The Relationship Cycle: Exploring the Missing Link of the Marketing Funnel

January 24, 2018 John SimpsonKalev Peekna

Tactics like mass advertising and cold calling are a thing of the past, as digital tools change the process of buying and selling professional services. The traditional sales funnel, for example, doesn’t have room for concepts like loyalty or advocacy, which are key influencers in the professional services buyer’s decision making process. This is where the Relationship Cycle is brought to life.

As a framework, the Relationship Cycle expresses the complex, often extended journey that audiences take, as well as how your marketing efforts contribute to their progress. It also draws attention to how audience needs develop and shift over time, requiring coordination of multiple touchpoints.

Forget the Funnel
Relationship-based businesses like law, accounting and consulting firms are fundamentally different from other businesses. Consider the following:

  1. The buying decision is a long process.
  2. Revenue generation is not transactional. 
  3. Your value to clients isn’t easily or quickly replaced. 
  4. Client relationships are complex, involving multiple touch points between several individuals. 
  5. Current clients are an important source of new revenue. 
  6. What your clients feel about (and say about) your business strongly impacts the decisions of other clients.

The ubiquitous marketing funnel has never made sense for relationship-based businesses. The one-way funnel speaks from the marketer to the customer, without listening, adjusting or responding in return. Instead, what's needed is a cycle—a continuous process of listening, responding, adjusting, measuring and listening all over again.

Enter the Loop
In the funnel, there’s no acknowledgement of the value of customer loyalty. The power of the Relationship Cycle is apparent when, after a relationship is formed, the buyer short-circuits the process and enters the Loyalty Loop. This is where the magic happens—where your marketing reaches peak efficiency.

The Relationship Cycle

According to a new research report released by One North, companies that hire professional services organizations only consider themselves loyal to one-fifth of the firms they employ. That being said, those same businesses are willing to spend more money with the firms they feel loyal to. With this in mind, the power of the Relationship Cycle increases exponentially in the Loyalty Loop as clients begin spending more money with you, and perhaps more importantly, become influencers, discussing your firm with others in the outer loop.

Consider Context Marketing
As your potential clients begin to think about hiring you, they go online and research your firm. What they’ll see is your website—and they’ll also see the collective shared experience of those you’ve served in the past.

As your prospects ask their network about you, read reviews, watch videos and look at news stories, they are doing organic discovery and finding out about you in ways you can’t always control. The prospects’ buying decision is indelibly influenced by what they find at this point in time, and that’s why marketers must do everything in their power to ensure they’re delivering the right content—testimonials and case studies, for example—in the right places, at the right time.

Known as context marketing, this adds an element of timing to content marketing, taking into account the individual demographics of the customer. Context can be based on location, sentiment, role, intent, business processes, relationships and much more. This added layer of personalization helps to further drive purchase consideration.

It is important to balance what your firm wants to achieve with the customer’s needs. Balance needs to be considered in the overall brand experience. Marketing’s job is to deliver a comprehensive, consistent brand experience and no one kind of interaction should dominate.

Most relationship-based businesses know their clients pretty well. They understand their needs, their challenges and their opportunities. But there is a danger in letting your assumptions about what you know go unchallenged. The Relationship Cycle lets you apply what you know about your customer to make stronger strategic decisions, while helping to uncover other truths along the way.

To learn about the importance of the Loyalty Loop, check out our research report on earning loyalty as a professional service organization.


The One North Ideas Update delivers each month’s latest posts on digital for PSOs—including industry trends, news and our latest research—directly to your inbox. Although it’s our goal to always include thought-provoking and compelling content, you can unsubscribe at any time. 

See our Privacy Policy to learn more about how we protect and manage your submitted data.

John Simpson Chief Executive Officer

John Simpson is one of One North’s founders and serves as the Chief Executive Officer. For more than 20 years, John has been helping professional services marketers engage with their clients and grow their organizations through brand-based digital marketing experiences. He is a frequent author and speaker as it relates to relationship development, digital strategy and marketing innovation.

  • Favorite season: Summer. Summer makes everyone feel like a kid again.
  • Super power: Positivity. A psychology professor once told me that humans are predisposed to be positive. His logic was that the cave man faced so many challenges – sabre tooth tigers, starvation, cold weather, disease – that they had to be positive just to survive until the next day. I can’t say whether or not this theory has scientific merit, but it’s good enough for me!
Kalev Peekna Managing Director, Chief Strategist

Kalev Peekna is the Chief Strategist at One North, leading the Digital Strategy team. He brings a cross-platform, user-focused approach to innovations in brand development, design, data analysis and technology, and helps clients apply those innovations to their strategic aims.

  • If I were a vegetable: I would be broccoli. Because I have always wanted someone to call me “cruciferous.” 
  • Most unusual job: Cocktail bartender at a Cabaret

One North Interactive 
222 North LaSalle St, #1500
Chicago, IL 60601

+1 312.469.1740