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Relationship Marketing: Putting the Customer First

Reprinted from News-To-Use, Vol.6, No.3.
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"If all things get pretty close to equal in terms of technology - customers and resellers will choose the products they want on the strength of non-technological attributes: things like loyalty to a company that has been responsive to their needs, that answers the phone when they call." VarBusiness

Whether you're selling shoes or soap, industrial equipment or accounting services, relationship marketing is changing the way your industry does business. With all the choices and diversity technology has given consumers, competition is greater, the pace is faster, and expectations for your product or service are higher than ever before. On top of that, customer loyalty is all but gone - unless there's a relationship involved.

Today, what differentiates your company may be the relationships you establish and nurture with customers, prospective customers, and those who influence them. Rather than reaching out to large numbers of people and trying to convert them, relationship marketing focuses on identifying the best possible customers for your line of products and services, and then doing whatever is necessary to bring them into your business "family." It's a market-driven approach that concentrates on acceptance rather than awareness, and substance before image. The process involves creating a dialogue between the company and the customer, and between the company and the market. Often, products, services, and approaches to the market are improved by this dialogue. At the end of the day, if your company produces a solid product and builds relationships effectively, image takes care of itself.

As a continued commitment to the prospect or customer, relationship marketing is centered around these elements:

Long-term goals

Relationship marketing is an investment beyond the immediate sale. It involves an attitude that looks out for the customer, and involves ongoing communication that gives and receives information to help the customer/prospect achieve what they want, sometimes requiring the marketer to sacrifice immediate advantages for better relationships and future opportunities.

Inter-organizational relationships at many levels
Successful relationship marketing requires a company-wide effort. At every level, employees appreciate its value for the company's future, and seek contact with their colleagues in the customer organization. The common goal is to understand and help meet the needs of the customer.

Giving before receiving
Being genuinely interested in helping customers and prospects, relationship marketers are confident that sales will come once they've established the basis for a solid relationship. So actions and reactions are reversed. Rather than push hard for a sale and only then give value to the prospective organization, relationship marketers often give value first, and then ask for the order. An example of this might be a service company offering professional advice or suggestions to help the customer make an improvement or solve a problem. Or a manufacturer might provide prospective customers tips and information on its web site.

Sharing ideas and information
The sale cycle in relationship marketing is relatively long, so the process benefits from a program of sharing ideas and information to understand the customer's requirements and goals. This allows the company to demonstrate how their line of products and services are the best solutions to the customer's challenges and opportunities over an extended period of time.

According to Regis McKenna, today's consumers have it all: "Right here. Right now. Tailored to me. Dished up the way I like it." It makes sense then, that if your company builds those relationships, you'll know the way to dish it up for your customers.

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