The current language of ‘marketing’ makes my head spin… ‘lead magnets, automation, up-selling, cross-selling’ – you name it! And the big daddy of them all is the ‘Sales Funnel’, as if we can pour all our ‘leads’ into a big hopper and after a few turns of the marketing wheel, out come loads of wonderful sales.

But if you’ve been on the receiving end of hundreds of sales-y emails having signed up for a rather disappointing freebie opt-in, you’re probably wondering whether it’s all a big scam!

It doesn’t sound very wholehearted or human, does it?

So I thought I’d develop a little sales funnel model of my own, stripping away all the nasties – because at the end of the day, marketing is all about connecting with your ideal customers and helping them find a solution to their problems. If they can see the value, they will then willingly exchange their money for that solution – otherwise known as making a sale. It’s a win all round!

The Simple Sales Funnel is based on an idea that we are all familiar with – we prefer to buy from brands, businesses and people we Know, Like and Trust.

And as small business owners, that’s exactly what we want, because this is our secret super-power!

Step 1 – KNOW

This sounds like a pretty obvious statement, but you can’t buy something you don’t know exists. Chances are that there are loads of people out there who are desperately in need of your ‘thing’ and are willing to pay for it. They just haven’t found you yet!

So how can you let them know that you’re here to help?

The obvious answer is promotion.

Depending on your business model, some types of awareness campaigns will work better than others. For example, search engine optimisation (SEO) and directory listings can be fabulous if you run the type of business people used to look up in the Yellow Pages. Well-targeted Facebook ads can be quite effective too.

However, the BEST method I’ve discovered to shortcut the ‘sales funnel process’ is through word of mouth referrals and association with people who already have an established (preferably larger) audience – in short, tapping into other people’s tribes.

This is why brands rely so heavily on celebrity endorsement!

While you probably don’t have the budget to hire a movie star or sporting idol to promote your wares, there are plenty of other low cost options:

  • Guest blogging and article writing for news sites and magazines
  • Being interviewed in podcasts, videos or blog posts
  • Speaking at events (even better if you’re getting paid!)
  • Partnerships and collaborations with other small business owners
  • Blogger outreach and/or social influence campaigns (but be aware that these often involve a significant investment – so they need to be carefully targeted and tracked for return on investment).

The idea is that you can spread your message to a wider audience who already have a trusted relationship with your ‘host’, and that by association, you are trustworthy too. If you can partner up with businesses with a similar target market, it’s a win for everyone! They generate greater trust in their brand by offering a fabulous solution to their audiences’ problems (i.e. your ‘thing’), and you end up with more people who KNOW you exist.

Step 2 – LIKE

We all like to be liked, don’t we?

And for the most part, we are usually pretty likeable people. So I’m not quite sure why we often go to such incredible lengths to MAKE people like us, particularly by constantly giving away free stuff! There needs to be a fair exchange or else you’ll only attract ‘tyre-kickers’ and customers who are solely price-driven (which is NO fun)!

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t entice people with an opt-in offer, an introductory session or a reward for supporting you in the past. But you need to both be clear on what you’re exchanging – in these instances: permission to be contacted in future, a premium paid-for solution (and probably a sales pitch) or ongoing loyalty and perhaps a testimonial.

So what do you do instead?

Short answer: CONNECT!

And to do that, you need to tell stories, because let’s face it, people LOVE stories.

Stories are how we’ve connected as humans ever since we first worked out how to build fires to tell them around. Social media, videos, blogs and mastermind groups are merely our modern equivalents of the hearth. They’re where we tell our stories and listen to those of others. Where slowly and surely, we build our tribe of people who LIKE us!

So tell your stories – how and why you started your business, what you’ve learned in the process, how people have benefited from the solutions you provide (i.e. case studies), what influences you, and what you notice going on around you.

Talk about the little things – things that relate to your core values, but may not directly feel like they relate to your business, but help build connections. Entertain, inspire, advise – be YOU.

The more people LIKE you and feel connected with you, the more likely they are to TRUST you.

Step 3 – TRUST

There really is no shortcut to TRUST apart from putting in the hard yards and delivering what you’ve promised – even if you bypass the other two stages through referrals.

You have to be awesome (or at least very good)! Consistently. Even before you have the sale.

Your promise doesn’t just come from what you say you will do. It also comes from your branding, your marketing messages, your reputation, your systems and your staff if you have them.

So it’s really important to promise only what you can honestly deliver – services that are within your knowledge and skill-set, products you truly believe in, pricing that makes you feel valued and worthy of the effort, energy and time it will take to deliver on your promises,  and timeframes that can realistically be achieved within your preferred lifestyle (which may mean saying no to quick turnarounds when school holidays are looming).

It is where authenticity comes in. It’s where your vision and values hit the road and become totally embedded in everything you do.

It’s where you can genuinely help others by sharing your knowledge and experience openly, by respecting others’ time and not bombarding them with useless information or too many sales messages – in short, by recognising them as real people rather than ‘leads’ or ‘prospects’.

Which is really what wholehearted marketing boils down to. Being authentically YOU, knowing your WHY and doing what you feel is best for your tribe and your business. This is the foundation of TRUST, and it can’t be replaced with fancy sales funnels, long-winded sales pages or endless testimonials.

Step 4 – ACT

I deliberately don’t call this ‘The Sale’ because there are in fact two different forms of action that might come out of our Simple Sales Funnel.

One is indeed a sale. And that is not to be underestimated, as sales are what keep us in business and make it all so worthwhile.

But the other action is just as important – it’s the referral.

Referrals are GOLD! Especially as they can be made over and over again by one person, even if they have only bought once from you  – in fact, even if they have never bought from you because they’re not your ideal customer… they just love you anyway.

So look after ALL of your tribe. Thank them. Reward them if appropriate. (I always love a good referral gift, especially an unexpected one!)

Be generous – and absolutely genuine – with your referrals of others. Because when you really think about it, a small business is more of a wheel than a funnel – and you want to keep that wheel turning!

This article was originally published on Flying Solo – Australia’s Micro Business Community.

Hi, I'm Cath Connell

Wholehearted Business and Marketing Consultant, and Creator of Wholehearted Marketing

I'm passionate about helping micro and small business owners take a more 'wholehearted' approach, and build a successful business WITHIN a life. Through Wholehearted Marketing, I provide 1:1 consulting and mentoring, training workshops, practical resources and hands-on support. I hope you enjoy reading my posts and find them relevant, helpful and interesting. Feel free to connect with me on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, and make sure you register for your free BIG Marketing Questions Cheat Sheet - it's the perfect tool to get you started!