Everything You Need to Know to Succeed at Relationship Marketing
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Everything You Need to Know to Succeed at Relationship Marketing

Jacob Thomas Jacob Thomas Last Updated:
Illustration of two people shaking hands in an office

Ever heard the term relationship marketing before? If not, you just might be throwing a good chunk of your company’s hard-earned cash out the window, because relationship marketing is a core marketing strategy. But fear not! We’re here to put those bills back in your pocket.

After reading this blog post, you’ll have a deep understanding of what relationship marketing is, why it matters, and how to successfully implement it at your company. 

What is relationship marketing?

Transactional marketing focuses on short-term goals such as attracting new consumers and increasing sales. Relationship marketing is the art of engaging customers in a long-term relationship with a brand. As the name suggests: it’s about building relationships.

It’s what keeps a customer a customer; returning to a brand to buy their products or services again and again.

Both relationship and transactional marketing strategies are important to the overall success of a company. But in a world of infinite choices, the forging of deeper relationships between brand and consumer is becoming much more important.

Why does it matter?

I know what you’re thinking. “Does my company really need to invest in relationship marketing? We already do social media, send emails, write blog posts. Now you want us to do more?”

Well, consider this, my overworked friend: It costs five times more to attract new customers than it does to keep the ones you already have. Despite this jaw-dropping statistic, marketers are notorious for focusing more on acquisition. In a recent survey of over 2,000 B2B marketers, 57% said relationship marketing was not part of their 2020 marketing strategy.

We’re all so intent on getting brand new customers that we neglect the people who actually allow us to be in business in the first place. But if you don’t have a plan in place to retain buyers, you’re basically flushing money down the toilet. Cost cutting goes hand in hand with knowing your customer, according to a recent study of hundreds of B2B businesses.

This is especially true because you don’t have to choose one. You can acquire new customers and retain them, too! For this blog post, however, we’ll be focusing on the retention part: How to implement an effective relationship marketing strategy for your business.

How to make relationship marketing work for your business

The goal of relationship marketing is not to sell your customers a product or service once, but to keep selling it to them–for years to come. But how is this accomplished? The hint is in the name: With an effective strategy that builds a bond or relationship between your company and the people it serves.

Below are concrete tips on how your business can develop an effective relationship marketing strategy. 

Focus on the complete customer experience

Each of your customers will travel through a series of steps before they actually agree to whip out their wallets and do business with you. We call this the buyer’s journey and it consists of a few stages:

  1. The Awareness Stage: This is where your prospects (they’re not customers yet, remember) are identifying the challenges they face and beginning to decide how they should address them.
  2. The Consideration Stage: In the consideration stage, the prospect has a clear idea of the challenges they face and they are evaluating each and every option available to them to solve their problems.
  3. The Decision Stage: Finally, the prospect reaches the decision stage. They know their challenges and how to best address them. They are now simply looking for the best product or service to help them do so.

As you can see, this buyer’s journey is completely focused on the initial sale. It’s transactional marketing at its finest. But your customer’s experience with your company doesn’t end with the first sale.

You typically have an opportunity to sell to customers a second, third, and fourth time. Depending on your business and the products or services you sell, you may be able to sell to your customers dozens of times.

The only way to do this is to focus on the complete customer journey–and on cultivating your relationship with the customer. Your goal isn’t to sell and move on; it’s to win your customers’ loyalty so they keep coming back. 

Here are three ways to do just that.

1. Listen to your customer

Today’s consumer isn’t shy about letting companies know what they think. Social media gives us a worldwide stage and access to any one person or business.

And while this can be a double-edged sword, when done right social media can be a huge asset for your company. The key is to use it for more than just posting. Use it to listen.

Your customers are literally telling you what they want and how they want it. This is marketing gold for those who take the time to listen. Read forums and social feeds, search news articles and hashtags related to your brand, and maybe even ask your most loyal customers directly what their opinions on certain things are.

The answers you get will be invaluable. And if you act on them, you’ll be showing your customers that you are listening.

2. Provide extra value

So how can you make sure that your customers won’t bounce after the first sale? Give them something they can’t get anywhere else. 

We’ll discuss specific tactics to try in the next section of this post, but “extra value” could come in the form of coupons and discounts, insightful blog posts, special events, and more.

In relationship marketing terms, this means that your goal isn’t to complete a tit-for-tat transaction, but to provide these things as a way to win the consumer over.

3. Profess your values

What does your company stand for? Professing your values may turn certain customers into enemies if they don’t agree with your stance on specific issues. But it may also turn casual customers into passionate, lifelong brand ambassadors.

When it comes to relationships, quality is better than quantity. Decide if it’s better to have many half-hearted customers, or have a smaller, but intense (in a good way) cult following.

Relationship marketing tricks and tips

You’ve focused on the complete customer experience. You’re listening to your customers and attuned to what they need. You’re ready to provide that extra value and to be fearless about the values you stand for. 

Now let’s get more granular. How do you actually make all this happen? How do you provide extra value, and how do you show your customers that you’re listening? Below are five concrete, actionable tips worth trying.

1. Sales and discounts

If you want your customers to come back with their wallets open, consider giving them a financial reason to do so. Buy one, get one free-type discounts and percentage discounts get people in the door. And the money you “lose” per transaction is generally made up through an elevated number of sales.

2. Useful knowledge

What’s better than discounted knowledge? Free knowledge. Give your customers what they want and help them solve their most pressing problems with your expertise.

This can be done through a company blog, YouTube channel, Facebook Live Videos, or even a nifty infographic or Slideshare. Just choose whichever platform your specific audience uses and to deliver quality educational content they’ll enjoy.

3. The right app

Relationships take time and energy, and time is limited, no matter how well you plan out your day. Here’s where you can use technology not just to use your time more efficiently, but also to stretch out the time you have.

Chatbot apps allow your company to interact with customers, even after all your human employees have clocked out for the day. Though they can’t be used for everything, many initial questions can be handled by the bot of your choice. Analytics software can provide gloriously detailed insights on how your customers interact with your brand. 

There are just the basics. When the goal is to woo the customer, you can use any number of dazzling technologies to spark and engage interest.

For example, in 2017, alcohol company Diageo used VR in its marketing efforts for Guiness. Participants donned a VR headset and entered a 360-degree virtual environment while master brewer, Peter Simpson, told them when to taste and smell each beer on the sample tray. This is the opposite of transactional–the goal in a stunt like this is to wow, not sell. 

4. Personalization

Personalizing your messages and addressing your customers as individual human beings is important, even if it’s time consuming. But these relationship marketing best practices will ensure that you’re at least doing the bare minimum. 

Segment your email list: Modern email marketing technology allows brands to easily personalize their emails through list segmentation. For the uninitiated, segmenting a list is the simple act of grouping together similar customers to send subscribers more relevant content.

First names please: One of the easiest ways to personalize your communication with your customers is to use their first name in your correspondence. It’s also one of the most effective—just don’t misspell it!

Targeted landing pages: Want to sell a current customer a new product? Make sure you send them to a landing page that will resonate with their world views. Use your analytics tools to identify who you’re talking to, then craft different landing pages for each of those buyer persona.

Automate: Use automation to send customers the right offers and content without the extra effort. Just make sure you’ve set it up properly. If they clicked on link X, don’t send them to web page Y. 

5. Get social

Far too many many companies use social media networks as one-way announcement boards. Don’t be like them.

The whole point of social media is that it’s social, and social is a two-way street. This means your company needs to interact with your customers, not just ask them to spend money on your products or services.

Respond to messages and comments, ask people questions and listen to their answers, and share things they’ll find interesting–even if they aren’t necessarily about your company.

Many social media platforms also enable tiered interaction. For example, you can use Facebook to create a closed group for your VIP customers–like an exclusive social media platform where you provide special discounts or company insights.

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