Course Selling & Marketing

How To Craft the Perfect SaaS Sales Funnel for Your Business…and Why!

Antonis Askianakis Head of Sales LearnWorlds
19 min

As a course creator, you know that one of the most important aspects of your business is making sure you’re constantly generating new leads and sales. After all, the competition is always fierce, and there’s always room for improvement.

Learning from other businesses is a surefire way to improve your own business, and this is where research comes in. SaaS businesses have remarkable sales funnels that you can learn from and utilize for your business.

Now, we know what you might be thinking… “I’m not a SaaS business, I’m a course business. What could I possibly learn from them?”

For starters, SaaS businesses are experts at generating leads and sales. They have a proven process for attracting new customers and then converting them into paying customers. And that’s something that every course creator should be striving for.

Additionally, SaaS businesses are also masters at upselling and cross-selling their products. They know how to offer their customers additional products and services that they can’t live without. And that’s something that course creators can definitely learn from.

Finally, SaaS businesses are subscription-based businesses. That means they’re always looking for ways to keep their customers subscribed to their service. And that’s something that course creators can definitely learn from as well.

So, if you’re a course creator and you’re looking to take your business to the next level, then we highly recommend that you learn from the experts and implement a SaaS sales funnel into your business. This is a great way to increase interest in your course and give potential customers a chance to see what your course is all about. Trust us, it will make a world of difference!

We see those hands raised to ask the question: how do you go about creating the perfect sales funnel for your business? Good news! If you’re not familiar with how to set up a SaaS sales funnel, don’t worry. In this blog post, we’ve gathered the best tips and best practices that actually work and will help you achieve your desired results.

Let’s find out more!

TechTarget, a global leader in marketing and sales services that drive business impact for enterprise technology companies, defines a sales funnel as “the visual representation of the customer journey, depicting the sales process from awareness to action.” It may also be referred to as a purchase funnel.

Here is a simple visual representation of a sales funnel for a SaaS product that applies to both B2C and B2B SaaS or any online product or service (e.g., online courses, online training, etc.):

A visualization of the sales funnel and each stage: Awareness, Interaction, Preference, Conversion, Loyalty.

In the case of your digital academy and online courses, a simple sales funnel comprises the entire process of guiding your potential learners through knowing about your online courses, assessing whether your online courses solve their problem (e.g., offer them an extra skill they are looking for, a training certificate, etc.), deciding -and perhaps even comparing with other similar online courses from other academies- whether to enroll to your online course or not, enrolling to your online course, and last but not least, keeping them engaged and interested in completing the online course.

As this is also sometimes confusing, let’s clarify some main sales and marketing concepts related to our topic of interest in this article. We also identify the main difference between a sales funnel and a marketing funnel, as well as the specifics of a SaaS sales funnel:

In an online business, sales and marketing go side-by-side. This means that a sales funnel practically includes a marketing funnel and the other way around, both combined for the greater good: more and better conversions! It’s more of a unified funnel that we commonly call the “SaaS sales funnel.”

As a side note, to complete this “definitions” section, keep in mind that a sales pipeline represents the number of prospects who make it through those stages, whereas a sales funnel represents the steps in a consumer’s sales process to become a customer.

A sales funnel represents the customer journey from start to finish, from awareness to conversion, providing a valuable framework for analyzing your business and identifying improvement opportunities.

Let’s assume that you have already modeled your academy’s visitors in a sales funnel and that you have identified that there is significant churn between your checkout page and the actual completion of the transaction. This information allows you to form a hypothesis and test ideas for improving your conversion rate.

Perhaps you need to reduce the number of fields your prospective buyer must fill out when they are on the purchase landing page, make your call-to-action (CTA) button more visible, or even offer a limited-time discount.

You can perform controlled A/B tests to test these ideas you will come up with. Increasing the percentage of visitors who reach the checkout and make it through the funnel will help you reduce shopping cart abandonment.

Mapping your sales funnel helps you discover opportunities for improving your customer journey at every step of the way, leading to a series of benefits for your online business and your learners.

Benefits of a successful sales funnel

A well-designed sales funnel is a powerful tool to help your business succeed; a valuable asset for your business.

By providing a structured process for guiding potential customers through the buying journey, a sales funnel can help you to close more sales and increase your overall conversion rate. In addition, a sales funnel can provide valuable insights into the behavior of your target market, allowing you to adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important benefits.

Lead nurturing

Even if you have a marketing team in place to contribute to your lead nurturing efforts, without a well-designed sales funnel, they can only do so much. A B2B study by Salesforce indicates that 68% of companies don’t have or haven’t attempted to measure a sales funnel, and a staggering 79% of marketing leads are never converted to paid customers. Clearly, the sales funnel will guide your team to follow up with these leads.

With a sales funnel in place, everyone involved in the sales process in your online business will know what the next stage is and when to nurture each lead so that they can do so in a personalized way; through an email, a call, or even a live meeting. Needless to say, this way, you will also improve both your customer satisfaction KPIs and your Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR).

Customer retention

Customer retention. Now, here’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot in business, but what does it really mean? In a nutshell, customer retention is the process of keeping your customers coming back. Customer retention is the lifeblood of a SaaS business and ought to be your number one priority.

However, customer retention is often overlooked in favor of customer acquisition, although it is just as important as customer acquisition, if not more so. In fact, Semrush reports that 44% of businesses focus on customer acquisition, while only 18% focus on customer retention.

But numbers don’t lie. A simple reference to any credible online statistics site will show you that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. Also, creating a long-term relationship with a new customer costs 16 times more than keeping an existing one.

Your business can only benefit from focusing on customer retention. And you can do that with a well-structured sales funnel in place that will enable you to retain existing customers and provide them with a great experience. By keeping your customers around, you can build a long-lasting relationship that will pay dividends for years to come.

For example, you can apply a loyalty program or referrals and offer your loyal learners the chance to receive special discounts, free online training, or even a personalized 1:1 coaching session.

By the way, keep in mind to coordinate with your sales team, marketing team, or customer success team to follow up with your most loyal customers and even ask them to provide a testimonial of their learning experience so you can attract more new customers.

Optimized onboarding process

Depending on your type of business, you may have a straightforward onboarding process for new customers or a complex one that consists of more steps. In any case, you need to ensure that your sales team follows this process for every new customer.

At this point, a well-structured sales funnel comes in handy. It will help you guide your salespeople to the next steps they need to take to complete your customers’ onboarding process successfully.

It’s a win-win situation for you and your customers. You get them through the stages of the funnel, gaining a great first impression from them -which is key to customer retention as well, and they familiarize themselves with your product or service smoothly and effortlessly.

More importantly, customers will perceive your service as more valuable if you offer a convenient onboarding process.

Streamlined sales process

With a well-structured sales funnel in place, you can easily plan your sales activities. This means that you can easily align your sales communication process with the sales stage that you decide to communicate with your potential customers. In theory, it sounds a bit complicated, right? Well, in practice, it is much simpler, super worthwhile, and will elevate your sales efforts!

Let’s simplify this a little bit further. Some businesses decide that their sales team should contact potential customers when they are considered “active leads” in their SaaS sales funnel. Other businesses decide to let the sales team contact potential customers when they are considered “marketing qualified leads (aka MQL).

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is basically any prospect deemed more likely to become a customer compared to others, based on certain criteria set by your sales manager.
An active lead, on the other hand, can be any prospect actively searching for your business or the products and services you offer.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy here. The type of lead you decide to pursue depends on the sales plan you’ve established. In any case, your SaaS sales funnel will actively assist you in creating your optimal sales process, which is immensely important!

Improved course content

A sales funnel will provide you with answers to further develop or improve your current online training or online courses. How?

During your communication with your target audience, the qualified leads, and the customers throughout your SaaS funnel stages, you will get valuable information that points to new ways to improve your online courses or training. Prospects and customers will voice their needs, demands, pain points, and the problems they are looking to solve -especially those at the bottom of the funnel. All this information is an amazing opportunity to consider and improve your end product or other parts of your marketing efforts and sales processes.

Smart scaling

Scaling is an ongoing challenge for all businesses, whether they are SaaS companies or not. It involves diverse sales and marketing strategies that you can implement. It also relates to growing your business by identifying new customer segments -in your case, new potential learner niches- as soon and as easily as possible.

A sales funnel can contribute to making your sales reps more efficient and reduce your customer acquisition cost (CAC) and churn rate at the same time.

💁 Here’s an example: Let’s assume that you are offering online courses in your academy that teach English to K12 students, but you may also have adult professionals who land on your website interested in improving their English for business. Despite visiting your website, these prospective learners don’t convert into customers since they don’t see an online course they can relate to. Perhaps it’s time for you to create a Business English course!

💁 Here’s another example: If you don’t have a sales funnel, you won’t know how many leads you have, how many converted into subscribers, or what the average customer lifetime value of your subscribers is. But, you need these actionable data and key metrics to make informed decisions and scale your business. So, a sales funnel helps you see and measure the data that matters rather than vanity metrics.

By using the important data and metrics to improve the customer experience, you help your cash flow, keep customers around longer, and grow faster and smarter. Every part of your business benefits!

Better forecasting

Here’s a harsh truth: not all leads will become customers. Your target audience needs to perform certain actions to advance through the sales funnel and move in the sales cycle.

For example, they may first have to visit your online academy, read a blog post and download a lead magnet you have placed in the article. They will also have to enter their contact details (usually a name and an email) on a form to get that lead magnet (e.g., ebook, checklist, templates, etc.).

Thanks to a sales funnel, keeping track of how your leads progress is possible because each step depends on the success of the previous one.

What would be even more valuable? If you could also predict results and numbers.
By designing, executing, and tracking your sales funnel, you can better understand how many people you need to attract to generate sales. As a result, you can better target your marketing actions to achieve your goals.

As we already discussed, a sales funnel lets you measure how many leads you are capturing and how many of them convert. You will be better able to forecast your sales volume when you understand that conversion rate, which is an important part of running your business and managing your content marketing efforts efficiently.

Additionally, it will help you better formulate your lead generation strategy -including pricing.

Besides, with a sales funnel in place, you can identify and make better use of new sales opportunities or for upselling, as you can track the status of each marketing-qualified lead in real-time.

As we discussed above, a typical sales funnel consists of five stages: Awareness, Interaction, Preference, Conversion, and Loyalty. Now let’s take a closer look at each stage.

Awareness

This is the first stage of the sales funnel, where your target audience becomes aware of your product or service; they discover your product or service online.

Prospects can learn about your business in literally thousands of ways. Usually, they find out about your business through something they searched on Google -so they landed on your blog and read an article, a whitepaper, or a case study; or they watched one of your podcasts, a webinar you were invited as a speaker or a video you have posted on your YouTube channel; or through a social media post or a paid ad they saw online, or even from a friend or colleague referral.

If the timing is right, the prospect might enroll directly in one of your online courses or training at this point. It is more likely, however, that you will need to capture their interest and persuade them to become engaged first.

At this stage, if what your target audience sees is good enough, they will enter your sales funnel and begin discovering more about your business.

💡 Tip: Don’t underestimate the value of SEO. Optimize each page of your website so that it is discoverable by the most popular search engines, like Google.

Interaction

At this stage, your potential customers look for solutions to their problems in your product or service. Does the online training you offer help them achieve their goal (e.g., gain a new certificate that will enable them to advance their professional skills and go after a promotion or a different job)?

The prospects are aware of your online academy and their needs, so they evaluate what you offer based on their interest level. Since prospects aren’t sure about the solution, they won’t make a purchase, but they will examine their options to find one that suits them.

In terms of SaaS marketing and content, the goal at this stage should be to turn these prospects into sales-qualified leads, so you need to show them the value of investing in you.

You can publish high-quality content that will educate and inform them without overtly selling to them. Demonstrate your expertise and aid them in making a knowledgeable decision. Go for case studies, comparison blog posts or solution-oriented landing pages.

During this stage, prospects need time to progress to the next stage, so monitor them closely to avoid losing out on a great opportunity.

💡 Tip: Refrain from being too pushy or aggressive with your sales approach to avoid turning their interest off.

Preference

At this point, your potential customers are ready to buy and consider their narrowed-down options to decide on their purchase. They may be comparing factors such as pricing or payment options, discounts, and other price or subscription-related factors to find the best option for them.

This is the sales funnel stage where you must play your best cards; make your best offer. For example, you might provide a startup bundle of courses at a premium price, a unique discount code for their next purchase, a free 1:1 coaching session, a special webinar, or a bonus online course when they place their order.

Creating an irresistible offer will encourage potential customers to choose yours. You need to make your content compelling in order to convince your prospects to take action.

Conversion

At the conversion stage, your potential customers are ready to buy your product or service. Make the process easy for them and nurture them with personalized messages. Telling them that you provide exceptional customer service, for example, is a great example of motivating them to act (provided that you do offer it, of course!).

Make your pricing page as clear and understandable as possible to facilitate your potential customers to complete their purchases on your digital academy. A 1-click sales funnel (also called a 1-step sales funnel) is a great way to do so.

Remember, as your leads reach this sale funnel stage, they have narrowed down their choices and are ready to take action!

Consider addressing your potential buyer’s pain points and describing what they’ll gain by enrolling in your online course in addition to a great offer. Ensure that your checkout landing page highlights your unique value proposition. Remember to use urgency to get your target audience to click on your calls-to-action (CTAs).

💡 Tip: To make your checkout page as appealing as possible, provide potential customers with content that entices them to buy. You can have a short explainer video on the page, highlighting the main benefits of the offering and prompting them to make a purchase. Also, you can show testimonials from happy customers to boost your social proof and credibility.

Loyalty

If your audience reached this stage, then congratulations! You have successfully converted them to paying customers.

This stage is sometimes overlooked or totally neglected, yet it is immensely important. At this point, you need to keep your customers engaged and interested in your product or service, in your case, your online academy and courses. Time to roll up your sleeves and get down to some pampering and nurturing!

Although the sale is complete, the process never ends. Your goal is to focus on customer retention, so the customer makes ongoing or future purchases. You should plan ahead and lay out a customer loyalty plan. There are numerous ways to do this.

You can ask your customers to provide all sorts of feedback (did they enjoy the course they enrolled in? Do they find your online academy useful for achieving their objectives? Is the after-sales support you are providing them good enough? What else can you do to make them happy?) You can also invite them to sign up for your newsletter and your online community and even create a rewards program to reward them each time they complete a training milestone.

Remember: your goal at this stage is to turn your new customers into loyal ones, so they become recurring customers. For your business to survive and thrive, you need to invest in a solid retention marketing strategy that you will implement during this funnel stage, as customer retention is more profitable than acquisition.

💡 Tip: Leverage the power of email marketing and create a drip-feed email sequence for your new customers with tips, how-tos, and mini-challenges to complete so that they stay focused and accomplish their goals. Create a different email list to include your loyal customers and send them personalized emails with special offers or give them incentives for loyalty rewards.

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The success of teamwork and collaboration is quantifiable when data is used to guide the process. This goes beyond improving your own internal processes. Better collaboration between sales and marketing results in consistent messaging and smoother transitions throughout the sales process.

Sales funnel metrics can improve your sales and marketing alignment, improving customer retention over the long run. So, let’s take a look at the most important sales metrics you should monitor to track your progress at every stage of the sales funnel efficiently.

Sales funnel metrics

Leads

There is no surprise here. Tracking metrics associated with leads is essential to the success of your sales funnel, not to mention that both your sales and marketing teams can benefit from data on sales funnel leads.

While you can easily track the volume of leads entering the funnel, diving deeper into the leads will gain even more insight. Our advice is to study more than just the total number of leads. Deep dive into your data, analyze qualified leads using a lead qualification tool, and determine how long it takes them to move from one stage of the customer journey to the next.

It’s also important to examine where your leads come from. Did they end on your academy’s website from a paid ad you placed on a social media channel? Did they read an article you published on your blog and distribute it to third-party media? Did they watch a webinar you participated in as a guest speaker?

Take a look at the sources of your leads. Do most of them come from marketing activities or sales activities? Analyzing top-of-funnel activities will identify ways to make them more effective.

Total Sales

The amount of revenue generated from orders placed during a specific period constitutes your total sales. You can use this metric to track all of your leads, conversions, and other sales funnel activity.

Adding up your total sales is as straightforward as it gets. You just need to add up all the revenues from customer sales during the time frame you are analyzing. How are your conversions doing? Are they resulting in the type and amount of sales you want? If you use a modern LMS like LearnWorlds, you can directly view your total sales from the report center of your digital academy’s dashboard. Simple as pie.

Remember that the total sales metric isn’t something you should track on its own. To make the best use of it, we suggest you always consider it in comparison to the other sales funnel metrics you are tracking. This stands for all the metrics of a sales funnel. Teamwork makes the dream work in the case of metrics as well!

Conversion Rate

In the end, sales-converting leads are more valuable to your business than non-converting leads. To keep proper track of your sales-converting leads, you need to measure your conversion rate, calculated by dividing the number of sales by the number of leads.

Conversion Rate Formula: number of leads turned into paid customers ÷ number of total leads

You may have to examine several parts of your sales funnel to find and eliminate the problem causing your conversion rate to be below what you want. For example, you can review your Closed Lost reasons for customers who can’t progress through the funnel. How qualified are the leads entering the top of the funnel? Could your sales team benefit from more training, better staffing, or better processes?

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) & Lead Acquisition Cost (LAC)

Your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the amount you spend on every paying customer who enters your sales funnel. The majority of the metrics you track in the sales funnel should focus on increasing revenue, including analyzing and controlling costs.

Your Lead Acquisition Cost (LAC) is the amount you spend that is associated with getting one lead (aka a potential customer).

These are perhaps two of the more challenging metrics to define. How much does it cost for your online business to acquire a lead or a new customer? Essentially, acquisition costs are all of the marketing and sales expenses you incur to acquire a lead or new customer.

To calculate your lead acquisition cost (LAC), you need to divide your total acquisition cost by the number of leads generated. To calculate your customer acquisition cost, you have to divide your total acquisition cost by your number of customers.

LAC = acquisition cost ÷ number of generated leads
CAC = total acquisition cost ÷ number of generated customers

Cycle Time

Essentially, this is the time it takes a prospect to move through your sales funnel and become a paying customer. The cycle time in a sales funnel refers to how long it takes prospects to progress from one milestone to another, from awareness to interaction, from interaction to preference, and so on and so forth.

Keeping track of this metric from the start of the funnel to the end of the sale will help you determine the efficiency of your sales process. Could new techniques or additional resources be implemented to speed up any slow spots?

As a metric, cycle time is quite indicative. The length of time a new paying customer spends in your sales funnel, such as three or five days or more, may indicate that your sales funnel is too long in terms of time. You might also lose some prospects along the way.

If you shorten your sales funnel and add some urgency to your calls to action – such as time-sensitive discounts – you should be able to improve your conversion rates. You must, however, allow prospects to progress through each stage of the sales funnel naturally. Practice and experience will enable you to determine an ideal logical cycle time.

Customer Lifetime Value

Customer lifetime value (LTV) enables you to assess the effectiveness of your business model over time. Essentially, it tracks how much revenue a typical customer brings in throughout their relationship with your business.

Setting acquisition cost goals accurately requires understanding a customer’s lifetime value. Furthermore, it’s an extremely important number for online businesses that generate revenue from upselling and cross-selling.

You can calculate a customer’s lifetime value by dividing the average revenue of all your currently active user accounts by the number of subscribers that unsubscribed or stopped paying in a given period of time. To measure CLV correctly, both ARPU and churn rate must be taken from the same period.

CLV = Average monthly recurring revenue per user (ARPU) / Customer churn rate

You should also consider other influencing factors, such as upgrading, downgrading, and churn patterns if you offer membership- or subscription-based training.

Here is a short yet handy list of practical tips to drive more traffic to your sales funnel and convert more leads to customers.

1Use social media marketing

Invest some time to know your target audience. Which social media channels do they use if any? Are they active on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok? Once you have the answers, create an action plan to attract them to your online academy. Plan a LinkedIn live, make a TikTok video talking about your training and why they need it, create a Facebook event and promote it across your target audience.

Try every feature available on each social media platform and see what works best for your audience.

Remember, it’s all bout your target audience, not you. You should focus on the social media platforms that your target audience prefers, not the ones you like best.

2Apply on-page SEO tactics

Optimize your online academy’s website to rank higher in search engines. When your target audience searches on a search engine (most probably on Google) for courses or training that you offer, they should be able to find you on the first page, or the second at least.

This process is more time-consuming but will bring you long-term results.

You can start your own blog and enrich it with articles that will include popular keywords that your target audience searches for. Make sure that you offer value with your content, though. Otherwise, not only will you get penalized by Google, but most importantly, your visitors will not be the target audience you were looking for, and they will leave your blog in an instant.

Hire an SEO expert that will help you improve your URLs to better target keywords. They will also ensure that other more advanced and technical SEO tactics are properly applied across your website (e.g., image ALT text optimization, image compression to reduce page load speeds, proper use of the right heading tags on the landing pages for your offers, internal linking, and much more.)

💡 You can find a great article we wrote on the subject here: “Course Creators’ Guide to SEO Success

3Build brand awareness

Brand awareness ultimately leads to more business opportunities. Easier said than done? Not really; you just need a systematic approach, as with everything related to your business.

You can start by creating an online community that will offer a distinct value to your audience. Perhaps you can also introduce a challenge through this community (e.g., “Get fit in 30 days” if you are a fitness training academy or “Become an expert in C++ in 2 months” if you offer online courses in programming languages).

Select the social media platform your target audience prefers, initiate a group related to your line of training or online courses, and start from there.

Brand awareness can also come from guest posts you may write for niche news websites that your target audience visits, from participating in online workshops or podcasts, and even from creating tutorial videos on YouTube.

We cannot stress how important it is to keep your sales funnel updated throughout the course of your business. Just like a full-bodied wine with the finest structure, it ages most gracefully, so must your sales funnel contain a robust structure and the best possible ingredients to remain vibrant and appealing.

How can you achieve this? First and foremost, know your audience so that you address them through the appropriate communication channels and with a suitable tone and content. Put in place a process of reviewing your sales pipeline, closely monitoring your sales funnel metrics, and analyzing them to find opportunities for improvement.

Remember to follow up with your leads and to nurture and stay in close contact with your customers. Discard dead leads -but track why they didn’t convert- and focus on keeping your sales cycle as short as possible yet efficient.

As long as you have processes in place that you follow and that you monitor and optimize regularly, then you will manage to run and grow your online business like a pro!

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Antonis Askianakis Head of Sales LearnWorlds
Antonis Askianakis

Antonis Askianakis is the Head of Sales at LearnWorlds. He has extensive experience in the eLearning ecosystem, having helped thousands of companies implement training programs for their audiences among several industries and diverse business models. Antonis is an expert in digital transformation for education and educational marketing.