Creating an online course is just a first step toward becoming an edupreneur. The hard part is selling it.
There’s a lot of competition out there, with sites like Thinkific and Udemy hosting 100,000+ courses each. Standing out from the crowd and attracting learners to your course can be difficult, especially if you don’t already have an established platform with thousands of followers. Creating a sales funnel is the best way to take a proactive approach to your marketing and design a sales plan that works.
So, in this post, we’ll take a detailed look at how to create a sales funnel to help you sell online courses.
What is a sales funnel?
A sales funnel describes the entire process of attracting interested parties and converting them into paying learners on your courses. The funnel incorporates marketing strategies such as blogging, guest posting, and paying for ads, but links them all together into an overall plan that is designed to drive sales.
Chances are, you already do a lot of funnel steps, but making the conscious decision to map out the steps of your buyers’ journey concentrates your efforts and helps you identify what really works, and what strategies are just a waste of time.
The steps of a sales funnel
Just like any other sales process, a funnel has several steps, or stages, that a buyer goes through before committing to a purchase and becoming a learner. I’ve broken down how to create a sales funnel into five key steps, although other examples range up to eight stages depending on their marketing field.
The first stage of your sales funnel begins with your target audience. What problems do they have? What are their pain points? And how does your course answer their questions?
Ideally you already know who you are targeting with your course. Even if you’re teaching a subject or skill with universal appeal, tailoring your course to a specific audience will help you appeal directly to your most likely buyers. “Knitting for Beginners by Grandma Betty” will have a very different target audience to “Kent Macho presents Dudes Who Knit,” even if they are teaching the same skills.
Once you’ve identified your target audience, consider the questions they are asking, and the pain points they are looking to address. For example, somebody interested in getting started with gardening is probably asking specific questions, such as “how to grow roses,” or “best vegetables to plant at home.”
You can begin your sales funnel by addressing those pain points and making your target audience aware of your brand. Check out online forums for your subject, Google searches, and general query boards such as Reddit and Quora to find questions that your target audience are asking.
Once your target audience is aware of your brand, the next step in how to create a sales funnel is to encourage them to learn more and get involved. That could be subscribing to your blog, following you on social media, or signing up for your newsletter. However you choose to stay in touch with potential learners, make sure you get their email address. Email marketing can generate a 440 percent ROI, and email marketing has proven consistently more effective than Google ads or social media posts.
The most common way of keeping warm leads engaged is to set up a newsletter. Drive subscriptions with lead magnets — eBooks, how-to documents, templates, and other desirable products that are low cost to produce but valuable for your target audience.
Building your email list (and/or social media following) makes it easier to concentrate the next stage of your funnel on people who have already self-selected to be interested in purchasing your courses, books, and more.
Once you have attracted followers or subscribers, it’s time to make them an offer. Most edupreneurs do this over several steps using a drip campaign. That’s a series of emails that are delivered over a period of time to introduce yourself and your paid products. A basic drip campaign might look like this:
- Day 1: Welcome email
- Day 3: Link to latest blog post
- Day 7: Discount coupon or offer to watch one class for free
- Day 14: Link to sign up for paid course
Only a small percentage of your subscribers will bite on the first attempt. Instead of expecting instant results, think of this stage as a negotiation. Potential learners have already signaled their interest in your products. Now the offer has to be right — the right course, at the right price, at the right time for them to commit.
At this stage, you need to review the benefits and objections to your offer. What are the benefits of your course? How will they resolve the pain points of your target audience? What objections will potential learners raise, and how can you overcome them?
For example, a vegetable gardening course could use a blog post about tomato blight to build awareness, and a booklet on how to grow tomatoes as the lead magnet. The benefits of taking the full course are learning how to grow more vegetables successfully, saving money on grocery bills, avoiding GMO crops and pesticides commonly used in commercial farming, and getting some exercise and enjoying the outdoors. These benefits address larger pain points than the initial awareness and engagement content and speak to a larger audience.
The objections to paying for the course could include the upfront cost, concern about having the time to actually implement the knowledge from the course, and whether or not the course provides the information that the interested learner really wants to know. Overcoming those objections means addressing them through the course outline and marketing efforts such as drip campaigns and blog posts. For example, pointing out the money that can be saved over a years’ grocery shopping by growing your own vegetables, and demonstrating that buying the course puts the learner ahead, is a good way of overcoming any financial objection to purchasing the course.
Once a purchase has been made, the funnel is complete. The target audience member has been converted into a learner. Congratulations!
Many sales funnels end at this stage — after all, the funnel has fulfilled its goal. However the real key to how to create a sales funnel is adding one more step. By doing this, you can increase your revenue from a single funnel by keeping learners engaged and encouraging them to continue purchasing more of your courses.
That step is …
The final stage of my sales funnel is ongoing loyalty. What other courses, books, or products do you offer? Will they appeal to your existing learners?
Converting learners who have completed one of your courses into buyers for other products is significantly easier than sourcing brand new target audiences, because the majority will have already overcome most of the benefits/objections hurdles. Established learners have demonstrated that they are convinced by your authority as an educator, see the value in your courses, and are prepared to pay to complete them. Keep this demographic satisfied, and you will amass an army of interested, engaged learners for any future courses you publish.
So how do you keep learners loyal? The first step is to make them feel valued. That means asking for feedback about the course(s) they have taken, and really listening to what they say. Were they happy with their course outcomes? Did they achieve what they set out to learn? Did they feel your course was good value for money? These are the factors past learners will weigh when considering purchasing another of your courses, so soliciting and learning from feedback is your best opportunity to improve as an edupreneur.
In between courses, you can also keep learners engaged by putting out regular newsletters or blog posts and encouraging them to subscribe. This keeps your business front and center in your past learners’ minds and primes them to be on the lookout for your next course release date. Once you’ve mastered getting learners to this stage, you’ve truly mastered how to create a sales funnel.
Want to master sales funnels? Check out this free training with Russel Brunson, founder of ClickFunnels and one of the best known sales funnel experts.
How to define entry points to your sales funnel
Let’s back up a little bit. The first step of your funnel, building awareness, is the broadest part of the process. If 10,000 people read a post you created to build awareness, how many are likely to sign up for your newsletter? A thousand? A hundred?
According to Databox, the largest portion of marketers surveyed (36 percent) achieved conversion rates of 1-5 percent from blog posts. That means 10,000 hits on a post will produce about 250 new newsletter subscribers.
Of those 250 subscribers, only about 23 percent (~58 people) will actually open your newsletter. Around 45 of them (18 percent) will click a link. Two or three (1 percent) will make a purchase.
This is your funnel, from 10,000 interested people down to 2-3 who actually buy your course.
That might seem like a lot of work for a very small reward, but look at it another way: using a sales funnel, you’re selling 2-3 copies of your course for every blog post you write. That’s not a bad ROI.
The best way to expand your funnel and increase the number of sales you make is to use multiple entry points. These are the prospecting steps where your target audience learns about your brand and becomes engaged with your content.
Blog posts are a great way of adding multiple entry points to a funnel very quickly and easily. A few hours of research can produce hundreds of pain points that your target audience is trying to resolve. Creating new posts for each pain point enables you to attract thousands of potential learners, without giving away the most valuable content contained within the course.
To use the vegetable gardening example again, pain points that could be addressed through blog posts might include:
- Treating tomato/pepper/potato (etc.) blight
- Growing tomatoes/peppers/potatoes etc. with limited space/limited sunlight/on a balcony etc.
- Best soil/gloves/tools etc. for beginning gardening
- Best vegetables to plant in March/April/May…
After creating a list of pain points, you can also decide on your lead magnets. These should be easy and cheap for you to produce and distribute, but also relevant to your target audience, and connected with the original post that attracted them in order to increase the chances of conversion. All the example posts above could be paired with one of three lead magnets:
- A 101 guide to treating common vegetable blights
- An introductory guide to the best basics for getting started gardening
- An annual calendar of planting and harvesting seasons
Each entry point should have a clear call to action to sign up for your newsletter (or otherwise join your funnel), with the lead magnet as an added incentive. Make it as simple as possible for new subscribers to follow you — embed the signup form into the bottom of the blog post, or make it just one click away if you have to host it elsewhere — and don’t give your potential learners too many choices about what to do at the end of your entry point.
If you follow your post with links to your newsletter, six social media profiles, and a carousel of other posts, a large percentage of them will choose something other than joining your sales funnel. If the purpose of the post is to be an entry point, that is the option you need to emphasize at the end of the post.
Entry points don’t all have to be blog posts either. If you’d rather create YouTube videos or podcast episodes, they work just as effectively for addressing and resolving pain points and attracting new audience members to your funnel. Social media posts, guest blogs, paid ads, influencer ad campaigns, dedicated landing pages, and even old fashioned offline marketing can all be used as entry points, so let your imagination run wild because the wider and more diverse the entrance to your funnel, the better results it will deliver.
How to Create a Sales Funnel: Final Thoughts
We started with the idea that there is a lot of competition out there. Not just competition from other course providers but – much more importantly – competition for your prospective customer’s attention. While there are always plenty of latest and greatest idea in marketing – and even many people who will say funnels are dead – a sales funnel is a time tested way to capture and narrow attention. In our current world, there are few things that are more essential for turning highly distracted web surfers and searchers into buyers.
So, as you consider how to create a sales funnel that will work for you, put yourself in the mind of your prospective customers. What do they need that will positively impact their lives and where does what you offer intersect with that need? What are some of the most logical steps from that initial need to arriving at a purchase your product? You may not figure that out with your first try, but keep at it, and over time you will arrive at the perfect sales funnel.
- How to Create an Online Course to Sell
- The Course Creator’s Guide to Content Marketing
- ClickFunnels Reviews: The Best Sales Funnel Software?
Course platforms with strong sales funnel capabilities: