How To Build a Sales Funnel For Your Online Course [Free Marketing Fly Wheel]

If you have the expertise, courses are easy to create, and they are highly valuable to the right set of people. But there hasn't been more competition between online courses than there is today. And this competition is always on the rise. 

The question is, how to sell an online course?

It is believed that:

Invest More = Sell More

From our experience, we assure you that it is not the case. 

Using certain marketing tactics like IG and Facebook ads, blogs, YouTube promotional videos, etc., are all essential pieces of your sales strategy. But without integrating them into a whole system (sales funnel) that guides your potential students from when they know your offer until they decide to enroll in your course, you will rarely see any result. This "create it and hope they will come" approach doesn't work. No matter how long you wait. And, this is why you need a complete understanding of using sales funnel for online courses.

In this blog post, we'll walk you through the steps to create a sales funnel that will convert viewers into paying students. So keep reading to learn more!

What Is an Online Course Sales Funnel?

A sales funnel is basically a series of steps composed of marketing assets designed to guide website visitors toward a buying decision. 

Although it may involve some or even all of these, the sales funnel itself isn't about social media, email marketing, or Facebook ads. It is much more important than any single marketing tactic. 

Understanding how to guide users through their buying process and psychology creates a relationship with them to turn strangers into customers. If you can do it strategically and at scale, you will have a robust sales funnel. 

Why Do You Need an Online Course Sales Funnel?

As a course creator, lead generation is not a matter of choice but the lifeblood of your business. The only choice you have to make is whether you've got the time and money to waste on gathering those leads manually or building an automated lead generation machine that works on autopilot.

So once you learn how to set up your sales funnel properly, you can streamline your customer acquisition to qualify and convert leads automatically—saving you an ocean of time!

And what does that mean for you?

You can better allocate time and use your energy in other activities instead. Like running your business, creating new courses, or even taking a hard-earned vacation—finally! 

The Important Stages of Sales Funnel for Online Courses

The sales funnel for online courses is a fictitious funnel-shaped concept that outlines a student's path as they decide whether or not to enroll in your course. The five main stages of the higher education sales funnel are as follows: 

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest 
  3. Desire
  4. Action 
  5. Loyalty 

The reason why a sales funnel is used to accurately depict the journey of prospective students is that the number of pupils decreases at each step as some divert their focus elsewhere. The online course marketing funnel nurtures prospective students by making them aware of available courses, generating curiosity among audiences to learn more, which leads to the desire to apply for the online course.

Let’s look at each stage of the sales funnel to get a better understanding.


This is the initial phase of the funnel. At this stage, the goal is to grab the attention of the audience and stand out from the crowd. Consider the example of John Hopkin University’s lead generation on Facebook.

The ad targets prospective students with the information they are searching for in an attempt to bring awareness regarding the institute and offered courses. 


This is the stage at which you begin to cultivate the audience. The goal here is to hold their interest by providing more in-depth and intriguing material.


This is the stage at which you gain perspective students’ trust and establish authority by demonstrating that you are the answer to their concerns. The goal here is to highlight their problem and suggest a solution.


This is where you present your course. The final goal here is to demonstrate why your course is what customers require, overcome their objections, and give clear steps to purchase.


This stage of the sales funnel reflects the conversion of a prospect into a loyal supporter. The primary goal here is to capitalize on the trust you've established by offering various up-sell and/or cross-sell opportunities and capturing social proof.

How To Build a Sales Funnel For Your Course

Just like all sales processes, a funnel has several stages that a buyer goes through before committing to a purchase. No matter what you're selling, it must have 4 core elements.


The part of your funnel that drives traffic to your site. It can be through paid ad campaigns on Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook, or they come from an existing email list. There are plenty of other ways, but these are definitely the most common. 


This is where the conversion and qualification happen. You need a lead magnet on a landing page to give prospects what they need rather than what they want to build immediate trust. A 2-step opt-in box helps you collect contact information, an informative sales page educates visitors on what it is you're selling, and a checkout page is where the sale finally takes place. 


Not every online course funnel will turn every lead into a customer. And sometimes, this hasn't to do with your funnel, but the leads aren't ready to buy today. Here comes the role of follow-up elements. Retargeting ads and email sequences are designed to bring leads back into your funnel after they've dropped out. 


Here is where you convert loyal customers into brand ambassadors, which is necessary for any online education business that wants to increase its popularity. Other consumers view brand ambassadors as trustworthy and credible since they aren’t making money promoting your business. They just genuinely love and support it.

Free Marketing Fly Wheel for Online Coaching and Courses

Now that you know the basic elements of your online courses' sales funnel, here's how to start building yours.

Step 1: Identify The Needs of Your Target Audience

The first step begins with your target audience. You need an in-depth understanding of who you are trying to help with your course. Once you've identified your target audience, identify the questions they are asking, the challenges they have, their pain points, and their frustrations. For example, someone interested in getting started with healthy eating is probably asking specific questions, such as "healthy recipes easy to prepare."

How do you identify what your target audience is struggling with?


Start by Google searching to find the top blogs, forums, and books about your course topic. Read the most popular ones, check Amazon's reviews, and Quora questions, and join related groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Pay attention to the questions publicly asked. These insights will give you more ideas of what you can offer in your online course and to whom.


Email your subscribers a short survey. Create polls and collect responses/votes on a Facebook or LinkedIn Group. Talk to your students and ask them about their specific concerns and challenges. You will be surprised how many people are willing to open up when asked.

Once you've identified your target audience, and considered their questions and pain points, you can begin your sales funnel and make them aware of your brand. 

Step 2: Publish Free Content That Solves a Specific Problem

The idea behind this step is to earn your audience's trust. Position yourself as an expert by providing value and helping them solve a challenge they have. It can be a blog post, a podcast (audio content), or a video tutorial. The type of content is not a big deal. What is really important is how valuable, useful, and relevant it is to your target audience.

But if I offer the solution to their problem for free, why would they buy my course?

That's a fair concern.

With your content, you help your target audience solve one of their challenges, but the most important part is to unpack greater crucial topics for which your online course is the solution.

Once you are done, give it a clear and attention-grabbing title, you can use Headline Analyzer to test out some title ideas and use the one with the highest score. 

free content example for online courses funnels

Step 3: Include a Free Resource To Create a List of Potential Customers

Once your target audience is aware of your brand, the next step is to encourage them to learn more and get involved. Not everyone who reads your content in step 2 will sign up for your online course. That's perfectly fine, but you need to separate those casual readers from potential customers who are more likely to enroll.


Using a lead magnet.

It is typically the first element of most sales funnels. An irresistible valuable content that you provide for free in exchange for their contact information. You can continue nurturing them until they become a customer, and it is also essential for retargeting ads and follow-up email sequences if your prospect falls out of your funnel. 

The key elements of a winning lead magnet are relevance and ease of consumption. So no 100-page ebooks, 2-week courses, or 3-day 1-on-1 training programs. But a quick win for both of you. 

free resources for the online courses example

Effective Lead Magnet Ideas:

Lead magnets can also help business owners to better understand their customers. By collecting valuable customer data, entrepreneurs can identify trends and create targeted offers tailored to the needs of their audience.

Here are a few effective lead magnet ideas:

  • Case study
  • Short ebooks
  • Checklist
  • Blueprint
  • Previews
  • Quizzes
  • Case studies
  • Cheatsheets
  • Templates
  • Tutorials
  • Tools and resources
  • Challenges
  • Webinars

So you've got your lead magnet ready. Now it's time to get your audience actually to use your lead magnet. This requires a lead magnet landing page designed with a bit of salesmanship to sell them on the value and benefits of downloading your lead magnet. 

For a high-converting landing page, you've got to have creative copywriting skills and an eye-catching design.

Few Elements For Sky-High Landing Page Conversions:

Aside from visuals, there are a few other elements that can have a tremendous impact on landing page conversions.

For example:

  • An enticing headline about the value of your lead magnet.
  • Hitting the pain points with a clear definition of your prospect's problem.
  • Explain how your lead magnet helps solve that problem.
  • Provide testimonials and social proof.
  • Place irresistible calls to action to get them to click.

By following these guidelines, you should be able to create a winning landing page that will drive more conversions and help grow your business.

Lead Magnet Landing Page Retargeting

Typically, when someone lands on your lead magnet page means they're curious to learn more but not necessarily curious enough to grab your lead magnet and give you their email.

This is where retargeting comes in. 

By adding a code to your lead magnet landing page, you can retarget those who visited your page but didn't take action. This way, you can show up in front of them again, share more of your story, and why they need your lead magnet.‍

Thank You Page

A huge opportunity is missed on the 'Thank You pages. Prospects reaching this stage have taken the time to read your lead magnet page and give you their email address. They're interested, it is obvious. But they do not trust you yet. They are on their way.

Use your 'Thank You page to share more of your story, offer a gift, and invite them to join a free Facebook Group. Do not overwhelm them, but do continue to provide value while you have their attention.

Thank You Page Retargeting

Again, you can also add a piece of code here to retarget new subscribers with a series of paid ads. They've already made a small commitment to you. You can now build a relationship with them and gain their trust. 

Step 4: Start With Your Drip Campaign

Now that you've got permission to communicate with your prospects, it's time to make them an offer. Send an automated email follow-up series starting with a welcome email immediately after they subscribe to your list. It should be pretty simple. Introduce yourself, include a link to download the free resource you promised, and invite them to stay on the lookout and communicate with you by email, social channels, etc.

And above all, do not forget to include the data protection policy and have the consent of your contacts to send them emails.

Write multiple emails and add them to a series of automated follow-up emails created with your email service provider. For example, you can write 5 follow-up emails and set your autoresponder series to send 1 email every day for 5 days to every new subscriber. This automation ensures that all email subscribers receive the same emails, in the same order, and after the same amount of time.

Step 5. Track Non-Buyers and Tag Them On Your Email List

Not everyone invited to enroll in your online course will, and that's perfectly fine. But what can you do next? 

Just ask them directly why they haven't enrolled. 

You will be surprised by the valuable feedback you'll receive from this step if done properly. Some will directly tell you that they don't want to hear from you again. But others might only need less digital contact and would like to ask you a few questions before buying from you. Start a dialogue, make some tweaks to your email flow, consider adding more info to your course sales page or create an FAQ page.

Your Sales Funnel Is Now Ready. What's next?

It's time to fuel your funnel. Without any traffic, all the effort you've put into perfecting your sales funnel doesn't mean a thing. 

How do you bring traffic into your funnel? And even more specifically, How do you bring the right traffic into your funnel?

There are two ways to consider: paid ads and using an existing email list. 

Paid Ads

With paid ads, the effect is almost instant. You can immediately send traffic to your website or landing page compared to content marketing which takes some time to get your systems in place and start seeing traction. Plus, the variety of platforms available means you can use the benefits of each to your advantage. 

But paid ads have their downs as well. 

They cost money! It definitely varies between platforms, but either way, you've got to shell over a bit of dough from the start. Other than that, it can be challenging to master these platforms to target the right prospects and avoid wasting your advertising budget.

Online course creators are ineffectively spending between 40% and 60% of their advertising budgets, with most wastage coming from non-human traffic and poor viewability. This impacts not just advertising effectiveness but also business value and reputation. No business can afford to get it wrong.

Here comes the power of a specialized digital and online course promotion agency. At Think Orion, we know how competitive and challenging this space can be. After all, we offer online course promotion services. We understand how important it is to constantly introduce cutting-edge marketing strategies on-brand and under budget to keep revenue rising. Reach out to us so we can chat numbers and figures specific to your company.

As we just mentioned, there are plenty of platforms to choose from. But here are the main 3 you can use for paid ads. 

  1. Google – The king of search and by far the most popular paid search platform. You can do a few things on this platform specifically to generate leads on your first try.
  2. Facebook – The king of social media and its super powerful targeting abilities make it the most cost-effective compared to other platforms.
  3. LinkedIn – More of a professional business environment and great for organic B2B traffic.

Email List

Building a robust email list is key for selling your online courses. 


Because email marketing has a whopping 400% ROI. One of the best in the industry!

Not only this, but it is the most direct channel to your prospects.

You can spend on ads, create great content, and hope that someone stumbles across your page. But only with email marketing are you able to speak directly to your leads. And nothing beats a personalized way to reach out to your future enrollees. 


How do you automate online course sales?

Selling an online course doesn't need to be a lengthy and time-consuming task. There are automation tools that can assist you if you're attempting to figure out how to better advertise and sell your course. CRO and SEO tools, analytics tools, WordPress plugins, email campaign software, affiliate marketing platforms, and webinar platforms like webinar are just a few of the websites and apps that may assist, simplify and automate your online course sales.

As email (sending and receiving) is crucial for selling online courses, various automation tools such as Active Campaign, Campaign Monitor, and AWeber offer autoresponder options that can help you get back to the queries of prospective students. 

What are different Types of Sales Funnels that can be used for selling Online Courses?

Here are three distinct types of high-converting sales funnels for your online courses:

  • Sales funnel built on webinars
  • Sales funnel for a new online course launch
  • Sales funnel for lead magnets


So there you have it! 

Ensure that you have the right sales funnel for online courses in place. It's always simplicity over complexity when starting out. Once you start seeing some good results, you can add layers of complexity for further optimization like tripwires, upsells, or higher-tiered courses.

One last piece of advice that we would like to leave you with is to test different approaches, make adjustments to your sales funnel, and measure the results. Do not expect your first sales funnel to be perfect from the first try, but what gets measured gets improved.

The sky's the limit!