However, when I say sales process, I’m referring to the actual interaction a salesperson has with a potential buyer in the Prospect stage: A sales person will build rapport, fact-find, present a solution, handle objections, and ask for the order. That’s the sales process, in my opinion. The sales funnel is a graphical depiction of the relationship that the buyer and seller have from the earliest stages through the sale itself and well past the sale.

So, if you’re looking for information on marketing funnels, marketing pipelines, sales pipelines, and sales processes you’ll probably find it on this blog. But I call it a sales funnel.

6 sales funnel tips for real estate professionals

Getting and keeping clients in your real estate practice can be so challenging: There’s a lot of competition and customers only buy once every 5 to 7 years. You have to fight for every Lead and nurture that Lead into a Customer.

To help you succeed in the intense real estate profession, here are 6 sales funnel tips that you can use to grow your practice:

  1. Differentiate. There are so many real estate professionals out there and they’re all promising the exact same thing. As a result, Customers don’t know or care who they go to, to buy or sell a home, because they don’t perceive a difference. Don’t be a real estate pro that’s just like everyone other real estate pro! Set yourself apart! Last year, I wrote a series called “5 marketing tactics Realtors commonly use that can hurt their business” and I talked about differentiating the following situations: Offering free home valuations, promising to give great service, using schtick (like a chicken costume) to capture attention, guaranteeing a home sale, calling yourself a “city expert”.
  2. Ramp up the emotional quotient of your marketing. Buying or selling a house might be commonplace for you but it’s thrilling and scary for everyone else. Lots of real estate professionals do a good job of trying to portray confidence and success in their marketing, to assure Customers that they know what they are doing. Customers want to feel that. But they also want to know that you understand and empathize with their extreme feelings. Unfortunately, not very many professionals empathize with the emotions that their potential buyers or sellers are experiencing. Take another look at your marketing content and see if you can take the emotional level up a notch. For example, buying a house for a growing family isn’t just about proximity to schools and parks. It’s about giving children a safe place to play with friends and learn so they can grow up to be whatever they want to be. Or, selling a house for empty-nesters isn’t just about downsizing now that the kids are gone. It’s about an indulgent reward for the years of sacrificial parenting (while also sensibly preparing for the joys of grandparenting).
  3. Define the stages and steps in your funnel. Most real estate professionals work hard to acquire Leads, but too many pros use the “shotgun” approach: They get names, follow up with some of them, and maybe convert a small few. That’s because there isn’t a clear sense of the journey that these potential buyers or sellers are on. When you know what steps your sales funnel contacts typically take, you’ll be able to sort your Leads better. This results in better communication and faster sales (because you’re prioritizing your contacts). Check out this blog post about how to identify the steps in your sales funnel.
  4. Segment your list. As you meet new potential buyers or sellers, learn more about them and use that information to segment them. By doing this, you’ll see which ones are the most profitable and you’ll be able tailor your services to them. Use this list of 55 target market questions to help you understand who your Customers are and how you can help them the most. That doesn’t mean you won’t help anyone else, but it does mean that you can become an expert in some aspect of real estate that will attract your most profitable Customers.
  5. Stay in closer contact. When I bought my (current) house about 7 years ago, my real estate agent was really helpful. Until the day we got the keys. I never heard from him again after that. No calendar. No fridge magnet. No Christmas card. I know he’s still a real estate agent because I bumped into him not that long ago. But before the rest of the real estate industry pats on the back for distributing calendars each year, consider this: I get tons of calendars from real estate professionals. So do my neighbors and friends. The next real estate agent I call to sell my house and help me buy a new one won’t be one of the calendar-givers who think they are staying in touch with me (but don’t know me from a hole in the ground). Rather, I’ll list my house and buy a new one with with someone I’ve built a relationship with. And a calendar isn’t a relationship. Get closer to your customers. Show up in their lives from time to time. Get onto their speed dial. Get invited to their kid’s soccer game.
  6. Get referrals. Since most people move every 5-7 years, staying connected with your customers is important to get that sale every 5 to 7 years. But what will you do for the interim 5-7 years? Remember that they have friends and those friends will also need a real estate professional. Get people talking about your business. Differentiation helps, so does remaining in close contact with your customers; however, the most effective way to grow your real estate practice profitably is to create an army of Evangelists. Check out the Evangelist Equation to learn how to get more of your Customers filling your sales funnel for you.

How to create link-attracting content from blog posts you ‘phoned in’

Okay, let’s be honest for a moment here — Not every post on your blog is a nominee for an Academy Award.

Yes, there were great posts that you feel are so good they could spawn their own religion. There were good posts that you’d be proud to bring home to meet mom. But if we were sitting in a Bloggers Anonymous group, you’d reluctantly admit that there were also blog posts that you phoned in. There were times when you settled for “meh” when you should have pushed yourself a bit to get “woohoo”.

I’ve phoned in blogs, too. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. We all have posts that are on the leeward side of mediocre. Sure, it’s not as if those phoned-in posts were scraped off of the bottom of your shoe — they’re not THAT bad — but those posts lack the sparkle that most of your blog posts have. They’re not the link-magnets that some of your other content is.

What should you do about those duds?

I don’t think you should delete them or even overwrite them. Blogs (even business blogs) are richer and more textured with their flaws. And that content can still be put to good use even if a particular post wasn’t your brightest moment.

Here’s what I suggest instead:

KNOW WHY YOU BLOG

First, make sure you know what role your blog plays in your sales funnel and in your business. (Here’s a related blog post you might find useful: A simple tool to solve your blog’s identity crisis). You can spice up your phoned-in blog posts but you first need to know what your blog’s purpose is.

FIND THE BLOGS YOU PHONED IN

Next, identify the posts that you phoned in. Yeah, suck it up and look. Maybe start with your top 3 or top 5 or top 10 or top 5% of most-phoned-in blog posts. (Chances are, you already know what some of them are).

However, if the list seems overwhelmingly large and you’re reluctant to tackle such a big project, maybe just pick a few of the worst — the ones that were phoned in long-distance on a rotary dial phone in a thunderstorm. Fix up your worst few first. Make them your best posts. Then go on to the next worst.

USE THESE IDEAS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHONED-IN BLOG POSTS

Now it’s time to take a look at those blog posts. Use one or more of the ideas listed below, write a totally awesome, bring-a-tear-to-your-eye blog post — the kind of blog post that your grandmother tells her friends at the quilting club. Here are some ideas to inspire you to build great content on a foundation of your so-so content:

  1. What would you have written if you had shown up for work that day?
  2. What could you have said that would have made this a piece of cornerstone content instead of the lukewarm leftovers that it seems to be?
  3. What additional questions might this content raise if someone took the time to read this post?
  4. How does this content align with your blog’s focus and, more important to this exercise, what was left unstated that really should have been mentioned?
  5. If a potential new client called you up and said that they were intrigued by this post and want to know more, what would you tell them?
  6. If two or three industry experts stumbled upon your blog and it started a discussion or debate between then, what would the conversation be about?
  7. If your mentor asked you to list for him or her the 5 ways that this wishy-washy post connects with your very best blog post, what would you say?
  8. If this blog post was the start of just one chapter in a $397 ebook, what would the ebook be about? And what would the rest of the chapter say?
  9. What questions would your target market need to ask in order for you to answer with the following: “Those are great questions. To get a comprehensive answer, you should first read this blog post [link to phoned-in blog post] and when you’re finished, here’s the rest of the answer…”

UPGRADE YOUR POSTS

Now that you’ve got great content based around a phoned-in blog post, it’s time to post it. Open your phoned-in blog post and add a section at the end of the post with something to this effect:

* * * * * Note: I’ve revisited this topic and decided that there was more to say * * * * *

Then say whatever you want to say.

  • Make it compelling
  • Focus on quality
  • Try to write a “bridge” between that mediocre content and some of your better content
  • Add tons of extra value — a great, free idea with some step-by-step how-to’s
  • Add a link or two to get people clicking elsewhere in your blog
  • Update the categories, tags, labels, or whatever you use

Want to see an example? Of course you do. Here’s a post of mine (written back in May 2009) that feels a bit like the runt of the litter. I didn’t exactly “bring it” that day: Virtual business meets real business. Note the mediocre blog post and then a lengthier (and, in my opinion, far superior) blog post below that connects the content of the phoned-in blog to where my blog’s focus is today.

USE THE NEW AND IMPROVED POST

The goal here is to turn your mediocre blog posts into works of art. So be sure to use it. Refer to it. Link to it. If the content isn’t good enough to refer to and link to then go back rewrite your edited part! Make it sing. Turn it into valuable content.

Write related content in more current blog posts and link back to that blog post. Tell your readers (or don’t tell them) that they should be sure to read the initial post and the note you added later. If you want other ways to get people to link to your blog, try some of these blog post defibrillator techniques.

Social sales funnels: How word of mouth can fuel sales funnel success

A sales funnel relies on a variety of marketing channels to promote the business. A social sales funnel primarily uses the power of peers to promote the business.

WHAT A SOCIAL SALES FUNNEL IS NOT

A social sales funnel is not a sales funnel that necessarily uses social media. It could be… but it’s not a requirement. A social sales funnel could easily be a situation where one friend “sells” another friend on a must-see movie, just by talking to them. The important thing here is sharing, not the channel used to share. A social sales funnel would still be successful even if if Facebook and Twitter weren’t around but it’s even more successful because social networks are around.

HOW A SOCIAL SALES FUNNEL WORKS

A social sales funnel is one where the marketing and sales efforts are primarily performed by evangelists (previous customers who are so happy with the business’ service that they want to share it with everyone). They eagerly share their positive experience and recommendation with people who they think will also benefit from the business’ offering.

Many businesses have evangelists in their sales funnel but a business with a social sales funnel gets to the point where most of its marketing and sales activities are performed by previous customers. To get to this point, a business needs to have tweaked its evangelist equation so that it’s very sharable and easy for a happy customer to promote to their peers.

The advantage is that the business doesn’t need to do very much marketing (although it probably still does some traditional marketing). However, the business can focus less on marketing because it has a growing army of advocates who are heartily recommending its offerings to receptive audiences. A social sales funnel is more profitable and can often be less work, simply because a key marketing and sales component is augmented by others who are doing it for free.

How would you rate the social quotient of your sales funnel? Are you spending lots of time marketing and selling? That’s not a bad thing, but if you want a social sales funnel, you’ll want to invest into branding, customer service, and product quality to enable your evangelists to share more easily.

Sales Funnels 101: Why use a sales funnel in your business?

A sales funnel is a graphical depiction of the interaction you have with your prospective buyers over time. (For more information about this, see my previous Sales Funnel 101 blog posts).

In a way, a sales funnel sounds like just another in a long list of popular buzzwords and fad-like marketing techniques — yet another “sales trick” that entrepreneurs can choose to use in their business or choose to ignore.

But a sales funnel is not something you can choose to use or choose to ignore. Your business has a sales funnel whether you wanted it to have one or not.

Your business has a sales funnel because every business has a sales funnel: Every business interacts with prospective buyers over time and slowly builds trust with them through every interaction. Every buyer is slowly convinced to buy because of the relationship they have with the business. That IS a sales funnel. If your business tries to sell something to someone, your business has a sales funnel.

It doesn’t matter if your business is entirely offline, entirely online, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter if you’re a preeminent guru in your field or just starting out on the long road of entrepreneurship. Your business has a sales funnel because you are trying to prove to a cold, uncaring audience that you are worth paying attention to so you can ultimately sell to them.

Your business has a sales funnel. That’s a fact. It’s not a question of “if”.

So what are you going to do about?

Since your business has a sales funnel, you should take control of it. Most businesses focus in on specific channels (blogs, articles, etc.) and try to succeed with marketing that works in that channel. But if you were to pull back and look at all of their marketing from a 30,000 foot view, you’d see a crazy mish-mash of thoughts and channels that are mixed up. Some point here. Some point there. Some promote one thing. Some promote something else. Individually, the entrepreneur may think they are effectively marketing. But when viewed together, you’d quickly see another story: The marketing doesn’t speak in a loud, clear voice telling the buyer to buy. It’s a cacophony of voices that potentially confuse the buyer.

Smart businesses know that all channels need to work together — like moving parts in an engine — each part doing a specific, focused job to make the engine run. Rather than allowing each channel in your marketing do its own thing, why not apply some powerful sales funnel strategy and approach your marketing with the big picture in mind.

That’s why you use a sales funnel — because your business has one so you might as well make it work for you.