A Basic Content Marketing Sales Funnel

by Brian Casel

When most founders think about content marketing, they focus too heavily on “content” and not enough on “marketing”.

Don’t get me wrong—it really is all about crafting highly valuable content. In fact, that’s exactly what leads to the best ROI from content, as I’ll get into later in this post.

But what about the second word in that term?  Marketing.

At its most basic level, marketing is about building a simple sales funnel. No matter which marketing channel (or channels) you’re working with, it all comes back to your sales funnel.

This article is the first in a two-part series on understanding how a sales funnel works in the context of content marketing.

Here in part one, I’ll cover a basic sales funnel and the things you need to put in place right from day one of your content strategy. I’ll show you exactly how to think about traffic, leads, and sales, to maximize ROI from content.

In part two, we’ll get into the more advanced aspects of a content marketing sales funnel, where things like paid ad campaigns, landing pages, email marketing automation, and more.

A basic sales funnel

Every business has a sales funnel. Whether you’ve intentionally built one out and optimized every level is an open question that you’ll face continuously through the life of your business. Just know that a sales funnel isn’t optional. You have one and you have to work on it.

A sales funnel of any kind has 3 basic parts:

Funnel

  • Traffic – Whether it’s foot traffic to your physical location, listeners to your podcast, viewers of your videos, or most commonly, visitors to your website, how you generate traffic represents the top of your funnel.
  • Leads – The segment of your overall traffic who raise their hand and express interest in potentially becoming a customer. It’s the job of your sales funnel to nurture these leads and move them toward making a buying decision.
  • Sales – Conversions of leads to paying customers.

A content marketing sales funnel

How do we apply a basic sales funnel in the context of content marketing?

Think the traditional sales funnel doesn’t fit the “wishy-washy” nature of publishing blog articles? Think it’s impossible to measure the effectiveness of your content marketing sales funnel?

Think again. In the rest of this article, I’ll dive into each of the 3 parts of your sales funnel (traffic, leads, and sales) and show you how your content strategy has a direct impact on each level.

Here we go…

Bonus tool: I created a reporting template to help you track key metrics from content marketing.

Traffic

Traffic. The top of your funnel. It’s all about quantity, right? The more people we drive to the top, the more leads and sales will come out the bottom. At least that’s the conventional wisdom.

Well, not so fast.

When it comes to traffic, you’re much better off focusing on the quality of your traffic rather than quantity. Sure, increasing traffic helps. And that will come as a long-term benefit of continuously publishing content and growing your audience. But it’s the quality of that traffic which will directly impact the later stages of your funnel—leads and sales.

By “quality traffic”, I’m talking about how likely it is the people you attract to your website are going to become your paying customers. If your traffic is made up of people who don’t relate big time to the problems and pain points that your product solves, then what’s the point of inviting them to your website?

Your traffic levels can climb off the charts—especially when you “go viral” or optimize for some trendy news-worthy buzzwords of the moment. But if those visitors aren’t qualified for your product, your leads and sales conversion rates will suffer.

No marketing method has a stronger impact on quality than content marketing. By crafting high-value content that educates and speaks directly to the pains and challenges that your customers face, you’re attracting the right people to read your stuff and become part of your audience.

Of course, that’s no easy task. That’s why at Audience Ops, we spend so much time doing in-depth customer interviews and holding internal topic review sessions to ensure we’re publishing only the best content that is highly likely to resonate with the right people.

Leads

The key to turning casual, drive-by, visitors to your blog or website into potential leads for your business is to solidify them as members of your audience. Your audience who comes back to your site again and again and build trust in you, your team, your brand, and ultimately your product.

What’s the key to growing your audience? Your email list.

Once you gain an invitation to your target customer’s email inbox, you’re able to follow up with more great content, which serves to nurture that lead and move them along in your sales funnel.

So how do you grow your email list with content marketing?

First, you want to establish key entry points to your email list. Your primary lead magnet, such as an email course, would be one. But you can increase the number of entry points using Content Upgrades on each and every article. Don’t miss my previous posts all about how to use Content Upgrades to drive email signups and how to fit Content Upgrades in your sales funnel.

As I pointed out in my post about setting up basic email automation, you’ll want to funnel all new subscribers from various entry points toward your primary lead nurturing sequence, most commonly your email course.

Your email course should be designed to move new subscribers toward making a buying decision about your product. By educating them about highly relevant best practices, then presenting your product or service as the logical next-step to implementing those best practices, you’re helping your leads comfortably make an informed buying decision.

The next step may not be a direct purchase. More commonly, the call-to-action would be to request a consultation or start a free trial of your software. Once your lead takes this action, they’re taking a huge leap closer to becoming your customer.

Sales

You may be disappointed to hear that: I don’t have much to say about sales.

That’s because there aren’t any magic words or tactics you can use at this final stage of your sales funnel to convince a person to take out their credit card and become your customer.

Most, if not all of the heavy lifting when it comes to “making the sale” already happened before they reached this point.

If you focused on attracting quality traffic over sheer quantity of visitors, you’ll bring more people who actually experience the problem that you solve, and identify with the things you educate about on your blog. More quality traffic equals higher closing rates when they reach a buying decision.

If you focused on building your email list and following through with educational, genuinely helpful content that continuously speaks directly to the challenges your customers face, they’re much more likely to remain tuned into what you have to say. This is how you nurture leads through your sales funnel and prepare them for the final step:, the sale.

A unique bonus benefit

So fr, I taught you how content marketing—when done right—directly moves the needle in your basic sales funnel. But there’s one more unique benefit that comes with content marketing.

Long-term ROI.

You can measure the results on a month- by- month basis.: How much traffic, email subscribers, leads, and sales were generated from the content that was published this month.

But don’t forget that the content you publish today will continue to attract visitors and leads for a very long time to come. In other words, your investment in content marketing doesn’t just pay off today, but it compounds over the long-term.

To the next level…

Stay tuned for part two of this 2-part series on content marketing funnels. In the next article, we’ll dive deeper and get into some advanced tactics you can use to further optimize your funnel and scale it up.

Bonus tool: I created a reporting template to help you track key metrics from content marketing.