We write about SaaS growth regularly. In recent articles, we’ve focused on onboarding and customer retention, which assumes you have customers signing up. But what if you’re struggling with the initial capture of qualified leads? It can certainly happen for both new products and mature ones. Building up revenue requires having ample new opportunities to surpass any customers who churn out. So if your sales need a boost, you may want to develop or improve your SaaS sales funnels.
What Is a SaaS Sales Funnel?
A sales funnel is a mental model of the journey for prospects initially learning about your solution through the point they sign up or are no longer interested. Funnels comprise both marketing and sales materials and interactions. Defining the steps that guide prospects to build a relationship with you involes messaging, tooling, listening and adapting for success. The goal is to introduce your product, reduce friction, increase engagement, and eliminate objections. Most SaaS sales funnels are automated workflows, although there can be human interactions along the path.
What Kinds of Sales Funnels Are There?
Over the years, we’ve used two main kinds of sales funnels. The two can be used separately or in combination.
AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action
In many online marketing funnels, the path to conversion goes from building awareness, to developing interest, to building desire, to inciting action. Each level maps to the stages we’ll describe soon.
AAEAR: Awareness, Acquisition, Engagement, Activation, and Retention
For SaaS offerings, the AAEAR model is more commonly used. The vendor generates awareness of a prospect, acquires the customer, engages the customer to try the product, activates them from a free trial to a paid subscription, then works to keep them for as long as possible. Note, some teams bolt on Advocacy to this process, urging customers to bring in other customers (e.g., Slack went pretty viral by osmosis).
What Are the Stages of a SaaS Funnel?
Top of Funnel (ToFu)
At the top of the funnel, your prospects may not know about your brand or be aware of the products or solutions available. They are researching, seeking information and answers. As they search, their review may be superficial and impacted by entertainment or “curb appeal”.
Middle of Funnel (MoFu)
In the middle of the funnel, the prospect has clearly defined their problem and narrowed their options. They’re aware that your type of solution exists and are interested in learning more. They’re evaluating your SaaS offering as one possible option, comparing it with brands. Not all TOFU visitors progress, so MOFU includes a smaller, more qualified group of prospects.
Bottom of Funnel (BoFu)
Your bottom-funnel prospects are qualified and on their way to making a decision. Your focus is on setting your brand apart from others and converting the qualified leads. They are looking for proof that your solution will deliver results. These prospects need more engagement to decide: reassurances, incentives, and urgency. BOFU is the time to truly sell using a consultative approach.
How Do You Build a SaaS Sales Funnel?
Take it from the top… Start at the front door and work to the back. That is, build a marketing funnel before your sales funnel, which you build before your retention process. Your design should map all the interaction points (e.g., website, social media, email, in-person) and create optimal conditions for your sales process to work. In SaaS, your website needs to get traffic, explain what you do in a compelling manner, and facilitate engagement and conversion (sign up!). The stages of your sales funnel are the steps that prospects take from landing on your website to signing up (and paying for a subscription) to onboarding to support. Your interactions can sell at any point along the route. Your funnel stages and steps will most likely vary. Make sure you collect data so you can improve your customer experience over time.
Examples of Sales Funnels
Your SaaS sales funnel factory is only limited by your imagination. To help you get your creative juices flowing, here are three examples…
Ad Campaign with Lander
For lead generation, perhaps you run a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign using Google Ads. You craft a landing page and matching ad copy to entice searchers to click your ad and check your app out. In addition to delivering your unique value proposition, the landing page offers a downloadable case study (a slick lead magnet in PDF format). The “cost for access” is one email address, which is where the case study is delivered. Your metrics track how many page views, how many email requests, and how many email opens. The email thanks the user for their interest, restates the unique sales proposition, and delivers on the promise of a good case study. A day later, a follow-up email includes a free trial offer, with a link to a targeted sign up page. If the user signs up, they are added to your onboarding drip campaign and redirected to a Thank You page.
Website Free Trial
Perhaps you’re sponsoring a conference in your industry, so attendees are checking out your website before, during, or after the event. On the home page, you invite visitors to try your product free for 7 days. Anyone who signs up not only gets access to your free version, but they are also added to a daily drip email onboarding campaign. Each email in the sequence showcases a benefit of your software, with a brief video explaining how it works. At the end of the drip campaign, the user gets an upgrade offer, which is not just for the paid version but for the premium version at the price of the regular version. If they activate at that time, they get a premium account. The user is then directed to the Thank You page.
Over the years, you amass a company email list, including prospects, newsletter subscribers, and who-knows-what (yeah, we have that junk drawer list too). Although you know it’s best to segment your list, you run an experiment that showcases what you do, a subtle reminder to all those people what you are. The email describes a unique problem you solved for a client, linking to a gorgeous landing page with a downloadable case study. To help you segment your list, you track anyone who clicks your link (interested!) to read the study. They’re automatically added to your new 7-day email drip campaign, which showcases your SaaS benefits and includes a free trial offer on each email.
Whether you have sales funnels in place or not, you should revisit your plan. Conversion optimization is not a one-time process, so you should plan a few ideas, updating existing funnels and adding new ones. Experiments are limitless — copy, graphics, pricing, channel. For example, you can always play with your value propositions. You may consider a new marketing channel (TikTok anyone?). An interesting fact about conversion experiments is that often the most successful ones are the ones everyone thought would fail. Map your journeys for marketing and sales — what do you have today? From there, you can start a plan to update your SaaS sales funnels to reduce friction at each stage (ToFu, MoFu, BoFu). So go experiment!