July 30, 2012 \ Geoff Birmingham
Relationship Marketing and Selling

We had another excellent roundtable at SMEI last Thursday, discussing the importance of relationship marketing and selling. Lisa Dennis of Knowledgence Associates was in her usual role as facilitator, but she also shared some specific ideas on what relationship marketing and selling is.

Most of the conversation circled around maintaining and building relationships with existing customers or clients, since, in most cases, a relationship already exists. It’s also easier to market and sell to people with whom you’ve already worked.

Here are a few of the things that Lisa and others mentioned:

1) Relationship marketing is consistently “touching” your client  and giving them something of value.

Lisa gave an example to illustrate the definition. She was consulting a tech company, working most closely with a woman in the marketing department. The woman loses her job, and Lisa volunteers to meet with her to review her CV and brainstorm ideas for her next move. She gets a new job. She hires Lisa to continue helping her in her new position.

2) There is a continuum of effort in your relationship marketing. You may spend much more effort on some clients (see above). For others, it might be as little as forwarding an interesting article you came across that you think your client might find useful.

3) Relationship marketing is just one piece of the overall marketing strategy – it supplements, rather than replaces, your other marketing activities.

4) The five categories of relationship marketing:

  • Explore: Pre-sale. Mutual awareness between two parties. Mutual interest in dialogue between the two parties
  • Cultivate: Trust starts between the two parties. There is significant interaction between the two (often characterized by a sale). A continuing validation of the relationship.
  • Collaborate: Your credibility increases and the client’s trust deepens. You start to get references as a result.
  • Champion: The client becomes an overt supporter. Deep loyalty. They are taking you to others.
  • Advocate: The final stage. You are deeply embedded in their business and vice versa. You cannot do business without each other.

5) It’s important to note that getting to Collaborate is fine. You do not need to go beyond necessarily, and it’s rare for two parties to reach the Advocate stage.

6) Finally, Louis Gudema of Overdrive Interactive pointed out that just about all of us (unless we are LeBron James or Bruce Springsteen) are selling something that’s commoditized. Even if we’re offering a service rather than a widget, we need to find ways to differentiate ourselves from others. Relationship marketing is one way to do that.

Photo: Preston Rhea