Do you need a relationship or a sales funnel?

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Making consistent sales as a business isn’t easy. Neither is building a relationship.

Selling anything has always been hard, but it’s particularly tricky these days thanks to the countless ways with which people can interact with brands and undertake their purchasing journey.

The best businesses rarely become successful via fluke; they’ll work hard on building a funnel of new leads that is consistent, predictable and capable of growing.

How do they do it? And what, exactly is a funnel in business?

These days, there’s two types of funnels that relate to new sales – the traditional sales funnel and the more contemporary relationship funnel.

In this blog post, we’ll look at both with the aim to help you decide which one is the most appropriate for your business.

Spoiler alert: there may not be a clear winner…

Sales funnels are vital

The sales funnel: a definition

The best way to think of a sales funnel is as a step-by-step process which enables potential customers to make purchasing decisions.

These individual steps are usually marketing actions, such as:

In fact, sales funnels are literally everywhere and you may well have interacted with – or been converted by – one, today.

Sales funnels are vital in the digital age, because they never sleep; they can be thought of as virtual salespeople who work constantly, 24/7/365 without ever asking for a day off or fag break.

You'll have fell hook line and sinker

An example of a sales funnel

Let’s use a coffee chain as an example of sales funnel brilliance.

Here’s how it might work:

  1. You’re driving down the road and spot a billboard for a coffee brand. Something about it resonates with you.
  2. Later that night at home, you’re watching TV and an advert for the same brand appears during your favourite soap. You suddenly fancy a coffee.
  3. A couple of days later, you jump onto YouTube for a quick browse of your favourite content creators and, before one of their videos, you’re presented with another mention of the coffee brand.
  4. The next day, you walk past an outlet for that very brand and spot a ‘buy one get one free’ offer in the window, so you head in.
  5. At the till, you’re asked if you also fancy a pastry with your first coffee, so you plump for a croissant.
  6. When collecting your second, free coffee, you’re provided with a loyalty card that promises a tenth free drink if you continue to return to the coffee shop.

Without realising it, you’ll have fell hook, line and sinker for the brand in question, and all thanks to a rather brilliant sales funnel.

Additional Extras

The 4 phases of the sales funnel

Sales funnels should include four phases. They are as follows:

  1. Awareness stage. This is where you start to let people know you exist, and is typically achieved via content marketing, video marketing, social media or PPC.
  2. Relationship stage. Once people become aware of your brand, you can begin to build a relationship with them. This usually takes place via personalised email marketing, webinars, or interaction on social media.
  3. Sales stage. Once a strong enough bond has built between you and the potential customer, they’ll possibly feel confident enough to buy something from you. At this stage, you’ll need a great landing page and/or top sales team to convert the sale.
  4. Upsell stage. You can make more from each sale, you know, and the upsell stage is when you can capitalise on a customer’s desire to spend money with you by offering them additional extras (remember that croissant?).

Why would you need a sales funnel?

Sales funnels help you get more customers that are profitable, perfectly matched to your products and services and at a rate that’s scalable.

This means you can systematically generate news leads via a process that is predictable, but it also helps you use automation and systems to build relationships with new customers.

The result is a consistent flow of new customers and more repeat business, and that means a far healthier outlook for your business going forward.

Buying beliefs

The relationship funnel: a definition

Relationship funnels are similar to those of the sales variety, but they’re optimised to establish relationships with potential customers, install what is known as ‘buying beliefs’ and, when ready, present the offer on the table.

A relationship funnel is very similar to content marketing, and many would argue they are one and the same. It’s a slow, measured process where brands build trust with an audience by providing free, genuinely helpful content.

That trust grows to the point where the sales ‘switch’ can be flicked and money made. And, thanks to the relationship building that’s already taken place, a profitable customer is suddenly onboard for the long run.

Relationship Funnels are effective

The difference between relationship funnels and regular sales funnels

Our example of a typical sales funnel above is relatively aggressive, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance. Being drawn into a coffee shop following clearly sales-driven offers and adverts works, but it’s not for every brand.

A relationship funnel doesn’t rely on the same kind of high-pressure sales tactics. Instead, it starts by providing value via educational content.

Relationships funnels can be so effective that prospects often beat the brand to it in terms of a hard-and-fast sale. They become so enamoured by the brand’s willingness to help them that they’ll actively seek out ways in which they can actually buy something from the business in question.

Sales Funnel and Relationship Funnel

So, which one is right for me?

Relationship funnels are arguably more nascent and ethereal than traditional sales funnels, and it takes a while for many businesses to trust their slowly-catch-a-monkey approach. Therefore, if you haven’t heard of this tactic before, you’re not alone.

They can work, though – brilliantly, and all that’s needed is patience, time and a desire to keep at it.

We’ve only skimmed the surface above – this is such a huge topic. However, the conclusion is a relatively simple one; both a traditional sales funnel and more modern relationship funnel approach could work for your company.

What’s more, you can invest time in both. Arguably – that’s exactly what every business should do, because both types of funnel aren’t mutually exclusive; they can live happily alongside one another and work independently to create a healthy, predictable stream of incoming leads for any business. And they’re both relevant in the digital age.

We’ll doubtless hit this topic again in the near future, but which type of funnel has got you most excited?

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