“The money is on the list.”
You’ve probably heard this phrase at least once in the past.
While this statement is partially true, the fact remains that your list is only as rich as the email strategy you deploy to generate sales.
And that’s where the email marketing funnel comes in.
It helps businesses streamline their lead generation and conversion processes. In turn, they maximize ROI and effortlessly win new business.
This article details everything you need to know about email marketing funnels and outlines steps you can take to create your own.
What is an email marketing funnel, and why do you need one?
Are you familiar with sales funnels? Well, email marketing funnels work in the same way.
An email marketing funnel represents the different stages the customer moves through from prospective lead to customer, via email marketing.
Often, email marketing involves a sequence of targeted and personalized emails sent to subscribers to convert them from leads to brand advocates.
An excellent email funnel helps you streamline your email marketing campaigns throughout the customer journey and ensures that you are not getting ahead of yourself when engaging with your audience.
There are several funnel designs. The most common is the eight-stage countdown-timer-like conversion funnel suggested by Campaign Monitor. It includes brand awareness, engagement, consideration, purchase, adoption, retention, expansion, and advocacy.
When built the right way, email marketing funnels can help your business grow—no wonder 89% of marketers use it as their primary lead generation channel.
1. It simplifies the customer journey.
Whether you’re looking to boost online sales, build an email list or build a loyalty program, you need a funnel.
An email funnel helps you create content that aligns with your audience’s goals and delivers value. This way, prospects enjoy engaging with your email content—making it easy for them to move quickly through the stages of your buyer’s journey and ultimately purchase.
As such, an effective funnel can move your subscribers from Problem Aware to Solution Aware to Product Aware much more quickly than if you didn’t have a funnel.
2. It improves your conversion rate.
Generally, 96% of visitors to your website aren’t ready to buy anything. But that doesn’t mean they will never purchase from you. It just means they need more information to make a better decision—which a strong marketing funnel provides.
One study showed that nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases than non-nurtured leads.
An email marketing funnel allows marketers to truly understand their audience and deliver messaging that they identify with and at the right time. This makes subscribers feel valued and more inclined to buy—boosting the conversion rate.
3. It helps you monitor progress.
Analytics from your marketing funnel can help you identify effective marketing strategies. For example, you can monitor whether your customers opt-out or buy. You can also A/B test or compare results from previous campaigns to see which strategy yields the most results.
With a range of results, you can use your funnel to adjust your strategy—discontinue ineffective methods and replicate what works.
A step-by-step guide to creating an email marketing funnel that converts
There are as many strategies for building a successful email marketing funnel as there are marketers. That means that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to get it right.
But here are the basic steps present in every email marketing funnel that converts.
1. Top of the funnel: Generate leads
According to one study, the average email conversion rate is 15.11%—which literally means that if you want 15 customers, you need around 100 leads.
There are different strategies for generating leads for your email marketing funnel, but two main ways are:
- Sign-up forms
- Dedicated landing pages
You can easily integrate sign-up forms into your website and blog to collect email addresses from visitors. All you need is information like first and last name, email, company name, and you’re off to a good start.
Here is an example of a sign-up form built and customized with Sumo on the AppSumo website.
Note that for a sign-up form to work, it must offer something enticing and/or compelling as an incentive. Case in point, 69% of consumers say they are more likely to try a brand if it gives rewards.
So, you need to create a valuable asset (aka a lead magnet) to attract visitors to the landing page. If they are interested in your offer, they will share their email in exchange for it—much like it happens in the marketplace (win-win).
Most lead magnets are fuzzy or don’t deliver on their promise. So to stand out from the crowd, make the sign-up form worth the transaction.
An excellent way to do this is to say what’s in it for the visitor upfront. You know the mantra, “Show, don’t tell.”
Here’s a great example.
In the example above, Payoneer does a great job of summarizing the report’s content before encouraging readers to download it.
2. Middle of the funnel: Nurture warm subscribers
By now, you’ve already set up a lead generation machine that brings you new subscribers at every turn.
- Don’t: Don’t knock them out with sales-y emails. Don’t ask them to jump on a call, either.
- Do: Keep whatever promise you made in the sign-up form. Then make them feel comfortable.
A common practice is to send a welcome email.
Your goal with this email is to welcome prospects, inform them of the benefits and content they can expect from your emails, and most importantly (if applicable), deliver the promised item.
Here’s how Convertkit does it.
By starting its email with sweet and soothing words, ConvertKit tries to establish a friendly relationship with the reader without being pushy. It also delivers on its promise to help create a landing page for your business.
ConvertKit gets more points for taking a human-to-human approach. It reassures the recipient that the first landing page does not have to be perfect.
After a successful first contact, experts recommend engaging with your subscribers as frequently as possible. Our very own Noah Kagan suggests sending emails every day.
Still, it depends on which industry you are in and the type of customers you are dealing with. Whatever the case, get to know your audience, listen to them and do what works best for them.
To build engagement, make sure your email content is packed with useful content such as case studies, compelling offers, personalized success stories, user-generated content, etc.
You’ll need an email marketing tool to pull this off perfectly. Tools allow you to automate your strategy and automatically send emails to your subscribers.
Popular choices include MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, SendinBlue, HubSpot, SendPulse, Moosend, EmailOctopus, etc.
3. Bottom of the funnel: Convert leads into customers
This is where you can start to cash in on your efforts (dollar dollar bills y’all).
Again, this is not a given. You need to focus on a more aggressive conversion strategy while sending personalized nurturing campaigns.
Overall, your emails should entice a loyal subscriber to purchase your product or service. You can include specific offers such as an exclusive time-limited offer or promotion to increase the sense of urgency.
Your bottom-of-the-funnel conversion emails should:
- Highlight your product and show how it benefits the subscriber
- Provide testimonials or reviews
- Provide coupons, birthday offers, or even messages to subscribers who spend a lot of time on your site
- Have a clear call to action
- Include a link to an FAQ page
- Retarget leads in situations like cart abandonments
And if you have doubts about whether your subscribers are ready to be sold to, try the Tripwire technique.
Tripwire marketing is a technique that consists of offering prospects a low-cost product to psychologically prepare them to buy a more expensive product later.
The premise behind this strategy is that once a prospect has become a customer, they are more likely to continue buying.
The other reason this strategy works is that people love promotional emails—whether or not they know it. 68% of millennials say that promotional emails have influenced their purchase decisions. So, building up to your main offer with smaller promotions will likely appeal to customers.
4. Repeat funnel: Retain customers
Most email marketing funnels stop at the purchase stage. This is a big mistake.
When you retain customers, you can turn them into brand advocates. So you need to trigger a strategy to incite the next purchase, and the next, and the next. Think of it like lead nurturing—except that here, the mix of email content you send to nurture them will vary.
Follow these best practices as you repeat the funnel to retain customers:
- Maintain awareness of your product or service and remind them of the value they are getting
- Combine up-sell and cross-sell products based on your customer’s purchase history
- Further nurture your relationship by providing valuable content such as free templates, videos, or downloads to stay on top of their minds
- Include surveys to continue to learn what’s valuable to your customers
- Include loyalty programs that encourage sharing and word-of-mouth publicity
6 types of emails you can use in your sales funnel
As you create your email marketing funnel, you will need to craft a few types of emails. You’ll also see how each type of email fits into the funnel.
1. Nurture emails
This is when you start to deliver on everything you promised subscribers when they signed up. Your goal with this type of email is to build rapport, trust, and position your brand as the ultimate solution to the subscriber’s problems.
Effective nurture emails are personalized to your subscribers’ needs . Every feature or benefit of your mentioned offer should be relevant to them.
Here is an example from Ryan Deiss of DigitalMarketer.
This email is a great example of how to nurture your audience because it starts by delivering a promise previously made to the readers. Then it addresses some of their pain points and offers free solutions to solve them.
2. Problem and solution
This is probably the most effective type of email. Think about it. You want to purchase a product, and you have to choose between two vendors.
“I have the solution you need,” the first one tells you.
The second starts with, “Three years ago, I was in the same situation as you. You are not alone.”
“I had to do XYZ to fix it,” he continues.
Who would you choose?
The answer is clear: the second one.
This is why the “problem and solution” type of email is effective. It reassures the reader, makes them feel like you know them, and eliminates any doubt about you.
Here’s an example from Freelancer.
As you can see, this email starts by stating the problem and ends with a solution. This type of email is ideal for connecting with your audience at a deeper level.
3. Social proof
In this type of email, you showcase everything you can to build trust and credibility in your subscribers’ eyes. It can be online reviews, customer success stories, case studies, awards, honors, etc. You can also leverage user-generated content here to make your argument more powerful.
Check this example from Duolingo.
This is a perfect example of social proof because it not only shows the number of teachers using the service but also showcases customer testimonials.
4. The objection killer
Prospects may reject your “once in a lifetime” offer because they have doubts or questions they can’t find the answer to.
Objections like, “I already use Apple Music, why bother signing up for Deezer or Spotify?” or “I don’t see any pricing on your website.”
You can handle these objections by sending Q&A emails or writing a Q&A article and linking to it as a CTA.
In your Q&A, make sure to answer any questions people may have before buying from you.
This is a great objection killer because it addresses all the questions that readers may have that prevent them from buying into the offer.
5. The close
Your goal with this type of email is to push your subscribers to make a decision. You can leverage marketing strategies like FOMO and create a sense of urgency in your emails to get your subscribers to make up their minds.
Check this example from Neville Medhora.
This example from Neville works because it prompts readers to sign up for his course before the monthly option is removed.In addition, the subject line makes it clear that the offer will no longer be available in a few moments.
6. The last call
The last call is the very last email in the sequence, and your goal is to reinforce the feeling of scarcity.
By now, subscribers already have all the details they need to make a purchase decision. The 3-point closing formula can serve as a reference: give your readers the three most important things you want them to think about.
This type of email doesn’t have to be long, just a short and clear reminder.
Here’s a great example from ProductLed.
Your turn to build an email marketing funnel
To get the most out of your email campaigns, you need to build an email marketing funnel that is:
- Nurturing: Make sure your subscribers feel comfortable and trust you before attempting any sales.
- Convincing: Once you have established a trusting relationship with your email list, try techniques like Tripwire to see if your subscribers are ready to buy. If they are, take it to the next level and make your ultimate offer.
- Loyalty-focused: You will lose more money acquiring new customers than retaining existing ones. Run frequent upsell and cross-sell campaigns. Don’t forget promotions too.
If you’re having trouble writing your emails, you can download this template that contains the million-dollar emails that AppSumo used to grow into a nine-figure business.