Beyond the Sale: The Arc of a Modern Business Relationship – by Alyson Button Stone

So, first talking point: Is the funnel dead?

Well, no. But it’s certainly different. Lately, the focus of any sales funnel hinges on the relationship with your prospect or customer.

Today’s funnel is no longer crude and robotic. It’s more personal and built on a dynamic, ongoing relationship. It’s not a series of steps. It’s a series of mutually beneficial conversations, gradually building trust and confidence toward a sale.

The funnel is no longer linear at all. It’s a starburst, served up in context — context of history, context of customer expectations, context of new social tools. The funnel doesn’t move at a snail’s pace — it’s instant, constantly changing and adaptable to the influx of new ways to communicate and educate.

This leads us to the next question: Is authentic and real something that can scale? You can get a long way toward meeting the challenge if your tools live up to the challenge. A genuine relationship with prospects and customers is more satisfying to everyone, and has benefits that outlive a mere sale.

There’s nothing wrong with marketing automation — there’s a benefit to the traditional drip campaign, the gated offer. But now these steps are much more personalized and customized to nurture and deepen relationships for the long term. And not just relationships with customers and prospects, but with the ecosphere they inhabit — peers, blogs, forums, events — everywhere.

Here are some facts of life that aid in scaling the social business relationship:

  • The last thing anyone today needs is to be bogged down by the deluge of communications on hundreds of channels. New tools make it easier and more efficient to enter the conversation at the right time. Social tools like Nimble make uncovering verdant opportunities a priority, with features allowing users to set reminders to stay in touch, and make reaching out more programmatic — and more personal. Your tools need to pull the signal from the noise, because there’s a LOT of noise.

  • Peer review sites, forums, and sites like Quora make for great settings to establish thought leadership and establish a reputation of generosity. Your words get in front of many people at once, and live longer.

  • Social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ help you keep on top of good buzz and head off negative buzz. Social listening tools like Nimble and Hoosuite are powerful (and affordable) ways to monitor this.

  • It’s easier than ever to update your website and change your messaging.

  • You can interact without huge expense via email, segmenting your established audience to make messages more personalized.

  • Sharing and curating relevant information has a long shelf life, and a word of mouth benefit, as well. Getting customers involved builds buzz. Getting a good feeling going on social channels enhances and expands the brand and its messages.

Marketing this way is more joyful, less mercenary, more human.

These new long-term relationships flourish both “before and beyond the sale” — sometimes moving past the product or service. They may jump from stage to stage of the funnel more quickly. The benefit? The relationship can veer from “just business” to a deeper, more natural interaction, an arc along which a sale or opportunity is likely to happen.

The fact is that many potential buyers have done their research without brand participation, so the indirect style of engagement marketing is no longer effective. Prospects can be three-quarters of the way toward purchase before you even know they’re looking. As a brand representative, it’s your personal brand that can bridge the gap between awareness and purchase at many points. The new funnel is a better option for employees to represent, be present in real time, and be relevant.

Alyson joined the Nimble team after several years working for other cool startups — and writing at her own company, A Woman of Letters. An active volunteer in her small Massachusetts town, she serves as a Library Trustee and has spearheaded municipal building and renovation projects. When she has time, she tells personal stories on her own blog —

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