Forget the Funnel. Enter the Loop

sales loop.jpgBy John Simpson and Kalev Peekna

There have been rumblings around the death of the traditional sales funnel for years now, gaining momentum through several high-profile articles like those from Forrester and Harvard Business Review. The one-way funnel, which has been around for more than 100 years, speaks from the marketer to the customer without listening, adjusting or responding in return. For law firms, where new business and revenue comes primarily from personal networks, connections and referrals, it's all about who you know, your expertise, your reputation and your business relationships — the polar opposite of one-way communication.

The dynamics of business relationships at law firms (and at other relationship-based businesses such as financial services, business consulting and accounting firms) have a distinct set of characteristics: 

  • Reaching the right audience usually trumps reaching a large one.
  • Buying decisions don’t represent the end game. A signed contract is just the beginning of what is often a long-term and multifaceted business relationship.
  • There’s no room in the traditional funnel for loyalty, which marks the difference between a repeat customer and a true client or partner.
  • Buying decisions aren’t just driven by the messages you deliver to clients. They’re also driven by what clients say to you and to each other.

So, why are so many law firms still using the sales funnel?

Instead, what we need is a loop: a repeating process that allows communication to flow from one party to another and back again — a cycle that has no end. It simply begins again, always working to nurture the relationship. McKinsey & Company introduced the Customer Decision Journey model in 2009 that explored the concept of a cyclical process.

The Relationship Cycle is our adaptation of this model. In the Relationship Cycle, your firm’s business development activities directly meet your clients’ needs and objectives. It connects your goals to each stage of your client’s decision-making journey. It shows how your firm’s interactions influence and strengthen your connection with those you encounter and how those relationships impact the development of your business.

Follow the cycle as your firm generates awareness, drives consideration, follows up and establishes trust and advocacy. Your customers, meanwhile, identify a need, research solutions, evaluate options and enter into a relationship.

It also illustrates the idea of balance between what you want your clients to do and what they want you to do. It’s important that you understand both, meet in the middle and acknowledge shared goals.

Your firm’s experience with each client will be different, but your job is to guide the client through the Relationship Cycle and, ultimately, to its inner circle — the Loyalty Loop. This is where relationships truly start to flourish and prosper. It’s easy to see how positive experiences can fast track future buying decisions for existing clients.

Transitioning to a different model such as the Relationship Cycle means rethinking your approach to marketing, business development and digital strategy from the ground up. Any successful new model must not only center on client relationships, it must also put those relationships into context with today’s digital communications.

The Relationship Cycle marks that evolutionary shift in perspective that can keep your firm surviving and thriving in a digital world. Navigating the journey with each client is more challenging, requiring a great deal of care and thoughtfulness, communication and responsiveness. It puts a new emphasis, even a priority, on cultivating relationships with existing clients. Though identifying new prospects remains a critical function, the Relationship Cycle can help bring your current relationships to their full potential.

To read more about the Relationship Cycle, download One North’s latest whitepaper.


John Simpson, CEO, One North Interactive, is a 13-year veteran of helping professional services marketers engage with their clients and grow their firms through smart website design and digital marketing experiences. He is a frequent author and speaker as it relates to relationship development, digital strategy and marketing innovation. He can be reached at





Kalev Peekna is managing director of strategy at One North Interactive. He and his team design interactive experiences that meet the marketing and business development goals of complex, relationship-based organizations. He can be reached at

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