The “Vacuum” Formula: How to Suck up New Leads with an Email Sales Funnel


houseofcardsHouse of Cards.

The Walking Dead.

Games of Thrones.

All of these are popular TV series, but other than that, what do they have in common?

And what does it have to do with getting you more leads and more sales with an email funnel?

I’ll give you a hint: the same tactic shows like these use to draw in their audience is the same tactic you need to be using in your own email sales funnel.

But we’ll get that in a moment.

First, let’s talk about what an email sales funnel is, and how it can:

  • Save you countless hours
  • Generate fresh leads and sales on auto-pilot
  • Send you better quality and better educated leads and clients overall

What is an Email Sales Funnel?

emailfunnelAs you might already know if you’ve been following AutoGrow for any length of time, Google recognizes us at the top authority on “sales funnels” and related keywords.

An online sales funnel is defined simply as a series of linear, systematic steps that lead a prospect towards making a purchase decision.

The structure in any sales funnel can be organized in to the following three phrases:

  1. Top – This is where demand for your product or service is generated (i.e. via Google search, advertising, people clicking to read your blog, etc.)
  2. Middle – This is the engagement stage. This is where the prospect takes a solid step forward and shows direct interest (instead passive research-level interest) in the products or services you have to offer. This looks like: someone clicking through from your blog to your homepage, from your homepage to your services page, subscribing to your email list for more information, and even making a small purchase, typically something that is $50 or less.
  3. Bottom – This is where leads are qualified, followed-up on and, of course, there the sale ultimately occurs.

It’s worth noting that these three phases can be universally applied to every single business in existence today.

You should also note that it’s possible to break down your funnel into a series of micro funnels within this larger three-phase structure.

For example, your email sales funnel can be seen as a key component extending through the middle and bottom phases of your overall sales funnel.

There are two reasons why you want to set it up this way:

  • First, every email subscriber who opts-in to your general email list is a passive lead
  • Second, your goal is to build a relationship with that passive lead, and do what is possible to convert him or her into an active lead (i.e. someone who doesn’t just want content, but who wants to buy)

This is the definition of an email funnel: to turn subscribers into educated, “activated” leads and buyers.

The VACuum Formula – a proven email funnel template for generating more leads

Most people just need a framework or a template for getting started. That's what I'm going to give you here.

Even if you plan on hiring a marketing expert (like AutoGrow) to do it for you, chances are you’ll want to understand how we get you results with our email sales funnel services.

What we’ve found from building and testing email funnels for our clients, within our own business and studying the funnels dozens of other industry experts (like Frank Kern, and a number of other), is that there are TWO simple, surefire ways to leave A LOT of money on the table.

Way #1 – Having no email funnel at all.

I think this is one of the worst offenses to modern sales funnel design. Speaking as a business owner who used to have to go to networking events 24/7 to drum up business, generate leads and build client relationships, I am bothered by how much low-hanging fruit (like this, a complete lack of an email follow-up system) that I see in 95% of the businesses with an online presence today.

Way #2 – Put everyone who subscribes into the same email list and send them an occasional newsletter.

This isn’t as bad as #1. At least in this case you’re giving them some content and getting in front of them.

But there are few problems with this scenario:

  1. Subscribers might not know anything about your business and what problems your products and services can help them solve.
  2. The content you’re sending them might be completely irrelevant to their current needs and challenges

Of course, the question from this is: how do you educate them, follow-up AND make sure that what you’ll be sending them is relevant?

Let’s start with the latter question since it leads into the core of the Vacuum formula.

How to make your email follow-up content relevant & irresistible

The simplest way to succeed in business is to give people what they want.

When I ran my first business, a digital coupon directory, I was focused on selling how "cool" our technology platform was to local business owners.

“OH and you can track to see how many clicks and coupon prints you have here in the dashboard…”

In my third business, where we sold restaurant marketing software that delivered offers to customers during slow sales times I was focused, again, on the concept and how innovative it was.

“It automatically tracks changing weather patterns and time and sends our offers to drive customers in the door!”

The second was better than the first, but not by much.

You know why?

Because all the local businesses we worked with cared about was reach—some sort of concrete number that they could relate to their sales.

And those first businesses I ran simply weren’t giving the marketing what is wanted.

So, how do you give the market what they want in your email funnel?


You ask them what their end goal is. Then you place them into a “follow-up bucket”

Brennan Dunn spoke about this in a video interview we did last year. He called it the “choose your own adventure” strategy.

In “VACuum formula” terms you can think about it as the power switch that creates the “sucking” momentum to draw in leads.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Someone opts in to your email list
  2. You send them a welcome email. In that email is a short message and a question, asking subscribers what their biggest challenge or frustration is (related to your products or services)? For example, with AutoGrow we would ask, “What’s your biggest web marketing challenge?” and there would be a few choices, like traffic, generating qualified leads, on-site conversions, etc.
  3. Based on what the subscriber clicks in response to that question you then send him or her a unique sequence of follow-up emails. For example, you might have three buckets, one for each link option in the welcome email—plus you should have a fourth bucket for “generic” subscribers who don’t click on anything in the welcome email.

This whole concept of priming the pump in your “lead vacuum” in this way means you are “attuning” your messaging to your audience. In other words, you are “turning-towards” your audience's current interests and desires, rather than trying to pull them in a direction they don’t want to go in.

And once they are on your email list…

That’s where the VACuum formula kicks in.

The “VACuum” formula comes from the acronym VAC which stands for:

  1. Value
  2. Authority
  3. Call-to-action

This is the order in which you want to follow-up with prospects (after you’ve done your best to attune to their interests with an introductory survey email).

First you’re providing value to the subscriber, often in the form of educational content, tools, or some kind of free giveaway. If you’re a B2B business, this feeds into the second step where you’re looking to build authority.

In step two, you want to give some background on your company’s story and why it is the go to authority in the space for XYZ product or service. You can include a “soft sell” offer in the form of a link to a key landing page at the end of this email.

Finally, in the third step you’re going to “hard sell” the client. In other words, you’re going to review the key benefits your product or service can offer them, reiterate why this offer is the best, and give a reason to make a purchase decision now.

It’s worth noting that making a “hard sell” call-to-action email doesn’t need to include CAPS to make it look like you're yelling, nor should it sound sleezy.

This formula works if you implement it.

But one final question you might be wondering is…

How do you get someone to keep reading?

That’s where the secret ingredient comes in.

Recall at the beginning of this article I listed off three popular TV shows.

House of Cards, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones.

If you watch any three of these shows you know how addictive they can be. How do the writers do that and how can you incorporate that same trick into your email funnel?

The answer is called “Soap Opera Sequences” (SOS) or more commonly referred to as opened loops / closed loops.

SOS is a concept I learned about after going through Andre Chaperon’s course, AutoresponderMadness some time ago.

The basic concept works like this, and I’m going to use a graphic from my buddy Bryan’s Harris’s blog since I like how he diagrammed it.


The idea being communicated here is that when you have a show like House of Cards, the reason why it becomes addictive is that in each new episode, new micro story-lines and conflict scenarios are opening up.

This creates an “open loop” in the reader’s or viewer’s mind.

This takes advantage of an important psychological trigger called the Zeigarnik Effect, which says that when a story begins we have a natural desire to hear how it ends. We want to "close the loop." So we’re hooked until it does.

All popular TV shows use this tactic to keep you tuning in for more new episodes.

I actually began this article with an open loop by creating an "info gap" to hook you into reading more.

Here’s another great example to illustrate the concept. It’s from an old radio ad written by Roy H. Williams:

Antwerp, Belgium, is no longer the diamond capital of the world.

Thirty-four hours on an airplane. One way. Thirty. Four. Hours. That’s how long it took me to get to where eighty percent of the worlds diamonds are now being cut. After 34 hours I looked bad. I smelled bad. I wanted to go to sleep. But then I saw the diamonds.

Unbelievable. They told me I was the first retailer from North America ever to be in that office. Only the biggest wholesalers are allowed through those doors. Fortunately, I had one of ‘em with me, a lifelong friend who was doing me a favor.

Now pay attention, because what I’m about to say is really important: As of this moment, Justice Jewelers has the lowest diamond prices in America, and I’m including all the online diamond sellers in that statement.

Now you and I both know that talk is cheap. So put it to the test. Go online. Find your best deal. Not only will Justice Jewelers give you a better diamond, we’ll give you a better price, as well.

I’m Woody Justice, and I’m working really, really hard to be your jeweler. Thirty-four hours of hard travel, one way. I think you’ll be glad I did it.

Notice the open loop there in the first sentence.


Most leads are lost. It's so sad. But with an effective email sales funnel, they don't have to be. Click here to read more about our done-for-you email autoresponder writing service and request a 15 min. no-pitch consultation.

  • The purpose of an email sales funnel is to nurturing passive leads into active leads who show interest in your products or services
  • Without an email funnel, you're leaking leads and sales, leaving money on the table.
  • The Vacuum formula gives you a simple, effective framework for "sucking up" all the leads you can handle.
  • First, survey your email subscribers by asking a simple question. This will tell you what they are insterested in specifically.
  • Second, deliver content to them in line with that interest. Remember: value, authority, call-to-action
  • And to keep them reading? Use open loops and closed loops.

What's you're best email marketing tactics for generating fresh leads? Leave a comment and let me know.

Finally, if you enjoyed this article, please share it for the benefit of others on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, & Google+.


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