Separating Tire-Kickers from Buyers — The Marketing Funnel for Small Business Success

One of the most effective marketing strategies that has been practiced by successful small businesses for decades is the marketing funnel.  Online, the funnel takes on an even more vital role as it can quickly separate the tire-kickers from the true prospective customers.

Now, let me just say right here at the beginning: a marketing funnel is not a beginner strategy.  It is definitely a more sophisticated marketing technique then, say, yellow page ads or article marketing or blogging or passing out business cards at a networking event.  But it is a technique grounded in sound marketing principles and it can certainly achieve outstanding results for almost any small business.


The idea of a marketing funnel is to create a process whereby a prospect is asked to perform tasks in an order that increasingly measures their interest.  As each task is presented, more and more will drop out until only the most qualified and interested prospects make it to the end.  By then, the marketer knows that the customer is interested in what he or she is selling.  The small business owner can then develop that relationship and provide the services that customer needs with confidence that they are really interested and able to purchase what the small business is selling.

Though it works quite well offline, I’m going to walk you through the online process today.  Typically, an online marketer starts a funnel by creating what is known as a one-shot landing page.   These pages are usually incentivized by some sort of free downloadable report that relate to the real product being sold, but the entire purpose of the site is to capture the name and email of a potential customer.  There are no links, there is no “about us” page, nothing but the single-minded purpose of getting an email address from every site visitor.  Once the visitor enters his or her information, they are in the marketing funnel.

The potential customers are now in the marketer’s database.  Many online marketers use an auto-responder systems or database management software, so the next step the prospective client has to take is to “confirm” their interest in receiving marketing information from the small business.  After they have opted-in, they are given their free product.

The free product needs to be of good quality and reflective of the image the small business wants to convey.  It should provide some valuable content, but not give away the farm, so to speak.  Somewhere in the free report, either in the waning pages of the free product itself or via a follow-up email campaign, the prospect will be asked to visit a fully-functional, sales-oriented website to check out a “starter” version of whatever the small business owner is selling.  Many prospects will never go to that full website.  If all they are looking for is free information, they got it and the small business owner spent virtually no time, money, or effort in dealing with them.  If their needs change in the future, they have the report with the small business owner’s contact information so they could return in the future.  However, if the customer visits the full website and buys the starter product, then they have proven to the marketer that they are willing to spend money on this type of product.  Ta-dah!  A hot prospect.  They will then be presented with an opportunity to upgrade to the full version or be presented with several add-on products that will give them (and the marketer, don’t forget) even better results.

The marketer now has whittled his initial site visitors into four categories:  the tire-kickers who filled in the landing page form, but never opted-in; the curious who got their free report but didn’t buy anything; the interested who purchased the first product; and the committed, who purchased the full product or upgrade.  There is no reason to follow-up with the tire-kickers beyond maybe one cursory, “Hey, we didn’t get your confirmation.  Your free information is waiting. Confirm today.”  Minimal follow-up, maybe just three to five emails, will be sent to the curious.  But the interested and committed buyers will get the small business owner’s full attention in terms of support, follow-up, and relationship-building.

Marketing funnels work.  If you are using a marketing funnel in your business, I would love to hear how it works for you.  Please leave a comment so we can all learn from your success!

If your small business needs help in setting up a marketing funnel for your small business, I would be more than glad to assist you in developing your landing page, your starter product, and your follow-up email campaigns.

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  1. Gail Bitzer

    We are using a similar ‘funnel’ – however I didn’t know how ‘sophisticated’ we were until now!! We are in the process of targeting Sr. Living campus to upgrade their facilities for the influx of baby boomers.

    We have developed an email list and landing page. We have 2 messages we are sending. We are in the midst of the program and have had ‘2’ quality responses. One had set up a face – to face meeting this week. As of Friday he asked to postpone. Do you have any suggestions to rekindle his interest? I left an email with potential dates to reschedule. I don’t want to look ‘over anxious’ however I don’t want to drop the ball either.

    Thanks for your comments….this is an awesome report!

    1. teelady


      Good job. A funnel really does cut down on wasted time and gets you talking to people who really want to talk to you. Instead of just asking him to reschedule, maybe you could send him a questionnaire. Position the questionnaire as a way to tailor your meeting and get you started on some things so that your face-to-face will be more productive. Keep the dialog going, for sure. If he fills out the questionnaire, then he is really interested and he’s probably not going to look at anyone else for these services. You then have more information about him and his needs and maybe you can pull something out of his information and really tailor a unique solution for him.

      The other thing — 2 messages may not be enough. Research shows that it often takes 7 contacts before a purchase is made. Maybe you should expand to a series of 5 emails.

      Keep at it, keep revising and testing. Success will come.

      Good luck.


  2. Pam Wittneben

    Thank you for the information. I am from Wisconsin and looking to develop as an affiliate of VMDirect. I am only 1 of 10 VMDirect affiliates in Wisconsin, so there is a lot of potential. We provide a suite of online marketing tools that incorporate templates, videos, campaigns, online media storage, live broadcasts, etc. What is unique about our Marketingf5 product is that it tracks exactly who opens what email/link/video and how often.

    My struggle is exactly what your article talks about here – separating the tire-kickers from the buyers.

    Thanks Again,
    Pam Wittneben

  3. John Gallagher

    Good overview of the tools available to “touch” prospects.

  4. Daniel

    great post, thanks for sharing

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  8. Angie Perez

    I am in the real estate industry and setting up a marketing funnel for clients is plausible and works if you think through a logical sequence of information you would want to share with a suspect or prospect.

    Digital frequency is important, but in my business, which is face to face, belly to belly, calling and getting face to face is just as important. I suppose the a good funnel nurtures the relationship and upsells at the same time.

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