Building a Better Online Sales Funnel – Alisha Conlin-Hurd
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The buyer’s journey is happening with or without you, so having a funnel in place to catch them along the way is going to be your best bet to grab those emails, get those signups, and finalize the sale of your products and services.
Alisha Conlin-Hurd is here to explain how to nurture your leads by holding their hands and pulling them towards the cash register.
Rich: After launching over 450 funnels and building two sales funnel teams from scratch and eight figure companies, today’s guest is now the co-founder of Persuasion Experience, a funnel and conversion agency that focuses on the post click experience.
She helps businesses to increase conversions and scale their ads with the PX funnel system, which uncovers what your target market really wants, how to find your radical differentiation and make your competitors irrelevant and creates your offer to stand out from a sea of boringness.
In just six months, Persuasion Experience has worked with over 30 clients including billion-dollar brands, like Linktree, and Wayflyer, to help them find new pools of customers and scale their marketing.
Today, we’re going to be diving deep into funnels with Alisha Conlin-Hurd. Alisha, welcome to the podcast.
Alisha: Hey, Rich! Thanks for having me, and I’m excited to talk about my favorite topic of all time, funnels.
Rich: Excellent. I was going to throw in a question about what your favorite dessert was to see what the answer is. Just curious. Do you have one?
Alisha: Yeah, of course I do. It’s pavlova. Do you know what that is?
Rich: No, I do not.
Alisha: Do you have that in America? It’s like egg whites, it’s like meringue, I guess. I’ll send you a picture afterwards, catch you up.
Rich: All right, sounds good. I thought you were going to say ‘funnel cakes’. Now is that something that you have in Australia?
Alisha: No. What is that?
Rich: All right. Funnel cakes, you know, I don’t know. It’s I think it’s a rolled-up piece of pastry that’s been deep fried with sugar in it.
Alisha: Yeah. So, okay. I changed my answer.
Rich: I figured everything with funnels, that would be your favorite. So I’ll send you a picture after this, too.
All right. So you’ve built out over 450 funnels, and you believe that every brand has a funnel, and you see the funnel as a never-ending journey. What has given you this funnel centric perspective on marketing?
Alisha: The thing is, I’ll just start from the beginning. People come to me and they go, “Alisha, I don’t know if I need a funnel. Should I get a funnel? Should I focus on my funnel?” And the answer is, you already have a funnel, whether you realize it or not. Because a funnel is just the steps that somebody takes with your brand when they’re interacting with you.
So I would say traditionally, which is funny because the internet hasn’t been around that long and neither has funnels, but traditionally people think of funnels very much in the Russell Brunson, one funnel away-esque type thinking. And they think it’s very internet marketey, and they think that their funnel has to be something like that. But in fact your funnel is just how somebody interacts with you and the steps they go through with your brand. So there’s a lot of misconceptions about what a funnel is, which is why we call it a ‘persuasion experience’ and not necessarily just a funnel and.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is that it ends at acquisition. So they think, okay, I’ve got the lead. Ah, my funnel is done. My work here is done. But actually your funnel is just making your math work for your business. So you have all of these little levers and all of these conversion points that you can optimize. And a lot of businesses don’t take control of that, which means they’re leaving a lot of money on the table.
Rich: All right. A lot of good stuff to unpack there. One thing that you mentioned towards the end was that there are a lot of different levers – or I would say levers – but whichever it is, to pull to enhance. What are some of the levers that you feel are important to look at during the funnel optimization process?
Alisha: Cool. So whenever we are optimizing a funnel, we like to break it down into different stages so that we can figure out what is the user journey. So there’s usually before. So that’s everything that leads up to getting the lead and somebody becoming a lead.
Then there’s during. So you can think of it this way during that’s like your sales process or if you’re an online store or if you’re getting somebody to purchase online, that’s what’s happening in the sales process.
And then there’s after. It’s what happens with your onboarding, your customer service, and how you delight them, retain them, and get more revenue from your existing clients moving forward. But most people have an acquisition problem, so we can start there. And what a lot of people do is they launch this landing page.
It’s pretty vanilla. It’s pretty boring. And it just is ‘me, me, me’ marketing. It just focuses on their company, and they don’t actually think about the target market. They don’t get target market obsessed. So a lot of people come to us with pages that aren’t converting or aren’t going as well as they would like, and then they start to get a bit Frankensteined, because everybody in the company has an opinion. And then they’ve just started putting all of these things onto a page and it starts to become a bit of a CRO monstrosity. And a lot of people are trying to basically build a house on sand. They’ve built this house on sand, it keeps sinking. They’re putting band aids on it and they can’t figure out how to fix it. So we go back with a lot of people and just figure out their foundations. And this is what a lot of people skip over. And it’s your target market, your positioning, your messaging and your offer is the most important thing.
So for example in lead gen, a lot of people will be like, “Oh, get a free quote. Do you want a free quote?” And nobody really wants that. That’s boring. And it starts to blend into what your competitors are doing. So the number one thing that we do help people with in acquisition is coming up with that irresistible offer. No matter if it’s e-com, if it’s lead gen, if it’s SaaS, no matter what it is, how do you position so that your offer is obvious to answer so what, who cares, and what’s in it for me for the target market.
Rich: All right. So just to recap a couple things that I heard you say. One is, everybody has a funnel, it’s whether or not that funnel was designed, or you just happened to accidentally create it when you weren’t paying attention. And the idea here is, let’s recognize that we have a funnel so that we can continue to pull those levers and continue to optimize it for improved performance. So that’s overall what we’re saying right here.
So it sounds to me like one of the first steps, what you said is we need to know who our target audience is. So when you’re working with clients, do you find that they are not clear or unaware of who their ideal customer is?
Alisha: Yes. But usually they have an idea of who it is, but it might be outdated from like when the CEO or the founder was maybe more in amongst it or more in the trenches, and now they’re not. Or a couple of key stakeholders have a really good idea, but it’s not documented. And then they have this curse of knowledge, and they assume everybody else in the company understands who the target market is and it’s not documented thoroughly. Or if they do have one – keeping in mind, I work with 450 companies – I’ve seen my best ever target avatar this week, the rest of them usually don’t have a name or they’re super high level, and they don’t understand the pain points. They don’t understand the hopes, the dreams, the fears, the psychographics. And ultimately that means they can’t describe the problem in the target markets words.
So I’ll say to a client, okay, what’s the number one problem that you solve in a sentence? People can’t answer it. Then we’ll figure out, okay, what are you really selling, because nobody sells a product or a service. We all sell entry into a desired afterstate, and nobody knows that.
And it all stems from understanding your target market avatar. And what starts to happen is your marketing is just inputs and outputs. Your avatar is your number one input. So garbage in, garbage out. You have a crap avatar, you have crap marketing that’s going to fail and it’s really hard to scale, because you don’t know that number one input for your marketing, right?
Rich: So no matter how much money you throw at Meta ads or Google ads, it won’t matter because you’re just not targeting the right people. You’re not saying the right things.
So once we’ve identified who our ideal customer is, and we understand the words that they use to describe the problem that they have. How then do you create this irresistible offer that stands out in this sea of boringness? What kind of things from the 450 plus companies you worked with, are there some best practices here to really come up with that irresistible offer?
Alisha: Yes. So the number one thing is just understanding the dream outcome. But understanding as well, what are you selling on this page? So for lead gen, a lot of people try and sell the product or the service on the page, but really you’re trying to sell the value of the phone call. You are trying to get them on a call. So they’re going too much into what somebody needs to hear, and not what they want to hear.
So at each point of your marketing, you have to remember that the thing that you are creating has a point or a purpose. So the email is to get the click, the add is to get the click, it’s not to sell. So that’s the first thing that people need to remember is, what are you actually selling in the moment on this asset?
And then, if you’re creating this offer – and this goes for SaaS, e-com, lead gen – number one is dream outcome. What do you give, what transformation do you provide, what problem do you solve? Businesses just exist to solve problems for their target market. And the bigger the problem, the more we get paid, effectively. So if you could figure that out, that’s awesome.
There’s a great book or a resource that people can read if they haven’t already, which is called $100M Offers, by Alex Hormozi, which has a great value equation in it. And basically, it’s the same sort of stuff that I will talk to you about now, but it has a great graphic. And that is, you know, the dream outcome. You can show the perceived likelihood of them achieving. So people are like, oh, that’s cool, but does it sound too good to be true? So your perceived likelihood.
And then you have their perceived effort. So it’s okay, cool. I do want to lose weight, but am I going to have to actually cook good food and exercise? That sounds a bit hard. And then it’s how long, what’s the time it’s going to take to actually get there. I found that’s a very good equation for people to quickly understand how to put together the value prop of their offer. And then all you’re trying to do is show all of the problems that you solve or the benefits that you provide from whatever your offer is. If it’s a product, your product is the offer. If it’s lead gen, it’s the call or it’s the service that you provide is the offer.
Rich: All right. So we don’t want to be selling past the next step. We just want to engage them. We want to set them up for success, but only one step at a time. That’s what I’m hearing from you. Correct? All right. Cool.
So when you’re doing this sort of thing, like I’m thinking about right now, we’re working with a university and they want to get people to sign up for this new type of hybrid class that they’re doing. And they’re thinking about oh, we should mention the name of the program and the teachers and all this sort of stuff. And I’m thinking all the people who you’re trying to get in front of, they just want to become a vet tech. That’s all they really want to do. So in this case, should we be just focusing on getting their interest so that they would fill out an application form? As opposed to the expectation that from a cold audience, they’re actually going to register for this class.
Alisha: Yeah. If this was my client or my business, I’d be thinking who’s most likely to buy, and how can I find them and what’s the best way to engage them.
So if this was me, I would think, okay, maybe the best people are going to buy are already enrolled in the university. This is an additional course or an upsell or whatever a university might call it. And then I would be inviting people to a talk. And I would have a panel of people that have ideally gone through this course. Because you are not selling that, you are selling this dream outcome that is probably a really prestigious job and a lot of money in a job. So I would be trying to find people that have gone through the course, bring them to this panel, talk about it, and start getting people to sign up or enroll. Like getting them in a room and pitching it to them. Or doing that on a webinar.
Rich: You mentioned new audiences. And I know that one of your strengths is helping businesses find new audience for their funnels. What does that process look like?
Alisha: Yes. So most people do what we call ‘cherry picking’. So imagine you are got a retail store and you’re just standing at the cash register. And the only people you help are the people that come and stand at the cash register and want to buy from you. But when you look out to the store, there’s people touching jeans, trying on beanies. They’re earlier in their buyer’s journey. And if you just took a couple of steps down, you would be able to answer their questions and pull them towards the cash register.
But most people and businesses have these deadlines and have these KPIs and these targets to hit, and their very first order thinking and they want the people that are ready to buy it. Now, the thing is, most people are not ready to buy now. So how do you find more people? It’s usually what people don’t want to do because it takes longer, but it’s nurturing people through the buyer’s journey.
The thing is, the buyer’s journey is happening with or without you. It doesn’t matter whether you put out content and you nurture people and you hold their hand and you become the trusted authority during that. It’s going to happen. And the businesses that go out there and help people to move through that buyer’s journey are the ones that build larger pipelines and the ones that get new pools of customers.
So if you want to look at an example of the buyer’s journey, just Google Eugene Schwartz’s Five Stages of Awareness. And that goes from unaware to most aware. Most people are focusing on the end sections. People who know who they are, they’re going after Google traffic where people are specifically looking for what they do. But there’s people earlier in that journey that are problem aware or solution aware, and they’re using different terms to try and solve the problem. Because they haven’t actually figured out how to solve this problem yet, and you could be helping them a lot earlier in that journey. But a lot of businesses don’t want to because it’s not immediate results. However, it’s usually within the first three to six months. And if you’re hoping your business will last longer than that, it’s usually a pretty good investment.
Rich: All right. You also referenced radical differentiation, so what’s that look like when you’re working with a client to help them really stand out from the crowd?
Alisha: There’s a lot of ways that people say that, like ‘when someone zigs, you should zag’ or whatever. There’s a lot of different ways to explain what this is. The way that we explain it is, so many people are obsessed with their competitors. They get this cursive knowledge, they understand the universe of options better, and then they get this tunnel vision. They’re just focused on what their competitors are doing. And they’re focused on staying a tiny little bit ahead of their competitors at all times, and then they’re just copying their competitors.
And so instead of standing out, instead of getting what we call ‘funnel vision’ and taking the best things from different industries and building a competitive force field around your company, they’re really focused on being the same. But most people are just scared to stand out or do something different. But it’s the brands that do – and we see it in every industry – it’s the brands that do stand out, because we just have a natural bias in our mind as humans, to recognize and remember the things that stand out, the brands that go better. So it doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but it’s figuring how do you actually stand out and not look the same, sound the same, as all of your competitors.
Rich: Is there anything in the offer itself that we should be thinking about when we’re trying to stand out from our competition in terms of radical differentiation, or is it more about the initial messaging that we’re putting out there?
Alisha: It’s all of it together. Because depending on your offer and where your offer is in the buyer’s journey, that also depends on the messaging that you’re putting out there. So it’s all part of the strategy, but really a lot of your radical differentiation can come from your branding and how you look and how you talk to your audience. There’s a lot of industries that are very ripe for disruption.
Like insurance. for example. They all talk and look the same. It’s the same jargon. It’s the same boringness. There’s the offer, but really it’s your positioning, how you stand out, the key messages, even just in the tonality of your copy. It all builds into being something different and not being scared to stand out from your competitors.
Rich: Once people start moving down the funnel, one of the typical outcomes is getting them to a landing page. Do you have any best practices around landing pages for increasing conversions and moving people to the next stage?
Alisha: Yes. Number one is to have a good offer. I don’t know if you knew I was going to say that. Number two is have one, clear call to action. A lot of people want to cram a lot of stuff on their page, but a landing page should always focus on one single product or service. That’s it. Your landing page or your sales page is your digital salesperson.
So number three, people say, “Oh, the copy’s too long.” There’s no such thing as copy that’s too long. Just copy that’s too boring. You would never snip your salesperson and what they can say. So you don’t snip your sales page or your other page. If it needs long copy, it needs long copy.
Fourth, the above the fold is the most important place to focus on because that’s your most valuable real estate. That’s where people land, and it needs to be congruent with what somebody’s seen before. So whatever you sold it to get the click in the email, in the ad, it needs to be congruent with what’s above the fold. And then you should be testing your headlines. That’s probably the most important thing you can test, as a first thing.
Number five is that your page should have a clear message hierarchy. So don’t hide all your good stuff at the bottom, because most people won’t scroll down there. So think about the message hierarchy you want to have on there, and then any big claims you have.
So I guess this is number six, if I’m counting correctly. Any big claims you have on there, you always want to back it up with irrefutable third-party proof. So don’t just say, “we’re the best, look at how good we are”. You want to have proof to back that up.
And as a bonus tip, when you are writing your page, an easy way to go through it is through a copywriting framework called PAS – problem, agitate, solve. So you want to show that you understand their problem and you resonate with it. You want to agitate it. What happens if they don’t fix it or solve it? And then you can introduce what you do and how you solve it. Sometimes that can be a sales letter that’s 20,000 words long. And sometimes that can be three panels on a page. It depends on the decision factors and the buying purchasing triggers on the page, and a lot of other stuff. But those would be my tips.
Rich: Have you seen better or worse results when people add videos to a landing page?
Alisha: Usually better with the video. But you’ve got to test it because it depends on who your target market is and whether they like watching videos. And usually a video is good to add as something that’s complimentary, not supplementary, in a lot of industries. Because you have different types of learners and readers and people who interact with the page. That’s the caveat that I’ll just add. Sorry to interrupt.
Rich: Oh, no, it’s great. And if we are going with longform copy, because we’ve decided that either that’s what we’re going to test or that we just feel that’s required to make the sale, do you recommend having calls to action throughout the page for people who might get convinced after just a few paragraphs versus forcing somebody to scroll all the way down the page, or is this just something that you would test?
Alisha: I would test it in some info product tests. We don’t have the call to action everywhere, because we want to force consumption of the page. In others, we have a sticky call to action. ‘Sticky’ just means that as somebody scrolls, it’s always visible. And that might be in the navigation on desktop. If you do it on mobile, the best that I’ve found is at the bottom of the screen, because that’s where the thumb can reach. So for user experience that’s what makes the most sense. And for others, it’s having it throughout the page. So it’s often good to test, but they’re probably the different buckets that we’ve found have worked.
Rich: When you’re collecting, because a lot of times the landing page is about collecting data so you can take things to the next level. Is there a limit to how many questions you should be asking somebody? Should it be the bare minimum, like name and email so we can get back in touch with you? Or should it be more information than that? Or is it also very dependent on the offer and the value of what you’re selling?
Alisha: Yes. So while it should always be tested, because a split test is always worth a thousand opinions. And I encourage anybody listening to create a culture of testing and never going, “I think”, etcetera. But what we’ve found is it just really depends. Sometimes having less is better, but it can also depend on what lever you want to pull for your lead generation.
You’ve got two levers. You can pull on quantity and you can pull on quality, so you can get lots and you can sacrifice quality, or you can sort of marry them up together or you can pull on quality and sacrifice quantity. And so what we would call a qualifying questionnaire is usually the gatekeeper of those levers. So the less you have – this is usually the correlation we find – the less you have, the more you get the lower quality. The more you have, the higher the quality, the less of the quantity. And then there’s a happy middle ground in there.
What we also find just from a persuasion or a psychological point of view is, there’s a certain point where people are happy to answer a lot of questions, especially if they’re going to jump on a call. And a lot is subjective because it feels like it’s going to be a custom bespoke call that isn’t going to waste their time. So don’t be afraid to have good questions in there, but don’t make them lame that are just for your company. Still get good data for what the salesperson needs or what you need to do a good job of what you do, but people enjoy filling those in and feels like they’re going to get a better experience because they’ve given that information.
Rich: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Based on all of the work that you’ve done with these companies, are there certain mistakes or certain best practices that we haven’t touched on today that you feel like everybody should either avoid if they’re problems or use if they’re some of the best practices that you see working time and again?
Alisha: The number one thing is that people don’t have their funnel mapped out. Even companies that are info products, which is funnel centric. I’ll be like, what’s your funnel map? “Oh, it’s in here”, points to head. And I’m like, okay. So if you’re not measuring it, you can’t improve it. Yeah. And so the thing with your funnel is, little leaks sink big ships. And so every touchpoint think about it. Every touchpoint which not just someone filling in a form, you can optimize that, but that’s the email that goes out afterwards. That’s the nurturing that goes out. That’s the emails that go out from your sales team.
Do you have canned responses for your sales team? Do you have beautiful proposals for your sales team? What’s the script in your onboarding? What are your ascension letters and your value pyramids? How do you make more out of the leads coming in? What do you do with dead leads? Do you just give up and go, oh, they don’t want to buy. Yeah, they don’t want to right now. So what sort of funnel do you put them through?
So the number one thing that if anyone was going to go do anything is just start mapping out what are these touch points. And then you start to see your leaks. You can patch them and then you can start to optimize. And then your math makes sense for your business. You can start to make it make sense for your revenue goals and your wider company objectives. Because you can see what you need to improve to turn on the tap for the revenue that you want to hear.
Rich: It seemed also like you were saying that there’s, I don’t know if it was called like a post funnel experience or maybe it’s just past that first one, but after the sale is made does a funnel extend past the sale, or is there a new funnel that you put people through? Because you did talk a little bit about getting them to come back in or referrals perhaps. And of course always a conversation around customer lifetime value. Can you speak to that post sale experience as it relates to funnels?
Alisha: Yes. The funnel never ends. It’s not just one single line, I guess. But in terms of, so you’ve made the sale, that’s great. What a lot of people do wrong now is that they’re not thinking what’s the next logical step for this sale. So they’re not thinking about delighting them in onboarding. Often people have a fairytale experience with sales. You get worried in this courting process. Somebody gets post-purchase dissonance or they’re like, oh my gosh, I just dropped a bunch of money. Doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, people have that after they spend the money and the dopamine wears off. What do you do then to overcome that? And then how do you ensure that you got their first 30, their 60, their 90 days mapped out with your company. We do for our company, we know exactly the touch points everybody’s going to have with us.
And then you need to be thinking about always what’s the next logical step. What problem can you solve next? And then that’s how you can create more revenue by solving more problems. Problems never end, you just need to figure out what are those problems post sale that you keep on solving for your people that you bring in your sales.
Rich: Awesome. Alisha, this has been eye opening and fantastic. If people want to learn more about you, more about your company, more about funnels, where can we send them?
Alisha: Yes. So you can find me on any of the socials under Alisha Conlin-Hurd, which is Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, or you can jump to our website, which is persuasionexperience.com.
If you are interested in chatting with me and finding out all of the terrible things happening in your funnel and unfiltered view on that, you can book in a time and chat with myself. Otherwise we put out a lot of free content on YouTube and on LinkedIn. We really believe that a lot of good businesses don’t make it and they fail that have awesome products and services, because they don’t understand marketing and sales. And so that is our mission and our crusade, and we put a lot of free content out to help businesses with that. So they would be the places.
Rich: Excellent. And of course we’ll have links to those in the show notes. Alisha, thank you so much for coming on today. Really appreciate your time and expertise.
Alisha: Thank you for listening to me rant about funnels, my favorite topic.
Alisha Conlin-Hurd shares her funnel tips and expertise to help businesses unlock revenue they were previously ignoring or forgetting. Check out her website and look her up on all social channels.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.