DON’T MISS OUT

Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

Smart Sales Funnels Are Coming – Are You Ready?

by Matt Ackerson

The future of online marketing is arriving now…

And it’s about to transform the way you sell your products and services online.

But who am I and why should you care what I have to say on this topic?

Well, I’m the founder of a Web marketing agency called Petovera that specializes in custom landing page and website sales funnel design. Google consistently ranks us at or near #1 when you search for “sales funnels” and related terms, and currently 7500+ people read our blog articles every month.

The big story that I want to get across to you here is that the online marketing barrier for attracting and converting customers via your website is rising as data and segmentation allows us to target prospective customers with a degree of sophistication never before possible.

minority report ads futureRemember in the futuristic movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise is walking through the mall and all of the ads are scanning his eyes, measuring different factors like his location, what he’s wearing, doing, and current state of mind? The ads then automatically and instantly customize the presentation of their offer based on this data.

This once “futuristic” scene is now becoming a reality. It will eventually affect the way all business websites are designed to sell goods and services. This shift is happening right now because of next-generation website sales funnels, or “Smart Sales Funnels.”

The Smart Sales Funnel: What is it?

grasshopper sales funnel

Simple example of Grasshopper.com’s sales funnel

People have been talking about marketing like the kind portrayed in Minority Report for years.

Retargeting and dynamic email marketing automation from companies like InfusionSoft and ActiveCampaign, or Exit-Detection pop-ups were just the beginning.

Smart sales funnels—or smart funnels for short—are the evolutionary result of data-driven marketing and increased buyer sophistication.

A smart funnel is best defined as a fully integrated website design that recognizes each visitor and shows different content and offers based on where each visitor is at in the sales process. For example, a basic smart funnel could be setup to function like this:

  • Is this person a new visitor? If yes, show her the introductory homepage with a call to action to join the email newsletter.
  • Is this person already an email subscriber? Then show her an introductory offer.
  • Is this person an existing customer or client? If so, based on what they previously bought, recommend a “next level” purchase.

Obviously you can get much more sophisticated with it depending on how your funnel is setup and how much data you have on a visitor.

Over the next 5–10 years I predict that smart funnels will become a near marketing requirement that every business must have in order to compete and market effectively.

The Smart Funnel: Why now?

The invention of the smart sales funnel is the result of a few key factors culminating right now:

  • Increasing competition online: more people (many retired or out of work) are entering the market looking to sell a variety of products and services. According to Babson College, who has been tracking the number since 1999, the number of people involved in startups hit a record high of 13% last year.
  • Ad-Tech advances like retargeting, exit-detection, and integrated CRM / email marketing technologies have set the stage to make this concept mainstream, readily accepted, and a logical next step in the march towards the marketer’s perfect ideal: the right message to the right person at the right time.
  • Education: This is also a factor in the increase in competition online. Education has become a form of marketing in itself, and with people like myself teaching the next generation of entrepreneurs and small businesses how to do it, the level of sophistication of the average person has risen across the board.

These factors have set the stage for the concept of the smart funnel to explode on to the internet marketing scene in the coming months and years. And, yes, I know that sounds a little extreme, but, I believe the facts support its coming popularity.

Even though the concept of a smart sales funnel is still in its infancy, a few popular websites and savvy marketers have already begun to implement it. Let’s look some examples…

NOTE: Read to the end or click here to download my bonus checklist resource to help you take the guesswork out of sales funnels and smart sales funnel design.

4 Examples of Smart Sales Funnels

There are only a few examples of true smart funnels on the Web today, largely because this is still such a new concept. Here are a few I was able to find.

EXAMPLE #1 – THE CRAZY EGG FUNNEL

CrazyEgg has been one of the companies leading the way in this young revolution. As a company that I’ve studied and followed closely for years now, it comes as no surprise that they were one of the first companies to implement a smart funnel.

Here’s how the Crazy Egg funnel works:

Step 1: Homepage

This is what pretty much everyone sees when they arrive on the homepage (though Crazy Egg does frequently A/B test their designs so, this could change by the time this is published).

crazy egg homepage

When you arrive on the homepage, you can input your website, followed by an email address, at which point you are redirected to step 2, pricing.

Step 2: Pricing

crazy egg pricing sales funnel step 2

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Let’s say that you leave the website and come back later.

When you come back, because CrazyEgg set a simple cookie on your browser to remember what point in the sales process you left off at, you are automatically going to be redirected to the pricing page.

And doing this makes sense right? You already entered your website address and email in the first step. Why should you go through those same pages again?

Step 3: Checkout

crazy egg pricing step 3 funnel

Step 3, which is the checkout page, functions the same way as step 2. For visitors who abandon the sales funnel at this point, they will automatically be redirected to the checkout page the next time they come back, picking up exactly where they left off.

Integrated email follow-up:

In addition, it’s worth mentioning that an email autoresponder is triggered to begin right after a visitor passes step 1 but exits the funnel at steps 2 or 3.

The purpose of the autoresponder is to, of course, educate the prospect and bring them back to the site to finish the checkout process.

EXAMPLE #2 – BRENNAN DUNN’S SMART FUNNEL (DOUBLE YOUR FREELANCING.COM)

A buddy of mine and fellow mastermind member, Brennan Dunn, has been ahead of the curve on this trend as well.

Brennan went ahead and implemented this over at his flagship site DoubleYourFreelancingRate.com in the form of a pop-up bar who’s content varies based on where the visitor is at in the sales funnel.

For instance, if you aren’t on the Brennan’s email list, it would show a call-to-action to sign-up for his email list.

double your freelancing free course smart sales funnel

If you were already on his email list, the call-to-action would be to take the next step and buy his ecourse / ebook.
brennan dunn smart funnel example

EXAMPLE #3 – LAURA ROEDER (LKR SOCIAL MEDIA)

lkr social media laura roeder

Laura’s website has a bit more basic of an implementation of the concept, but it’s still “smart.”

Here’s how it works: after you enter your email, a cookie is set on your browser and you’re redirected to a landing page for LKR’s Social Brilliant product. If you leave the website and come back later, you’ll be brought back to that same landing page for the product, instead of being shown the email opt-in page again.

Here’s Laura’s take on the smart sales funnel trend when we spoke recently over Skype:

laura roeder“Having sales processes and websites that are more dynamic makes sense for the business and makes sense for the customer too. It’s a way to customize what the user is seeing based on what you already know about them, which is great for the customer. If you can show me what I want to buy next and make it really easy for me, then that’s a benefit—and of course it doesn’t have to be a purchase—if you’re showing me some content that you already know I’m going to be interested in based on content that I’ve seen before. The technology is really getting easier, which is really the reason why I think most people don’t do it. They can’t be bothered to set everything up and think through marketing-wise what you want to show people.”

EXAMPLES #4 – CONSTANT CONTACT

constant contact smart sales funnel

Constant Constant, one of the leaders in email marketing for small businesses and a publicly traded company, also uses a smart sales funnel on its website.

The initial homepage content and design is 100% focused on getting you to sign-up for their free trial, as you can see in the above screenshot.

And once you’ve signed up for a trial account, the next time you come back, you see the homepage design pictured below. At this point in the sales process, Constant Contact knows you’re already on a free trial so they want to re-enforce and educate you about the benefits of using their marketing tool (while also prompting you to login to your account and use the product).

welcome back constant contact homepage

But they even go one step further (and this is really cool).

The cookie tracking on their site is linked up to a database so they know when your free trial is over. So by the end of your trial, the homepage has transformed again, but this time the call to action is to buy the product.

It looks like they even went one step further and used a personalization marketing strategy to present the design of the page within the context of the holiday season (since it’s mid-November at the time of this writing).

constant contact

HONORABLE MENTION – AMAZON

Ecommerce retailers will appreciate this one.

Being the biggest retailer on the Web, ecommerce giant Amazon is constantly split testing and tweaking their website design to maximize conversions.

Since their sales funnel isn’t so “linear” like some of the examples above (step 1 – email optin or free sign-up, step 2 – pricing or trial, step 3 – paid offer, etc.) one thing they do is show you items related to other items you’ve browsed or recently purchased.

The “smart” aspect to this comes into play with the fact that it’s not simply a curated list. No, they’re crunching data, looking at what others purchased and how those buyer combinations relate back to a practical, custom-tailored purchase recommendation for you.

related items amazon funnel

How Can You Implement a Smart Sales Funnel in Your Business?

The best way to go about implementing a smart funnel for your website to begin by thinking about it as a “step-by-step conversation” with a new customer.

Your strategy isn’t to try to sell them a high-priced product or service right off the bat. That’s like attempting to marry someone on a first date. It’s silly.

Instead, here’s a basic template to follow:

  1. Step 1: Since this is a new customer and they might not know anything about your company or brand, it’s logical to start by trying to build the relationship. Perhaps, invite them to join your email list. You want to do this because if they leave your site without signing up, there’s a 70% chance on average that they will never return. Email allows you to continuously follow up with them, educate them, and nudge them to return to your site and make a purchase decision. For a SaaS business, this is where users are signing up for a free trial or a free account (see Crazy Egg and Constant Contact examples above).
  2. Step 2: Get them to make a small purchase. Even if it’s as low as $1, this is still a pivotal milestone to reach in your funnel because it shows that they value what you’re offering via a real transaction. In addition, this small, initial commitment means they are more likely to make another, larger purchase later on. For a service or product business, you might try to sell a $5 to $9 ebook or case study at this point.
  3. Step 3: Present your core offer or gradually escalate with more expensive, higher-value offers. If you’re a service business, this is where you make your $1000+ offer. With a SaaS business, this is where you’re retaining the customer month-to-month and/or nudging them to pre-pay for the year at a discount, and/or upgrading to the next pricing level.

That’s a relatively basic template. Now let’s look at some tools to help you actually set this up in your business.

Smart Sales Funnel Tools & Related Strategies

I was surprised to find that there are virtually no tools on the market to simplify the work involved in implementing a smart funnel. All of the examples given above required custom programming. That means the average business would have to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars to implement a smart funnel on their website.

Being that our company’s website is built on WordPress and we knew our business and our clients businesses would benefit from having a tool like this, we’ve decided to make our own…

The Smart Sales Funnel (WordPress plugin) – My team and I are currently working to launch version 1 of our Smart Sales Funnel plugin in 2015. If you’re interested in getting early access (and a nice discount in exchange for your feedback) you can click here to learn more and get on the early-bird list. Version 1 will be simple to start, but it will integrate with any Wordpress site, allow you to setup multiple “levels” customized to your unique sales funnel, give you basic performance stats, and also integrate with Infusionsoft, Drip, Ontraport, and Active Campaign.

Active Campaign – When it comes to handling the “backend” of your funnel (email marketing, automated follow-up) services like Infusionsoft are out of reach for many startups and small businesses. That’s why I’m a vocal supporter of Active Campaign—the awesome customer support, rich functionality, and integrations make it a no-brainer. But add to that the fact that it’s free up to 2,500 contacts. Definitely check it out.

Exit-detection – Exit-intent tools installed on your site show a pop-up offer when a visitor indicates he’s about to leave the site (via his mouse movements on the screen). Though not a “smart funnel” strategy directly, exit-intent tools and strategies fall in line with this concept of building your funnel in way that is dynamic and reactive to customers behavior on your website.

BounceExchange helped to popularize exit-detection pop-ups, though there are a number of much more affordable alternatives. SumoMe is a free WordPress plugin that offers a free “smart pop-up” option, but I recommend OptinMonster specifically, though it costs a bit more.

Step-Based Retargeting – This concept takes the same principle of smart funnels (showing content and offers to the customer based on where in the sales process he or she is at) and extends it to retargeting.

This way, if someone arrives at step 2 in your sales funnel, and she then leaves your website, you can show an ad that will “follow” her around the internet which is relevant to completing step 2. This strategy is then also applied to steps 3 and so on, always showing a unique ad relevant to the last step where the customer left off.

If you’re a programmer working on a SaaS product with a simple, linear sales funnel (like CrazyEgg’s above), here’s some code I wrote about a year ago when I was working on a SaaS side project.

This piece of PHP code is very simple, and it’s possible there are more efficient ways to accomplish the same result. What this does help you accomplish, though, is if your core sales funnel has three steps (introduction, middle / pricing page, and a checkout page), then this piece of code will automatically redirect the user to the last step they left off on using cookies.

For example, say a visitor entered his email on the homepage, arrived on the middle page, then left and came back later. When that visitor came back, even if they typed in the homepage URL (www.example.com), they will be redirected to the middle page (www.example.com/pricing). Here’s that code:

if (isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_2nd_step’]) || isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_signup’])) {

$days = 700;
$time = time()+60*60*24*$days; // store cookie for 2 years or until deleted
if (!isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_middle_page_visit’])){
$name = ‘sb_middle_page_visit’;
$value = 1;
setcookie($name, $value, $time);
}
else{
$name = ‘sb_middle_page_visit’;
$value = $_COOKIE[‘sb_middle_page_visit’] + 1;
setcookie($name, $value, $time);
}
}

if(isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_2nd_step’]) &&
!isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_signup’]) &&
$_GET[‘p’] !== ‘pricing’){
header(‘Location: ‘.$url.’/pricing’);
exit;
}
elseif (isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_signup’])){
$plan = $_COOKIE[‘sb_signup’];
header(‘Location: ‘.$url_secure.’/?signup=’.$plan);
exit;
}
}
else{

// Track number of visits before an email sign-up conversion
$days = 700;
$time = time()+60*60*24*$days; // store cookie for 2 years or until deleted
$value = 1;
$name = ‘sb_home_visit’;

if(!isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_home_visit’]) && !isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_2nd_step’])){
setcookie($name, $value, $time);
}
elseif (isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_home_visit’]) && !isset($_COOKIE[‘sbt_2nd_step’])) {
$value = $_COOKIE[‘sb_home_visit’] + 1;
setcookie($name, $value, $time); // increment
}

if(isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_2nd_step’]) &&
!isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_signup’])){
header(‘Location: ‘.$url.’/pricing’);
exit;
}
elseif (isset($_COOKIE[‘sb_signup’])){
$plan = $_COOKIE[‘sb_signup’];
header(‘Location: ‘.$url_secure.’/?signup=’.$plan);
exit;
}
}

If you want some inspiration for how to set up your funnel or you want to see a breakdown of what other successful companies are doing, check out this detailed article with more sales funnel examples.

Is this really the future of marketing? How far can you take this?

If you’re still skeptical that this will be an up and coming trend, checkout these two quotes from two other accomplished entrepreneurs and marketers:

bryan harris videofruit
“Anytime you can make an experience more personal the better. I’ve started doing personalized video responses to people that email me and ask questions. Conversion rates on that stuff is thru the roof.”
– Bryan Harris, VideoFruit.com

alex turnbull groove

“Smart funnels are definitely valuable. Constant Contact does a really good job with this after you sign up… We haven’t set up smart funnels on our site yet but we certainly will be playing around with some stuff here in the future.”
– Alex Turnbull, GrooveHQ.com

So it’s pretty clear the Smart Sales Funnel is going to grow in popularity as we move into 2015 and beyond.

There really are no limits to how far this can be taken, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

And remember the bleak Minority Report example that I started this article with? This is part of the reason why I expect some new government regulation (like the cookie laws already passed in Europe that require websites to inform visitors that information is being collected on them) around new marketing tech like this down the road.

However, as long as you don’t operate in the black or gray zones of “data-ethics” when it comes to your smart funnel, there’s little to worry about.

Conclusion

  • A smart sales funnel is an automated website funnel design that changes what content and offers are shown to existing and would-be customers, depending where they are at in the sales process (i.e. on the email list? already bought something?).
  • Smart funnels will likely grow in popularity as marketers look for new ways to gain a competitive edge while utilizing the wealth of marketing data generated online.
  • There are a number of prominent examples of companies who are ahead of the curve and already using a smart funnel strategy in their businesses, like Crazy Egg and Constant Contact.
  • It’s still early, so there are few tools on the market right now that make the process of implementing a smart funnel on your website easy (which is why we’re developing our own and why we recommend other related tools and strategies in the meantime).
  • The rise of the smart sales funnel is happening now. You can expect it to become a near marketing “requirement” as businesses adopt the strategy and new tools and tech come out around the concept.

Featured Bonus Download: Want to make sure your current website sales funnel is up to par? Ready to implement a smart funnel of your own? I’ve put together TWO handy checklists to help you take all the guesswork out of the process. You can download the PDFs for free by clicking here.

Next steps: first, if you learned something useful from this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ so others can benefit from the ideas and resources here.

Second, leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this upcoming marketing trend and how you plan to incorporate it into your marketing mix.

19 Comments

DON’T MISS OUT

Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

Matt Ackerson

Matt Ackerson is the founder of Petovera, a web marketing company specializing in custom landing page design and website sales funnel design. He writes a weekly newsletter covering the latest tips, tricks, and results-focused strategies that help small businesses and service professionals to grow faster and more profitably.

19 COMMENTS

Comment Policy

Please join the conversation! We like long and thoughtful communication.
Abrupt comments and gibberish will not be approved. Please, only use your real name, not your business name or keywords. We rarely allow links in your comment.
Finally, please use your favorite personal social media profile for the website field.

SPEAK YOUR MIND

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Avery says:
    December 21, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    you are in reality a just right webmaster. The web site loading pace is amazing.
    It seems that you’re doing any unique trick. Moreover, The contents are
    masterpiece. you’ve done a magnificent task in this topic!

  2. Matt Ackerson says:
    May 9, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Hi George,

    No, there is nothing on the market that I recommend right now.

    Your best bet is building something custom until something new is developed, like our plugin.

    The main issue for us and why we decided to hold off on developing it is one of focus and time. If we could find a good partner to help lead the project, it would be great to see it developed sooner rather than later.

    Matt

  3. George says:
    May 8, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    I take it your answer is “No,” there is nothing you would recommend, which is OK.

    I have a number of clients for whom I provide marketing services across the board…

  4. George says:
    May 6, 2015 at 12:04 am

    Matt, I opted in for your upcoming smart funnel plugin but got no sign up verification. Is that how you have it set until the plugin is released? And by the way when do you expect it to be out?

    • Matt Ackerson says:
      May 6, 2015 at 10:45 am

      Hi George,

      I’ll be sending an email announcement about it soon, and yes, there’s no email verification when you sign-up.

      We’re not sure pursuing a plugin right now is even worth it since it seems more people prefer (and need) a done-for-you type service. Interested in your thoughts on it and what your background is…

      Matt

      • George says:
        May 7, 2015 at 8:26 pm

        Hi, Matt. I’ve spent 30 years in the marketing trenches mostly as VP of Sales and Marketing.

        Making funnels smarter beyong setting up automation rules with an autoresponder is invetiable but probably won’t become mainstream until a couple of years down the line.

        My take is that whoever presents an effective solution first (i.e., now) will reap great rewards. Being first in anew category, as I’m sure you know, is the #1 marketing strategy.

        In ohter words, if you have the know-how and capital to create and market a smart funnel now, you should do it — provided also that you come up with a great name and the free education course that would go with it. Plug In with a one-time fee in or SaaS with monthly fee.

        The Done-for-You service could be your upsell.

        If you have anything in mind now that can do the basic smart funnel functions, such as customizing a headline based on the source of the traffic, or, adding an extra bonus when someone visits the Offer Page for a second time, I would appreciate it if you shared.

        If not, I guess I’ll have to rely on my smart coder from India for a solution with some php that would enable the above via cookies.

        Best,

        George

        • Matt Ackerson says:
          May 8, 2015 at 1:50 pm

          What’s your business George?

  5. Julie Wolf says:
    March 22, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Love it! I am signed up to the plugin early access. If you can contct me on Skype soon, juliewolf Skype Coach, I may be able to pitch you in my upcoming Skype Marketing Training. I am THAT inspired by your words here re: smart funnel. I could see encopproating this concept and your plugin in my Skype funnel strategy.

    • Matt Ackerson says:
      March 23, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks Julie! I look forward to hearing your feedback as we move forward on it

  6. Tim says:
    February 23, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    This was so helpful thanks. And ClickFunnels looks awesome thanks for mentioning it Josh!

    • Matt Ackerson says:
      February 23, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks for checking it out Tim! Glad you found the article valuable.

  7. Josh Long says:
    February 15, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Matt,

    You’re really spot on with the nuances that lead to massive improvements throughout the entire engagement process.

    Very eager to see what you guys have come up with after seeing your understanding of the critical factors above. The php is helpful too, and am going to try it in our new app site as we build out a membership function to support it.

    Not sure if you’ve tried out ClickFunnels, but it’s the best thing on the market right now, and by quite a margin, too. I’d be game to walk you through some ways we’ve leveraged it if you’re interested.

    • Matt Ackerson says:
      February 15, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks Josh– happy to chat over the phone, would love to learn how you’re using Click Funnels.
      I friended you on Facebook. Shoot me some times that work for you to talk.

      • Josh says:
        February 15, 2015 at 7:17 pm

        You bet.
        Just followed through on Facebook and excited to share this with you and see what great ideas come of it.

  8. Andrew Warner says:
    February 14, 2015 at 9:17 am

    This really is the future of marketing. The experience feels more like shopping at my corner grocery store, where the owner remembers me.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      February 14, 2015 at 9:58 am

      Agreed, Andrew. And it’s going to separate the marketers who are truly interested in creating a unique brand experience from the pack.

    • Matt Ackerson says:
      February 14, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting Andrew.

      Exactly — current web marketing innovations are all leading to this: mass personalization that is driven by and in reaction to each individual customer.

      Some people would argue that it will be too difficult to implement for many businesses when you start taking into account a wide variety of factors and variables in the sales process. But what those doubters don’t understand is this is going to be a progressive innovation (see the simplicity of the basic Smart Funnel WP plugin I’m proposing above).

  9. Zach says:
    February 11, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Matt, thanks for putting this together! Amazing introduction to smart funnels.

    I’ve just shared your code with a buddy of mine who runs a SAAS business. I think it will be win-win for customers and companies… neither wants to show the wrong message at the wrong time to the wrong person.

    Zach

    P.S. Heads up –

    For the Double Your Freelancing example, you wrote “If you were already on his email list, the call-to-action would be to join his email list.” Should that be “the call-to-action would be to buy his ebook” ? I can’t tell what the paid product is there.

    • Matt Ackerson says:
      February 11, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Hey Zach — Glad you liked the article, and thanks for sharing it!

      Yes, that’s right, it should say “ecourse / ebook” and I’ve updated the text to make it more clear.

      Hope to hear more from you and your friend who runs the SaaS business,
      Matt

Show Me My Heatmap

Ah, @CrazyEgg I really do love you! So useful evaluating how users are interacting with all aspects of our zanerobe.com redesign

Mike Halligan

@MrMikeHalligan

What makes people leave your website?