Email Funnel Marketing: What It Is and How to Use It

Melanie Balke
September 15, 2022

No matter what kind of business you're in, marketing is plagued by three universal problems: finding new customers, retaining old customers, and nurturing leads. As you'd expect, there are plenty of strategies to try to solve these common quandaries, but none are as effective as email marketing.

A header image featuring text over a photo of a funnel. The text reads, “Email Funnels: The What, Why, and How.”

If you’re trying to create a cohesive customer journey, your best bet by far is email funnel marketing. This five-step guideline is a targeted solution to customer relationships, and it’s one of the marketer’s most powerful tools.

What Is an Email Marketing Funnel?

So, what is an email funnel?

Hang in there, because the answer is a little long.

A header image, which reads, “What Is It? The Beginner's Guide to Successful Email Marketing Funnels.”

This is a five-step process that is built around the idea of maintaining a positive customer relationship. A successful email funnel will fulfill many common marketing goals, such as:

  • The ability to easily capture leads
  • Customer journey maintenance
  • Email sequence creation and guidelines
  • Guiding the creation of valuable content
  • Increased engagement
  • Increased sales and profits
  • Providing targeted content to potential customers

The Five Stages of Email Marketing Funnels

At their core, funnels are an email sequence. The fivefold goal revolves around maintaining email subscribers’ interests and — by extension — boosting your email marketing sales.

Think of a sales funnel as an upside-down triangle. The broad top is the entry point, and the narrow base is the ideal outcome. As you progress through each stage, you’ll invariably lose a few email subscribers. That’s okay! Not every customer is a conversion.

So, what does this magical funnel look like?

  1. Awareness: Tell users about the brand. Who are you, what are you selling, and what is your marketing message?
  2. Consideration: Time to create some intrigue. Tell users about your product and focus on pain points.
  3. Conversion: Remove any barriers that may prevent a customer from purchasing your product. This is your sales pitch, and it may involve some coupons.
  4. Loyalty: Once a customer has made a purchase, it’s time to convert them into loyal fans. This stage focuses on nurturing your leads and maintaining customer loyalty.
  5. Advocacy: The narrowest section is going to make up your most loyal customers. These buyers love your product, and they won’t stop telling people about it!

Why Your Business Should Be Using Email Funnels

That sounds like a lot of work, but creating a solid email marketing funnel is one of the best ways to jump-start your business. This handy guide is the perfect way to align your email automation with your goals, and it’s easy to adapt a funnel to fit any situation.

A header image with text, reading, “Why to Use Them: Boosting Your Marketing With an Amazing Email Funnel.”

Honestly, I don’t have time to list every benefit of a good email funnel, but I’ll do my best to highlight some of the key benefits.

Funnels Draw Reactions and Promote Relevance

One of the best and most reliable ways to generate leads is to appeal to the buyer’s emotions. Whenever you create an email, you’re sparking a discussion, and you want that discussion to lead customers to your product. That’s why digital marketers often use emotional appeals. They’re stamped all over subject lines and hidden in automated emails.

Here’s the catch, though: Without a solid plan, you’re taking stabs in the dark.

Fortunately, an email sales funnel can group contact details by their interests. Marketers can easily use these stages to deliver relevant content to each subscriber and focus on what matters to each customer.

An infographic featuring text over an image of an analytics dashboard. The header reads, “Statistics,” followed by a subheader: “The Benefits of a Good Email Marketing Funnel.” Below this is smaller body text: “Sales funnels have a healthy conversion rate of 3.1–5% across all channels and industries, and a good email marketing sales funnel has the potential to dramatically change your business’ trajectory. They can be used to acquire new customers and upsell existing customers!”

Making sure that every email is properly targeted will help you convert subscribers, and that means you’ll reap some amazing monetary benefits.

You wouldn’t send a welcome email to a returning customer, so why would you send irrelevant sales emails?

Funnels Tap Into Your Followers’ Emotions

A good email marketing funnel will follow an emotional journey. From the initial visit to the opt-in forms, your users should have a smooth transition from one phase to the next.

As you build your marketing funnel, consider these key emotions:

  • Enthusiasm should be cultivated in the early portion of your email marketing funnel. Make promises and showcase the highlights of your product or service.
  • Once you’ve gained the subscriber, focus on appealing to logic. Why does the customer need your service? What will they gain?
  • When the customer is interested, it’s time to provoke fear of missing out. Coupons, deals, and limited-time events will make your email marketing seem more urgent.
  • Finally, deliver satisfaction. Your product should meet your customers’ expectations. This will encourage users to return to the top of your marketing funnel.

When you’ve reached the end of the loop, repeat it!

Marketing is a cycle, and a well-optimized email marketing funnel will be fairly self-sufficient. With the right tools, you won’t even have to input anything, because everything will be automated for you!

It’s All About Optimization

Think of a funnel as a map.

When you plan a funnel, you’re mapping out two things at once: a customer journey and an email funnel. Both of these paths are essential for your email content, and they can be used to optimize and improve your content.

Aside from these planning perks, funnels are also a great way to determine the trajectory of a customer’s journey. An analytics tool will be able to show businesses which stage is least effective, and you can begin to better nurture your leads with that data.

Once you know how users are reacting to your messages, you’ll also be able to improve upon your ability to send timely follow-ups.

How to Create an Amazing Email Funnel

Now that you know about this strategy for optimizing your marketing emails, you’re probably eager to put it to use!


A header image, which reads, “The Essential Guide: How to Create, Maintain, and Implement a Marketing Funnel.”

Before you start ramping up your marketing efforts, let’s take some time to review how you can optimize this strategy. There’s plenty of free value in a funnel, but you need to know the basics before you can start tinkering.

1. Start With Email Opt-Ins

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Before you can really start, you’ll need to have a solid user base. If you’re just starting your email marketing journey, this may require some time. You’ll want to have a nice balance of new leads and current customers to fill out your address book. This equilibrium ensures that you’ll have solid data for future testing.

Aside from promoting your subscription to your social media followers, you can also gather email subscribers the old-fashioned way. The ideal opt-in form will include little more than a basic email field (and, if desired, an email confirmation field).

Taking Advantage of Lead Magnets

In marketing, a lead magnet is an opt-in incentive. Common examples include:

  • Audio guides
  • Discount codes
  • Downloadables
  • Exclusive content
  • Exclusive newsletters
  • A free eBook
  • A free online course
  • Videos
An infographic. Text is overlaid on a colorized photo of a bookshelf. The header reads, “Lead Magnets.” followed by a subheader: “Using Educational Content to Gain More Leads.” This is followed by smaller body text: “Lead magnets are a diverse set of email marketing tools. They’ll take time to create, but the payoff is massive! Remember to create a separate landing page for each lead magnet. This will make it easier to track your traffic sources.”

The ideal lead magnet presents and then solves a problem. You’ll want to do a bit of studying before you release a solid magnet, and most of your research should focus on your customers. Look for common pain points and frame your product or service as a solution.

Once a user signs up for a lead magnet, they’ll gain more awareness of your brand. With the right strategy, this potential customer can become a sales-qualified lead!

2. Create an Amazing Welcome Email

A header image, which reads, “Welcome Emails: How to Manage the Top of Your Email Marketing Funnel.”

Let me start this with a note: You do not have to shove all of your information into a single welcome email! In fact, your welcome emails can be spread out and cover multiple messages.

Regardless of how you opt to handle your welcome message, you’ll want to include some basic information:

  • How to opt out
  • Incentives
  • What content you’ll send
  • When you’ll send emails
  • Your brand’s values and mission

You’ll want to avoid greeting your new leads with a giant mass of bulk deals. This is an overly aggressive tactic, and it’s not a great way to start a relationship. Instead, consider sending one or two discounts alongside valuable email content.

Don’t Forget Your Landing Pages

Before you move further down the funnel, make sure everything is set up properly!

Every automated email with a call-to-action should have a good landing page. (That’s not to say that you need individual landing pages for every call-to-action.) Remember to segregate your campaigns by platform for optimal tracking. Social media links shouldn’t have the same landing page as emails and vice versa.

As you formulate these pages, talk to your email marketer (or an equivalent expert). They may have additional suggestions, such as pop-ups and social proof.

3. Learn How to Nurture Your Leads

A header image reading, “3. Nurturing: The Art of Leading Customers From Your Emails to Your Store.”

The middle marketing funnel stages focus on lead nurturing. This chunk of the funnel encompasses the consideration stage and (in some cases) the conversion stage. You’ll want to focus your email marketing efforts on improving the prospects for your customers. Incentives, sales, and social media promotion can help you with this step.

The email marketing funnel helps marketers decide what your path will be. With a good funnel, you’ll have an established sales pitch that you can reuse. This can be applied to call-to-action links, email subject lines, and your general messaging.

The Power of Personalization

One of the best ways to increase your conversions from your email sales funnel is to personalize your content. As you collect email addresses, keep tabs on their interests. Segmenting your subscribers as they join is a great way to improve the efficiency of your email sales funnel.

An infographic. Text is overlaid on a photo of a leaf. The header reads, “Statistics,” followed by a subheader: “Keep Your Opt-In Forms Short for the Best Results.” Smaller body text is below this: “Don’t ask your new subscribers for too much information. While additional information can help you refine your marketing funnel, it will also hurt your conversion rate. Each additional field on an opt-in form decreased the conversion rate by 11%!”

With the right email marketing tools, you’ll be able to automatically sort users. This means that you can deliver educational content to users in the consideration stage while supplying converted users with loyalty rewards.

Depending on which email marketing tool you’re using, you’ll also be able to sort your existing customers into refined groups. This will help you define a clearer marketing strategy.

However, don’t let this power go to your head! Your opt-in forms should still be short, and you don’t want to ask users for too much information.

4. Converting Your Audience

A photo of money with overlaid header text: “4. Conversions: How to Turn Visitors and Subscribers into Sales With a Funnel.”

I know that some of this was covered in the nurturing section, but the act of conversion is a bit more complex. In fact, it’s worthy of its own section!

Every marketing strategy will be different, and your email marketing sales will depend on its success.

The most effective way to convert a customer is to target existing customers, but you should still try to gain new subscribers. This will, of course, mean that you’ll need to have different strategies. A lead-to-paying-customer conversion will take more work than a paying-customer-to-repeat-customer journey.

For returning customers, many companies will use email marketing sales tactics such as:

Outside of a good lead generation marketing strategy, some of the techniques used to convert new subscribers into paying customers are:

When you’re planning your mid-stage marketing funnels, you’re trying to wow the audience. In some ways, you’ll be sending nurturing campaigns, but your language should be more assertive. Make people want your product. Give them offers and time-sensitive deals! These are great ways to improve any email marketing strategy, but they’re almost tailor-made for the conversion stage of a marketing funnel.

5. Engage With Loyal Customers Through Retention Emails

A header image. The text reads, “5. Retention: How to Gain More Loyal Customers and Improve Your Marketing Funnel.”

The final stage of your sales funnel will be retention, which covers “loyalty” and “advocacy”. This phase is one of the most essential parts of the email marketing funnel, so pay special attention to your strategy. You’ll want to approach this phase as a learning opportunity for both sides of the equation.

Retaining your existing customers is one of the best ways to boost your customer lifetime value and ROI. After all, you don’t need to bother with opt-in forms for these customers. They’re already interested in your product, and many are more than willing to offer social proof!

Many retention emails can be reused for this portion of your email marketing funnel, and others will be entirely unique. Some common types of retention email marketing are:

How to Improve Your Email Marketing Sales Funnel

Now, this was a lot of information, right? There are so many things that you’ll need to consider when you’re creating a sales funnel, and trying to form all of this yourself is a verified headache.

A header image with text: “Boost Your Power: The Email Marketers and How to Get Help With Your Email Marketing.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to build your own email marketing funnels from scratch. You can enlist help by getting in touch with me. We can discuss your plans, your business needs, and your dreams for the future. Then, we can see what an amazing email marketing agency can do for you.

If you need to spend more time on behind-the-scenes business and less time on a marketing funnel, then it’s time to invest in an email marketing company like The Email Marketers.

Ready to learn more? Check out some of The Email Marketers’ many successes and browse the rest of my blog. There are many more things to learn about email marketing, and the sales funnel is barely scratching the surface.