How to set up a sales funnel for your content marketing

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND: I was in my early teens when one day I was walking down a road in our neighbourhood. A front gate had been left open and out dashed a scruffy black dog. It was headed straight for me. It’s barred fangs, the snarling sounds it was making and the vicious intent in its eyes told me that this less than knee-high canine meant business.

There was no way I was going to outrun it. Instead, I adopted the advice I had been given. I stood still and avoided eye contact. That is, until the Maltipoo sunk its teeth into the back of my calf. I got loose and scuttled up onto the roof of a nearby car and waited there until the owner of the dog came to my rescue.

When we feel threaten, we go through a physical reaction which may include sweaty palms, twisting stomach and heart in your throat anxiety. Incredibly, the reaction we get when confronted by a threatening animal, for example, isn’t too dissimilar to the reaction we get when we’re being pursued by a salesman. The anxiety feels the same in both cases, and that’s why most people will avoid even the risk of being ‘confronted’ by a salesperson.

Yet, so many content marketing campaigns and company websites go straight to the salesman.

The majority of websites I’ve seen in New Zealand go from zero, to asking for the business, which is tantamount to a DEFCON 1 alert for customers. There’s no conversion process. Essentially customers who visit a website are often given no choice but to ‘contact us’, ‘book an appointment’ or ‘email us for more information’. The result is that many customers leave the site because they’re not ready to buy and don’t want the social cost of evading a sales pitch.

There’s no attempt to form a relationship or discover their needs.

Harvard Business Review reports that more than 90% of marketing budgets are spent on attracting customers, which is probably why so little is spent on trying to ‘convert’, ‘close’ and ‘delight’.

How would you respond if, within one minute of meeting a salesperson, they were asking you to take out your purse or wallet and make a purchase? Yet, that’s exactly what so many campaigns and websites do.

Content marketing should inform, it should educate and it should inspire; but we’re still in business to make sales, which means content marketing campaigns (and any other type of marketing or communications programmes) should have a conversion process in place – one that takes the customer from stranger to happy customer.

Here’s a funnel design that may be useful to you:


Create journalism quality content (e.g. videos, blogs, audio, op-eds) to attract ‘strangers’ to your website. Make sure the content is relevant to the audience, newsworthy (current) and useful – it should add value by informing, educating, inspiring and sometimes entertaining your audience.

For example, you may be in the education business e.g. the University of Waikato, and you want to attract potential students to your university…

You can reach a wide audience (lots of eyeballs) by placing useful articles in the media (via public relations media releases or native advertising) because media sites are high authority, high traffic channels that will expose you to the maximum number of potential customers.

Paid content discovery platforms like Outbrain, for example, can also position you on the high traffic sites like the New Zealand Herald or Stuff, for a fraction of the cost of advertising. And then there’s other tactics like organic and paid social media, SEO, guest blogging and newsletters (to name a few).

Native advertising is an option, but corporate clients of ours have had less than satisfying experiences with NZME and Fairfax. For one, they often insist on their own writers because they’re journalists, but they’re journalists with no concept of brand integrity or commercial objectives. Inevitably, the story turns out like a hard news story that references negatives and sometimes even your competitors, or treacle thick advertorials that are completely useless to everyone.

The native products are also very expensive and the customer service leaves something to be desired too.


Offer content and tools designed to educate, inspire and inform. Answer you customer’s questions. Understand their real needs and problems (at each stage of the customer decision journey e.g. awareness, evaluation, decision and post purchase), and build your content around that.

Use free to download, but good quality ‘how to’ eBooks or whitepapers, ‘done for you’ templates’ and other useful tools and content that potential customers will want to read for the educational value.

You now know not only who you’re talking to, but also what they are trying to solve because the content they read or download (and the associated subscription forms) help inform you about their needs.


At the close stage, you can use the knowledge of the content they are consuming to invite closer interaction, whether it’s a live chat, or an email that starts with ‘Hi Jo, we noticed that you’re interested in…’ or an invitation to a seminar on the subject, even a special, bespoke deal.


Once your ‘lead’ has become a customer, don’t forget about them.

Instead, consider creating communities of people who have the same interests and needs. For example, a community of Airbnb hosts have particular business information and education needs around things like sales, marketing, business planning, insurance, health and safety etc. Put on seminars, after-five networking, guest speakers or webinars for your community.

Delighting your customers is about becoming a helpful, available resource for their needs; it’s about building communities where they feel they belong.

Every step of the sales conversion process is about being patient, putting the needs of your customer first and using the benefit of your expertise to enhance outcomes for the people who have chosen to interact with you.

Keeping your customers safe and earning their trust is a privilege. Cherish it.

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