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Building Relationships
5 min

Forget the funnel. Enter the loop.

by John Simpson, Kalev Peekna February 20, 2015

Tactics like mass advertising and cold calling have fallen by the wayside as digital tools change the framework for the buying and selling of professional services. The traditional sales funnel, for example, doesn’t have room for concepts like loyalty and influence that are inherent in digital marketing. This is where the Relationship Cycle is brought to life.

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.


The Relationship Cycle

The One North Relationship Cycle

“Loyalty counts more and costs less than awareness.”

Harvard Business Review


Enter the Loop

In the funnel, there’s no acknowledgment 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.

According to Hinge Marketing, 88% of B2B professional service buyers are likely or very likely to recommend service providers to friends or colleagues. With this in mind, the power of the Relationship Cycle increases exponentially as clients in the Loyalty Loop become influencers and discuss your firm with others in the outer loop.


ZMOT and Context Marketing

According to Forrester, 71% of people use the Internet daily to make decisions about business purchases. 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 don’t always control. The prospects’ buying decision is indelibly influenced by what they find at this point in time, coined by Google to be the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). And that’s why marketers are now doing 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.

Sometimes referred to 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.

Armed with this understanding of dynamics of business relationships, we now apply it to a digital backdrop. We demonstrated how B2B marketers can use the Relationship Cycle to help expand understanding and direction of strategic marketing decisions. We explained how marketing activities can be organized in the appropriate stage of the Relationship Cycle and how to build a matrix outlining the dimensions of each project (to see some of the matrixes we built, check them out or download the slides here.)

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.

For more information on applying the Relationship Cycle to your digital marketing strategy, check out our white paper on the topic.

John Simpson
Chief Executive Officer

At the time of publishing, John was Chief Executive Officer at One North.

Kalev Peekna
Managing Director, Chief Strategist

Kalev Peekna is the Chief Strategist at One North. 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