The Incredibly Logical Way to Manage Customer Relationships

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In a perfect world, every customer relationship would be steeped in a complete understanding of the customer’s current wants, needs and desires. The trick of course is that getting anything that looks like that at all requires three things – incredible planning, thoughtful technology and consistent execution.

The entire category of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology inherently offers the promise of this kind of relationship management while often providing little more than a historical account of a series of contacts, emails, phone calls and purchases.

This is not to say that the technology itself is lacking. Most technology solutions are only as good as the planning that goes into the front end installation and consistency involved in the back end operation and execution.

In many ways the CRM system is simply a tool that expresses the logical manner in which a company views its prospects and customers. In order to get a great deal more from the technology, you must get a great deal more strategic about how a lead moves through the various stages of becoming a customer and how a customer advances to the ultimate state or referral relationship.

The Marketing Hourglass

Special Note: If this idea resonates with you go grab an entire workbook, video and lesson on how to apply it to your business free of charge. Get it here.


Developing the stages

I believe that most every business can benefit by viewing their customer relationships through the lens of something I call The Marketing Hourglass.® The Marketing Hourglass is a series of stages that make up the customer life cycle starting from the point at which a prospect comes to know your business through the place where they become a loyal referral champion.

The hourglass is far more effective in terms of customer relationship management than the marketing funnel approach because there is so much emphasis on the customer experience before and after the sale.

The seven stages of the hourglass are: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer. In an effective customer relationship view each of these stages would have intentional tools, processes, actions, products, services and campaigns all designed to move someone in one stage on to the next.

So, your ads (Know) would not try to sell, they would be designed to offer an opportunity to get to know more (Like) and potentially move the prospect to take an action based on trust, such as exchange an email address or sign-up for a demo.

Most CRM makers and consultants will argue that this is precisely how CRM tools are meant to function, but experience tells me that few businesses are using them in this manner because the focus is on the tool and how to operate it rather on the business and customer objectives.

The Marketing Hourglass approach simplifies how to think about the overall relationship before you start to employ the tool to track and measure it.

Visualizing your stages

Once you’ve designed how you plan to move prospects and customers through your business you can attach the Marketing Hourglass labels to every contact in your CRM system as a way to keep tabs on the work you have left to do in your relationship building system.

Once you define and label the logical path you’re using to deepen your customer relationships you can start to use your CRM tool to visualize where every lead and customer is in your hourglass and this gives you the ability to easily view where you’re system is breaking down, where there are jams, and where it needs your attention.

One way to further think about this intentional staged approach is to view every person in one stage as a lead for the next stage. For example, a customer in the (Buy) stage should be looked at as a new lead for the (Repeat) stage. This allows you to build better processes, such as results reviews and additional educational touchpoints, aimed at moving them to that next stage.

Once a customer moves to the (Repeat) stage they are now a hot prospect for your (Refer) campaign, but only then.

As you can see all of this staged activity takes planning to get set-up and a great deal of execution to produce results, but the Marketing Hourglass breaks the entire relationship management practice into logical parts and allows you to think in terms of a logical global path. At this point your chosen CRM tool can become the most powerful tool in drawer.

If you liked this post, check out our Guide to Customer Relationship Management.


CRM, The Marketing Hourglass

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  1. John,

    Thank you for sharing The Incredibly Logical Way to Manage Customer Relationships –, I think it was spot on!  

    The following paragraph you wrote sums it up perfectly  –  So, your ads (Know) would not try to sell, they would be designed to offer an opportunity to get to know more (Like) and potentially move the prospect to take an action based on trust, such as exchange an email address or sign-up for a demo. 

    The problem with most CRM systems is that they are not engagement tools that provide a way to get to know and engage with customers as much as they are sales activity and forecast reporting tools.

    Understanding the stages of engagement is the first step to mapping the flow of prospects through a business.  This stage mapping will enable sales teams to more effectively convert prospects to recurring and referring customers which in most cases is based on effective  listening and engagement  which creates long term relationships.

    Keep up the great Sales and Marketing teachings!


    Jon Ferrara 
    CEO | Nimble – Social Relationships, Made Easy.
    twitter @jon_ferrara |

  2. I totally agree about CRM software and prefer your way of looking at this. It’s about people, after all, so CRM (and thus, CRM software) should follow the same kind of etiquette as actual relationships with actual people.

    Case in point: You’re not going to lean on a client to refer you after you’ve only completed one tentative project. Would you do something like that in your personal life with someone you’d only just met? Not unless you’re a scumbag.

  3. I love the hourglass graphic and the logical way it proceeds from first contact to referral generation. I tend to make two mistakes. The first is selling too soon, rushing the know, like, trust dynamic. The second is is not extending the relationship to referral reccomndations. Writing down this step-by-step process is extremely helpful.

    Bill Zipp

  4. Love the hour-glass visual and evolution laid out here John!

    One of my favorite relationship building tools I’ve ever come across is Harvey Mackay’s 66 Questions that he reveals in his Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten,” book.

    The answers you get to these 66 questions allow you to move from only being able to have small talk and business talk to being able to talk to them about stuff they talk about with their closest friends and family.

    This to me seems like it’d be part of the trust part of the sequence before and after the sale. If you’ve got high end clients or you sell products for high amounts or if you’ve segmented your customer list and you know the 20% of your list that brings you 80% of your profits, it’d be insane for you not to have answers to these 66 questions about each of these high leverage customers.   

  5. Thanks for sharing this post. Knowing the importance of using the hourglass marketing is a way of letting your customers trust  you first before they would buy your product or service. Once this technique is used properly, it would take little amount of time for the client to be a loyal customer. 

  6. Interesting summary.  I have personally seen how difficult it can be at times to balance different relationships with different clients.  Thanks for the insights and direction.  Taking the time to do an inventory on each relationship can go a long way to improving client management.

  7. Dead on.  But then again, I use this system in my business.  And I find it amazingly accurate.

  8. I am wondering about this statement:  “Once a customer moves to the (Repeat) stage they are now a hot prospect for your (Refer) campaign, but only then.”
    What would drive a referral program for a business that is a one-and-done situation?  We insulate homes. When we’re finished, there is no reason for a customer to call us for repeat business. How should our referral program be structured? 

    1.  You should still have a process where you go back and help your customers determine that they received the results that were promised – that for you is your repeat – sale isn’t a sale until the customer receives value.

    2. Have a process for enabling satisfied customers to become your business’ brand advocates online. You can leverage the power of google reviews, and social networks like facebook to do so. Facts tell, stories sell. If you can get satisfied customers to tell their story about why they love your brand, that’s like money in the bank.

  9. Your CRM hour glass is definitely the best thing I’ve came across in this blog. Thanks for sharing this one! I completely agree at the stages that marketers should undergo when for customer relationships. It needs to go into a smooth transition so there will be a lasting relationship. I am currently using Facebook for reaching out my clients and it works great!

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