Feeling like your sales funnel is missing something? Want to make it more engaging and personal for customers, but don’t know where to start? Make it more personable and captivating with Anne Popolizio’s techniques for providing customers the service they need rather than just pushing them toward a sale.
Rich: My guest today is the owner of Social Squibb, a digital marketing agency. She has a passion for specificity in storytelling, but she’s obsessed with data so that you can measure your results. Today we’re going to talk about how you can humanize your sales funnel with Anne Popolizio. Anne, welcome to the podcast.
Anne: Thank you for having me. Well pronounced.
Rich: Thank you. Thank you. Very excited for this. You talk about humanizing our sales funnel, and I’m excited to understand what you mean here, because the phrase ‘sales funnel’ sometimes carries negative baggage. So let’s have at it.
Anne: Yeah. I think when we look at humanizing, and what we’re really talking about at the end of the day, it all comes back to the heart of it of why we started our businesses in the first place. There are people who have problems, and we can solve those problems. And as marketers, I like to think of us as like the Yentas of sales, right? We’re bringing the people who need you, together with you. And so I think there’s this misconception sometimes that people forget that that’s really what it’s about. It’s about this human connection of you need something, I can help you.
And when you shift and you look at this as marketing and sales is coming from this place of service, then it all makes sense about what we’re talking about humanizing. So when we look at the sales funnel in particular, you have to remember that at every step along the way, there is a human behind every single data point, number one. And number two, that data point is telling you whether or not they had their needs met in that moment.
And so when we look at a lot of especially like sales reps – bless their hearts – but like a lot of them really want to go for the jugular. They want to go for the end, they want to shove, and they close the deal. And it’s all about closing the deal instead of being of service, coming from this place of service.
And so they’re shoving, shoving, shoving, instead of remembering there’s the human being that’s standing in front of them. The human being that has needs and wants, and how they can be of service and meet those needs and those wants. So that’s generally what we’re talking about when you’re talking about humanizing the sales funnel. It’s about remembering there is a human being behind all of this, and it’s relationship building more than shoving sales down anyone’s throat.
Rich: All right. Excellent. I definitely like that approach, the approach of service or supporting people. Absolutely fantastic.
So can you talk me through, you have clients, talk me through the kind of work you do with them and how you help them humanize their own sales funnels.
Anne: Yeah. So we work with a lot of service providers. And for our clients, there’s a big education component. There’s a big barrier that needs to be overcome, a knowledge barrier that needs to be overcome, a huge trust barrier. Our clients tend to be very large investments. They tend to be consequential investments or purchases.
And so what we do with our clients is help them really build relationships filled with trust. And again, I’m sounding like a broken record here. But coming from this place of service for their clients that we really zero in on not just what’s the information the client needs to make their final buying decision, but what is the information the client needs to even be able to articulate what the problem is in the first place?
And then helping them understand why our clients are good solutions to these problems. We’re working with a home contractor right now. Some of it is a solution to a problem, but sometimes it’s a realization of a dream. And so yes, you want to tap into that. But it’s also about giving this person what they need and what they need and want is to be inspired. And they need and want to know that the job’s going to get finished on time. And so we need to make sure that we are giving them the information that they need to understand why our clients will meet those objectives and meet those needs.
Rich: I love this example of, what was the exact title of this current client you’re thinking of right now?
Anne: They’re a home contractor.
Rich: Home contractor, yeah. Because I just finished a week of doing presentations for landscapers and hardscapers, so this is fresh in my mind right now. And I continue, I’ve been talking to them afterwards, so that would be a great way for us just to anchor in some of the stuff that you’re talking about.
Can you give us an example about what’s the kind of content or information we should be thinking about top of funnel, versus mid funnel, versus bottom of funnel, for somebody like this? Somebody who’s going through a big home contracting project or needs some new masonry in their front yard, or whatever the case might be. What are their concerns and how do we make sure that we stay human throughout the process?
Anne: Yeah. So it’s really important to think about where the client is in the steps of the process. So we’ll start with bottom of funnel. Bottom of funnel is, what exactly is this process going to look like? What is your actual proposal? When we started with the client interviews – our first step with any new client as we interview their clients – and with this one we interviewed them. And one of the things that was revealed is that the way the client does the proposal is a big selling point for their customers. It’s actually what helps them close the deal.
And it was not that they’re the cheapest, not even close that they’re the cheapest, but it’s that they are giving the client so much information and so much detail that the client was able to see this project’s going to get done on time and this project’s going to stay within budget. They know exactly what they’re doing at each step of this process. so they’re going to be able to meet my timeline, meet my budget. And that’s such a key factor for some in making an end stage decision.
Middle of funnel, then they’re starting to look at the products. In one of the interviews that we did, the woman already had the fixtures and she needed someone who knew those fixtures. So they’re starting to really look at the nuts and bolts of okay, what do I like? What are the specifics of it? What can go into my home? What are some of the price points of these things? And then looking at early funnel, they really just want to look at pretty pictures. They want to see the beauty that they could have. There’s oftentimes some kind of structural or functional issue along with what’s necessitating the remodel. It’s not necessarily just aesthetic, but aesthetic is always a part of it.
And so early stage, they want the pretty. They want to know, what can my house look like? They want to dream, and they want to be inspired. And we give their clients this kind of content at different stages along the way and push different elements from ads, to email marketing, to organic social. We’ll have different emphasis in different areas.
Rich: That’s a great segue because I wanted to talk about that. So if we understand what the typical customer journey or the typical sales funnel is going to be for our type of client, what happens next? How do we decide what’s going to be the blog content versus what’s going to be advertising versus what’s going to be social media or email? Where does that all come into play?
Anne: So there’s a few ways to make those decisions. One is, you start with client interviews. And so when you do these interviews, you want to be listening very carefully for what were the questions that the client was asking? What were the issues that they had trouble resolving? Where were the black holes of information? Where did they feel lost? Those questions, those issues, those challenges, those great mysteries that they had, that’s going to become the driver of the majority of your content plan. Then you want to start testing.
So we are primarily an ads agency, a paid social ads agency. But from that, obviously, is why we specialize in funnels as well, because you got to go somewhere, right? And we do a lot of lead generation for clients. So what we start doing is we start methodically testing at the ad level. And we test a few different things with our ads, and consequently the funnel. Like we’re doing a lead generation campaign, for example.
We’re testing several things at once, so what we’re looking at the ad level is we’re testing the emotional motivations. And we’re doing that mostly in the copy of the ad the visual. It’s really great for stopping the scroll, but people make the decision based on the copy. So we are testing out what I call the ‘leading angles’, the emotional leading angles in the ad copy.
And then we’re testing out the offer. The offer is going to be the call to action, but also what the lead magnet is. And then once somebody gets to the landing page, whatever the lead magnet is, that’s another step of testing the offer itself. And we will run several rounds. You test a lead magnet, you test another lead magnet, you test another lead magnet. You don’t create one lead magnet and think you’re done. Any service provider should have at least six. And pump new ones out, reframe new things, have new questions, and test through all of those lead magnets. Then you want to make sure that these lead magnets are strategically sprinkled throughout your website.
Then once you’ve created a data set, once you’ve done several months of experimentation, then you can start to go back and look and compare the data that’s in Google Analytics to the data that you got from your ads.
And so we’ve seen this very clearly with certain clients where some lead magnets will do really fantastically in one place and not the other. And so what I’m specifically saying is, we’ve got lead magnets, for example, that will do fantastically on Facebook, they’ll do fine on the website, but they’re not actually the biggest drivers from organic search, for example. The lead magnet that does the best on the website from organic search that yields the most end stage sales calls absolutely tanks on Facebook. They meet different needs. And so looking at the data we tested out, we have this data because we tested this out at the ads level, and we’ve tested things out at the website level. We’ve got a lead magnet sprinkled all throughout the website. We’re then able to see, okay, this converts really well on Facebook. This converts really well from search traffic. So that starts to frame, okay, this is content for the end stage buyer. This is a lead magnet that the sales reps can now share when they’re trying to do a follow up email. And this is a great lead magnet for just cheaply growing the list.
This client that I’m thinking of, it’s a very niche market and there’s only so many people of their perspective client, we’ve captured three quarters of their market already in the several years that we’ve been working with them. You go for affordability top of funnel, super fun, super exciting. But when we’re talking about comparing quote guides, that’s an end stage buying decision. But that does terribly on Facebook. But it is the highest converting lead magnet and the last, and the most influential for making a next step sales.
Rich: Excluding retargeting on Facebook, I would assume that most targeting on Facebook, you’re thinking of top of funnel type searches. But are you creating offers for all those different for the three different, top, middle, and bottom, just so you can start to get more data points? Or do you really just focus on the top of funnel searches on Facebook, or top of funnel type questions?
Anne: Yeah, generally we don’t make any assumptions for the audience. So we test. We see what the question are.
Rich: Because I guess people might be already further down the sales funnel when they see your client’s first ad.
Anne: Exactly. And so that’s a real possibility. And the other piece is we can’t assume what’s going to get them the most excited. And sometimes things are fasil too, especially in the last three years. There have been things where we’d have $2 cost per lead on a B2B lead magnet that a year later doesn’t, it’s like 15. Because the need for it, the moment for that has passed and the excitement of that topic has passed.
But yeah, we just don’t assume, we always test. I might have a hypothesis, but I don’t make any concrete conclusions until I’ve actually tested.
Rich: I’m guessing there’s a few people out there who are listening to this conversation now and they’re like, “Oh my God, it took me like six months to come up with one lead magnet, and you want me to come up with six of them?” I’m curious. As you’re developing out your ideas for lead magnets, what does that process look like and how much work is each lead magnet? Because I know there are people out there who do a one sheet and call it a lead, a magnet, and other people who write a 99-page e-book with videos and everything in there, and they called that a lead magnet.
Anne: So yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that.
Rich: Not the latter one. All right. So don’t do the latter one. So what are you thinking about? Just give me a typical idea of what you would consider to be a lead magnet for a typical client.
Anne: There’s the most common ones. You’ve got your PDF download and then the other one is the webinar. Those are the two most common. The PDF download should be a topic that is at the end of your prospective client’s nose. It is something that is immediately relevant to them. It is an immediate problem that they’re trying to solve. It’s not the solution you’re providing, it is the problem at the end of their nose. You can guide them from the problem at the end of the nose to the solution you provide, you can help them. You can use the lead magnet to frame and articulate the problem. Be like, “Okay, you’re struggling with this is why you’re struggling with it and this is how you solve this problem.” You can use the lead magnet to do that. But you don’t make your lead magnets the solution to the problem. They’re not going to buy that unless they’re at the bottom of the funnel.
That’s not the answer to your question though. The question was, how do you get there? So again, like I said, we always start with client interviews, and we use that to inform what the content process looks like. I would say for the PDF downloads, three steps, five steps, six tips, anything numbered. Keep the list short. It should be a quick and it should be easily digestible. You are not writing a novel. I’m not going to say it has to be X number of pages, but probably in the ballpark of 10. But 10 easily scrollable, mobile first, so it has to be easily viewed on a vertical scroll on your mobile device. Lots of pretty pictures, lots of white space, negative space. Whether that’s a picture or that’s just a cute graphic. Get it designed properly by a graphic designer. If that’s not within your budget, at least put some color onto it and intersperse some pictures and bullet points, numbered lists, lots of negative space. Negative space is your friend with these, so that they’re scannable and they’re a quick read and it’s a quick win.
Webinars on the other hand, these are a little further down the funnel. And these are tools that you can use to convert someone from the marketing phase into the sales phase. And those, again, they should be relatively short. Go for the quick win because if they’ve fallen off before you get to the sales pitch or to the sales offer, then what was the point? So never more than an hour, and that’s including Q&A. If you can keep it to 30 minutes with a 10-minute Q&A, even better. But it should be very clear. Again, numbered, your three tips to solve x.
Rich: Excellent. All right. You’re not trying to solve the world’s problems. You’re trying to solve one problem for one particular prospect at the end of the nose. So you had mentioned, you said the word ‘theory’ and then you corrected yourself and said the word ‘hypothesis”. So talk to me a little bit about coming up with hypothesis, and then what you do to actually test these. We’ve talked around it a little bit, but I know that this is really your sweet spot. So I’d love to hear some more from you.
Anne: Yeah. So the difference between a hypothesis and a theory is a theory has been tested and you’re drawing a conclusion from a data set. A hypothesis is a good hunch, it might be an informed hunch, but that’s really all your hypothesis is. If you think about traditional marketing, people gather information about their audience, I would say your marketing plan is your hypothesis. It’s not concrete. It’s not an absolute. You then have to test and see what actually drives people.
So I’ll give an example. We have a client that’s a running event production company. And when we started doing the interviews, three things emerged. We did the client interviews and three things kept coming up for why people choose running races. One is the challenge of the race. Two is the community. And community came in two forms. It either came in the local community, like my neighborhood, my town, my state. Or it came in the form of just the community of runners, the spectators being together with other runners, et cetera.
And then the third thing was the charity, and everybody mentioned the charity. One person said, “I choose races based on the charity”. So we’re just taking a little sampling. I’m not going to make any assumptions here. Someone said charity, someone said community, someone said challenge of the race.
Okay, now we’re going to go and we’re going to test. And so at this point I have a hypothesis. I have a hypothesis that people choose races for these three reason. Then I start running a series of ads and I test. Again, that opening that I call the ‘leading angle’ of your ad, that’s everything above the scene. That gets people to click. And so we created copy that spoke to the challenge. We created copy that spoke to the community. We create copy that spoke to the charity. And we opened the ads. Obviously, eventually they all get to the same place in terms of call to action, but we are, “Support this charity”, “Be a part of your community”, “Challenge yourself”.
We ran variations of that copy for different races and multiple rounds. We didn’t run one set and call it a day. I’m saying that we tested this language across several races over a period of time. A couple of months is a period of time. And what emerged repeatedly was in this order, number one the primary motivation is the challenge. Community is important when it’s a very community-oriented race and when the community is the target audience. And then the charity, no one picks a race for the charity. Like that as a leading angle never won. But everybody mentioned it in the interview. So I take it to mean they at least like to look at it so it makes them feel good, right? But it’s not why they choose the race. Like at the end of the day, that’s not their primary driver.
So now ads will open with the challenge. The distance will always be very prominent. And we use a lot of challenge yourself kind of language. There are certain races that really get into the community aspect of it. It’s like the neighborhood race, that kind of stuff. We really emphasize the community aspect, or we might create a set of ads that are like, “Celebrate our community while you challenge yourself”, that kind of thing. And then if it’s an important charity or if the charity is central to the race’s identity, then we’ll lean more into that charity angle. But it’s probably not going to be the opening line. We would choose the community or the challenge language to open the ad.
And that’s how we identify and that’s how we get from a hypothesis. Now I’ve got a data set and now I’ve got a theory that’s actually based on information.
Rich: Excellent. Very cool. I love the way you’ve done that. So what tips do you have for us in terms of understanding the data that we’re seeing and making improvements in our sales funnel along the way? Like it sounds like it comes pretty natural to you. You’ve been doing this for a while. But if somebody hasn’t really spent enough time going through their Facebook ads analytics, their Google Analytics, what advice might you have so you could at least point them in the right direction?
Anne: The first and foremost is map out your conversion rate at every step along the way of your funnel. So there is the number of leads that marketing generated, there is the number of calls that sales made, there are the number of deals closed, there are conversion rates on all of your landing pages. Map those out and track them over time. That’s the number one most important thing that you can do as a marketer or as a salesperson.
I can’t tell you how many times we have discovered, we’ve gone through that process with clients of just really… Sometimes marketing doesn’t have access. Oftentimes marketing doesn’t have access to all the sales data. But in asking these questions and supporting our clients through having to poke the right bears to get the right numbers, demand the right reports from the right people, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve discovered a massive leak in the bucket. And oftentimes it’s in the form of sales not following up.
We had one time where walking them through this process, they discovered that leads were getting archived. And so if somebody had opted in for a lead magnet and a salesperson called them, if that person didn’t turn into an appointment right away, they’d get archived. Okay you’re dead to me. You didn’t want to buy today, so you’re dead to me.
Or the other thing that was happening is let’s say a salesperson left and that lead was still assigned to that salesperson, and then a year later someone opts in again and then requests an appointment. So the marketing did its job, 12 months of marketing did its job. This person’s ready to buy. But this person is still assigned to an old sales rep that’s no longer there, and it was just not going anywhere. So that is a really important process for the marketing team to be paying attention to and demand those sales numbers, demand access to those reports. That would be the biggest recommendation. And then everything falls into place from there.
Once you start looking at the numbers, you start noticing where the trends are and where the problem spots are. And no data point lives unto itself. You never want to look at a single data point and be like, oh, this is a conclusive decision here. You always want to look at numbers in context of each other. Or a number in unto itself will be like, I need some attention. And then you start to dig and then you start to figure out what’s behind the number.
It could be as simple as emails aren’t getting sent, like an automation broke somewhere and an email’s not getting sent. It could be that your landing page doesn’t display well on iPhones. We had one time the cost per lead was crap. And I was like, where is this coming from? And it was converting, so it’s not like it was completely broken. And I was like, what the heck? We were scratching our heads. Finally, I opened it up on my phone and the ‘submit’ button was like nine miles long on mobile. It looked fine on desktop, but it was nine miles long on mobile because it had been changed from percentage to pixels. And so it was just like this tiny display issue that was dramatically and negatively impacting the conversion rate on the landing page. But we noticed it because we were paying attention to cost per lead and conversion rate on the landing page.
Rich: You’re definitely focused on data measurements and the science of this, as well as the other things we talked about. You also talked a little bit about how long you’re running some of these campaigns and how many different things you’re testing. Do you have any base levels that you recommend people do? Like you should have at least x number of landing pages, or you mentioned six lead magnets and things like that. Is there a rule of thumb that you can share with us about how much we should be testing before we draw any real conclusions from this?
Anne: So first off, you should always be testing. Second off, I do want to say with the quantity of lead magnets, typically we do a lead magnet per quarter for clients. That’s about how long it takes us to do. So people don’t have to panic.
Rich: So you’re not starting with six, you may be starting with one and then you continue to add onto it.
Anne: Exactly. We test and we test and we test and we test. And I don’t draw any grand conclusions about offer until I’ve tested three or four lead magnets and be like, oh, this is the winner. And then I can test two more and be like, oh, okay, so this one won and this one won. Okay, so clearly when it comes to what’s going to get people excited about giving us their email address, we’re going to lean in this direction.
As far as time for testing, it depends on how much data you’re getting, right? What’s the volume? So that’s really the driver for an ad.
Rich: So maybe less about a time span and more about the number of people who are either seeing the ads, or taking a step, or something like that.
Anne: Yeah, exactly. For example, if you’re doing ads and you’re spending $20 a day in ad spend, like we launch an ad and I won’t even touch it for 48 hours. I won’t even look at it. I might make sure that’s running, it got turned on, but I won’t even touch it for 48 hours. And then it really does come down to the volume and how much you’re spending. So if you’re a client, if you’ve got a smaller budget and you’re under $2,000 a month in terms of ad spend, which is where most people are, that’s where most people are doing in terms of ad spend. And then the grand population, not necessarily people that are hiring agencies.
But if you are at least $250 in ad spend. Before you can really draw 48 hours/$250 an ad spend. Those would be the two benchmarks where I would say don’t touch anything before you hit one of those two, depending on what your ad spend is. If you’re doing $20k a month in ad spend, then probably give yourself the 48 hours, right? $250, you’re going to go through that in three minutes, right? But if you’ve got a smaller ad spend, if you’ve got a smaller budget do the first check-in after 48 hours, but maybe give it like a full $250, especially if you’re running a lot of ads. And then the more and you can make those assessments on smaller budgets.
If you’re doing controls of ad spend at the ad set level, if you are letting Facebook optimize, you do need to give it more time. And you do need to maybe give that a little bit more ad spend. When we are doing testing, we don’t do any budget optimization. I’ll only do once I really know where an account stands and what resonates with an audience.
The other thing that sometimes often happens is Meta will favor Facebook placements over Instagram placements, for example. And so we’ll often separate controls out. I don’t care. I know that the Instagram costs are going to be much higher, but if I don’t separate those into separate ads sets, dedicated ad sets. Instagram’s not going to get served at all.
So if you’re doing the optimization, let it run longer. But if you’re still early stage, we segment stuff out as granularly as reasonable. And then control ad spend at the asset level that way. And that gives us more clarity about the data.
Rich: And one more question, because this is something we discuss internally and debate internally. So you mentioned like for a typical client, you may start with just one lead magnet, let it run for a quarter. But I’m wondering, it sounds like you also might be running multiple ads that ultimately lead to that lead magnet. Do you start with A/B split testing, or do you start with one ad and then maybe try a different version of that ad after the first ones?
Anne: We are always testing. Always testing.
Rich: Okay. All right. Good to know. Yeah, I won that argument, by the way, then.
Anne: Because the other piece of it is, because if you take one ad and then you run another ad, you’ve added in another variable. And that variable is time.
Rich: Exactly. Yeah. Makes a lot of sense.
Anne: That’s number one. Number two, even once you’ve got things dialed in, we are still going to run multiple versions of an ad for the sheer sake of variability. Audience exhaustion is real, and people don’t like to see the same ad multiple times on social. They really don’t. But if I see an ad from you and it’s six different ads, I’m like, wow, these guys are on fire. But if I see one ad six times, I’m like, good Lord, get out of my feed. That’s the difference.
Rich: Yeah. Good point. Anne, this has been great. I really enjoyed our conversation. If people are interested in learning more about you and how you can help them grow their own business, where can we send them online?
Anne: That would be socialsquib.com – S Q U I B as in boy – or squib like the kick that won the Super Bowl.
Rich: So you sound like a KC fan to me.
Anne: No, I was rooting for Philly. But I just really as a business owner whose business name is the Social Squib, and then he won with a squib kick. I was like, all right, I’ll give you a pass on that one. It’s obviously a winner.
Rich: Sounds great. We’ll have those links in the show notes. Anne, great talking with you today. Thanks so much.
Anne: Thank you. Thank you, Rich.
As President of flyte new media and founder of the Agents of Change, Rich Brooks brings over 25 years of expertise to the table. A web design and digital marketing agency based in Portland, Maine, flyte helps small businesses grow online. His passion for helping these small businesses led him to write The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing, a comprehensive guide on digital marketing strategies.