They say there’s such a thing as love at first sight ... but even if that’s true, how successful do you think you’d be if you approached a total stranger and said, “Hey, I saw you. I am now in love with you. Wanna tie the knot?”
Maybe I’m a skeptic, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work out so well. The thing about most relationships is that they develop gradually -- even if both parties are in the market for love and/or marriage from the get go.
When it comes to looking for a partner, there’s an order to things. You don’t usually make a commitment to just anyone, and before you do, there’s a series of stages you go through to determine if a romantic candidate is actually right for you.
Relationships between brands and potential customers aren’t much different. Each type of relationship progresses through certain milestones before dollars or diamond rings are exchanged.So what are the similarities between the way people shop with the way people date? You’ll find out soon enough. We hope it helps you better understand explain the concepts of inbound marketing, explain inbound to others, and empathize with any potential customers you have on the horizon. Doing so can help you get what you want: more business.
Shopping vs. Dating: How the Modern Sales Process Compares to the Four Stages of Dating
In the world of inbound marketing and sales, there’s a methodology that describes what tactics businesses can employ to help turn strangers into happy customers, and it’s analogous to how one might go about courting a special someone (P.S. - you can dig deeper into the inbound marketing fundamentals in The Interactive Guide to Inbound Marketing). But instead of becoming happy customers, down the romantic-relationship-road, two people become happily committed to one another.
The inbound methodology goes a little something like this:
- Attract: Attract your ideal customer or buyer persona by creating informative, valuable digital content that’s easy for them to find.
- Convert: Once you have visitors coming to your site, convert them into leads by exchanging something of value (i.e. an ebook) for their contact information.
- Close: Once you’ve attracted the right visitors and converted the right leads, you need to nurture those leads to turn them into customers.
- Delight: Continue to engage with, delight, and (hopefully) upsell your current customer base into happy promoters of your company.
Now, if we flip the switch to the world of dating, there are four stages that mirror the four stages of the methodology, and they’re experienced primarily (but not entirely) by the person being courted:
- Research: The state a person is in when they’re most open to a relationship.
- Attraction: What a person feels for you when they’ve done their research to find out you have relationship potential.
- Uncertainty: What a person experiences when they don’t yet have the reassurance they need to exclusively commit to you.
- Commitment: When a person decides they are ready and willing to be with you despite your quirks.
To make this analogy more concrete, let’s explore how a budding romantic relationship compares to the modern sales process …
1) Research: When You Do Some Casual Cyber-Stalking
Before you can make any changes to your relationship status on Facebook, you need to do some searching to find that special lady friend or man friend. In this stage, maybe you scope out some candidates on OKCupid or maybe you agree to go on a friend-recommended blind date. Candidates typically emerge using an online- and offline-research combo.
Salespeople and prospects both go through a similar process: Both theoretically want to do business together, they just don’t always know about one another yet. The prospect does some Google searching to find what they’re looking for -- whether it's for a pair of running shoes, a laptop, or a swimming pool -- and the seller is on the prowl for people who are actively searching for the goods they have to offer.
Businesses can improve their chances of becoming an attractive candidate in the prospect’s research phase by putting themselves out in the open a little bit. Creating blog posts, guides, videos, ebooks, and other content related to what prospects are searching for makes it easy for potential candidates to cyber-stalk, i.e. evaluate whether the business offers the desired product or service. Brands that create helpful content are like people who aren’t afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves: They barely have to go lookin’ because others are all over ‘em.
Brands (and people) show their true colors eventually, so you might as well be transparent up front. That’s what the inbound mindset is all about. Provide the info people want so you don’t waste your time on prospects who don’t like what you’re workin’ with.
Once research helps narrow down your options, you might find yourself in the next stage of the dating cycle ...
2) Attraction: When You Like What You See
Through your research, you’ve found a potential partner you’re attracted to and excited about. You’re pumped about them. You’re just hoping they’re equally pumped about you. You’re hopeful the timing is right, that nothing’s too good to be true, they like what you have to offer, and you’re both willing to explore the possibility of a relationship.
Dates are gone on. Jokes are cracked. Embarrassing stories are shared. Laughter is laughed. Butterflies are had. Things are a-okay for now, and the future looks bright.
You still don’t know each other all that well, though. All you want to do is find more and more information about this person to determine if they are who they say they are, and if they’re the man or woman of your dreams. All it takes is a little gossip and a few unsightly photos on Facebook to change the way you look at the situation. That’s when you know you’ve arrived at ...
3) Uncertainty: When You Weigh the Pros and Cons
This is the stage where some deal-breakers have surfaced. You might discover that your little honey muffin comes with some serious emotional baggage. Or, you might find out this person you fancy is a total weirdo, but perhaps in an endearing kind of way. Maybe you’ve been to their house to find out they have all kinds of squirrel taxidermy that’s oddly enough only in the bathroom. Who knows – all you know is that, all of a sudden, you’re no longer so sure about things.
Similarly, deal-breakers can arise when you’re in talks with a salesperson. Both parties are finally getting comfortable enough with one another that they begin to divulge more and more information. Some of the facts and figures you’ll be able to deal with. Others … not so much. For example, a salesperson might be hopeful enough about your propensity to buy that they finally reveal the true, astronomical cost of their fancy schmancy services. If sticking to your budget is non-negotiable, click goes the telephone and you’re back to square one.
If through all your information gathering you’re willing to compromise on a few things, the pros and cons of committing to the purchase play a game of seesaw in your mind until you make a judgment call on whether it’s still worth it. We do this with the people we date all the time: “He has minimal ambition, BUT he’s a great cook AND he smells nice.”
A marketer or salesperson dealing with a prospective customer in the stage of uncertainty masters the art of anticipating when this game of seesaw is taking place, and proactively chips away at any insecurities by providing helpful, reassuring information at just the right time.
If the marketer does their job right, you get past what you thought were total deal-breakers, your relationship is strengthened, and you move on to an exclusive relationship -- going steady, engagement, or marriage.
4) Commitment: When You’re Finally Ready to Take the Leap
By the time you hit the commitment stage, you’ve become acquainted with the not-so-flattering sides of one another. All cats are out of the bag and you’re still interested enough that you can gaze into your partner’s eyes and say, “I only wanna do business with you, baby.”
Both the courter and courted are happy they each got what they hoped and dreamed for all along. But, there’s more work to do to keep the love alive, just as there’s more to do after you’ve made a sale. Just because someone has already written you a check doesn’t mean you can forget about them. Likewise, you don’t just stop saying and doing sweet things to your partner because you figure you did that already when you committed to each other.
The commitment stage isn’t just when the sale happens, or when the lead becomes a customer -- it’s more intimate than that. The relationship is mutually beneficial, and each person involved is relying on the other to help them become the best version of themselves. It’s kind of like how Apple loyalists know the iPhone is pricey, that Siri is practically useless, and that the new lightning charger is annoyingly incompatible with older Apple devices they might own, but neither flaw is enough to warrant the switch to a Samsung. Loyalists love Apple so much they stick around, or even go out of their way to help Apple improve through honest, constructive feedback. Apple listens (sometimes), because they know that they’re better off working it out with their existing customers rather than only going after new ones.
Still with me? Awesome. The point I’m trying to make is this …
You Don’t Want to Put the Wrong Moves on the Wrong Person at the Wrong Time
As a marketer or salesperson, you’re courting your prospects. You don’t usually get married before you’ve been on a few dates. It takes some time and research to figure out if commitment is meant to be. If you’re too forward (i.e. ask for the sale before the prospect’s ready), you’ll scare love away. Transparency, trust, and good timing are essential if you want any relationship to evolve from nothing to something meaningful.
To learn more about to become so irresistible that your prospects practically beg to do business with you, check out The Interactive Guide to Inbound Marketing.
Originally published Aug 20, 2014 12:00:00 PM, updated April 16 2021