Replacing the Linear Sales and Marketing Funnel with a Relationship-First Engagement Model

Replacing the Linear Sales and Marketing Funnel with a Relationship-First Engagement Model

Allan Adler 4 min

The traditional sales and marketing funnel has run its course.

In today’s relationship-first, trust-mediated world, we must adopt a new model to engage in customer, community, and ecosystem partner relationships. The new model must be customer-centric vs. company-centric, relationship-based vs. transaction-oriented, and ecosystem-aligned vs. direct-driven. The new model should work for our engagement with our relationships with customers, communities, and partners.

In this column, we propose new design principles as a foundation for replacing the old funnel. Our hope is that going forward we can leverage these principles, working together, to create a new conceptual model for a relationship-first customer and ecosystem engagement approach that is practical and actionable. We’ll also propose a new consolidated Relationship-First Model to guide Sales, Marketing, and Ecosystems to GoToEcosystem vs. Going to Market.

Design principles for relationship-based market engagement

Customer-centric vs. company-centric

The old sales and marketing funnel is based on the self-centered notion that prospects should be pushed through a funnel–from pre-MQL through Close based on a staged set of activities. It views customers through a purely unit economic and transactional perspective, overlooking the fact that prospects are individuals engaged in intricate market systems. These individuals are influenced by a diverse range of trusted sources beyond the conventional non-trust-based marketing messages that traditional funnels are confined to.

By trying to attract and capture prospects in a traditional siloed funnel, based on a company-and product-centric positioning, messaging, and engagement model, organizations engage prospects outside of their natural market environment. A relationship-based market engagement model is designed to take advantage of the customer’s market and ecosystem context. It assumes that relationship-building should start where the customer already lives–surrounded by an ecosystem of trusted communities and partners.

Relationship-based vs. transaction-oriented

In the Era of the Ecosystem, trust is the new currency and is built based on relationships. We need to stop thinking about customers, communities, and partnerships transactionally - driving towards a closed transaction in the most scalable and efficient manner, to the exclusion of all other considerations. A relationship-first orientation focuses on the principle: ‘Show me that you know me and show me that you care.’ In this situation, the transaction, or commitment, is a by-product of building a trusting relationship with the prospect.

A transaction-focused orientation is in direct conflict with what the customer wants to hear, feel, and experience in forming a trusted relationship. And frequently the focus on transactions blinds companies to the fact that the initial transaction is just the beginning of the customer relationship and associated lifetime value. A relationship-based approach relies significantly on ecosystem influence and IP sharing to build trusted relationships rather than an attention-based approach that seeks to push customers into a transaction funnel.

A new approach must be based on adding value, a lot of value, way before prospects might even enter the old marketing funnel. In fact, the new Model should be intended to pull prospects to the company (think network effects) based on value-added, organic content and tools from trusted sources that build relationships on a pre-prospect basis.

Ecosystem-aligned vs. direct-driven

There is a reason why partner-attached ecosystem-influenced transactions are twice as big, close twice as fast, and cost half as much. These benefits are driven by the trust, value-added, and depth of relationship that ecosystem partners bring to the table versus a direct-only transaction.

An Ecosystem-driven approach IS market-facing and relationship-first because it begins where the customer already is. The prospect trusts the partner, often it is a customer of the partner, and might already have installed the partner solution for an integration you just completed. Bringing this trust, value, and influence into a relationship significantly up-levels what would have otherwise been a mostly transactional interaction. That’s what it means to have an Ecosystem-Aligned approach to replace the funnel.

Moving towards a relationship-first customer engagement model

We wrote a column a few months ago recommending that we restructure the legacy marketing funnel placing Ecosystem influence at the top and focusing on Ecosystem Qualified Leads before Marketing Qualified Leads.

In retrospect, we didn’t go far enough. We now realize that and today we are expanding on this idea. We propose a much more aggressive transformation, rooted in the design principles outlined above. We are calling this A Relationship-First Engagement Model, or Continuum:

With this new approach:

  • Market prospects are more than just corporate entities, they include individuals, communities, and ecosystem partners all in complex relation to each other.
  • Outreach and engagement with these players should be based on shared IP and value, and an engagement model that takes into account both company-driven and Ecosystem-created influence to build trust.
  • Focusing on transactions is short-sighted. We should focus on driving relationship commitments, whether solution-based, commercial, or contractual.
  • Those committed relationships will then in turn drive ongoing adoption, create new value, and build further advocacy and trust with prospects.

Allan Adler 4 min

Replacing the Linear Sales and Marketing Funnel with a Relationship-First Engagement Model

The traditional sales and marketing funnel has run its course.

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