If you’ve ever sat downwind from any conversation about internet marketing, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the word “funnel.” There’s more and more chatter about funnels, and more and more brands promising to help you build the perfect one.
So in this article, we’re going to talk all things funnels. What it is that makes a funnel work? What should you avoid? And we’ll give you three options for creating your own online course funnel.
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What is an online course sales funnel?
An online course sales funnel is a method of selling that starts with a high volume of potential customers and moves them step by step toward the final, intended course sale. Often the customer journey for a funnel starts with a free or low-cost offer, like a webinar, a gift (opt-in), or community membership and qualified buyers move through the funnel and – eventually – buy the course!
The course funnel can include upsells at the other end too, often course creators add things like 1:1 coaching, a private community, another course, or a live event.
Along the journey, the potential customer realizes (by spending a bit of time or money) that you’re the right person to help them, and they get psychologically ready to buy the course. And that’s awesome!
A funnel relies on a success ratio of leads to sales – and a recognition that not everyone will buy. That’s okay. The trick to a viable business model for online courses is getting enough people into your funnel so that enough of them get to the final step – although it’s important to tweak your funnel to optimize it too. We’ll get to all that!
The value ladder and the universal marketing truth
Here at Mighty, we really like the word value ladder to talk about a funnel. Because as your ideal students spend a bit of time or money (in exchange for a bit of value), they come to trust you. As they trust you, they’ll be willing to spend more time or money for more value.
And dang that’s great math!
What an online course sales funnel IS NOT
- High-pressure sales tactics. Because let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. When you’re not sure the product is right or the person can help you, but you’re PRESSURED to buy – it’s just THE WORST!
- A “Buy it now” button. The whole point of a funnel is nurturing and giving value. Any funnel should have at least a couple steps on its value journey.
- A single offer. By definition, a funnel has more than one offer. It doesn’t mean they’re all PAID. Heck, your funnel might have 3 free things and then one offer to buy a course. But there should be multiple points offering value.
- Universal. There’s no one-size fits all funnel. There are definitely best practices, and ClickFunnels has built a great brand around the repeatable parts of funnels. But a funnel that worked for someone else might not work for your audience. You need to experiment.
- A bait and switch. You want to build a successful funnel? Make sure you’re giving value at each step. Someone who asks their audience to download a crappy, worthless PDF and then expects them to into a $ 215 course sale, needs to think again.
What makes an online course sales funnel work?
The power of the funnel is trust. Feel it. Feel the power of the funnel. (IS that a Yoda quote? It should be!).
The ENTIRE purpose of the value ladder is to earn someone’s trust. They need to trust that:
- You understand their problem.
- You’re the right person to solve it.
- You are worth their money.
People work hard for money. And most of us don’t like throwing it around – especially in this economy.
So how do you earn people’s trust?
Easy peasy. Give value. Before you ever ask for money. If you can give more value to your Ideal Student than the money it costs for them to get it, they’ll stick around.
And once they’ve spent a bit of time or money on your products, and see that it was worth it, they’ll be ready to take the next step!
For an online course funnel to work, you need an Ideal Student. This is the focused avatar of the person who would pay for your course. They should have a problem you can help them solve… Hence the course.
How do you find your Ideal Students?
First of all, get specific. “People who like dogs” is not a good description of an Ideal Student. Like seriously, who doesn’t like dogs?
So, we need to narrow it down. “People trying to crate train a new puppy” might be a better Ideal Student.
So, as you’re designing your course and course funnel, go and interview some people who you think might make good Ideal Students! Find out about their problems and challenges, and especially if they’d be willing to pay for a solution.
You can then create what we call a Big Purpose Statement for your course. It looks like this:
We sort of talked about value above. But once you have your Ideal Student, the next step is to give them the right info – give them value upfront. If you’re planning an awesome top-of-funnel treat to show that you’re TOTALLY the right person to help them, ask yourself: What do they need to know?
For people with a new puppy, maybe it’s a PDF with a sample dog-training schedule. Maybe it’s a webinar with some training tips.
You can ONLY offer value once you know who the Ideal Student is. And you know what’s really cool? As you give value, they’ll trust you more. Amazing stuff.
Okay, last but not least, most funnels need some software. What do you need? Well, that depends on the type of funnel you build. But in general, an online course funnel requires software to get leads, software to nurture leads, and software to deliver the course.
That can get a bit intimidating, and to be honest, a great online course platform like Mighty Networks does most of this stuff for you.
But here’s the stuff you might need software for:
The type of funnel you’re building will dictate the software, but we’ll get into that.
Truths about online course funnels
- Only a percentage of people will buy – your “conversion” rate. Nobody creating a funnel ever expects 100% of people to buy the thing. Expect anywhere from 1-10% max.
- Funnels take testing. It’s possible your first funnel will get you there, but unlikely. Chances are you’ll need to figure it out. But – as ClickFunnels founder Russel Brunson says – you’re just one funnel away!
- A good funnel can make millions. Have realistic expectations, but know that many course creators run people through a funnel again and again once they find one that works.
- Funnels should make more than they cost. In marketing, the cost of acquisition is an important number. If you know that each time you spend $10 in Facebook ads you get $30 back in course sales, you might just keep feeding that funnel!
How to create an online course sales funnel
There’s not one single way to create a sales funnel for an online course. Really, you’ve got to decide what fits your style and your audience. So let’s show you a few, including the one that we secretly think is the best. But you can mix and match these.
This online course sales funnel is as old as the internet. You’ve experienced it before. You landed on someone’s website and they offered you a “Cool PDF” or “Free Training.” You gave out your email address and started getting some emails from them.
When it works, an email sequence builds more and more trust. We can imagine your Ideal Students eagerly waiting for your next email, hanging on every word you say. So that when that invitation to buy the online course finally comes they say, “Gee, golly, gosh yes!”
That’s the best-case scenario.
But hey, you know how email works. There’s a good chance that people have signed up for 39 other email lists and your brilliant missives end up in their junk-mail folder after a while.
SO, you’ve got to figure out if email fits you and your audience. And psst, it can definitely be a part of a bigger funnel. If you have a small email list (e.g. 100 people), getting 2% to buy won’t help much. If you have 100,000, 2% of people buying is a lot of revenue!
You know this one too. It’s where you sign up for a “Free Training” – usually through ads on Facebook, Youtube, or LinkedIn. You get a link to watch a video, either live or pre-recorded. (Or it's prerecorded but they pretend it’s live. Those sneaky sneakers.)
You watch it, and they give some value, and then at the end, they give you a limited-time offer to buy, a coupon code, or some offer to get the urgency up.
The thing that makes webinars more effective than email is that you can often build trust more quickly. There’s something about video that makes it super effective. So you get to look the person in the eye, get a few questions answered (maybe), and figure out if they’re the right one for you.
Then, if you’re so inclined, you’ll buy!
Best sales funnel for online courses
So the final value ladder we’ll talk about is a community. At Mighty, we really love great communities.
And in fact, a community can do everything a traditional sales funnel does and more. People can learn about your community. They can join (either for free or for a set fee). Joining is easy and lets them get in on a conversation that’s already happening with you and your other members.
You fill your community with great content, Q&As, webinars, live streams, live events, or just about anything else you want. You deliver a ton of value at scale.
Then, when the time comes to sell your online course, you’ve got an existing group of people who know, like, and trust you. They know you’re the one who can help them, and they’re going to whip out their wallets to pay for it!
The thing is, if you get the Ideal Students and Big Purpose right, it’s easy to give value and build trust within a community. You won’t even do it all yourself, other members can give value – courtesy of the network effect. And that makes it the best online course funnel.
How to fill up your online course funnel
There are lots of different ways to get people into your funnel. Here are some ideas!
- Paid ads
- Social media posts
- Posts in social media groups
- Sharing with friends
- Posting on your website (SEO)
- Working off of an existing email list
- Creating partnerships with like-minded creators (get in front of their audience)
- Podcast appearances
- Guest posting
How to create an online course with Mighty Networks
If you’re ready to build your online course funnel, here’s a quick overview of how courses work in Mighty.
Ready to start?
Did all this info get you ready to build your own funnel? Honestly, there’s nothing like a great funnel to make an online course sell. So if you’ve got something to teach, it’s time to start building that funnel!
And if you want a community funnel (or webinar – let’s be honest – you can do both), come try out Mighty! We’re a cultural software platform that let’s you bring together courses, community, content, and commerce. And our flexible Spaces let you mix features like an LMS, live streaming, discussion forums, chat and messaging, Q&As, member profiles, and more!
And it’s really easy to sell your course in 135 different currencies or even monetized with token-gating. And your students can access the course on a great app for every device.