Sales is not the same as Marketing.
This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but I've been listening to some business podcasts lately and I hear people who should know better confusing the two in important ways. I've previously described sales as "about getting someone to do something you want", and that is not entirely accurate (I'll clear that up shortly). I've never defined marketing, just talked about how networking is about marketing not sales.
The American Marketing Association defines Marketing as:
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. https://www.ama.org/the-definition-of-marketing/
And if you've ever taken a class about marketing you heard about the 4, 5, or 7 "P"s of marketing: product, price, promotion, place, packaging, positioning, and people.
Sales, it seems, is much harder to define. I'll take a stab at it here so we have a working definition to compare against marketing. And since I am lazy, I'll cheat a little.
A sale is the exchange of value for another value. Sales is all the activities not defined as marketing that facilitate that exchange.
Looked at another way, marketing is the process of creating the environment for an exchange of value, and sales is the process of actually exchanging the value. The separation of the two is important because NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE EXCHANGE. Not everyone is your customer.
A Tale of two Funnels (and more)
Funnels are a great metaphor for the processes of sales and marketing, and they've become a buzzword lately with "web funnels" (you've probably encountered these websites in your exploration of the web... they walk you through a sales process, continually up-selling you items of greater value). As funnels narrow from the top the bottom, each segment defines a specific process or special classification, and combined the funnel represents the path a customer takes through the experience of an interaction with you (or your company).
Most of the funnels I've seen have sections referring to marketing at the top, then sales as the neck narrows. They actually should be two separate funnels, with some of those marketed to passing on to the sales funnel, and others kept on for further processes in the marketing funnel. Simply put, if you do not have a marketing funnel that applies to everyone, including those who are not and cannot be your customer, you are leaving money on the table.
Your sales funnel may be dictated to you by your industry, or it may be an experiment of your own creation. It may be an old system you've used for years, or a new system just created using new technologies. Your marketing funnel may be non-existent, or may contain many, varied awareness-building campaigns. In any case, one aspect of that marketing funnel should be focused on building and maintaining valuable relationships with people you encounter. This is the relationship funnel.
Yes, another process to add to your business system. And one unlike all the others, because this one is a cycle (it repeats until a person chooses to opt out). The relationship funnel is the system you use to build, maintain, add value to, and grow your connection with those you encounter. I said before that your marketing funnel should be applied to everyone you encounter, and what I really mean by that is the relationship funnel should.be applied everywhere.
Let's look at two examples:
Case 1: You encounter someone (it doesn't matter where - let's assume at a trade show or convention). You strike up a conversation, and you discover this person is not a potential customer, nor do you imagine this person is a potential referral source for you. But you also discover this person enjoys your obscure hobby of underwater basket weaving. You have a non-business connection, you exchange business cards, and you agree to stay in touch.
Case 2: You encounter someone (this time at a social event or party at a mutual acquaintance’s home). You strike up a conversation and discover this person is not only not a potential customer, this person works for a competing company in your field. You do have a connection based on the mutual acquaintance, so you begin to search for other people your have in common in your lives. It turns out you have some other mutual friends (it is Cleveland, Ohio after all... this was going to happen). You decide to connect on LinkedIn and stay in touch.
Neither example is currently a potential source of business referrals, and the novice networker would probably just abandon both relationships - how can they be worth the effort, focus, and energy to develop into mutual benefit?
But that is short sighted. The underwater basket weaver might some day change jobs to one where he could be your customer, and you might be the only person in your industry he knows. The competitor might leave the business due to a bad experience from his employer, and he could be looking for someone to refer future business to. The only way to benefit from these events is to keep in touch with those you contact, but not with the intent to get referrals. Only with the intent to keep the conversation going.
And this is where having a funnel - a system - becomes important. These connections happen in our lives continually. If we train ourselves to capture certain data and use it properly, we can have a large group of people talking about us positively to others they encounter. Your marketing by building relationships will become a positive feedback loop.
So... What's in a Relationship Funnel?
There are at least two kinds of information people generally enjoy receiving and I will group those into two broad classes: sincere expressions of gratitude and useful information. Of course there are other types of valuable information, but if your goal is to grow and maintain a relationship, you really simply need to focus on those two types to begin.
Examples of sincere expressions of gratitude are: notes of appreciation for something specific, congratulations for noteworthy achievement, and acknowledgement of life events.
Examples of useful information are: articles relating to items of personal or professional interest, general hints and tips and life hacks, and book or app recommendations.
A relationship funnel is a system that automates (as much as possible) the delivery of these kinds of information to the people you want to grow relationships with, and not just those with whom you want to do business.
In many ways, this is the same as the way you stay top-of-mind with people, but the message here is all about marketing you as a person worth knowing, and not about selling anything. Product and service sales messages are rare, and seldom more than "I'd be happy to answer your questions about <the industry you work in>" or "The exiting new thing in <your industry> has got a lot of people asking me about it. If you know someone with questions, please let me know."
So, an example relationship funnel might consist of:
1) a permission based email list of people you encounter - send general, useful, industry info; send requests for "who do you know who can help my friend with this need"; send books reviews or suggestions, etc.
2) collect birthdays and mailing addresses. Send birthday cards.
3) collect information regarding hobbies and interests. Create news alerts for those and share occasional information with those people who expressed interest in those particular hobbies and interests.
4) connect on LinkedIn with those you encounter and congratulate them for new positions and achievements.
In short, it is the things you do with your friends, outside of activities with them, that keep you connected with them. Don't be creepy here. And you don't need to be perfect. You do need to be sincere! (It would be better to say nothing than to be insincere).
Start with something simple and see where it leads.