A Beginner’s Guide to Predictable Marketing Funnels

In this guest post, Greg Hickman gives us an in-depth beginner’s guide to predictable marketing funnels. Learn how to set up a reliable system for growth.

Pat Flynn

A Beginner’s Guide to Predictable Marketing Funnels

We’ve been going full steam this month with a load of paid advertising related content, both here on the blog and on the podcast. Before we keep going, however, it’s important that we pull back a little and ask ourselves this question:

What are we driving traffic to anyway?

A product? A promotion? No.

A funnel.

We MUST know what our goals are related to the traffic we pay for, or else—and I can say this from experience—you’ll quickly lose money and opportunity.

So today, I’m happy to re-introduce Greg Hickman. He’s been on the podcast before way back in Smart Passive Income Podcast Session #65, where he talked about marketing strategies related to mobile, such as SMS and text. Greg has since moved on from mobile marketing and now focuses on helping clients with marketing funnels and automation.

His business at System.ly is taking off, and I’m happy to welcome him here to give us the low-down on exactly what we need to have in place first before we begin paying for ads. Greg is also one of my favorite people in the world. I was at his wedding a number of years back, and my kids love him like crazy, which is why I’m sure you’ll love him too.

Take it away Greg!

By now you understand that a key part of growing a predictable (and sustainable) business requires the ability to profitably utilize paid traffic to generate leads and sales in your business. As many will tell you, until you can consistently spend $1 and generate $2, you don’t have a business, you have a promotion.

I don’t mean to sound overly aggressive but if you want to scale your business, you can’t rely only on referrals and word of mouth. That’s why you’ve been learning all about advertising and paid traffic here on SPI recently. The truth is, what many people sweep under the rug or simply fail to talk about is actually the key ingredient to using paid traffic profitably.

For your ads to be successful, you need a good marketing funnel.

That’s why Pat asked me to talk to you about the importance of marketing funnels.

You can spend all the money in the world on ads, but if your marketing funnel doesn’t work (or doesn’t exist), all you’re doing is wasting your money with paid traffic. I get it, though. Facebook ads are sexy but somewhere, somehow, people began believing that Facebook is the silver bullet. That’s far from the truth.

Here’s the honest truth. I was guilty of this very thing. I remember when I hired my first business coach. Here’s what our first call sounded like:

Coach: “What is your number one goal right now?”

Me: “I need more traffic.”

Coach: “What are you doing to do with more traffic?”

Me: [Big Moment Of Silence] “Uh, that’s a good question, I have no idea.”

I literally had no answer and was embarrassed.

I was that guy who thought Facebook ads would solve my problems and help me start making money online. If this sounds like you or has been you, listen up. We know getting traffic to our site is important for growth. We know that we can pay to drive traffic. The reality is, most people aren’t prepared to do anything with this traffic.

Now, my team and I (the guy who thought ads would solve my problems!) have been behind the scenes building scalable marketing funnels for some of the top online influencers and thought leaders. We’ve experienced first-hand that even the most amazing ads are just one piece of the puzzle.

Start With Your Funnel First, Ads Second.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to share our biggest lessons and behind-the-scenes look from the last eighteen months building marketing funnels for some of the top online entrepreneurs and influencers. My goal is that, when you’re ready to start spending money on ads, you can get the most bang for your buck, and make your money work smarter, not harder.

That’s because we’re going to focus on your marketing funnel first. Then talk ads. In fact, this post on marketing funnels is part one of a two-part series. In the next post, my good friend Amanda Bond, Owner of The Ad Strategist, will dive into how you approach the ads after your funnel is ready to rock.

If you follow the advice below, you’ll be well on your way to creating a predictable marketing funnel that maximizes the value of every lead that goes through it, with or without ads. As you’ll learn, the ads then become the fuel that you pour on top of an already burning fire (your awesome funnel!).

Now, if the success of your ads depends on a good marketing funnel, we should probably get on the same page and answer the question:

What is a marketing funnel?

A marketing funnel is a series of stages that potential customers move through, from first awareness of your brand to post-sale raving fans. It’s the process of converting a visitor into a paying customer.

Commonly, in the online business world, funnels show up as things like webinars, free courses, seven-day challenges, and more. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that as an SPI reader, you’ve likely gone through someone’s funnel before, whether you knew it or not.

There is a ton of information out there on marketing funnels that can seem complex and leave you overwhelmed. I get it. I was there once too. That’s why I’m going to break it all down saving you time and hopefully avoid the biggest mistake we see. At the end of the day, marketing funnels don’t need to be complex. In fact, our motto at System.ly is, “Start Simple. Get Ninja Later.”

So, with simplicity in mind, I’d like you to think of your marketing funnel as a conversation. A regular ol’ conversation with someone about how you can solve their problem and eliminate their pain.

As you might imagine or have experienced in your own business, some people you talk to may not even realize they have a problem yet. And others have been researching solutions for months and are begging for a solution because they can’t stand to deal with the problem anymore.

This leads us to the first key lesson of a successful marketing funnel.

All Leads Are Not Created Equal

The number one reason most marketing funnels fail is that businesses treat all leads the same.

As we’ve just discussed, we know that is not the case. Each lead has a different level of awareness as it relates to the problem you solve. In fact, they each have a different level of awareness of you! Yet, many marketers treat all leads the same by forcing them into one funnel.

Basically, they are trying to have the same conversation with many people who are just not ready for it. That would be like Pat trying to sell you the Smart Podcast Player before you’ve even thought about launching a podcast. Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to talk to you about the benefits of podcasting first?

Exactly! Then, when he knew you were interested in starting your own podcast, he’d walk you step by step through how to get started. Then, and only then, does it make sense for him to let you know about the Smart Podcast Player. That is if he wants the best chance of getting you to buy.

You see what I’m saying here? The reality is that most businesses go right for the sale by treating all leads like they are ready for the solution (aka ready to buy). Guess what happens then? Eighty to ninety percent of leads don’t buy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are many leads that will come into your world who are ready to buy. I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

If you simply built a marketing funnel knowing that you had to have the right conversation with the right leads at the right time, you’d instantly increase your chances of conversion while building a true relationship with your prospects. Realizing that the “old way” of doing things resulted in 80-90 percent of leads not buying was the driving force in what has become The System.ly approach to building predictable marketing funnels.

No Leads Left Behind™

At System.ly, we develop marketing funnels with a little framework we’ve created called No Leads Left Behind™.

It’s our simple way to think about your marketing funnel as an end-to-end conversation where you can talk to each lead with the right message at the right time, moving them closer to the point of purchase.

There are two underlying principles of No Leads Left Behind™:

  1. We need to start engaging leads earlier in their journey by meeting them where they are. (They may not be ready to buy when we first interact with them.)
  2. We need intelligent marketing automation to follow-up, engage, nurture, and convert those leads who aren’t ready to buy at that moment.

If we want to meet prospects where they are on their journey, we need to understand what the stages of their journey look like. This brings me to the second key lesson of crafting a successful marketing funnel.

3 Different Types Of Leads

If all leads are not created equal, how are they different?

To keep it simple, we’ve broken down the customer journey into three different stages of awareness that your leads can experience on their path to becoming a customer.

  • Oblivious
  • Afflicted
  • Informed

The Oblivious

The leads who are “Oblivious,” or within the Oblivious stage of their journey, in most cases aren’t even aware of you yet. You’ll likely get in front of them in ways that “interrupt” them.

Have you seen those Facebook ads where people are silently waving you down telling you to stop scrolling? Yeah, those ones. You can’t ask for too much from people in the Oblivious stage. You need to create the opportunity to start a conversation.

Here is what you need to know about The Oblivious:

  • They don’t even know they have a pain or problem yet, so you need to introduce them to it and make them aware of it
  • They are not ready to buy and don’t know who you are, so don’t pitch them anything yet
  • They will give you very little attention, so don’t ask for too much of a commitment when it comes to your lead magnet
  • They are looking for more of a quick win rather than a solution

When it comes to the Oblivious, we like to say, “The Symptoms Are Real.”

These are the leads who haven’t figured out they have a problem or determined exactly what is causing the pain, but they are feeling it. You’re going to become their guide.

The Afflicted

The leads who are “Afflicted,” or within the Afflicted stage of their journey, are aware of the problem or pain they are experiencing and have begun looking into solutions. They are likely downloading resources and engaging with you (and others) in an effort to learn and become informed enough to decide what to do next. They still haven’t fully committed to solving the problem yet, but are getting closer.

Here is what you need to know about The Afflicted:

  • They know they have some pain and are looking for info on how to solve it
  • Not ready to buy just yet and want a reliable and trustworthy solution
  • They’ll give you more time and attention if you have what they are looking for
  • They’ll find you through searching and even opting into something like a video series or guide

When it comes to the Afflicted, we like to say, “The Pain Is Real.”

These are the people who know why they are having the pain or problem, have researched and learned as much as possible, and even began considering solutions from trustworthy sources (this is where you come in!).

The Informed

The leads who are “Informed,” or within the Informed stage of their journey, are ready to buy.

Here is what you need to know about The Informed:

  • They are well aware of their pain and really want a solution
  • By this time, they know, like, and trust you as a viable solution (if you’ve done it right)
  • They will spend more of their time engaging with you
  • If you can’t show them you understand their true needs, the more likely they will be to object to your offer
  • These are the people buying on your webinars, from your video sales letters, engaging actively in your communities, replying and asking for help to your emails

When it comes to the Informed, we like to say, “The Risk Is Real.”

To put it another way they are no longer willing to stay where they are or continue to deal with the problem/pain they’ve been experiencing. They will invest to advance.

The first part of your success is understanding that the conversation needs to be different when you speak to leads in each of the three stages.

Blog post 1

If you’ve followed Pat long enough, you may have seen that he’s trying to understand you better so he can speak to you more effectively.

That’s why in emails he asks you engaging questions like the one below.

Blog post 2

If Pat knows you don’t have an online business yet, his advice will likely be different than if you’re at a point where you make more than $500/month.

Making sense?

The next big lesson shows up when it comes to implement. If you have three different types of leads and you can’t talk to them all the same, why would you put them all in the same funnel?

The answer is you don’t.

3 Lead Types = 3 Funnels

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Whoa Greg, I need to build THREE funnels?!”

The short answer is, yes. If you want to build a predictable and scalable online marketing funnel that will make the most from your advertising budget.

Remember, I said it would be simple. Not easy. 🙂 There is a difference. While you can make money with just one funnel, we’ve experienced first hand how the business owners who are in it for the long game win by following this process.

Okay, so if there are three different types of leads, that means you need three different types of funnels. One for each lead type that speaks to them the right way based on where they are at in their journey. The end goal is to have each of the three funnels stacked on top of each other flowing from one stage to the next.

Blog post 3

As you have each piece of the journey built, leads can enter at any stage based on where they are and you can lead them from one stage to the next.

It’s important to understand that you’re not building all of these at the same time.

You could if you wanted, but we recommend that you build each piece one at a time, making sure that you’re effectively leading prospects from one stage to the next.

You’ll start with “The Informed” because this allows you to talk to the prospects who are most ready and willing to buy, and you most likely already have access to these people through your list, on Facebook, or some other form of social media or podcast.

We start with The Informed for two reasons.

  1. Money loves speed. The Informed are our most likely to buy and when they buy, we have cash to reinvest in the business in the future (even on ads!).
  2. If we can’t convert our Informed leads to buy, marketing to the Afflicted or Oblivious isn’t going to help us all too much.

That would be like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

Before I get into what the funnel actually looks like, let’s consider that each of the three “Funnels” has a different purpose.

  • We want to create awareness with those who are oblivious
  • We want to engage, educate and nurture those who are afflicted
  • We want to lead those who are Informed into the solution

In many ways, it’s like farming. First, you plant the seeds (create awareness). Then you cultivate (engage and build the relationship through delivering value). Then you harvest (generate sales from those that are ready to buy). As you can imagine, cultivating relationships and building trust doesn’t always happen overnight.

We’re essentially building systems that turn the Oblivious into the Informed.

Blog post 4

Based on the stage of the journey, our method of having the right conversation differs and ends up looking something like this.

Blog post 5

Now that you understand the conversations we have with each lead need to differ based on their awareness, let’s talk about how to have the conversation.

How To Identify What Your Funnel Should Look Like

Remember, your funnel is like a conversation. We have three different types of leads which equal three different conversations. The way we have the conversation is where we get into the type of funnel.

There are various types of marketing funnels, such as (but not limited to):

  • Webinars
  • Free video series
  • Free course
  • 5-day challenge
  • Virtual summits
  • Quizzes
  • Free ebook

Which type should you use for each stage?

In the last eighteen months, we’ve begun to see a trend as to how these conversations take shape in a business. We’ve put together the below chart to help you think through all the factors and considerations when determining the type of funnel per lead. You’ll want to consider:

  • The price of your product or offer. If you’re selling something over $1,000, you’ll likely need a higher touch experience to convert them.
  • The depth of your product or offer. If there are a lot of moving parts to your offering, it’s going to require more time to turn that lead into a customer.
  • How much work it will take. If your product requires a lot of work and will take the customer a long time to complete, the more time it will take to convert them to a customer.

In the chart below, you’ll see a sample of funnels that you can use based on the price point of your product.

Blog post 6

As you’ll notice, the higher the price point, the more high-touch we have to be to convert leads and the “longer” the conversation. Certain types of funnels, like a video series or webinar, allow for you to go a lot deeper to help leads make the key shifts in their mindset to lead them to the next stage.

Note: This is not “the only way.” We’re offering up this framework to help you get started based on what we’ve seen works the best.

How Long Will All Of This Take?

It really depends.

We’ve had clients build out all three stages in a matter of a few months and we’ve had clients who used their webinar to convert their Informed for twelve months before ever even worrying about the Afflicted.

Now, I’m not trying to overwhelm you but I also am not one to create false hope and tell you that you can follow this and be rich in thirty days. I will say that if you understand what we’ve discussed up until now, and you focus on crafting your conversation with each of the three leads, starting with the Informed first, you can start to see results within two to three weeks.

The key to building a predictable AND sustainable marketing funnel takes iteration.

We’re not going for perfection in the beginning either. A lot of the work, in the beginning, will even be manual. Slowly but surely we tap into the power of marketing automation using tools like ActiveCampaign, Infusionsoft, or ConvertKit. That’s when we start to create leverage in our business, free up some of our time, and start to scale our operations into focusing on the Afflicted and the Oblivious.

If it sounds like there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, we’ve listed out the key pieces you’ll be creating throughout this process. If you want to go deeper, I put together a free guide that breaks down the exact funnels and automations we use with our clients.

The Predictable Funnel Checklist

Here is a high-level list of what you’ll be creating (over time) to achieve the predictable marketing funnel. For each lead type (Oblivious, Afflicted, Informed), you’ll be creating:

  • 1 piece of content. This can be a blog post, video, or even a podcast.
  • 3 entry points or lead magnets. This is a way to acquire email addresses.
  • 3 landing pages and thank you pages. This is where they will opt-in to get the lead magnets from above.
  • 3 marketing “funnels” or email automation. These are the emails where you have the conversation with the lead based on where they are at in their journey.
  • 3 sets of advertising. Amanda will be talking about this in the next post in this series.
  • 1 fulfillment system. This is how you deliver your product or service.
  • 1 long-term nurture automation. This is where leads go if they don’t buy.

Validating and Proving Your Funnel Before Spending Money On Traffic

Depending on where you’re at in your business, you may or may not already have an audience. By audience, I mean an email list, a Facebook page (or group), podcast listeners, video subscribers, etc.

Ideally, we want to test as much of our funnels with organic traffic before you start spending tons of money on advertising, such as Facebook ads. If you have no audience at all, you may have to consider working with partners or affiliates and using a small ad budget to test, but Amanda will talk about that in the next post.

Ultimately, we’re trying to avoid you wasting tons of money putting leads into a funnel that doesn’t convert. That can get expensive and we all don’t have a budget to just throw away on Facebook ads as much as Facebook would love that!

Building Funnels That Last

I don’t know about you, but I want my business to be here in ten, twenty, even thirty years. With that in mind, I’m looking for continual growth while building my tribe of raving fans (like all of us Flynnatics!).

As you probably know, Pat’s been at this for almost ten years and he’s really just getting started. He’s in it for the long haul. If you follow the framework we broke down today, you’ll be well on your way to engaging with your leads the smart way, just like Pat.

As you’ll learn from Amanda, it’s continuing to get more and more expensive to generate leads on Facebook. Having the 3-Piece Funnel in place allows you to market to leads at different stages of their journey, making your lead acquisition more profitable in the months/years to come. When you do that and create an intelligent funnel that predictably moves leads from Oblivious to a customer, you’ll be able to take $1 and turn it into $2, $5, $10, and $100+ on the back end.

Then it’s rinse and repeat.

About Greg Hickman:

Greg Hickman is a marketing funnel strategist and founder of System.ly, a marketing automation consulting and education company working primarily with online businesses. He describes his role as eliminating the tech headaches and helping you to get your leads to buy, and buy more often.

He’s a blogger, podcaster, speaker and his work has been featured on Copyblogger, Social Media Examiner, Business.com, Target Marketing Magazine and more. If you want to learn more about Greg and the systems they use for their clients, check out his free guide where he breaks down the three marketing automations all online businesses need. The exact ones his clients focus on. 


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