Market & Sell

How to Create a Profitable Sales Funnel to Sell Online Courses

8 min

One of the most challenging pain points online course creators have to face is not just how to sell their courses but mainly how to sell them at a profit.

Taking into account that advertising costs are increasing year by year and SEO is getting more challenging, one of the most viable ways to make a profit from your online courses is to optimize your sales funnel.

We, at ReliableSoft, have been selling online digital marketing courses since 2016, and in this post, you’ll learn how to combine different marketing channels (email marketing, content marketing, clickfunnels, and so on) to leverage your marketing strategy, boost your lead generation and form a highly profitable sales funnel for your online course business.

How Does a Sales Funnel for Online Courses Look Like?

A typical marketing sales funnel has four main stages. These are usually referred to as:

Depending on the business case, the digital marketing funnel can be expanded to include more stages, but in general, marketers concentrate on these four steps to find potential customers or new subscribers, and get them to the door to finally make a sale.

The digital marketing sales funnel for online courses
Source: “What is a Digital Marketing Sales Funnel and Why is Important?” by Reliablesoft

The sales funnel for online course sales conceptually looks the same, but it differs on the execution. The two main differences are:

First, your primary goal in the awareness stage is NOT to get traffic to your website but to drive traffic to your course landing pages.

Second, instead of having one hierarchical funnel, you enable multiple funnels running in parallel depending on the actions performed by your target audience while on your sales page.

Let’s start with the first part, which is driving traffic to your sales pages.

You can do this using all traditional methods including:

Or you can even use some more advanced tactics like offering free content (e.g., free courses, step-by-step guides, templates, ebooks) as lead magnets in exchange for the user’s email address. You can then leverage email marketing automation and send a regular newsletter with offers or limited-time discounts, and a clear call to action to get readers to visit your sales page and convert.

An excellent way to master all the above techniques is to enroll in a good online digital marketing certificate program (there are both free and paid options). Structured learning is always the best and fastest way to learn new marketing tactics and you’ll also become certified in the process.

In general, the cost for executing the above actions depends on how your marketing team is structured and the available marketing budget but there is not a lot of room for optimization.

It’s normal that some of the users visiting your sales page will convert, but most will leave without finalizing a transaction. Add this is where the optimization part begins.

How to Make Your Online Course Sales Funnel Profitable

To make your sales funnel profitable, you need to have a number of funnels running in parallel so that you get the most from each user visiting your sales page (whether they converted or not).

By doing so, you can dramatically reduce customer acquisition costs, increase sales and make more money from your online courses.

As you notice sales beginning to increase, you may want to use a free accounting template to keep track of everything and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. However, before we get to that stage you might need some prerequisites before building your sales funnel.

Sales Funnel Prerequisites

Before setting up your funnels, you have to do some preparation work. This involves connecting your website with Google, Facebook, and email software and creating custom audiences.

Connect your website with Google, Facebook, and Email Marketing Software

The first thing to do is to make sure that you can track visits to your online course sales page and record important actions performed by users (such as add to cart) and conversions (sales). You can do this easily using Google Analytics or Google tag manager.

What is essential at this step is to ensure that this information is passed accurately to Google Ads, Facebook, and your email marketing software.

These will be the three main channels to get users into your sales funnels and having the correct data will increase your chances of running profitable campaigns.

The best way to establish this connection is to use their official plugins or APIs. You might need the help of a developer to get this right but it’s money well spent since this is critical for the success of the next steps.

Create custom audiences on Google and Facebook to segment sales page visitors based on their actions

The next step is to create 4 custom audiences on both Google and Facebook to segment sales page visitors based on their actions.

In particular, you need the following audiences:

The Essential Guide to selling online courses using Facebook ads has all the information you need to create custom audiences on Facebook.

For Google Ads, you can get started using this guide from Google.

Depending on your website traffic levels, the number of users in each audience might be low initially, so this is a step to create as early as possible. The audiences will grow as you get more traffic to your course landing pages.

A key point when creating multiple sales funnels is to avoid audience overlap. So, for each funnel you make, you should exclude audiences that are part of another funnel.

To help you understand this better, this is how the end result will look like.

All four sales funnels will be running in parallel, but each funnel targets a different audience. Following this structure has the following advantages:

Types of Sales Funnels for Profitable Online Courses

1Create a sales funnel for non-converters

The first funnel to create is to target non-converters i.e. users that visited your sales page but exited without purchasing your course or attempting to purchase your course.

This is how your funnel will look like:

Audiences to include: Non-Converters
Audiences to exclude: Converters, Performed an important action
Channels: Google Ads, Facebook Ads

Basically what we are doing here is creating a funnel that includes users who visited our sales page but did not purchase anything. We exclude converters and users who performed an important action since we target these in other funnels.

For this funnel, your ads can remind users about your course by highlighting the benefits of your offering like free trials, certifications, money-back guarantee, better pricing, upfront features, etc. Your ultimate goal is to get people back to your sales page and convert.

2Create a sales funnel for users that performed an important action but did not convert

The next funnel is for users who visited your sales page and attempted to purchase but did not finalize their transaction.

This is how your funnel will look like:

Audiences to include: Performed an important action
Audiences to exclude: Converters
Channels: Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Email

We are excluding converters from this funnel since we only want to follow up those users that showed an intent to make a purchase but for some reason, they did not complete the process the first time.

Great ad themes for this audience are additional discounts, customer reviews, and any other methods for enforcing social proof.

Here is an example of an ad we use to target our ‘performed an important action but not converted audience’.

Notice that we are offering an exclusive discount to people that will view this ad on Facebook.

3Create a sales funnel to target people similar to past converters

So far, the sales funnels created above are for retargeting purposes i.e., follow up with users that have already visited your website.

Now it’s time to take advantage of the AI technology offered by Google Ads and Facebook Ads to reach new audiences.

Here is an overview of how this works:

We already created an audience on Google and Facebook for our converters. We can now use their advanced AI technology to find people with similar characteristics and target them with Ads.

On Facebook, you can do this by creating a “Lookalike Audience” and on Google Ads by creating a “Similar Audience”.

Your sales funnel will look like this:

Audiences to include: Similar to Past Converters
Audiences to exclude: Converters, Sales Page Visitors
Channels: Google Ads, Facebook Ads

We are excluding past converters and sales page visitors to get our ads in front of an entirely new audience that never visited our website before, but that has the characteristics and behavior of people who have already converted.

This is one of the most efficient and profitable funnels to set up and dramatically reduces your customer acquisition costs. The main reason is that Facebook and Google are doing a great job showing your ads to people who are more likely to convert. A high conversion rate means lower CPA and more sales.

4Create a sales funnel to target existing customers for upselling

Last but not least, to increase the profitability of your courses you need to set up a sales funnel to upsell other courses or services to your existing customers.

This is very easy to set up and looks like this:

Audiences to include: Converters
Audiences to exclude: none
Channels: Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Email

Basically, you’re creating a simple funnel to target people that already bought a course from your academy. Then, in your ads, you can promote your new courses, services, or membership site. You can do this on Google, Facebook, and also by email.

A good example used by many digital marketing agencies is offering courses for free or at a low price and then selling monthly SEO services.

Final thoughts

Having multiple sales funnels running in parallel (instead of one traditional hierarchical funnel) allows you to segment and target your users based on their actions. The big advantage of this method is that you can utilize the AI technology (offered by Google Ads and Facebook Ads) to generate more sales at a lower cost.

The initial setup requires a bit of work but once up and running, this multi-funnel system can be fully automated and become a course sales machine.

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Alex Chris
Founder and Digital Marketing Manager at Reliablesoft

Alex is the Founder and Digital Marketing Manager of Reliablesoft, a digital marketing agency offering digital marketing training and consulting services since 2002. He is also the instructor of the Digital Marketing Full Course. You can connect with him on Twitter