What Hollywood can teach you about creating a successful sales funnel

I’m looking forward to two movies this summer — The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides. (Feel free to draw your own conclusions about me based on that confession). Although I PVR everything and tend to fast forward through the commercials, I’ll usually stop fast forwarding and play previews for these movies.

These two movies (and movies like them), my wife and I call them “theater movies” because we’ll happily go and pay to watch them in the theater (as opposed to “renters” that we’ll watch on Netflix).

Hollywood, of course, wants lots of theater-goers and so, as summer approaches, we are all being drawn in to Hollywood’s sales funnels.

Yes, Hollywood has sales funnels. Every business has a sales funnel and the studios that make movies each have their own sales funnels.

This “Hollywood sales funnel” works well (hey, many of them make a ton of money) and it can teach business owners a thing or two about how to create a successful sales funnel.


The Hollywood sales funnel goes something like this:

The Audience stage: You and I are sitting there, on the couch, eating Doritos and watching the latest episode of The Chicago Code or Grey’s Anatomy. We’re drawn into the story. Clearly, we want to be entertained (or, at the very least, we have nothing better to do), which makes us the perfect candidate for… commercials! Including a movie trailer.

A movie trailer is a teaser. A movie trailer tends to follow a classic format and its ultimate purpose is to capture our attention and make us want more! It’s meant to win over audiences that aren’t paying attention or even thinking about the summer right now. It’s meant to force us to ask questions and wonder how the hero/heroine got themselves into this predicament and how they’ll get out of it.

What’s noticeable is that it isn’t meant to tell the whole story. Only just enough to capture our interest. For people who don’t like movies about hangovers or pirates, then trailers for The Hangover Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides aren’t going to capture their attention. But for people who can relate (because they’ve had hangovers) or for people who aspire (to be pirates or at least to a life of vicarious adventure), these trailers will capture their attention. (Note: Just in case it’s not obvious, this is the case for every trailer. People might relate to an underdog and want to watch a movie where an unlikely hero is drawn into threatening circumstances; or people might aspire to true love and want to watch a movie where a boy meets a girl then loses the girl then woos her and they live happily ever after).

Movie trailers act as a “sorting mechanism”, enticing Audience members who are likely to become customers while being ignored by those who won’t likely become customers.

The Lead stage: We’ve just seen a trailer for a movie that seemed interesting. We pause to think about it. We ask the questions (“how did the hero get in that situation?”). We think ahead to the summer. That’s all that Hollywood wants us to do at this stage in the sales funnel. Just think a little further about the movie. Not much, just a bit. We turn to the person sitting on the couch and we say something like “that might be interesting to watch” or “I’d love to see Ian McShane as Blackbeard”.

From time to time, we see branded messages that triggers the same feelings of relation or aspiration: Maybe it’s a billboard of the movie or a newspaper ad that says “in theaters soon” or we see the trailer again or we visit the website or we hear a review or we spot the movie poster. Whatever.

Although the message is very similar to the message presented in the Audience stage, it allows us to go deeper. We see new trailers or we think about the old trailers a little more. We catch nuances we missed the first time. We ask new questions. We’re presented with the message over and over. That message is: “I want to see this movie because [whatever].”


The Prospect stage:It’s a summer weekend. It’s humid. We’ve worked all week and deserve a break. We’re wondering what to do on a Friday night. One person says “how about dinner and a movie?”

Dinner’s the easy part. Someone suggests a favorite restaurant and no one disagrees. But a movie — you check the listings and, what do you know, YOUR movie is playing! The one you’ve been thinking about. The one that looked really good. It’s settled then.

The Customer stage: You drive to the theater. You buy tickets and popcorn and soda and licorice… and you love the movie.

The Evangelist stage: The movie is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that you want to immediately tell your friends. After all, they love hangovers and pirates just as much as you do, so the thinking is: If you liked it, they will love it. You call, text, blog, tweet, or somehow share your excitement about the movie to your friends and they go to the theater the next week and watch.

And THAT is the Hollywood sales funnel.


This sales funnel works. Studios and actors make billions of dollars a year because of this sales funnel. Here’s what your business can learn from the Hollywood sales funnel.

The Audience stage is about finding the right audience — a target market who is in a receptive state — and tease them. Give them something to think about/talk about/question. It could be a headline or a compelling AdWords ad. It could be a strange graphic or a controversial tweet. Something that captures your Audience’s attention and makes them want more.

The Lead stage is about presenting a consistent branded message again and again that helps your Lead go deeper. It’s still enticing them (like the Audience stage did), but it gives some answers and raises more questions. Ultimately, the Lead should be left wondering “this sounds interesting… I want to know more.”

The Prospect stage is about finding the intersection between the contact’s need (“I want to watch that movie” or “I want to warm my food” or “I need a reliable car”) and the opportunity to buy (“It’s Friday and the movie is in the theater!” or “here’s a microwave and it happens to be on sale!” or “with financing, I can buy a red one!”).

That’s when they become a Customer.

The Customer stage is fulfilling on the promise. Some businesses stop there but smart businesses fulfill on the promise made in such a way that the Customer feels they received value and it compels them to move on to…

The Evangelist stage. This is where the Evangelist is so excited about your product or service that they call, text, blog, tweet, or somehow share their excitement about your product or service with their friends… and then those friends buy the same thing.

Hollywood’s movies are great moments of excitement and entertainment and escape. But their sales funnels are based on years of successful strategy and measurement and they work. As you develop your sales funnel, ask yourself this: “If my business were a movie, would this part of my sales funnel entice the sales funnel contact to want to come to the theater and pay to watch?

Published by Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and other books.

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