What is a Sales Funnel and Why Should You Care?

Sales funnels are a classic aspect of marketing and selling, and have become more important as the content marketing phenomenon has swept the business world. But what is a sales funnel? Why are they so important to modern marketing? How can they help you sell books?

We're glad you asked. Here are the best answers we were able to find.

Breaking it Down

“Sales funnel” consists of two words: sales, and funnel.

Sales is fairly intuitive. It means this thing exists to help you sell a product or service. In this case, it can help you sell both books and the brand you build around yourself as an author.

A funnel is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. That shape represents the number of people present at any given point in the funnel. You pour a whole lot of leads into the top, and more and more people drop out until a smaller number of sales fall out the bottom.

That's the basics. Now, let's get into the details.

Funnels Have Levels

Take a look at this diagram of the basic sales funnel.

See how it has several tiers or levels? The top tier is where a lead enters your funnel, through whatever method you use to bring them in. Each tier below is a place where a lead interacts with your books, your brand, or you, and decides whether or not to stick around and find out more. At the bottom of the funnel is your point of sale, with your customers flowing out the bottom like beer into a bottle you just brewed at home.

Now, look at these funnels side by side.

Top Tier 1000 500
2nd Tier 500 300
3rd Tier 250 200
4th Tier 125 100
Sales 50 50

The funnel on the left brings in more leads, but loses more at each tier. Although both result in the same number of sales, one is clearly more effective. Your job, when you build a sales funnel, is to lose the smallest number of leads at each tier so you make the most of each lead you earn. Let’s learn how by looking at the various tiers step by step.

Entering the Funnel

Your top tier is where leads enter your sales funnel, by whatever means you can manage. Once you have somebody’s awareness and attention, you can begin building their interest. Some of the most common ways of doing this include:

  • Free book giveaways
  • Person-to-person sales at events
  • Facebook, Google, and Amazon advertising
  • Social media marketing
  • Recommendation
  • Search optimization

Although these methods vary widely, the all have something in common: getting noticed by somebody who previously had no interest or even knowledge of your books. That’s the job, but it’s only the beginning of the job.

What’s in the Next Tier?

If you give away 1,000 ebooks to eager readers, but none of them think about you at all after they read the last page, those giveaways did you no good. Before you start bringing people into your funnel, you have to know what you want them to do next:

  • Sign up for your newsletter?
  • Follow you on Facebook?
  • Visit a sales page?
  • See a promo video for your next series?
  • Buy the next book?

This is important, because without clear directions from you, that new lead won’t simply wander down to the next tier on their own. They’ll wander away, into somebody else’s funnel. You can’t give those directions unless you know what you want them to do, and build both instructions and a pathway for them to do it.

Transitioning From Tier to Tier

What directions work best to get a potential reader to move from tier to tier, and what kinds of temptations you can offer to get them to make that move, vary from reader to reader. For example, the sort of thing that would move a fantasy fiction fan closer to reading your epic will be different from what would motivate a professional therapist toward reading your self-help book.

Those things vary. What is consistent across all readers is you have to make the motivation personal and emotional. Think about why you wrote the book, and about why you read the books most similar to your own. Put yourself in the lead’s mental shoes, and figure out what would best motivate them to take that next step.

Keep it simple. Keep it clear. Make it blatantly obvious, as each lead finishes one tier, how and why they should move on to the next.

Are Your Tiers Working?

One of the great things about content funnels is they tell you where they’re broken. They all leak leads – no content funnel in the world has the same number of people in the top tier as in the bottom – but where the leak springs tells you where you can make things better.

Look at these two funnels.

Top Tier 1000 1000
2nd Tier 800 900
3rd Tier 600 500
4th Tier 400 350
Sales 200 200

The funnel on the left loses 200 leads at each tier. Things could be done to tighten up that loss, but chances are everything in there is of uniform quality. You could build a solid business plan based on that predictable, consistent progress.

Now, look at the funnel on the right. It starts with the same number of leads as the one on the left, and produces the same amount of sales. But the transition from the top tier to the second loses only 100 leads…while the transition from the second to the third loses 400. This tells you that the first transition is really working well, and the second transition needs work. It would be a good idea to look closely at both, and see how you could make the second more similar to the first.

If you tightened up the second transition to be as effective as the first and your other transitions maintained the same effectiveness, the funnel could look like this:


That’s close to doubling your sales from the same set of leads. It’s one of the super-powers of a great sales funnel. You know where to spend your effort.

Asking for the Sale

Your final tier in the content funnel – whether it’s just two or three tiers long, or consists of several dozen steps – should directly ask the lead to give you money in exchange for a book. The best time to do this is after they have experienced your writing enough to know what you’re about, and that they love it.

If you ask for the sale before that, you will lose some leads because they’re not yet ready to buy. If you ask after that point, you’re giving away content you could have put a price tag on. Both mistakes cost profits.

You will need to experiment to find the perfect time to ask for the sale with your writing and your fan base. One good trick is to make a short line inviting people to go to your sales page. Just one sentence, which you insert temporarily, one at a time, into each tier of your funnel. After you’ve tried each for a week or two, you will find a pattern of success and failure that tells you where your ask should permanently live.

An Author Sales Funnel In Action

Let’s look at a sample, 5-tier, author sales funnel that was setup by one of our clients.

Entry: Free ebook
2nd Tier: Newsletter Subscription
3rd Tier: Newsletter Entry Sequence
4th Tier: Monthly Newsletters
5th Tier: Quarterly Special

Entry: Free Book

Like most sales techniques, getting people into a sales funnel works best when you simply bribe people. She wrote a series of six humorous crime novels, and entices people in by offering a free copy of the first volume. It’s a classic because it works.

2nd Tier: Newsletter Subscription

Technically, this is part of the entry tier. The book gets delivered after people subscribe…but a lot of folks subscribe to a newsletter just long enough to get the free stuff, then they unsubscribe or simply ignore the emails as they come in. So this tier is subscribing, and opening the first email to read it…then sticking around for more.

3rd Tier: Newsletter Entry Sequence

Every new subscriber to her newsletter gets a sequence of emails designed to keep their interest up. In this case, the free book is delivered in serial format, one chapter per email. This keeps them waiting for more, practically guaranteeing that they’ll look forward to opening the next one.

4th Tier: Monthly Newsletters

Once the entry sequence finishes, subscribers get an email each month with humor of the sort lovers of this series might enjoy. It tends to be crass, but so are the novels. That’s not the point. If the novels were sweet love stories, the newsletters might include videos of people proposing, and hints on being romantic with your partner. Or maybe dog memes. The trick is to keep it interesting.

5th Tier: Quarterly Special

Every third email includes some kind of deal. Sometimes one of the book goes down in price. Sometimes it’s a bundle with one of her books and several books by others. Sometimes it’s getting the whole series super-cheap. Whatever it is, this asks for the sale when people are engaged with the material.

Okay. Your Turn.

Using this example above, or your experience here on Apex Authors with our sales funnel, make some notes about what yours might look like. Turn those notes into a task list…and get to work.