How would you feel if I came up to you and shouted, “BUY MY STUFF”? You don’t know me at all! Your first instinct is probably to run the other way.
It’s much more natural (and effective!) to first make an introduction, get to know each other, form a relationship… and then let people decide whether they want to buy.
That’s exactly the idea behind email funnels. You can use a series of emails to build trust, rather than relying on the “BUY MY STUFF” sales pitch.
An email funnel serves as a roadmap to guide people through every step of the customer journey—from making introductions to building interest to finally pushing for a sale. Each stage is designed to create connections around your brand, and show your value so that your email subscribers get more and more excited about making a purchase.
When done right, email marketing funnels can strengthen your brand and ramp up your conversion rates. Let’s see how!
An email funnel is a series of emails that guide someone through the steps of becoming a customer or taking a desired action.
For example, if you’re an author, a potential customer might:
Once someone has signed up for your email list, each newsletter in the funnel is a gentle nudge towards taking a desired action. But remember—it doesn’t stop after the person has clicked ‘Buy’. You can continue sending follow-up emails after the purchase to nurture the relationship, upsell other products and build a network of loyal customers.
You’ll notice that an email funnel can be portrayed in a few different ways. Here’s one of the most popular ways to look at it:
Each step channels potential customers further down the sales funnel, and closer to taking action. Let’s break this email sequence down a bit more!
This is the stage where people are just getting to know your brand.
At this point, people know who you are, and they’re (hopefully) excited enough to take action—and continue to work with you in the future.
By now, people know your brand so well that they’re ready to spread the love and share it with their networks.
Side note: In sales, people describe funnels as guiding a new lead from: ‘Cold 🥶 ’ (where they do not know your business or product), to ‘Warm 😊 ’ (where they start to get hyped about your brand), to ‘Hot 🔥 ’, (where they’re ready to take action and advocate for your product).
All roads lead to Rome, so however you want to look at it, you can apply these steps to your email marketing strategy and turn your subscribers into paying customers (or free triallers, or reviewers—or whatever action you’d like them to take)!
Your email funnel gives you control over the customer journey. Instead of wasting too much budget on advertising or social media, where it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which stage the audience is in, email allows you to send messages directly to each person based on where they are in your funnel.
With email funnels, you can create an organized, targeted strategy that’s based on your target audience. Tools like automation and segmentation will make your email content relevant to each of your subscribers, and they can be sent at just the right moment. Once it’s set up, an email funnel automation will work automatically, without you having to do anything—gathering new leads and earning you more conversions.
It’s also easier to retain your existing customers in the long run. After purchase, you still have that direct channel to ask them how they are enjoying the product and offer incentives as valued customers.
Now let’s buckle up and slide into the wonderful world of creating an email funnel!
When someone opts in to hear from you, it’s like you’re going on a journey (imagine we’re in a tent with a crystal ball… just kidding). But really, you’re about to stop at a series of destinations, before you reach your end goal. And each stage has its own purpose and tools to help you get there!
The awareness stage is all about getting new subscribers. In other words, you first want people to discover you and sign up to receive emails from you. This is where the magic starts!
There are several marketing tools you can use to get new subscribers, including:
Remember that people need a good reason to share their email address with you. One of the best tools of persuasion is a lead magnet. This is simply an incentive that you offer in exchange for someone’s email address. For example, you could offer downloadable PDF templates, free access to an online course, or a discount code.
Once people sign up, it’s time for onboarding! This is the first time they’ll hear from you, so make sure you reach out to them straight away with a welcome email (check out these welcome email examples for inspiration)!
The goal of your first email is to introduce yourself and help people to get familiar with you and your brand.
Now is the time to go deeper and let people discover more about you and your brand. For this part of the email funnel, you can get quite creative (check out these 100+ newsletter content ideas)!
Remember—you don’t have to be all about ‘selling’ straight away. It can be much more subtle than that. The key is to consistently share content that shows your value. Highlight your audience’s pain points and show how you can help, share FAQs, post educational content, present pricing comparisons, invite people to a webinar, include testimonials… The options are endless! Take a look at this guide on writing email marketing content to make sure your newsletters are compelling to read.
You’ll stay in the consideration stage for at least 3-4 emails (and possibly even more) while you build interest in your brand, so you also need to find an email cadence that works for you.
Our 2020 study found that the click-through rate was higher for email campaigns that were sent more frequently. This might be because regular contact helps you to stay top of mind. But just remember not to bombard people! Your email sequence depends on the needs of your target audience, and each email should be worth reading—no sending “just for the sake of it”!
Yay, it’s go time! Your subscribers are primed and ready, and now we can encourage them to take action. Conversion could mean many different things: a sale, a free trial, a pricing comparison, or a customer review.
Whatever your conversion goal is, these quick tactics can get things moving:
This stage could be broken down into several emails. For example, if people don’t click the first offer, you could follow up two days later with an even bigger discount.
Or if people go through to checkout, but then forget to complete the purchase, you could follow up with an abandoned cart email. For people who didn’t open your first email, you could auto resend your campaign to them (this can boost open rates by 30%).
Great, your subscribers are now customers! But this isn’t the end of the story.
In our article on the upside down marketing funnel, we learned that customer retention is better and more sustainable in the long run. Why? Because it’s 7x more expensive to win a new customer than to retain an existing one!
The loyalty stage is all about keeping your current customers happy and coming back for more. Keep nurturing your connection with them. Regularly email them with new offers, upsells, product releases, and company news. And think about setting up reward points or membership schemes for loyal customers, so that they have an extra incentive to stick around.
This is the stage where your email subscribers are ready to promote your brand to others. This is the moment when you can step back and finally let your audience do the talking for you!
Social proof is your best friend. In fact, 77% of consumers are more likely to buy something if it’s been recommended by their family and friends. So at this stage of your email funnel, you want to concentrate on encouraging people to spread the word.
Here are a couple of ways to promote advocacy in your emails:
Let’s see how a real-life email funnel could play out, using the example of makeup brand IL MAKIAGE. This is a quick 3-email example, but your funnel will likely include several emails to get subscribers ready to become customers.
People can complete a quiz to find out which foundation will match their skin tone. They can then enter their email address to access the results.
People then receive a series of emails that encourage them to try their personalized foundation at home, along with testimonials from well-known brands like Forbes.
To push for a sale, IL MAKIAGE addresses pain points directly (“commitment phobic?”) and then shares a discount code. This messaging is tailored for those who haven’t yet converted, along with an extra incentive to seal the deal.
Feeling ready to create your own email funnel? That’s fantastic! Here are some things to keep in mind:
Let’s get your creative juices flowing with this fictional email funnel example.
Scott is a personal and professional coach, and he wants more people to sign up for his online course. To do this, he sets up an email sequence.
Hopefully, these best practices and examples will inspire your email funnel strategy—and get you those conversions! Whatever the goal of your campaign, email funnels let you take back control of the customer journey and get you the results you need.
I’m Meg, Content Writer at MailerLite. I was named after Megan Follows, the lead actress in ‘Anne of Green Gables’ (which tells the story of a budding writer). As fate would have it, I’m now following in her footsteps. When I’m not writing, you can find me sailing, skiing, or trawling through Parisian bookshops.