Building Your Advanced Content Marketing Sales Funnel

by Brian Casel

By now, most marketers (and founders for that matter) get the basic idea of a sales funnel. In my last post I covered how you can apply a basic sales funnel in the context of content marketing.

In that post, I explained the 3 basic levels of your content marketing sales funnel:

  1. Traffic – How crafting the right content will attract the right customers to your website.
  2. Leads – How high-value followup content, delivered through your email newsletter, nurtures new subscribers and converts them to leads for your business.
  3. Sales – How the trust you’ve built in steps 1 and 2 makes converting paying customers a natural next step for a growing segment of your audience.

You can (probably) stop here.

The truth? The above concepts are probably all you need right now. They’re the essential building blocks when you’re launching into content marketing for your company.

And they’re really all you need during the first 6 to 12 months of your company’s content marketing lifetime. In fact, if you try and get too advanced and build in too much fancy automation and funnel workflows too early, you’ll not only over-complicate things, you’ll risk confusing visitors and leads.

But—You should be aware of where things are going. After all, as the founder or manager at your company, it’s your job to be looking ahead and thinking about how to take things to the next level.

So that’s what I want to share with you today: 3 advanced funnel strategies you can put into action after your content marketing effort has been established and is off and running.

Let’s see what the “next level” looks like, shall we?

Three “next level” content marketing funnels

The three advanced content marketing funnels that I’m going to highlight today are:

  • Promoted (paid ad) content funnels
  • Webinar funnels
  • Multi-offer funnels
Be sure to grab the workflows I created for each of these, so that you and your team can implement them in your content marketing system.

Promoted Content Funnels

Most people think content marketing means no paid ad campaigns. You’re supposed to rely solely on organic traffic when you’re doing content marketing, right?

Well, not necessarily. Sure, your organic traffic from search and social media should grow steadily over time when you’re consistently publishing fresh and valuable content.

But there are two scenarios when you might want to look at incorporating paid ads into your content funnel:

Starting from ground zero

Have no email list, no traffic, no social following? Then paid ads could be a good option for gaining a jumpstart to help you build traction with growing your audience. I’ll show you how below.

But remember—When you’re just starting out, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the basic pieces in place: A solid content production system, a strong email lead magnet, and processes for promoting your content organically. Get these essentials in place, then look at building in advanced pieces like paid ads. By that, I mean make sure you’re not running paid ads until you have some content being published and you’ve built a process for that.

Doubling down on content

You’re well established and you’ve seen success with organic traffic and leads coming in thanks to your content marketing effort.

But at a certain point, your organic traffic might slow its growth, especially after you’ve hit page one of search results for all of your key terms.

Now you can look to paid acquisition as a way to reach more people who will benefit from your content, but may not necessarily be searching for it on search engines.

Using paid acquisition with content marketing

Paid Aquisition

So how do we do it?

There are two types of paid acquisition that you can use, either on their own or in tandem.

Promoted posts on social networks like Facebook and Twitter can be very effective. These can be targeted at highly relevant groups of people who are likely to resonate with the topic of the post, and more importantly the broader topics that your company writes about (which should mean they’re also nicely aligned with your target customer profile).

Always include a compelling image when creating a promoted post. However, don’t treat these like typical “advertisements” (even though technically they are). The content of your promoted posts should be about the specific article you’re promoting.  Use its title, or give it a more compelling one that gets people to click.

Check out Buffer’s guide to setting up Facebook ads, which includes “Boosted Posts”. That’s what I’m recommending to give your content a farther reach on Facebook.

Also see Sprout Social’s guide to setting up Twitter ads, which includes “Promoted Tweets”. That’s what you’ll want to set up when promoting content articles on Twitter.

Retargeting ads are the other type of paid acquisition that can be very effective when used in conjunction with content marketing.

You can set up retargeting ads that only display to people who’ve viewed a specific blog post, or a category of blog posts, or any page on your site. The more targeted you get with these ads, the more effective they are.

So the idea here is to use promoted posts on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, along with organic inbound traffic to attract first-time visitors to your site. Then use retargeting ads to bring them back to your site and take some type of action.

Typically, you’ll want to get people who visited your blog but did not opt into your email list to come back and get on it! A great way to do that is to bring them back to get a content upgrade bonus that perhaps they forgot to grab on their first visit.

Using retargeting ads, you can also target existing email subscribers and get them to come back to take another key action, like requesting a consultation or signing up for a free trial of your software. Since these are people who’ve already been in contact with you through your email content, they’re much more likely to trust and take action than a cold first-time visitor who’s still at the top of your funnel.

Our retargeting ad service of choice is Perfect Audience. I’ve found they have the easiest interface to work with: it allows you to set up retargeting ads on Facebook, Twitter, and across the web.

Webinar Content Funnels

Webinar Content

You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll continue to drive this home: The primary objective of content marketing is to get readers to join your email list.

But what happens after that?

Obviously, you should be following up on a weekly basis with more content that speaks to their needs and goals. This is how you stay top of mind and slowly build trust and credibility over time.

And then what?

At some point, you have to pitch your product or service and gently nudge your subscribers to make a buying decision. A webinar is a great tool for this because it makes the pitch in the most comfortable way possible—by delivering more education.

Your readers have been learning from you through your written blog posts. They’ve been using the extra bonus resources you’ve delivered in your emails and content upgrades. How can you take your educational outreach to the next level?

By getting them on a live webinar presentation. They can actually hear your voice, interact with you live, and learn a ton through a well-crafted educational presentation.

The end of the webinar is typically where you make a pitch for your product or service, and offer some kind of incentive for taking action now—like an exclusive coupon or some extra bonus offer. Yes, it’s clearly a sales pitch, but it’s well received by your audience because you’ve already built so much trust and credibility before this point.

I’d also add that it’s quite difficult to get people to register and actually attend your live webinar. But when you pitch your webinar to people who’ve been subscribed to your email list and have already started getting to know you, the webinar attendance rate becomes exponentially higher (which results in more of your subscribers seeing your product offer at the end).  

This is why webinars are most effective when they’re integrated within your larger content marketing sales funnel.

Multi-Offer Content Funnels

Multi-Offer Content

The last type of advanced content marketing funnel I want to highlight is a multi-offer funnel.

This comes into play when you have a couple of different products, which all serve the same audience, but who may be segmented by stage.

What I mean by “stage” is how far along they are in experiencing the problem that your company solves. Often, the same problem can exist in different ways for people whose businesses are at different stages. Luckily, your company has evolved to a point where you can solve that problem in different ways for all of those stages.

For example, let’s look at our friends over at Nusii. They make software for creating client proposals, and they serve an audience of creative professionals.

But that audience is segmented into 3 groups:

  • New freelancers
  • Experienced freelancers
  • Agencies

All three of these segments experience the same core problem in different ways, which is a need to land more clients.

The new freelancer who is still learning how to attract and win clients can benefit most from some solid education on this subject. So Nusii offers new freelancers two things: free content, which they publish regularly on their blog and newsletter, and a recently released eBook by founder Nathan Powell, to teach best practices for winning clients and creating killer proposals.

The experienced freelancer probably benefits from the free content as well, but they have a pipeline of client leads, and need to close more of them. So they’re ready for Nusii’s next offer, which is the introductory tier of their proposal software, which suits a solo freelancer nicely.

The agency owner, again, benefits from learning advanced tactics and strategies, which Nusii publishes regularly on their blog. But they also need a tool that their whole team can use, one that supports advanced usage like reports and smarter followup. Nusii serves their agency audience with their higher tier of their software, which includes the advanced features that this audience needs.

With three different offers, each suited for people at different stages in their business, content sequences can be tailored to each segment, leading them to the best product that suits their needs.

This can be done using smart automation rules based on certain actions subscribers take. For example, you can assume anyone who opts-in for a particular content upgrade targeted at agencies can be tagged ‘agency’. Then you can set up a sequence of emails that point to agency-related blog articles you’ve published, followed by an invite to webinar that teaches agency owners how to scale up their sales pipeline.

As customers purchase a lower-priced product, you can tag them accordingly, then follow up with a sequence of content that leads them to upgrade to the next level.

Continuous Tweaking

I hope these advanced content marketing funnels give you some ideas for new workflows or tweaks to make as you look to level up how your company interacts with new (and longtime) members of your audience.

Be sure to download the funnel workflows to help guide you as implement these funnels in your business.