woman building a profitable business using email funnels

Email Funnels 101: The only four things you need to know.

Everyone talks about email funnels…but you might not know exactly what an email funnel does unless you read marketing blogs and hang out with sales geeks (guilty on both counts).

Sometimes, email sales funnels can feel complicated and technical.

It doesn't have to be.

Email can be one of your business's biggest profit drivers. Creating a sales funnel inside your email marketing can shape your customers' interactions and increase engagement.

So, let’s explore the basics of email funnels without overwhelm or tech jargon.

First, what exactly is an email sales funnel?

An email funnel is a series of messages delivered to subscribers. Each message is designed to get the reader to take a specific action.

Whether you know it or not, you are almost certainly on one (or many) email funnels right now.

Did you download an ebook from someone’s landing page? You’re probably on the list.

Did you buy from one marketer who sells his list? You’re on his customer’s email list.

There are dozens of ways every day for you to become part of an email funnel and barely realize it.

How does an email funnel work?

Step one: Welcoming and onboarding

You come to the attention of someone marketing something – perhaps via a Facebook ad or even another email.

You click on a link and probably end up on a landing page where you enter your email address.

Next comes a thank you email and perhaps a “what to expect” onboarding email.

The lead will probably get 2-4 emails introducing the company.

Step two: Relationship building

The next part of the email funnel is about the business building relationships with its new (potential) customers.

The business sends content to better educate the lead about what they do and sell.

This relationship-building phase may last weeks or months, depending on the business's sales. Big-ticket, high-commitment offers will have a longer relationship cycle.

During the relationship-building phase, great marketers use a mix of 80% edutainment emails and 20% emails asking the user to take some type of action, such as clicking on a download or replying to an email.

During this phase, you are building the know-like-trust component. Your lead has to reach this level to consider buying.


woman building her profitable business using email funnels

Step Three: The first offer

After warming up the lead with a series of educational and edutainment emails, the lead gets an offer and is asked to take action.

Usually, this offer is low-obligation or low-cost. The lead may be invited to attend a webinar, download something, talk to someone, or buy a low-ticket item.

If the lead says yes, they are moved to the next part of the funnel, which elevates them to a warm/hot lead status.

If the lead does not respond, they may continue receiving relationship funnel emails or be shifted to a broadcast/newsletter funnel.

They will get another low-commitment offer at some point in the future.

Most of your leads will stay in this holding pattern until something changes. They will either decide they need what you sell or unsubscribe because it is irrelevant to them.

Step four: The close.

If the lead buys the low-commitment, low-cost offer, they are moved to the sales email funnel.

The big offer is presented.

A lower-ticket item ($200 or less) will probably be presented over a series of 2-5 emails, and the "close" will probably be via email.

A higher-ticket item may have a longer sales cycle—the higher the cost, the longer the cycle. The "close" may involve phone calls or in-person meetings.

The offer emails aim to get the lead imagining how much easier their life will be if they buy—and how much struggle they will continue to experience if they don’t.

FOMO (fear of missing out) and scarcity are often used to push the decision.

Here is where the path forks.

If they buy:

The lead is taken to a sales page – and perhaps some up-sell/down-sell companion product pages.

They are shifted to a customer email funnel, which may be the same as the general broadcast funnel except for some special offers.

If the lead doesn't buy...

The lead will be shifted back to Step Two: Relationship building, where they will continue to receive low-commitment offers. At some point, they will either buy or unsubscribe.

If the lead doesn’t buy, good marketers will genuinely want to understand what stopped you from clicking BUY and may reach out to you individually or via an automated email cycle.

Their aim is to improve both their process and perhaps the product.

That's it. Four steps.

No mystery. No confusion.

And you can automate all (or most) of the emails using your email marketing software.

What software do I need to have an email funnel?

Let me start by saying that you cannot and should not use your personal email account. Sending in bulk will almost certainly get your account suspended, and if your personal account does not have the automation, you will need to follow up.

Instead, you need an Email Service Provider (ESP). Your ESP has two primary functions: keeping your email list and sending emails.

Your ESP software lets you build automation, which allows you to nurture leads through the email funnel from start to finish.

Mailchimp, Aweber, Infusionsoft, Constant Contact, Get Response, Benchmark, and Mad Mimi are only a few of the options available.

My two favorites are BirdSend (my current provider) and GetResponse (my previous provider).

BirdSend is perfect for marketers who are already familiar with autoresponders. It is low-cost and has all the automation anyone could want. However, it does not offer much training or live support.

GetResponse was my "training ground" ESP. It has excellent, live support and loads of training videos and a robust knowledgebase. Automation and managing your list are easy.

(Full disclosure, these are both affiliate links. It doesn't cost you more - and you may get free bonuses from my link. I earn a small commission if you buy)

Here is an overview of how an ESP works.

You create an account and create an email list. This is where your contact/email list will live.

You have two dual goals: build your list and get that list to buy.

Build your list: Create a signup form that adds subscribers to your email list.

Your signup form goes on your website, on landing pages, and on social media. Many social media platforms have a tab or button where you can add your email signup form.

When someone fills out their email address and hits submit, they are added to your email list.

Buy: To get people to buy, you will create a sequence that subscribers will receive based on whatever criteria you set.

Once they are on your list, they are in your sales funnel.

They will get a few onboarding/welcome emails. Then, they will be part of the relationship phase.

At the end of the relationship cycle, they can be added to a general broadcast email list, allowing you to reach out to this group of subscribers with news and offers outside your pre-written funnel.

Are email funnels complicated?

Yes and no.

At their heart, all sales funnels follow a simple four-step system: welcome, relationship building, the first offer, and the close.

It only gets complicated when marketers segment their lists and create separate paths and outcomes for every action (or inaction).

When you are just starting out, keep it simple. Focus on just the four steps. As you grow your experience, you may choose to add more automation. But that's later.

Focus on building your list and getting your list to take action and buy something.

When you get more experience (and confidence) and are ready to explore more in your automations, your ESP has the tools to help.

So…to sum it up

An email funnel is nothing more than a series of messages delivered by an autoresponder to people who have subscribed to your email list.

Your ESP can automatically send these messages, which can be triggered by an event such as when users subscribe or download something.

The messages take the subscriber through the phases of welcome to relationship to sales.

What is your biggest challenge around using an email funnel for your business?


Download the worksheet: Now More Than Ever, Email


Taken from Profit-ize your Business Book Five: Prospecting, Client Acquisition, and AI for Your Business


Like this post? It was taken from the Profitize Your Business series

Patricia Browne

Patricia Browne

Patricia Browne is the author of seven books that help businesses grow and profit.

Read about The Profit-ize system and what it can do for your business

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