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How to Gently Convert Prospects into Customers—and Recurring Customers—Using “Circles of Belief”

by | May 16, 2020 | Online Mktg. and Copywriting, Email Marketing, Content Marketing | 1 comment

The Circles of Belief

Figure 1: The Circles of Belief Customer Acquisition Model


In my previous essay, we discussed why the traditional sales funnel is no longer a good model for customer acquisition. We then looked at an alternative model called The Circles of Belief (Figure 1)—a representation of customer acquisition that accounts for modern practices like search, social, email, and content marketing.

In this article, we’ll follow up on that discussion. We’ll examine each Circle of Belief, starting at the outermost and working inward. We’ll talk about how to build your prospect’s belief (and eventual trust) within each Circle. And we’ll look at how to get prospects to take the next step from each circle to the next, until they reach your “inner circles”—those of customer and repeat customer.

Circle of Belief #1: Social network followers

Of all the prospects who have entered your sphere of influence, your social network followers have the weakest connection to your brand.

Something piqued their interest. It may have been a visit to your website. It may have been a piece of your content shared by one of their connections. They accepted your invitation to follow you, or they included you in their RSS feed.

Maybe they followed your brand on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe they connected with you or one of your colleagues on LinkedIn. In any case, social media following represents a low level of commitment. Most people view it as such; many don’t pay much attention to their social media feed.

Social networks are not places where people make big commitments. They’re places where people share information with one another. That makes social media a bad place to make a sales pitch, but an excellent place to share your content.

On social media, share great content to draw prospects closer. Sharing useful information will build your prospect’s belief that what you say is true. Doing so will position you and your brand as helpful advisors—folks who can be trusted.

In the content your share, be sure to include a call to action. Invite the reader to join your email list. Once you’ve built enough belief, they’ll feel comfortable taking that step, and you’ll have greatly improved your chances of converting them to customers, as we’ll see in Circle #3.

Circle of Belief #2: Search engine visitors

Search engine visitors make a stronger connection to your brand than do your social media followers—if they find your content valuable.

Search visitors are looking for information. They find you because Google told them they might find what they were looking for on a specific page of your website. They find you without you reaching out to them.

If your content was strong and it matched the intent of their search, you gave them what they were seeking. By satisfying their need, you forged a connection. You drew that visitor into your second Circle of Belief.

You’re in a much stronger position with search engine visitors than you are with social media followers. McKinsey and Company found that companies acquire hundreds of times more customers through organic search than they do through social media (Figure 2). [i]

A screenshot of a map
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Figure 2: US Customer Acquisition by Channel

Source: McKinsey and Company

Still, search is a one-off event. Search visitors will almost always need some nurturing to convert them into customers. You need to draw them closer, so you can reach them on a regular basis.

Again, use content to draw search prospects into your next, closer Circle. Use a call to action—when appropriate—to invite your search visitors into your next Circle of Belief: your email list.

Circle of Belief #3: Your general content audience

Your general content audience—subscribers to you base mailing list—have a much a higher level of commitment to your brand than your social media followers or search visitors. They chose to receive your content on a regular basis (or on an irregular basis, depending on you publishing schedule).

That stronger connection shows up in conversion rates. According to McKinsey, email is 40 times more effective than social media in customer conversion (see Figure 2, above). [i]

With this stronger connection in place, it’s now more acceptable to talk about your offerings from time to time. But you also need to keep building belief and trust.

As in the other Circles of Belief, you should continue to provide great content that’s useful in and of itself. In general, offer generic solutions to real problems. It’s fair to show how your specific solution facilitates and enhances the generic solution you propose, but you should emphasize the principles of solving the problem rather than the details of your offering.

It’s also fair (and recommended) that you include a specific call to action at the end of your content. Invite your reader to learn more about your solution: visit a product page, read related content, view a recorded webinar, or similar.

Also be sure to take the opportunity to draw the prospect closer. If you have only one product or a small range, you may have only one mailing list. If that’s the case, use your call to action to invite the reader to download a trial version, schedule a demo, sign-up for a how-to webinar, or contact your sales team. Otherwise, you can encourage your reader to step into Circle of Belief #4; invite them to subscribe to a specific email list related to the solution you’ve just discussed.

Circle of Belief #4: Your specific email audience

A specific email list is a list to which you provide content focused on a specific segment of your audience. It may focus on a solution, an application, an industry, or any other market segment that’s appropriate for your business.

While your general content list is a great place to start a relationship and to begin building belief, a specific email list is a better platform for drawing prospects into a more intimate relationship—a customer relationship.

Some companies have found success in asking subscribers to segment themselves. When you confirm opt-in to Copyblogger’s general email list, for example, they ask you to choose from four categories of subscribers they serve most frequently. This puts you on a second, more specific mailing list, and gets you started with a series of articles tailored to the audience segment in which you placed yourself.

Subscribers to your specific email list have already taken a step closer than those on your general content list. Their level of belief and trust in you is higher. They’ve indicated they’re interested in the topic your specific list focuses on. Thus, they’re much more likely to accept invitations to webinars, online product demonstrations, training classes, and other virtual or in-person events.

And because you have a better idea of what this audience segment is interested in, your specific email list is your best platform for making more frequent, highly focused offers that convert prospects into customers.

As mentioned earlier, if you serve a very narrow niche market, you may have only one mailing list; that is, your general content list and your specific email list (Circles of Belief #3 and #4) are one in the same. If this is the case, try to strike a healthy balance in your calls to action. Offer plenty of additional content, as well as encouraging the next step. Don’t be constantly pushing your audience to contact your sales team.

Circles of Belief #5 and #6: Your Customers and Repeat Customers

Congratulations, you’ve made a sale! Finally, your prospect has reached your inner circle. That prospect has become a customer.

As we mentioned last time, this is where the tradition sales funnel fails miserably as a model.

The traditional funnel ends when you convert a prospect to a customer. But your existing customers—your inner circle members, the folks who believe in you most—are your best source of additional sales and revenue. They deserve your highest level of attention. Good salespeople and direct marketers have known this forever.

As part of your customer retention program, continue to provide content tailored to your customer’s needs through a specific customer mailing list. Don’t just send special offers and announcements of upgrades, add-ons and new products. Keep sending useful content. Help each of your customers make better use of whatever solution they’ve bought.

Continuing to build belief through useful, focused content will turn trust into loyalty and customers into recurring customers.

Takeaway Points

  1. In the age of content marketing, Circles of Belief are a better model of the customer acquisition process than the traditional sales funnel.
  2. Each step inward from one Circle of Belief to the next creates a stronger connection between your prospect and your brand.
  3. Within each Circle, keep providing useful content to build additional belief, so prospects will feel comfortable taking that next step toward you.
  4. By building belief within each Circle, you’re also building trust and loyalty for your brand.

Next Steps

If you’d like more content marketing tips—along with free white papers and special reports—delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my monthly newsletter, Technical Response. When you do, you’ll receive a copy of my latest special report: How to Plan a White Paper.

Need help developing great content that draws prospects? Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or drop me an email at


[i]   Aufreiter, N., Boudet, J. and Weng, V., Why Marketers Should Keep Sending You Emails, McKinsey & Company, January 2014.

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