The relationship curve: A different approach to marketing and sales

By Randall Craig via Multibriefs 

relationship curveHave you ever felt that you were being “sold” to? Perhaps an over-the-top marketing campaign, or perhaps a slightly-too-pushy salesperson?

If so, then you’re not alone. The question, however, is why. And why do organizations so often encourage such off-putting activities?

Some of the obvious reasons:

  • The momentum of the past. (“We’ve always done it this way.”)
  • Management focus on current-period sales. (“We must make our numbers.”)
  • Overly aggressive commission plans. (“And If they don’t make their quotas, we’ll fire them.”)
  • Aggressive ad agencies looking to sell another campaign. (“This will drive leads so your salespeople can sell, and you can make your numbers.”)

Beyond these reasons (and many more), the main reason why organizations market and sell the way they do is because it works. But might there be another way to drive sales that is more aligned to how a prospect thinks? And might these other approaches be even more effective?

The “relationship curve” client journey model provides some clues.

The relationship curve describes the strengthening relationship between an organization and a prospect, as the prospect becomes aware of his/her need and aware of the organization, prefersthe organization over competitors, goes through a trial (or “test drive”), and ultimately commits.

From the prospect’s perspective, a simple example:

  • Awareness: My car just died. I need a new one.
  • Preference: I prefer Toyota, and specifically the Toyota Sienna minivan.
  • Trial: I’ll go to the dealership and take a test drive.
  • Commitment: I’m ready to sign the contract.

Unpacking this model yields some interesting insights. For example, how might the prospect feel at different stages of the relationship curve? What is his/her emotional state of mind?

  • Awareness: Annoyed — didn’t expect to replace the car.
  • Preference: Curious about the alternatives.
  • Trial: Excited to try something new.
  • Commitment: Nervous about the purchase, but confident in the decision.
  • Post-commitment: Satisfied, with some possible uncertainty (buyer’s remorse).

At each stage, the prospect has a number of questions: if answered satisfactorily, the prospect will move up the relationship curve:

  • Awareness: How do I decide what to get?
  • Preference: Does Toyota make a minivan?
  • Trial: I wonder if I will like it? Does it really meet my needs?
  • Commitment: Should I get it here? Or somewhere else? Can I really afford it? Should I buy or lease?

Using these concepts, the questions for marketers should be different:

  • How might we develop campaigns or initiatives focused on each of awareness, preference, trial and commitment?
  • How might we remove friction along the curve, to make it easier for the prospect to go from one stage to another?
  • How might we address the prospect’s mindset and emotional state at each stage of the journey?
  • How might we create content to answer the prospect’s likely questions at each stage of the journey?

Here’s the challenge: look at your current marketing and sales plans — what changes need to be made to answer these questions and move prospects up the curve, instead of down it?

If you feel that you are being sold to, it is either because the marketing is aimed at answering the wrong question, or because the marketing activities do not take your emotional needs into account.

Said another way: Answer the right questions and address the emotional needs at each stage of the relationship curve, and the buying process will be consummated, seemingly all by itself. There really isn’t a need to “sell,” if you spend your time helping prospects help themselves through the buying process.

Randall Craig

Randall Craig is the author of seven books, including the recently-released “Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business.” He is the president of consulting firm 108 ideaspace, and speaks on digital marketing, social media strategy and risk. More at