In the kitchen, a funnel is used to get liquids or powders into the narrow opening in a bottle or other container.
But when it comes to selling online courses, we use a sales funnel to slowly direct everyday people who might be interested in our topic into buyers and students.
So, how do you create a sales funnel to sell online courses?
The sales funnel for your online course will consist of three main parts:
- A top (e.g. website traffic, YouTube views etc)
- A middle (email and/or YouTube subscribers)
- A bottom (pitching your online course)
In the top of your sales funnel you're just making people aware that you exist.
In the middle of the funnel you need to convert your audience into subscribers and deliver lots of value to build trust and show your are an expert on your topic.
At the end of the funnel, you need to make a pitch to really sell your online course and show people why is will be valuable or beneficial for them.
In this article you'll learn what a sales funnel is, the different parts of a sales funnel, key metrics you can use to measure the success of your funnel, and some examples of email sequences you can use for yourself.
Table of Contents
What Is A Sales Funnel?
As a budding online entrepreneur, there are two mistakes you can make when trying to sell your online course.
1) You can choose not to focus on selling or marketing at all, assuming that people will automatically find and buy your great content without any kind of advertising. This is what a lot of new course creators do.
They put great content up, but then wonder why their website isn't getting any visitors, let alone creating sales for them.
2) You can also focus on selling too much. Trying to sell all the time can come off as desperate and turns away potential customers too.
If you've ever walked into a brick-and-mortar store and had a salesperson come on way too strong when you just want some time to look around, then you know what I'm talking about.
Being too pushy is ineffective and actually decreases your chances of making a sale. That's just as true for online sales as it is in the real world.
Creating a sales funnel is a nice happy medium. It's a multi-step process that gently coaxes people toward making a purchase, while building up trust and rapport along the way.
Learn how to start, create and scale your online course with Parker Walbeck (a regular guy earning $250k per month teaching online courses)
Instead of being that pushy salesperson, it's being one who is just there if you have any questions.
Giving you a chance to inspect the product you might be interested in without pressure and supporting you through the decision-making and buying process.
A funnel takes some work up front to set up. But once you do, you'll see your online course sales continue to grow without any extra work on your part.
The funnel will do all the work for you! So setting up a sales funnel is one of the best things you can do to grow your business as a course creator.
Why Do Sales Funnels Work?
What exactly do sales funnels do to help increase sales in your business?
1) They Create Awareness About Your Course
Before anybody is going to want to buy your course, they have to hear about it first to begin with!
The first stage of your sales funnel is making people aware that you exist.
2) They Capture People's Interest
People can be aware that you exist, but you need to give them a reason to be interested in you. The start of your sales funnel should always be offering some kind of value. Whether that's a free video course, a checklist, or just useful information.
3) They Create A Call To Action
A good sales funnel is designed to get people to do some behavior that you want them to do.
The end goal is to get them to buy your online course. But before you get to that point, there is likely an intermediary step that you'll want prospective customers to take.
That could be something as simple as clicking on a link or an ad. Or ideally getting them to sign up to your email list.
Whatever call to action you get the people to interact with to take, it should ideally capture their interest.
You want some way to contact them in the future, whether that's getting them to subscribe to your Youtube channel, follow you on Twitter, or sign up for your newsletter.
Having a way to contact them in the future is a key part of keeping them moving through your sales funnel.
4) They Present People With An Offer
Once you have a way to contact prospective customers and you've warmed them up a bit, you want to present them with a tempting offer to bring them even closer toward becoming a customer.
Your offer might come in the form of getting them to sign up for a webinar where you'll eventually pitch them with an offer to sign up for your course.
You might send them to a sales page that explains all the features and benefits of your course. Or you might put them through an email sequence to warm them up for the sale before eventually presenting them with your course to buy.
5) Sales Funnels Close Sales!
The end result of all of the previous steps is that people end up signing up for your course (and of course, paying you for it!)
You don't necessarily need to wait until the very end of your sales funnel to get people to sign up. Some people will be ready to sign up early on, while others will need to go through more stages of your funnel and get to know you better before they're ready to buy your course.
But the end goal of your sales funnel is always to get them to the checkout page for your course. Whether that takes one email or ten!
What Are The Parts Of A Sales Funnel?
You might hear online marketers talking about TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU. These aren't the names of strange exotic foods, they're referring to the different parts of a sales funnel.
We can generally break a sales funnel down into three parts: the top, the middle, and the bottom.
If you imagine a sales funnel like an actual funnel, the top of the funnel is widest and gradually tapers down toward the bottom.
The Top Of The Sales Funnel
At the start of your sales funnel, you're just trying to get yourself known and increase your visibility. You just want people to be aware that you exist.
Most people at the top of the funnel won't be ready to buy from you yet. They're just becoming acquainted with you. Whether that's through your blogs, Youtube channel, or some other medium.
The Middle Of The Funnel
The middle of the funnel is where people start becoming interested in you. You convert them from regular viewers into prospects and leads for your product. At this point you can start retargeting ads to people who might be interested in your product.
More importantly, you can get them onto your email list by providing newsletters, mini courses, cheat sheets, or other useful information.
The main purpose of the middle of the funnel is transforming someone from just knowing about you into someone who likes, respects, and/or trusts you.
This is the part of the sales funnel where you establish some kind of relationship with your leads and get a way to repeatedly contact them again.
The Bottom Of The Funnel
By the bottom of the funnel, you've already built enough trust that it's time to present them with the long-form sales page for your online course.
Just because they're warmed up to you doesn't mean this stage is easy though. You'll still have to provide a compelling argument, including the benefits of your product and why they need it.
You need to be persuasive enough that you get your leads to take action and buy your course.
If you want to capture extra people at the bottom of your funnel, you can give them a bit of an extra nudge in the form of a limited-time discount or coupon codes.
Evergreen Funnels vs. Open/Closed Enrollments
An evergreen sales funnel is one that's permanently open and generating sales for you. When we talk about the traditional sales funnel, the majority of the time we're talking about an evergreen sales funnel.
You set up the automated process one time, and people will continually go through the process of discovering who you are, learning what you are all about, and hopefully buying your course.
For most new online course creators, we'd recommend sticking to an evergreen sales funnel. You set it up once, and the sales will ideally just keep coming in if you've set everything up correctly.
There's another kind of funnel, which is a deadline or open/closed enrollment funnel.
You might do this the first time around when you are launching your online course.
This kind of funnel uses real deadlines to create a sense of scarcity and urgency in your leads.
You can say that your course is only available for so many weeks out of the year, and then it will be closed for registration for the rest of the year. It adds a sense of value and exclusivity to your course.
When you say you're closing course registration at a certain date, you really need to stick to it. Regardless of whether you've sold your courses to as many people as you'd hoped or not. So it can be a bit of a gamble.
Key Metrics To Measure
Cost Per Acquisition
Customer Lifetime Value
Email Opt-In Rate
Email Opens & Clicks
Sales Conversion Rate
Once you've got a sales funnel set up for your course, how do you know if you've created a good one or a bad one? There are some key metrics that you need to look at to evaluate how your sales funnel is performing.
1) Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)
This means how much it costs you to generate a lead. You can measure how many people view or click your ads, but that doesn't really tell you how those actions relate to actual revenue generated through those actions.
An acquisition isn't necessarily just getting someone to buy your course. It can be just getting somebody to sign up for your email list as well.
Generally you'll want to look at the cost per acquisition for each individual channel or ad campaign. For example, look at your CPA for Facebook Ads separate from Google Ads, although you can also look at the average CPA for both of them as well.
Calculating your CPA is pretty easy. Just divide your total costs to get customers (usually your advertising expenses) by the number of acquisitions you've made during that same time period – either in terms of people who bought your course, signed up for your email list, or whatever metric an acquisition means to you.
So if you spent $500 on Facebook ads directing people to your lead magnet or newsletter and 50 of them signed up, then your cost per acquisition would be $10 ($500 / 50 = $10.)
2) Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
Why would I say that cost per acquisition could include something like getting a person to sign up to your email list, instead of only worrying about measuring course sales?
It's because if you're a shrewd online marketer, acquiring a customer is worth more to you than just selling a one-off course.
Once somebody is on your email list, you can sell all kinds of other things to them like upsells and downsells in your course, other courses you have for sale, affiliate products and other people's courses that you recommend for a commission, physical products, membership sites, and all kinds of other stuff.
Your customer lifetime value or CLV is the average amount of revenue that you expect to make off of a single customer or person on your email list.
Over time as your line of products and sales funnel grows, your CLV should continue to increase as well.
Calculating customer lifetime value can be more tricky since you don't know which customer is buying what or which channel they came through. So everything gets lumped together.
Before we can calculate your CLV, we first need to get a bunch of other numbers first. You can calculate these numbers over any time period such as annually, monthly, etc.
Average purchase value
This is the total revenue you made during a time period (let's say in a year) divided by the total number of purchases. If you make $30,000 in revenue from your courses each year from 150 purchases, then your average purchase value is $200.
Average purchase frequency rate
Divide the total number of purchases by the amount of unique customers you've had.
If you had 150 purchases during the year from 75 different customers, then your average purchase frequency rate is 2.
Once you have those two numbers, you can calculate customer value.
Multiply your average purchase value by the average purchase frequency rate.
$200 x 2 = $400. So each customer is worth $400 to you.
Average customer lifespan
This is the average number of years that a customer keeps buying from you. This one is a bit tricky. I'd normally say someone is still your customer as long as they haven't unsubscribed from your email list yet.
Let's say the average person stays on our mailing list for 1.5 years before they get sick of us and unsubscribe, and we can potentially make sales to them during that entire period.
Customer Lifetime Value
Now we can finally calculate lifetime value. Multiple your customer value by the average customer lifespan.
$400 x 1.5 = $600.
What does this mean? For every person who signs up for your mailing list, we can expect to earn $600 in total revenue. If we're thinking long-term, that means we could spend $500 on advertising to generate one lead, because we expect to earn $600 from them over the next year and a half. That's still a 20% return on investment!
Of course to have a high customer lifetime value, you're going to need multiple items for a lead to buy from you over their lifespan.
The formula doesn't work if you only have one online course for sale and nothing else. In that case, your CLV can only ever be the price of your course until you add more products for sale.
(If you only sell one course at one price, then you don't need to calculate this. Just use your course price, because 100% of customers are all paying the same amount.)
3) Email Opt-In Rate
Your email opt-in rate tells you the percentage of people who visit your website or offer that subscribe to your email list.
So if 500 people visit your website and 100 sign up to your email list, then you have an opt-in rate of 20%.
That would be an amazing opt-in rate. For the average website, you can expect an opt-in rate anywhere from under 1% to 5% or higher.
However, if you're driving advertising traffic to a dedicated landing page designed to get people to give you their email (often called a "squeeze page") then opt-in rates can be as high as 25% or more.
4) Email Opens & Clicks
These metrics are pretty straightforward.
They tell you the percentage of people who open your email, and also the percentage of people who click links in your email.
Most autoresponders like MailChimp and Aweber should provide these key metrics as standard reports that they offer. They have special tracking inside the emails they send out for you to keep track of how many times people open and click links in your emails.
A good open rate for emails is between 15% and 25%.
Click rates vary a lot by industry. If you get anything above 15% you're doing pretty well.
5) Sales Conversion Rate
A sales conversion rate (or just conversion rate) is calculated by taking your total number of conversions (sales) and dividing by the total number of visitors (usually to your course sales page.)
So if 500 people click through to your sales page and 50 of them buy, your conversion rate is 10%.
Conversion rate also varies a lot by industry. Some might be as low as 2%, while the top marketers can get conversion rates as high as 25% especially late in the sales funnel with qualified leads.
If the sales page for your online course has a conversion rate of 10% or more, you're doing quite good. That means 1 in 10 people who visit your sales page end up buying!
How To Create A Webinar
A webinar can be an awesome tool in your sales funnel. So much so that I thought it was worth devoting a whole section discussing how to create a webinar, as well as discussing the different structures or formats that a webinar can take.
Planning is the key to making a great webinar. You need to decide exactly what the goal of your webinar is beforehand.
Usually a webinar is a sales tool used as part of your larger sales funnel to promote and sell your course. Although maybe you just want to create a free webinar to grow your email list or build authority as well.
A good webinar has valuable and engaging content that will keep people watching to the end, when you'll have earned your right to promote your course. The content in your webinar needs to naturally lead toward the logical conclusion of viewers buying your course.
Step 1: Pick A Topic
Choosing the correct topic that sells can make or break your webinar. In terms of the number of people who register to come to watch it, the number of people who actually show up to watch, and how many people will convert into leads or sales.
All webinars should solve a problem that your audience faces. If you're familiar with your niche, you should have a good idea of something basic that your audience struggles with, or some of their main pain points that you can address.
Keep it specific as well. You don't want to create an ultimate guide webinar that covers everything in your course, or viewers won't have any reason to buy! Focus on just one particular issue to hook people in.
If you're selling an online course about playing guitar for beginners, maybe your webinar will teach viewers how to play three basic chords and then put them together to play a simple song.
If your course is about dog training, perhaps demonstrate how viewers can correct one particular behavior in their pets.
Step 2: Create An Outline
Before you start advertising your webinar, you should create a solid outline for it first.
During the outline creation process, you might end up changing the final name of your webinar. So it's a smart idea to wait until you've got the entire webinar mapped out before announcing it to the public.
Make sure you're giving away solid information. People will only buy your course if the webinar itself provides value for them. That will get them thinking that if the webinar is already so useful, then the paid course content must be amazing!
Your webinar should deliver a specific result. People react most favorably to webinars when they go away feeling like they got something of value from it.
You can provide them with an action they can start taking right away, or it can be something more intangible like motivation and inspiration.
You don't have to give away heaps of information in your webinar. In fact, if you make your webinar too complicated it can get confusing. So focus on creating a basic outline where you walk viewers toward knowing one new valuable piece of information by the end of your webinar.
Step 3: Create A Structure For Your Webinar
Have you heard of the Pareto principle before? It says that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. I like to apply the 80/20 rule to how I structure my webinar, along with many other areas of creating and promoting my online course.
80% of your webinar should be providing great value to viewers, and the remaining 20% should be promoting your course.
If your entire webinar is just a huge sales pitch, people will be turned off and likely click away. You need to be constantly delivering value to them throughout your webinar.
So what should your webinar look like exactly?
I like to start all of my webinars by welcoming people and asking where everybody is watching from. This buys you a few minutes for a few more late people to join your webinar.
It's a good idea to summarize what the webinar is about and what you're going to cover today, just to reassure everybody that they're in the right place.
Make viewers feel welcome, and announce the places they type in chat to make them really feel like a part of the webinar.
According to motivational speaker Tony Robbins, when people are more engaged, they're more likely to retain information. They'll also feel more committed and likely to buy at the end of the webinar!
Once you feel that most people have arrived, I like to go over an agenda and let them know what I'm going to discuss during today's webinar.
I also like to give people a reason to stay all the way to the end of the webinar by teasing them with a bonus that I'll reveal once the webinar is over.
Usually that's a coupon or discount code for the course, although it might be a special link where people gain access to extra bonus content, or additional freebies when they buy the course.
People love stories and it's usually a good idea to start with one after you've introduced yourself. Make it directly related to the topic your webinar is covering, and keep it fairly brief though.
A good story is one that provides social proof. That might mean providing testimonials, statistics and numbers about your own success, or anything else that makes people more accepting of you.
The main portion of your webinar will be providing the content that you promised when people signed up initially. So if you told people that they were going to get 5 social media hacks that boosted your website traffic by 300%, actually provide them with that.
Once you've provided the main value that people came to your webinar for, you need to make a smooth transition to pitching your online course. Talk about what your paid course includes and what people will get if they sign up.
You don't need to rush through the pitch. You've basically got anybody who is still sticking around wrapped around your finger and wanting to hear more. Anybody who isn't interested will likely drop out from the webinar as soon as you've delivered your value and started your pitch.
Don't feel bad or sleazy about making your pitch. Remember, you took time to provide people will great free information in your webinar so far, so you deserve a few minutes to pitch your course.
Expect people who are really interested in buying your course to have some questions. Have time set aside to stay on the webinar and answer questions for them.
Fitting Questions Into Your Webinar Structure
Speaking of questions, you'll want to manage them strategically throughout your entire webinar. Keep an eye on your chat as you're talking, or take a brief moment to read through chat during natural pauses in your presentation to look for questions specifically related to your online course.
If somebody asks a question about your paid product, you want to stop and answer it right away.
That person might be ready to buy if you just answer that one question, so don't expect them to stick around to the end or you might lose a sale.
And if one person has a specific question or objection, many other people in your chat might have it as well.
Webinar attendees will also let you know if you've said something that's unclear and confusing. You want to watch out for any confusion in chat and clarify right away, or you risk people leaving as well.
Trying to speak and read chat at the same time is difficult, but it's a skill you'll get better at the more webinars that you do.
You should also be asking your audience engaging questions throughout the webinar to get them involved, beyond just asking them where they're from at the beginning.
If your course is about learning to play guitar, you might ask people why they want to learn guitar and read out the results that people type in chat.
If your webinar and course teach people how to make money, you might ask people what they want to use the money for when they implement the information you're sharing with them.
Step 4: Make An Awesome Presentation
We've already established that your presentation needs to be engaging and it needs to deliver value. But it needs to be other things as well, namely professional looking.
How your webinar looks is the first impression that people will get when they join, and provides its own level of social proof.
- You don't have to go too high-tech. Many huge online course creators like Tai Lopez and Grant Cardone write on flip charts with markers or use whiteboards to present information during their webinar.
- In fact, going too high-tech can backfire because it makes your webinar more complicated and likely to have technical difficulties. You also run the risk of simply reading your powerpoint slides out to your audience instead of actually presenting.
- If you do make slides, don't put too much information on each slide. You don't want people to get distracted by reading large amounts of information off the slides themselves.
- You shouldn't stay on any one slide for more than a minute. You want to keep moving fast to keep people interested. That means you probably need more slides than you'd expect.
- Use a mix of different slides. Some should just have images to break up long streaks of slides that only have text. Some of your slides should have questions where you engage your audience.
- Remember, slides are there to support your webinar content, not to be a main crutch for it to rest upon. You don't want to read your slides word for word. If that's all you're going to do, maybe it's better to just provide people with a free PDF to read themselves!
Types Of Webinars
There are many different webinar formats you can consider, but here are three of my top picks.
These are the most common kind of webinar.
It's a pre-made speech along with a Powerpoint presentation or something similar. These kinds of presentations are easy to create, and give you a clear structure to walk through.
You don't need to present your webinar yourself, you can bring on another person or a whole panel of people to create your webinar. It can either be other experts in your field, or even past students.
Having a Q&A webinar is less structured than a presentation, but it's much more engaging.
It's a good idea to collect your questions from the audience in advance and pick out the most important or relevant ones to discuss.
If you're going through the chat on the fly, you might be caught off guard by questions that you haven't prepared an answer for.