Funnels cannot be avoided
Most experts I speak to don't get this
Welcome to The Weird Part, the place in my newsletter where I don't talk about workshops. In here I tend to share more stuff about my learning journey into productizing services online.
Today's theme is deeper than it looks and relates to feelings I've been getting from other experts I speak to. They feel discouraged or frustrated by how difficult it is to sell services online.
I also often feel this way.
But now I don't feel as if the world is being unfair.
Thinking in funnels has opened my eyes.1
The funnel analogy, prevalent in Marketing and Sales, is that potential buyers go through phases until they eventually acquire something from you. Between each phase, some people fall off. They will not become your customers.
Because of this, if 100 people start their buying journey for your services, perhaps only 3 get to the end and acquire something from you.
This would not be a bad conversion rate, by the way.
Funnels are not a complex idea.
However, many experts don't realize how funnels explain much of their challenges with sales.
If you are already familiar with marketing, I'm probably sounding very quaint now.
But if you are an expert, struggling with getting people to buy your products and services, this can be very valuable for you.
5 Things I've learned about funnels
It is extremely unlikely that someone buys from a stranger on first contact
Buying is not a single moment in time. It takes place at the end of a process that could have started years before. A good example is the retiree that finally buys a boat he's been dreaming about for years.
Online, the same happens.
This means that people will not buy from you the first time they see you. First they will need to form a good opinion of you, your product and how it can help them. And then maybe they'll buy it.
You know this, of course.
But when you post “buy my new course” on LinkedIn after months of not sharing anything online, you are expecting people to break this rule of Nature. They will not.
People go through a journey before they make a purchase. However…
Every buying journey has inefficiencies that turn leads into non-leads
A lead is a potential customer.
This journey is not linear. There's no guarantee that the people who start it will end up acquiring your service.
This is why we call it a funnel, by the way. It gets thinner at the end.
As people move through the process of becoming aware your solution exists, developing an interest in it, desiring it and finally paying for it, some of them will drop off at every stage.
A few people learn about your product but don't find it relevant to them. They will not proceed to the next stage. A percentage of these will get to the stage of desiring it, but never end up paying for it.2
You get the point.
If every buying journey has inefficiencies that turn leads into non-leads, this means not everyone that will see your post about the new service will buy it.
This is intuitive, but we don't like to think about it because it feels unfair and hard to directly influence.
This conclusion leads directly to our second point:
You need a large mouth for your funnel to get loads of sales
Let's say you develop a new service. It is something you know a lot about and you believe in its technical quality.
You tell your friends about it. They all think it seems very cool and is likely to be a success.
You post something online, telling the world about your new service.
Crickets. Nobody buys it.
There's two ways to look at this: Either your service is not what people want OR the people that want it, did not see it.
The fact that nobody bought it does not tell you what problem you need to solve.
However, if you have a tendency to throw technical chops at problems, you are likely to try and improve your product before trying anything else. But if the problem lies elsewhere, this is wasted effort.
This fact should both soothe you and upset you.
It is soothing because you can see there's nothing necessarily wrong with you or your product, it just needs to appear in front of more people.
This can also be upsetting because it makes it obvious that as an expert, technical skills are not enough. You need to find ways for many people to see the services you sell. You need to learn about *shudders* Marketing and Sales (not the same thing).
Getting a large number of people to know about your thing means getting “traffic”.
Traffic is like people walking past a specific store at a shopping mall. In fact, this is what shopping malls sell: large numbers of people walking past your store front. It is your job to make them enter, find something they like and pay for it.
Getting a lot of people to see your new service is hard. People are bombarded with advertisements, content and promotions that carve away at their attention and wallet.
This is why it can be so frustrating to post about your new service on a social network: it will appear, for a few seconds only, to a small percentage of your followers. If you have a handful of followers, the chances become slim that enough of them see your new service to make one single buy.
No matter how annoying it can be to realize this, it does not change the fact that it is true. And while it is not a lever you can move as directly as the design of your product3, this is an area one can get better at.
When we create posts on social media, linking to our stuff, we are trying to generate traffic.
There is another lever to consider:
Each added step bleeds potential buyers
Here I'm talking about steps between the potential buyer knowing about your service and pressing the “pay” button on a checkout page. You know this is true because you've done this:
You've found a book you want, on an online store that is not as streamlined as Amazon and then postponed the actual purchase only to completely forget about it all.
You've opened a browser tab about a course you'd like to take but when they asked for your email and phone number before showing you the prices, you got distracted and never got to it.
You've checked out a product on two different websites and completed the purchase on the simpler one.
Every process that requires something from your potential buyer adds friction. It is the ratio of people who make it past each gate that defines your conversion rate for that gate. Of course you can also calculate the overall conversion rate for a complete journey, but this can be hard to track.
I've mentioned "conversion rates” a while ago and we'll need to discuss them even more.
Lot of things affect conversion rates
Why do people exit a purchasing journey?
There are millions of reasons, dependent on their own context and on their experience with the journey you've created for them.4
For an extremely simplified example of specific details that affect conversion rates:
In the traffic generation phase, when you create a post to promote your new service, most followers will not feel compelled enough to stop scrolling and actually read your post. They will never move past that stage.
When a few interested people click the link to open the webpage where you present your product, a few could get distracted by other buttons and areas of your website and never click "buy”. They have left the funnel.
When the checkout page takes too long to load or looks a little bit fishy, some visitors will lose confidence and abandon the process. They made it almost all the way to the end and gave up, possibly forever.
Can you see how it works?
There are reasons within reasons!
Even just in creating a post for LinkedIn, there are issues of post type, what kind of images you use, what time of the day do you post, the language you use, the sort of audience you currently have, what challenges are they facing, how they describe these challenges, etc etc etc.
My point is that there are many things to work on. This is difficult because we don't always have immediate feedback. You change something on your checkout page but that does not change anything in the number of sales. Was it useless?
People that realize this tend to adopt a more experimental approach to funnels and conversion optimization. Conversion Optimization is not something I know much of, but it seems complex and very valuable as a skill.
Extra: ICP, a good place to start
One of the things that I'm finding that matters a lot more than what I expected is the Ideal Costumer Profile (ICP). This is an avatar of who you are trying to serve with your service. If you don't have a clear picture, everything else suffers.
A good ICP describes the person you're selling to with details such as where they are, what they do, what goals do they have for their careers, who do they trust, what is their budget, etc etc.
Having an ICP allows you to create better posts that generate traffic to your website.
It allows you to have product descriptions that fit what they are looking for.
It makes it possible for you to have a buying process that makes sense for them (B2B, vs B2C, for instance).
The maddening thing is that the ICP is something you both define and discover.
You can start with an idealized ICP, based on your own gut feeling and then gradually discover that it is not entirely how you imagined.
This is normal, but only happens when your plan contacts reality, when you try to sell things to people and realize they don't want them.
When you investigate and interview and chat with others only to discover they have other more pressing anxieties that you can alleviate, even if these are not the ones you started with.
Personally, right now, at the start of 2024, my ICP is broadly defined by experts with 10+ years of experience, technically competent but still a bit naive about the online world. They might have been laid off recently or have seen layoffs pass them by very close. They love learning but can be difficult to sell to because they abhor anything that seems salesy. Perhaps they could work in academia.
Clearly I have some work to do here. My ICP is still a bit vague and worse still, not very easy to sell to.
I do not want to sell my services to dunces as I love working with clever people, but I still have to find a problem that is hurting enough to make them open their wallets. Then I need to figure out how I can be useful in solving that problem with them or for them. And do all this without betraying my own nature or their trust.
This was a longer post, but a necessary one.
I expect to refer to this many times in the future.
If you've enjoyed this, you might like the main section of my newsletter, where I talk about how Experts can create and sell their own workshops.
Thanks for reading João Landeiro! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Every online expert you admire and wish to emulate in their capacity to monetize expertise knows about funnels and uses them. Some are more obvious and others discrete. But they all do it. I am just aware they exist. You could say that I am at the Conscient Incompetence stage of mastery.
This is the Attention, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA) model and is really old. Nowadays there are variations that have more detail. You might have heard about stuff like Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Conversion, Loyalty and Advocacy. Notice how the logic remains, but with added levels of resolution.
And this is why it is so enticing to try and work on your product instead of your sales funnel. You can feel a sense of progress seeing your product becoming more polished, your materials more coherent. Chances are that working on your sales funnel would have a better result.
There is always a journey, even if you did not explicitly think about it.