Brian Casel
Brian Casel

A Trust-Based Sales Funnel

by Brian Casel · Subscribe

A few weeks ago, I ran a test on Restaurant Engine to determine what the best source traffic was for us.

What does “best” mean? The source that produces the most traffic? Not necessarily. We could get a mention on a major tech blog, which would bring tons of visitors to us for a day, but the vast majority of them wouldn’t be our target audience (restaurant owners).

For a business and blog that operates within a targeted niche like ours, we must go for highly targeted traffic sources. What’s the best way to drive highly targeted traffic with specific characteristics (like demographic, industry, relevant interests)? Pay per click advertising, of course.

When we launched our latest free email course, Online Ordering 101, I created a landing page for it. It’s very stripped down and focused solely on the course. It describes what you will learn, then asks you to fill out a form to receive the course.

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Our landing page promoting our free email course, Online Ordering 101

I ran some Facebook Ads and Google Adwords campaigns to drive highly targeted traffic to it. In the case of Facebook, we targeted only visitors who indicate they are somehow connected to the restaurant industry. Using Adwords, we can target only people who are searching for restaurant industry-related search terms.

One of our Facebook ads, pointing traffic to the course landing page.

One of our Facebook ads, pointing traffic to the course landing page.

The results?

Meh. Nothing to write home about. We saw about a 5% conversion rate on that landing page for the course. That means only 5% of visitors to the page (all of which came from clicking an ad) actually entered their contact info to receive our course. And of those who did opt in for the course, very few of them converted to customers (at least not yet).

My first thought was there must be something wrong with the landing page itself. So I tweaked the headline copy, and that helped increase our course opt-in rate to 7%. An improvement, but not very noticeable.

What’s wrong here? Our PPC campaigns were driving highly targeted, relevant traffic (restaurant industry folks) to our landing page, with a compelling offer for a free email course.  Yet it failed to perform up to my expectations.

So I tried one more thing. I added callouts across our blog and website, all pointing to the landing page. Now when visitors read our articles, they’re presented with a call-to-action in the sidebar and at the end of the article to link them over to the landing page for our free course.


Our site and blog receives a high amount of organic traffic from search and our content marketing efforts. I knew that by pointing this traffic to our landing page, we’d be opening the floodgates with many more visitors compared to before, when the sole source of traffic to those pages was from our PPC campaigns.

But what I didn’t expect was how well that traffic would convert. 35% of visitors who reached our landing page after reading our blog opted in for the course. In other words, our organic traffic converted 7 times better than our paid traffic. And this group of leads also produced more paying customers than the PPC group. I guess I can stop paying for those ads 🙂

In hindsight, the results of this test aren’t very surprising. People who’ve read our stuff once or twice before are more likely to opt into an email course than complete strangers who come to us via an ad.

But why is that? Both groups are highly relevant sources of traffic. Both groups are made up of plenty of restaurant industry folks, who are our target audience and customer base.


The ingredient that made all the difference was trust. Our organic traffic had a built-in level of trust that our PPC traffic didn’t.

Our organic traffic is made up of people who found us through a google search or after reading a guest article or a personal recommendation from a friend. They read a couple of our articles, which satisfied their thirst for useful information, and that builds an initial level of trust between us.

When they’re presented with an offer to get even more useful information from us, they are much more willing to take a chance and enter their contact info. Since our articles already proved that we’re capable of delivering valuable information, then our free course is probably more of that (which it is).

Trust is at the heart of what makes content marketing work. Ultimately, a customer chooses your company because they’ve built up enough trust in you, your team, and your product that they’re confident they will receive value in return for their hard-earned money.

In other words, the more a customer trusts you, the less risk they take on when they buy from you. Maximize trust. Minimize risk. (tweet this)

Your sales funnel

The case study I just described is only one piece of the puzzle. If building trust is the name of the game, then we should find ways to maximize trust at every turn. Every interaction. Every step in your sales funnel.

So let’s do that.

Let’s go step by step through a sales funnel and find ways to maximize trust at every level, starting from the very top.


Your traffic sources

How do you maximize trust before visitors even reach your site?

Focus on traffic sources with built-in trust. Paid advertising has the lowest level of built-in trust because viewers are plainly aware that the only reason they’re being exposed to your brand is because you’re pushing it on them.

I’m not saying paid channels don’t have their place in a marketing system. And of course, every business is different. I’m just saying that as a channel for a first exposure, they’re not very effective. I learned this after running the experiment I described at the beginning of this article.

Here are some traffic sources with higher levels of built-in trust, listed in order of most trust to some trust.

  1. Personal recommendation from a trusted friend
  2. Recommendation from a highly influential public figure
  3. High-value guest content you (or your team) has published on a trustworthy site.
  4. Coverage in a relevant news outlet, putting your company in a positive light
  5. High ranking in organic search results for highly relevant search terms

Attract visitors through any of these trustworthy channels, and you’re off to a great start…

First impression

Your visitor has arrived on your site for their very first time. Now is your chance to make the connection between whatever bit of trust brought them here and what you have to offer.

This comes down to the content on your site. If the person discovered you through a google search or a mention on social media, chances are they’re arriving on one of your blog posts.

If you invest in crafting high value content that satisfies your visitor’s thirst for information, you’ll establish enough trust to get them to stick around and dig deeper into your site. Or at the very least, come back again another day.

Landing Page or Callout

Your article or video content proved to your visitor that you know what you’re talking about and it’s in line with what they need at this time.

The next step we want them to take is to join our email list so we can retain their attention long enough to lead them toward becoming a customer. Typically, this is done by placing a callout alongside your content, which is a call-to-action to join the list. Sometimes this opt-in form is in the callout itself, or sometimes the callout links to a landing page.

Either way, it should give visitors some incentive for opting in, like a free email course or ebook or report, etc.

How to build trust at this step? A few tips:

  • Be relevant. The incentive should be a logical next step after reading the free content on your blog.
  • Be clear. Leave no room for your visitor to misunderstand “what’s inside” after entering their email address.

Education and lead nurturing

Now that they’ve opted in to receive more content from you, now the key is to deliver on that promise. In fact, better to _over-_deliver.

This period of education and nurturing your new lead is all about ramping up the trust factor. How that’s done:

  • The educational material must be spot on. Give genuinely helpful, valuable insights into a subject that your audience wants needs to learn in order to get to where they want to be. That’s why they opted in, so if you don’t satisfy this need, your trust is broken.
  • Focus on quality of your presentation. Proofread everything. Well-crafted design and layout. By this stage, you’re past first impressions, but you’re still being evaluated on your credibility. Presentation matters.

Making the sale

Moving one step forward, let’s look at the point at which a prospect becomes your customer. When the sale is made.

In our case, we typically get on the phone with our prospects. After receiving lots of helpful and valuable advice through our blog and email course, they request a consultation.

How do we maximize trust when making the sale?

  • Ask questions and (really) listen. Our calls are more like an honest consultation than a sales call. Just hearing them out and letting them know you’re listening by offering the right feedback builds trust.
  • Speak confidently about your product. This only comes with time and experience. Even I, as the founder, was shaky in the early days of selling my product to customers. It took lots of practice (and some level of success) to speak with authority about the benefits of our product. But once that began to click, the trust factor went way up.
  • No hard selling. I believe the value of the product should sell itself. If it doesn’t, and you’re leaning heavily on the skill of your sales person, it’s an up-hill battle. So all we’re trying to do during a pre-sales conversation is clarify and help the customer make a smart decision. We’ll recommend the right solution, even if it’s one of our lower-priced options, or even if we’re not the right fit for their needs.

When the prospect finally gets on the phone with us, they’ve already built up some level of trust through the content we’ve provided to get them to this point. Now it’s just a matter of confirming what they already know: That we’re trustworthy, we’re experts and we’re here to help.

END GOAL: Happy, Raving Customers

Finally, by sufficiently building trust, the customer became convinced of the value and bought our product.

But our sales funnel is at it’s best when the bottom feeds the top. Happy customers, raving to their friends and followers about your product, sends more people to the top of your funnel.

So how can we maximize trust to gain more customer referrals?

  • Focus on quality when it comes to your product. Fit and finish. Bug free. Thoroughly tested. “Just works”. Make your user’s lives easier, and that gives them a fantastic reason to say things like “I save so much time with this tool!”.
  • Go above and beyond with customer support. That doesn’t just mean having the fastest response time in your industry. It means really dissecting every nuance of every question, and giving the most thoughtful, thorough, and carefully worded answer possible. Every time.
  • Reach out with proactive followups. Don’t wait for customers to ask support questions. Be proactive and check in to see how it’s going. And don’t automate this either.

Optimize for trust

As you tinker with the steps in your sales funnel, maybe a better question than “how can I optimize for conversions?” might be, “how can I optimize for trust?”