Email Marketing Funnels: What They Are and How to Optimize Them

Don't know where to begin when it comes to planning a high-converting email marketing funnel? Let us guide you through all you need to know!

Kate Neuer
May 24, 2022

Let's dive into what exactly email marketing funnels are. Email marketing doesn't have to be tricky, and if you have a business, you may be aware of what a sales funnel is and you may have tried to implement this into your ecommerce or brick and mortar store. There's no reason contractors and other businesses that focus on services cannot invest in great email marketing funnel techniques as well.

Sending out a sequence of emails to convert leads into paying customers is essentially what email marketing funnels are, but there is much more that goes into each email. We'll go over what truly makes up email marketing funnels and explain why it is different from regular sales funnels. Email marketing, in general, can cover many factors from bounce-rate, hard-bounce, open rate, acquiring email lists, etc. For email marketing funnels, you only have to understand the concept of collecting contacts, which we will also briefly go over in this article.

Table of Contents

What Is an Email Marketing Sales Funnel?

Talk to any digital marketer about their email marketing goals and they’ll tell you the same: grow their list and convert subscribers into loyal customers. 

The truth is that this goal is partly the problem. As a digital marketer, you’re in control of the steps you take to influence your customers, but how your leads act is out of your hands. Your sphere of influence is long and could include hiring internal employees, advertising on social media and the Google Display Network, or putting money into your research and development department.

While these are all effective tactics, email marketing still remains the most influential digital marketing strategy for both B2C and B2B companies. In fact, 73% of marketers attributed email marketing to increasing their conversion efforts. However, if you don’t create a strategic plan on how to move leads into the next step with email marketing, the remaining parts of your buyer’s journey might not happen at all. This is where an email marketing funnel comes into play.

Before you develop an email marketing funnel, you need to know what it is and why it’s effective. An email funnel is a representation of how a subscriber goes from prospective lead to a customer through educational and promotional email communications. For effective email funnels, marketers have to anticipate the subscriber’s needs to send an email at the right time to elicit action. An email marketing funnel is demonstrated in 4 MAIN stages:

  • Engagement
  • Discovery
  • Purchase
  • Retention


Why You Need an Email Marketing Funnel

Subscribers are no longer fooled by traditional marketing tactics and are turned off by salesy advertising strategies. An email marketing funnel is different because it allows marketers to deliver communications at the right moments, so that each email is personalized to each subscriber. Personalization alone can boost your open rates by 26%. Think about it: don't you like to open emails that speak to you or have your first name in the subject line? 

Email marketing funnels treat your lead as an individual—not a faceless name in your list—so you’re able to pinpoint where they are in the buyer’s journey and communicate effectively. While there are many benefits to developing an email marketing funnel, consider the following points:

  • Did you know it’s 10 times harder to get a new customer (or even a lead) than to sell to a current one? With an email marketing funnel, you’ll be able to consistently generate new leads while maintaining your existing email list.
  • With the right technology, your email funnel will continue to sell for you on auto-pilot, such as using marketing funnel automation.
  • When you consistently offer customers a positive brand experience, they’ll turn into loyal fans who advocate for your products. Yes, sometimes the product or service speaks for itself, but an email funnel gets leads there in the first place.

Reasons for Proper Email Sales Sequence

A sales email sequence is a coordinated series of emails that are sent from a salesperson or sales team to a prospect over a specific period of time. Typically, sales email sequences are sent using a sales automation platform that manages who receives the emails, when, and when they stop. There is, in fact, a good email sequence to send for optimal engagement and sales versus a bad email marketing funnel sequence. 

The most common primary goal of a sequence is to get a response from the recipient. A secondary objective is to gain clicks, website visits, or interactions with content.

Marketing Funnel Stages

There are many stages an email marketing funnel can use, but not all stages are necessary. Some stages may serve as multiple stages in an email. An email funnel needs to keep the customer in mind, especially an email sales funnel, which also can benefit from the following marketing funnel stages:


Spread awareness by showing everyone, especially leads, the value you offer. You can do this by investing in brand awareness strategies. This is a different kind of marketing, but once you have it, it's important to include in the emails you send out.


Some marketing research may be required to understand potential customers' pain points. Once you know what they are, you can solve their problems and advertise that you can solve these problems. For example, do you have a lighter weight duvet for hot sleepers? Advertise that it is cooler than nearly all other duvets on the market. You can target hot sleepers in an email sales sequence by sending many messages about how well your duvet keeps people cool at night, reduces night sweats, etc. 


Position yourself as THE solution to those potential customers' problems. You do this by focusing on the key benefits. Part of a sales funnel email is to compare other products or services to yours to put your product/ service in a place above the competition.


Nurture your new customer. This is the stage where you have a customer (or hot lead that's coming close to converting). Throughout the entire process, send PERSONALIZED emails show you are there for the customer when they need it. These emails include confirmation of purchase, shipping information (if applicable), and other information regarding items left in someone's cart.


Provide onboarding tools, resources, and knowledge to set up customers to become loyal customers. For example, if you have a rewards program, you can have your new customer become a rewards member by sending them $5 for every $75 spent. This will keep customers coming back to purchase more from you. 


Go above and beyond to show your customers that you care about their happiness with your brand. Sure, you can send them surveys about your company. This will work for leads, even, and help you understand your target audience. But sending prospects forms to receive extra benefits, such as a higher percentage off items or creating a birthday gift that will arrive to them the month of their birthday.


Connect with customers and learn from customers. You can do both expansion and retention in one email. Sometimes surveys will help a company learn new solutions and methods to help customers achieve success. The more you advertise your improvement of the business or product/ service, the more loyal your customers will become and the more leads/ customers you can gather.


Word-of-mouth advocacy for your product or company is priceless. This stage loops new potential customers into the awareness stage. 

How to Create an Email Marketing Funnel

Top of Funnel: Generate Leads and Create Email List

You may catch many marketers saying, “The money’s in the list.” And, although this is not the only stage in the email funnel, it’s the beginning of a strong marketing strategy. Unlike your social media followers, you own your email list and have more control over your communication with them. Whether you make the list or buy a. list of subscribers, you basically now have the right to do what you want in terms of content and communication.

There are two effective ways you can collect email addresses: opt-in forms and dedicated landing pages. Email opt-ins are embedded throughout your website or blogs and often just ask for the user’s name and email address. Opt-in forms are great for newsletters to keep your subscribers engaged in your business website and future emails.

Dedicated landing pages are focused on one lead magnet—like an email course, free trial, or downloadable content—that educates the user enough to enter your sales cycle. Landing pages are effective because you’re providing the user value, which is a preview to what they can expect from your email communications. This could be product updates or offers or even original written content that gives knowledge or entertainment for subscribers.

Middle of Funnel: Nurture Leads

Once you’ve found a lead generation tactic that attracts subscribers, you need to keep engaging with them. You can create segmented lists to deliver the most relevant value proposition, product, review, content, etc. to each of your subscribers. While this sounds complicated, the right automation app can automatically segment your subscribers based on the lead magnet or form they signed up for, website or email behavior, or demographic information.

Lead nurturing emails need to be targeted, valuable, and customized communications that position you as a credible brand. Each email is a new opportunity to build a relationship and help you further personalize your emails based on their activity.

A few nurturing emails for this stage include:

  • Custom communications based on their preferences
  • Custom success stories and user-generated content
  • More free resources like webinars or blogs
  • Even offering a free product is a good way to convert leads

Bottom of Funnel: Convert Leads into Customers

If your subscribers have made it past the first two steps, you’ve primed your leads for the big conversion. You’ve built a relationship by providing value, which has elicited an emotional response from your subscriber. At the bottom of the funnel in step three, you want to continue sending personalized nurturing campaigns with a more aggressive conversion strategy.

Final emails for converting leads include:

  • Retargeting: With the leads you feel have had the most engagement (emails opened, clicked on, etc.), like ecommerce abandoned carts, you can implement retargeting strategies that deliver ads based on the actual products or services they’re interested in.
  • Time-sensitive offers: By providing these leads with deadlines in urgent emails, you’re giving them a reason to become customers by purchasing something. These emails could include coupons, birthday offers, or even messages to subscribers who visit your website for an extended time.
  • Onboarding: If you used a lead magnet trial period, you can convert those subscribers into paying customers once the free trial is about to end. This is the part of the sales funnel that is vital to most businesses that rely on ecommerce purchases instead of in-person services or brick and mortar stores.

Repeat Email Funnel to Keep Customers

Even after subscribers convert into customers, your job isn’t done yet. Retaining customers and building long-term loyalty is critical in extending their lifetime value to increase your marketing ROI. Loyalty promotes repeat purchases and referrals, which means you need to work towards their next purchase once they convert. While this is the same technique as nurturing leads in step two, the messaging is slightly different because you can talk about your brand more directly.

How can you achieve this? Consider the following:

  • Keep your customers engaged with your products or services, whether it’s through a weekly progress report or technology update, to stay at the forefront of your subscribers' minds.
  • Match up-sell and cross-sell products based on your customer’s purchase history to promote bigger offers. The trick here is to not come off pushy. Just provide a better solution.
  • Offer referral loyalty campaigns that encourage sharing and word-of-mouth advertising from your customers. The offers can include earning points towards a free item or percentage off their next order.

Examples of Funnels for Emails

The right features in your email creation platform can make all the difference in converting leads to customers who visit your page often. Below are specific examples of common email marketing funnels. You'll notice they do not focus on advertising a specific product but instead focus on the content appropriate to the stage where the contact is. When reviewing each email example, see if you can spot at what time or stage the email would get to the lead or customer.

1) Welcome Email

This welcome email is a great email marketing funnel stage example because it gives the lead enough information to want to learn more and possibly become a paying customer with this business. 


Image credit: Headspace

2) Come Back Offer Email

Once you have a customer, it's possible to have that person lose interest over time. You can entice them back with a deal or even new information about a product. One reason to do this is to not lose this customer from your email list in the event that they eventually hit that "unsubscribe" button.

Below is a great example of content that reigns in an old customer. It also helps that this email shows the company appreciation for them. This could be considered part of email marketing sales if it was not part of a sequence or funnel.

5 Easy Ways to Win Back Old Customers with Email - Wisepops

Photo Credit: Crocs

3) Loyalty Rewards Reminder Email

This email can be used for a lead or a customer who hasn't purchased any product from your company in a while. Leads and customers alike may not know about the loyalty or rewards program your company offers, so this quick read will entice them to either join the program or buy something in order to start earning rewards.


Photo Credit: Ulta

One last note: Remember your marketing sales funnel may rely on email marketing automation. Yes, you will need a platform that can perform impeccable automation for your messages, but you'll also need to learn how to set up your content in email automation. 

You'll also want to ensure that your subject line isn't lost in any of your subscribers' spam folders. That's why you need a platform that can promise deliverability to your subscribers. Some email apps users like for sending email marketing include aweber, activecampaign, and emma. But if you want a much more comprehensive space for creating marketing funnels, we suggest you read into TruVISIBILITY's entire platform to see how you can incorporate forms, gifs, videos, and much more into your company marketing funnel email process.

What's Next?

Does your email funnel strategy make the cut? Whether it did before reading this article, you can see that the number of people who respond to your email is always changing, therefore, your email funnel should always be changing. Whether it's the verbiage in your messaging or the timing at which you send an email sequence, every marketing funnel comes down to doing marketing research. And email marketing for your business is no different. Your sales may very well depend on the best email marketing funnel you can create!

Want your sales to boost through means other than email? Don't let a marketing funnel scare you. Funnel email sales are great, but there are things you can include in your emails. Any customer would love to get variety in your email content, such as a free helpful document to download or form that subscribes them to insider tips and deals.

We'd also love to get you a great deal, a free one, in fact! For the ultimate business prospects, users often save time and money by finding an all-in-one solution for their marketing needs. You can combine your landing page within your other marketing funnels as you like and make a list of contacts with one program. Check out the best way: TruVISIBILITY's all-in-one platform to combine chatbot, email messages, and landing page or website you can create together.