I believe I first heard about relationship marketing… Let me think. Oh yeah. The very first day I ever studied business. So why is it that today, many years later (I’ve already explained I don’t intend to give away my age by telling you how many decades that is) we still get articles, posts, videos, and books by gurus explaining that the “new” way to do business is all about relationships? Really, hasn’t all marketing and all sales been about relationships from day one?
Think about it. When we were asked to join the Pepsi Generation, we were asked to form a relationship. Even when we were learning to teach the world to sing with Coca Cola, there was an implied relationship. The first vendor I ever hired had a relationship with me, and the first person who hired us had a relationship. Some relationships are deeper and more personal, but how do you call the fact that a good portion of the country uses the word “Coke” to describe soda pop generically and a good portion of the country does the same with “Pepsi.” Those companies built relationships with consumers that altered our vocabulary.
No! That’s not what relationship marketing means!
Why not? If you could efficiently market relationships to a million customers, wouldn’t you? I’ve watched relationship marketing transform from branding to direct sales to face to face sales to some kind of touchy feely friendship thing to branding again and back to face to face sales. The core has always been the same. We want brand loyalty and we earn it by developing a relationship, sometimes with very interaction-based efforts and sometimes from a higher level.
The new flavor of relationship marketing is really discussing the sales process as involving marketing for a longer term prior to handing off a lead to sales. In other words (and I wish people would just use those other words) the relationship building process begins well in advance of the customer acquisition. I don’t know that it really represents a new concept at all, but I’m certain that it should be that way. Perhaps what’s happening, really, is that the reality of the information age and the growing level of prospect education mean we have to focus consciously now. We have to focus with effort where we always should have, on the relationship with our customers.