Deconstructing The Selling Process In Your Sales Funnel

Aaron Hoos

In your sales funnel, you ultimately turn leads into customers through the following process:

  1. generate leads
  2. qualify them into prospects
  3. convert those prospects into customers

The upper half of the sales funnel tends to be thought of as marketing and the bottom half tends to be thought of as sales (although truth be told, it’s more complex than that).

While many businesses allow their sales funnels to be built by default, the most successful businesses invest time and effort into intentionally creating, understanding, and optimizing their sales funnel and carefully running people through it.

So, it makes sense to dig into your sales funnel and break it apart piece by piece to understand what happens at each stage. After you generate a lead, qualify them into prospects, and then work to convert them into customers… what actually happens at this point? What is the “work” you do convert your prospects into customers? What are the tools you use to convert?

In this blog post, I want to look closely at the “sales stage” of your sales funnel and discover what the actual activities are. Think of this as the sales process deconstructed.

#1. Capture attention (and recapture it) over and over. Your prospects are busy, distracted, and perhaps not entirely convinced that they have an immediate problem that needs solving. You need to capture their attention so you can remind them of it. Shock them out of their zombie lives with something that breaks the pattern of their expectations; do something totally zany and the opposite of what they expect.

#2. Engage in an entertaining way. There are a lot of distractions in your prospects’ lives—from family to work to entertainment, and even your competitors. Each of these vies for the limited attention and time of your prospects so you need to engage your prospects in an entertaining way to ensure that they listen to you. The more interesting you are, the more they’ll stick with you. As copywriter John Carlton says, “Be the most interesting thing they encounter all day.” Use compelling copy and stories to entertain.

#3. Agitate: Remind them of their problem and its cost. If you’ve ever hurt yourself and then learned to just deal with it while continuing your life then you know what your prospects are dealing with right now. Everyone has problems, challenges, and pain in their lives and many people just learn to tolerate it. Only when they think about it will they consider taking action. Your job as the salesperson is to remind them of their pain and the cost of it… of course in a professional and empathetic way that empowers them to solve it.

#4. Build a relationship. The selling process should not be a one-way street of you telling them what to think and feel and act. Selling occurs best in a relationship (which allows for an emotional connection and more valuable communication). Invite the person into your world and build a relationship with them. Yes, this is still possible in a sales letter and seemingly “one-way” copy; you can build a relationship by telling people about yourself and asking them (rhetorical) questions that they’ll answer in their own minds.

#5. Present/show the value. Keep revisiting the value of the solution against the cost of the problem. If you agitate the problem enough, and if you show how the solution is effective but also cheaper than the cost of the problem, you’ll massively increase sales. Unfortunately, where a lot of businesses fall short is: they only talk in terms of dollars so that prospects only ever think about the money they’re giving up; but when you focus on the broader value—of money, time, effort, pain-elimination, pleasure, social status, etc.—you are able to show how the painful cost of their current problem (i.e. of pain, time, and effort) is much costlier than the relatively cheap solution you’re offering. But you have to reinforce that value over and over.

#6. Add value. Too many businesses wait until the sale is closed before they add value to their customers. But if you start early and add value during the selling process, you set yourself apart from competitors who refuse to add value before the sale is made; you win customers over to you and create a sense of reciprocity that makes more people want to buy from you.

#7. Demonstrate their importance. The customer may not always be right (in spite of what the experts say) but they are always important. Tell prospects that they are important to you… and then act on it. (Ugh. Too many businesses say that the customer is important but don’t act like it. How often have you heard, “your call is important to us and will be answered within 30 minutes.” haha!) Show prospects that they are important by making them feel important.

#8. Advise. Prospects don’t always know what to do—when to use your services, how to use your services etc. Advise them during the selling process. This positions you as the expert and creates a relationship where they learn to rely on your guidance.

#9. Ask questions. Questions are the secret sauce of every sales interaction. Questions demonstrate your interest while also eliciting information from prospects that will help you understand their needs and create a solution that is perfect for them. Ask a lot of questions… and then ask even more questions after that. (Be sure to check out these 61 questions to strengthen client relationships and build loyalty).

#10. Listen. Good communication is a two-way street: talking and listening. This is especially true in the selling process when you are asking questions and seeking to understand your prospect. Listen actively and repeat back what you heard; seek to understand what your prospect is saying and dig deeper into the things they say so you can help them further.

#11. Follow-up. Chances are, your lead-nurturing, prospect-qualifying, customer-converting selling process is spread out over more than one interaction. If so, then you need to follow-up diligently. The numbers vary depending on who you ask but expect to follow-up NUMEROUS times (more often for larger or less-pressing problems). Have a system in place to follow-up regularly for a year or more.

#12. Educate. Demonstrate your expertise and authority, and add value to your prospects’ lives, by educating them. You can educate your prospect on how to deal with the pain of the problem, ways to further benefit from the product once they own it, or how to solve other related problems in their lives.

#13. Connect in various places/channels. Be everywhere! Your prospect is busy and has a lot of distractions vying for their attention. You should connect with them often and in engaging ways… and you should connect with them in many different places so that they don’t develop a blindness to the one channel that you communicate with them.

#14. Show them other people who have been successful. This is one of the most powerful, hidden ways to get people to buy! When you show to your prospects all the other customers who have been successful with your products or services, you’ll tip the scales in your favor: you’ll solidify your position as the expert, your prospects will develop a sense of tribal belonging and desire to be among the special group of your customers, and they’ll gain the confidence that their problems can be solved successfully. Use case studies and testimonials often!

#15. Communicate excitement. Yes, I said earlier that you need to be engaging and this is related but I want to mention it separately: you need to be enthusiastic. You need to be excited that they could become your customer. Customers have busy lives and we are often inundated with pessimism and difficulty but when you show them authentic (not silly) excitement and enthusiasm, you bring a bright and optimistic light to their world.

#16. Assure. Assure your prospects that they are making the right decision. Yes, it might seem biased because it’s coming from you and you are trying to sell them something. However, if you’ve built rapport with them and you legitimately have their best interests in mind, they’ll see your authenticity and appreciate the assurance. (Of course, you have to believe it yourself!)

#17. Assure (part 2). You should also remove all worries and second-guessing by assuring your prospects in this way: assure them with warranties, guarantees, service promises, support procedures, return policies, etc. Have a strong guarantee with teeth! Take away all worries that they will lose out if they make a mistake.

#18. Position yourself as the best. Without being egotistical and self-centered, seed your own expertise (and the supremacy of your product or service) into every conversation. Help prospects see that you are the very best choice for them. (That last part is key; it’s a simpler route to tell prospects that you are the best in the world, and it’s okay to do that if it’s true, but it’s much more effective to show prospects that you are the best choice for them.)

#19. Share ideas and resources. Earlier in this list I suggested that you add value during the selling process to be proactive and to create a sense of reciprocity. But I’m also suggesting that you share ideas and resources, not only to add value and create reciprocity but also to expand your prospect’s mind about what is possible with the product or service they are going to buy. Show them ways that they could benefit further, or give them resources that will become even more beneficial when they buy. It’s like saying: “You want to buy a car? Here’s the winter tires you’ll need… as well as an instruction manual to become an Uber driver.”

#20. Confirm fit (and reconfirm it) over and over. One of the reasons that people don’t buy is because they are not entirely convinced that your solution will address their problem. Many people live under the notion that “my situation is different” or “my business is unique” and they fail to see that their problems are the same as everyone else’s problems. They don’t want to waste their money on something that turns out not to be right. Yes, you should set their mind at ease with an amazing guarantee

#21. Update the prospect about changes. Depending on how long your sales process is, there may be changes that occur in availability. Plan to update your prospect regularly to mention the scarcity of the product, changes in price, or other adjustments that might be different than when they first contacted you. Some of the changes could help close the sale (such as if the product is becoming scarcer or the price is going up) but others are simply a good reason to stay in touch.

#22. Set expectations. In nearly every purchase, there will be a process—a transaction, a delivery of the product or service, and perhaps the activation or execution of that purchase toward solving the problem. You should let your prospect know before the purchase what they should expect after the purchase; walk them through screenshots of the transaction process, let them know exactly how long until delivery, explain to them what is required to actually activate/execute the product or service to get the solution they want.

#23. Empathy. Empathize with the prospect as you interact with them. Seek constantly to understand what they are going through and to connect with them emotionally. Feel their pain with them and give them the support and hope they need. (Of course be authentic and legitimate about it!) In this way, you’ll build a strong connection with them that will help you make the sale (because you are providing a great solution to a pressing problem) and you’ll build a relationship that will last beyond this one transaction.

#24. Ask for the order. Of course all that relationship building and empathy will have not value or purpose to you if you don’t also ask for the order. Invite your prospect to make the purchase right now and give them a reason to do so. You may need to ask for the order more than once.

Summary

This is not a perfect list; no list could ever be completely comprehensive. Some of the items on this list are related (i.e. you could make the argument that asking questions and listening are components of empathy) but I’m trying to deconstruct them down into discrete parts so I think those could be understood separately. And in other cases, I skipped over some things (like “handle objections”) because I feel it’s covered with the points I mentioned. No list could ever be completely comprehensive but this is a solid start to understand the deconstructed sales process.

Want to become better at selling? Rather than just trying to “sell” to a prospect, break the sales process down into individual parts and focus on improving these individual parts; in doing so, you’ll improve your ability to close prospects and convert them into customers.

Want to dig into the sales funnel further? Download my Sales Funnel Quick Reference Sheet (PDF) and my Sales Funnel Worksheet (PDF). You might also want to pick up my book, Click here to learn more about The Sales Funnel Bible and find out where to buy it..

Online Marketing Strategies For Restaurants

Aaron Hoos

It was Saturday afternoon. I was looking for a restaurant to go to with my wife for the evening. We reviewed our mental short-list of places we’d driven past and said, “oh, we should eat there.

And now we were in decision-making mode. So we checked online to see when the restaurant was open ’til and what was on the menu.

And that’s when we discovered it: restaurant websites are terrible (if they exist at all).

Now, granted, I’m not an expert restaurant marketer. But I am a marketer and strategist for a wide variety of businesses, plus I am a restaurant customer, so that gives me a bit of a perspective and some value to share.

Restaurants are missing important information on their websites—information that a customer like me is looking for to choose YOUR restaurant over the thousands of other options.

In the past few months that I’ve been paying attention to the general crappiness of restaurant websites, I’ve encountered sites with the following glaring errors and omissions…

  • No clear directions about how to get to the restaurant
  • No idea of when the restaurant is open or closed
  • No menu
  • No pictures of food
  • No prices
  • Old specials
  • No idea of what the atmosphere is like inside
  • No idea of whether reservations are needed, or when
  • Restaurants that didn’t have any online presence at all
  • Heck, one restaurant had a “Update: we’re just making improvements to our website”… but the date was more than a year old!

Maybe it’s me but it feels like these things should be the bare minimum when running a restaurant’s online marketing!

A Few Simple Fixes

The solution is simple. You don’t have to be fancy, just start a simple website and a few basic social media accounts, and then put the following information on it:

  1. The menu. (Oh, and don’t just make it downloadable, as many restaurants do, because I want to view it on my phone and downloading a PDF is a hassle).
  2. Mobile friendly website. (After all, I’m often deciding where to eat while I’m driving around… so why not meet me part way with a mobile-friendly site?)
  3. Directions from key places in the city. And don’t just say “north” or “south” but give clear directions (“one block past Fairview park—look for our big yellow sign”) and a link to Google Maps.
  4. Tell me where to park and if I need change for the meter (and how much that change should be).
  5. SHOW ME WHAT THE FOOD LOOKS LIKE!!!
  6. Give me an idea of the experience of your restaurant—What does it look like? How should I dress? Is this a great restaurant for an intimate dinner or a loud raucous group or a sports enthusiast?

See? simple.

Of course you can do more if you want, like…

  • Post frequent videos.
  • Maintain a blog with testimonials, messages from the chef and waitstaff, and yes, even recipes!
  • Keep your website up-to-date.
  • Give me ideas of when your restaurant is the perfect place to eat, and why. (Your restaurant is not perfect for every occasion but tell me why it’s perfect for entertaining out of town guests.)
  • Integrate social media and invite me to participate in the social conversation by helping me to find and tag you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • Tell me what beers are on tap.
  • Tell me the busiest times of the week and the slowest.
  • Tell me what your most popular foods are, and the surprise secret dish that the chef is most proud of.

I love experiencing new restaurants. I like trying to new foods and discovering restaurants I’ve never eaten at before. There are a million restaurants in my city and if you own one of them then help me choose your restaurant with these simple changes to your online marketing.

Hilarious update: I wrote a draft of this blog post and then left it for a week while I went to visit a friend in another city. He was getting married and I was his best man, so I’d planned a stag party (a pretty tame one, at his request), which included a few friends at a local bar. I checked the bar’s website and it said they were open from “11AM until Close” which is vague but whatever. But while we were eating there, the waitstaff came over and told us they were closing… and it was only 10:30 at night!!! We were shocked! In fact, by the time we left, the waitresses were outside smoking, waiting for us to be done. (#classy) Fortunately there was a bottle of whiskey back at the hotel that we could drown our sorrows in but that information would have been helpful if placed on their website. I just checked Google and their hours in Google are incorrectly listed as being open until midnight. It just reinforced the general crappiness of restaurant websites.

I WANT to discover YOUR website… help me out here!!!

When You Feel Like You’ve Maxed Out Your Productivity, Do This…

Aaron Hoos

As a copywriter, clients hire me to deliver copy that gets their prospects taking action. Along with my knowledge and experience distilled into words, they’re also paying for my time—for me to spend time on their project.

Of course I want to deliver great value but also I want to make more money. So, I can increase my rates (done!), I can fill my schedule with my clients (done!) but I can also become more productive to help me deliver great content faster.

When we think of productivity, we often think of working faster and more focused to get more done in less time.

I’ve tried them all and created gains from each of them, helping me to increase my productivity and get more great copy written for my clients.

And if you’re like me (a professional who sells knowledge + experience + time), you probably have done some or all of these things to increase your productivity.

But I’ve hit a wall and so will you: there are only so many hours you can add by getting up early; there’s only so much focus you can have, it doesn’t make you get your existing work done any faster.

In other words, there are limits and if you are focused on being more productive, you will hit these limits at some point. For example, for my situation as a copywriter, some limits include: the process of writing, my typing speed, the need to communicate with customers (I can’t ask them to talk faster!), the need to do research, etc. Of course in your professional situation there might be other limits… so the question we should be asking is: what can you do to break through those limits to become more productive when you think you’ve already squeezed out all the productivity you can?

The Breakdown

The key that unlocked it all for me was breaking down what I do into smaller pieces. Rather than asking: “How to I deliver my copywriting service faster and more efficiently?” I broke down what I do into individual pieces. When I deliver copywriting service, I really do the following…

  1. Connect with the client and get the project assignment from them
  2. Outline the project
  3. Research
  4. Write
  5. Revise
  6. Edit
  7. Proof
  8. Deliver

Depending on the project, it could vary a little but that’s generally what many of my projects look like.

Now, instead of asking “How to I deliver my copywriting service faster and more efficiently?”, I ask “How do I do each step faster and more efficiently?”

This opens up a variety of methods that I hadn’t considered before when I was thinking about this more generally. In other words, getting more specific reveal new productivity opportunities. For example…

  • Maybe I could have a fillable Google Form that my clients simply send projects to, thus eliminating the need to talk to them on the phone.
  • Maybe that filllable form also starts the outlining process for me by capturing the data and putting it into a project management spreadsheet with a service like Zapier.
  • Maybe my research could be outsourced to someone else.
  • Maybe I could use more templates that eliminate the time it takes me to decide how I want to write this piece.
  • Maybe the proofing can be outsourced to someone else (after all, my expertise is in creating the words, not in making sure that the grammar is perfect).

These are just a few examples but already I can see that applying even a couple of them can increase the amount of monetizable writing time I have while minimizing the other aspects of the project that can be time-consuming.

And once I’ve done this for one service, I can break it out in other ways too: perhaps for other writing and content services I provide, or my consulting services, or my investing… or whatever.

Breaking things down into parts and examining those parts in detail will reveal greater productivity opportunities than when thinking about your service as a whole.

Do You WOW Your Customers? (Many Say They Do But Very Few Actually Do)

Aaron Hoos

(Okay, ignore that silly picture of me. I’m apparently reflecting the same WOWed face of a statue of a famous Greek philosopher.)

Instead, let’s talk about WOWing customers…

Do you serve your customers? Do you WOW them?

You might THINK you do but you probably don’t.

Nope. Even YOU.

Customer Service: The Misunderstood Deliverable

Customer service is such a weird thing: customers want to be served, businesses want to serve them, businesses know that good customer service helps to cement the relationship…

and yet, businesses fail to understand the depth to which customer service needs to occur.

The result is: businesses think they’re giving good customer service (when really they’re not), customers barely feel served so they go somewhere else.

Customer service is the misunderstood deliverable. Many businesses believe they give good customer service but very very very very few actually do.

What Is “Good” Customer Service?

Businesses often tout their “good” (or “great” or whatever) customer service as a point of pride or a core value. They plaster their good-customer-service claims everywhere.

But when the customer engages with the business, they experience something entirely different.

That’s because the business and the customer measure “good” very differently.

If you’re a business owner, think about what you consider to be “good” customer service. For a lot of businesses it includes things like:

  • We greet you as soon as you walk in the store
  • Our staff are friendly, polite, and helpful
  • We make sure you are served with what you want and need
  • We have fair prices and good value; we’re not ripping people off
  • We happily refund purchases if they don’t work

I suspect that some business owners are reading this list and nodding in agreement and thinking: “yes, that’s exactly the kind of good customer service that we give! And we’re proud of it!”

Well here’s where things fall apart: You might think that is good customer service…

… your customers view that as the absolutely minimum baseline for what they can expect in any and every store they do business with.

(Yes, even your competitors probably deliver this, even if you don’t think they do.)

So, what stores are measuring as “good”, customers are expecting as the absolute bare minimum.

Let’s use a different example to highlight the disparity: Imagine a romantic relationship between two people.

The one person in the relationship believes that they are good in the relationship because…

  • They call
  • They go out on dates with the other person
  • They don’t smell
  • They remember the other person’s birthday

Person one is proud that they are a good partner. Problem is, the other person in relationship knows that there are a million fish in the sea who also have those qualities. Those aren’t “good” qualities, they’re the minimum baseline upon which the first person needs to do better if they want the relationship to last.

So, What Really Is Good Customer Service?

Good customer service is service that rises above the baseline. It builds on the minimum standard but goes further.

  • It’s not just greeting the person when they walk in the store but connecting with them later as well with a thank you call that doesn’t try to sell them anything
  • It’s not just a staff that are friendly, polite, and helpful; it’s a staff who very clearly go out of their way to drop everything and make the customer the sole focus of their attention (hire someone else to answer the ringing phones), and who become so friendly with the customer that the customer asks for them by name when they come back
  • It’s not just serving customers with what they want and need; it’s finding ways to add value beyond that, recommending additional products and services, giving away free information to support the use of the product, and following-up about the purchase months later
  • It’s not just having fair prices and good value; it’s about surprising them with much, much, much, much more than they were ever expecting
  • It’s not just a refund policy, it’s a guarantee with teeth
  • It’s not just knowing the customer’s name but using it regularly, along with their family’s names

… and that’s just scratching the surface.

Stop thinking of your customer service as “good”. Customers are getting the same amount of service from your competitors, so there’s no loyalty created. Instead, aim to SHOCK your customers with customer service that leaves them speechless and near to tears with your generosity and value.

(Does that sound like “too much”? Good! Now we’re finally getting close to what “good customer service” really is.)

(Edit: you know what’s funny? I stumbled across an old blog post I wrote back in 2015, with almost an identical name—Too Many Businesses Say They WOW Their Customers But Few Actually Do. haha! I’ve been thinking about for a while!)

How To Grow Your Freelance Business (Even If You Have Too Many Clients Already)

Aaron Hoos

For several years now I have had a problem…

With business growth.

The problem is: I have too many clients.

Why is this a problem? Because it actually makes me stuck. My clients book me for big projects, long-term work, and send a ton of referrals. I end up overwhelmed with work and stuck to my desk because I overcommit and want to help my clients and their friends.

(Yikes! That was totally a #humblebrag. Sorry about that. It wasn’t meant to be at first and I promise that this post will reveal my many imperfections very shortly.)

I know I’m not alone in this problem. I’ve met other freelancers, copywriters, coaches, and consultants who have faced this same problem. Usually it’s business owners who have a strong brand and a half-decent sales funnel in a tightly-defined niche.

Business growth often starts with those very things: improve your branding and your sales funnel and your target market so that you get more clients, but for me and many other freelancers and professionals, we want to grow our businesses but don’t actually want or need to start at those fundamentals.

Is it possible to get business growth without getting more clients?

I’ve spent some time trying to unlock this puzzle and I’ve found that there are 7 ways to grow like this.

#1. Raise Your Prices. This might seem might like a no-brainer to most people reading this but I’m mentioning it anyway in the interest of being thorough. I was really good at raising my prices years ago and I’ve improved in the last year or two, but there was a couple of years, just recently, when I didn’t do a great job of raising my prices and I saw my income plateau for a while.

#2. Streamline For Efficiency. Whatever kind of work you do (whether copywriting, marketing, consulting, etc.), it is ultimately dependent on you to market your services, find clients, deliver your service, and perform administrative work to keep your business operational. Each of these can be improved and dramatically sped up by creating efficiencies. Maybe you track your time to measure when you work best, or maybe you cut back on some of the non-essential projects that you once did, or maybe you focus in even more on one type of work.

#3. Work Harder, Faster, And Longer. Okay, this probably sounds crazy to do since you might be reading this now because you are working too hard or too long. However, I’m listing it anyway to be thorough but also to encourage you to take a look at your work and decide when you work best and how you can work more effectively. As I write this, I just recently (nearly) doubled my income without any other changes than simply making sure that I’m focused for specific periods of time during the day and thinking about other things at other times in the day. Simply by tweaking my focus I grew my income. I also mention this because there may be times in your business when you need to burn the candle at both ends, so it’s a viable option as long as you’re not using this as a 24/7/365 approach to business.

#4. Build/Implement Templates, Systems, and Automation. This has been really big for me lately, too: instead of reinventing the wheel each time you do something, start with a template. Build it once and modify it whenever you need to do that work again. Use checklists and flowcharts as simple systems for everything you do. (For example, I write a couple of magazine articles every month so I have a checklist of things I need to do with those articles to make sure the project gets completed efficiently. The checklist keeps me on track and speeds things up.) Consider using software in your business to save time.

#5. Productize Your Services. Instead of providing a la carte services that clients can pick-and-choose, create productized services and offer those. It will save you a ton of time (especially if you used to spend a lot of time creating custom proposals and bids in the past) plus you get a ton of credibility AND can raise your prices even more with these.

#6. Create Products. I know you’re busy so this will be challenging to complete but a powerful way to grow your business is to create products, such as infoproducts. Start with a small book of collected blog posts or podcast transcripts, just to get something out there and get a bit of money for it. Once you see that passive income starting to come in, you’ll make time for other products.

#7. Hire A Team. I put this one last on purpose. A team is a powerful way to leverage yourself and build your business, however it’s often a stumbling block to freelancers because they either don’t see how they can hire a team, or they can’t find someone to hire, or they struggle with justifying the financial investment needed before they get a return. All those are perfectly understandable and I’ve had the same challenges too. (I have a team now but it took years to get it dialed in correctly.) A good starting point is to outsource some of your non-essential work. Do this slowly. I started by outsourcing my bookkeeping. Then I outsourced some of my really low-level marketing. Then I outsourced some of my research and editing. Today, I have a team that includes a couple of writers who write stuff in niches that I don’t want to write about and I use my marketing infrastructure to give them work and take a cut of the proceeds. But a few years ago I struggled to hire even one person! So, just start small with a virtual assistant working a couple hours a week and grow from there.

SUMMARY

For many businesses, the answer to “how do I grow my business” usually starts with better marketing, a better sales funnel, a more narrowly-defined niche, and a strong brand. But for businesses that already have those (especially freelancers), the question is: how do you grow your business when you don’t need more clients? These 7 ways can help you do just that. You can implement some right away and slowly add others incrementally when you can. Slow but sure, day-by-day, put these pieces in place and you will grow!