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Relationship Marketing: How to Put the Spotlight on Relationships in Business

Relationship marketing strategy

Digitally speaking, you can connect with anyone on the planet.

An old friend on Facebook, a celebrity on Instagram or a former colleague on LinkedIn.

But a connection is not a relationship. They are two different things.

While a connection is only a “click” away, a relationship requires a commitment and it needs space and time to grow.

While having access to connect with anyone certainly has its benefits, it’s created a culture of impatience (i.e. instant gratification). We expect fast results when we connect, rather allow a relationship to blossom.

It’s this culture that has made us forget that there are people behind these digital profiles. These people have feelings, emotions, problems, and motivations – whether you work in e-commerce, SaaS, B2B sales or in Direct-to-Consumer brands.

It’s people that you form relationships with, not businesses.

And it’s people that respond to your marketing.

Let’s talk relationship marketing

What is relationship marketing?

Relationship marketing is a long-term strategy with the focus on building close relationships with your customers.

Not only it is more cost-effective to market to existing customers (it’s 6-7 times cheaper!), but long-term customers are less likely to churn and, the longer you have a relationship with a customer, the more profitable they become.

And yet, most businesses are still focused on transactional marketing, which is less about building long-term relationships and more about increasing individual sales. 

Because transactional marketing puts the sale and not a relationship with the customer first, it can often lead to a poor customer experience as companies move on from one customer to the next, instead of investing more efforts into a customer’s success.

The table below illustrates the difference between the two marketing strategies.

relationship marketing vs transactional marketing

Put simply – transactional marketing is short-term thinking, while relationship marketing is long-term thinking.

Relationship marketing sounds like an obvious strategy, and yet our own research found that very few businesses are investing in their customer relationships.

An untapped growth opportunity?

How important are long-term customer relationships to your business?

Very important… right?

That’s what our own original research found too – as 85% of companies confirmed that long-term customer relationships were important to their business.

So, how many companies are investing in those relationships?

The last significant study on the topic was published in 2013 and found that only 30% of companies are fully committed to relationship marketing.

Has much changed since then?

We wanted to find out, so we conducted our own research study with 2,059 B2B marketers.

The response? Today, fewer companies are committed to it and only 24% use relationship marketing in their current marketing strategy – with 19% saying it is part of their 2021 strategy.

relationship marketing priority in business

Companies that invest in relationship marketing achieve a much greater ROI compared to transactional marketing.

So, what is preventing companies from investing in relationship marketing?

The answer is simple – a lack of strategy!

How to create a relationship marketing strategy

You might argue that you are already doing some form of relationship marketing in your business – offering discounts, loyalty programs, personalized services, and upselling.

But these are tactics, and tactics are a dime a dozen.

Let’s take a step back.

To truly develop the relationship, you need to bond with your customers, create friendships and feelings that no price change, marketing campaign or discount can compete with.

Relationship marketing allows you to get inside the customer’s mind (and heart) via 3 ways: an emotional connection, a purpose-driven connection, and leveraging the brand community.

Let’s take a closer look into each area.

1. Create an emotional connection with your customers

When you think about customer loyalty and evangelism, the first brands that come to mind are typically Apple, Tesla and Nike – consumer-facing companies.

These companies have created a bond so deep with their customers that if you were to talk negatively or criticize them, their customers will gladly defend it.

Now, you might say: “But this kind of relationship doesn’t exist in B2B though!”

Wrong. Of course, it does!

Yes, the “B2B” in B2B sales stands for business-to-business, but it’s still a person (not a business) who visits your website, downloads a white paper and requests a demo.

These people have feelings, too. And it’s these feelings you need to tap into in order to create an emotional connection. Why?

Because the more emotionally connected a customer is to your brand, the more they will spend with you.


So, how do create a more emotional connection in your marketing campaigns?

You need to build trust, show personality, inspire confidence and deliver a great customer experience.

Build trust. Trust is an important part of every relationship, so make sure you deliver on your promise at every stage of the customer journey. Have you won awards for your product? Do your customers give 5-star reviews of your product? If so, display them on your website. Don’t just tell customers you are trustworthy, show them you are!

Show personality. It’s time to knock the barrier between you and your customers down and let them in to see who you, the people behind your company, are. You can do that by posting photos of your employees on social media or share stories of how you’re supporting the local community in your email marketing. Bring your audience along and invite them to share their stories or photos. Including them in the conversation is a great way to build a deeper connection.

Inspire confidence. If two people sign up to your free trial offering, are they getting the same brand experience? They should. How about the communication strategy – does that differ depending on where a customer is based? It shouldn’t. Whether it’s in your advertising campaigns, sales presentations or on the website – maintaining a consistent brand throughout your company inspires confidence with customers.

Deliver a great customer experience. A great customer experience is no longer enough. Today, you need to deliver an amazing, a memorable and an emotional customer experience. But how can marketing teams support the customer experience?

Here are a few simple marketing ideas:

  • Only send relevant content to your audience – use a CRM to avoid “one size fits all” marketing campaigns.
  • Create personalized videos to customers when they celebrate a new milestone – a product launch day, 1-year anniversary, etc.
  • Speak with your customers. Ask them for feedback and suggestions and let them know when you use their input in your marketing material. Let them be “co-creators” of your messaging.

2. Establish a meaningful reason for being in business

Providing value, whether in the form of content, software features or customer service, will always help strengthen the relationship you have with your customers.

But there’s a new way to tap into the hearts of your customers and that’s by having a purpose. A purpose beyond revenue, profits and dividend sharing.

As Simon Sinek put it in one of his famous Ted Talks:

Profit isn’t a purpose. It’s a result. To have purpose means the things we do are of real value to others.”

In fact, it’s become so important that a study by Clutch found that customers prioritize purpose-driven attributes as more important than price or value, when choosing whom to do business with.

company attributes people find most important

Today’s consumers want to do business with companies that stand for something – whether it’s volunteering, supporting equality and fighting injustice or tackling environmental issues.

Research backs this up, too.

Customers are more willing to part ways with their budgets when companies have a purpose, such as:

  • 47% of customers buy from brands that support a good cause on a monthly basis,
  • 53% of customers would NOT invest in a company that does not actively support a good cause,
  • 91% of customers would switch brands if a different brand of similar price and quality supported a good cause.

In other words, being purpose-driven is a growth driver for your business.

What is your purpose?

I can’t help you choose a purpose, but hopefully I can help you start thinking about it. Here’s three questions to consider:

  • Are you ready to invest? Being purpose-driven requires an investment. You need to allocate a budget towards your purpose. The bigger the purpose, the bigger the budget.
  • How can you get your entire company onboard? Being purpose-driven is not the sole responsibility of the CEO or the management board. It’s a company-wide initiative.
  • Does the purpose align with your brand? How are you perceived today by your customers? How do you want your brand to be perceived in the future? Being purpose-driven highly impacts brand perception.

3. Leverage your community

When you have deep connections with your customers, and your brand is purpose-driven, communities will naturally form. A brand community, at its core, is a vital group of customers who support and promote your brand whenever they can.

But these relationships need nurturing, too.

Here’s how:

  • Bring your community together. Your community will be spread out across multiple platforms – whether on your website, in forums or on social media. Consider bringing them together, whether in-person at an event or online as a way to connect, share and discuss new marketing ideas.
  • Listen to your community. Your customers will read your content, use your product and engage with your social accounts more so than prospects. When they do provide feedback on campaigns and marketing material, you need to act on it and acknowledge your customers when you do.
  • Let your community promote you. Your community is passionate about your brand, they want to spread the word and bring their friends, family and colleagues onboard. Help them spread the word by creating marketing campaigns and stories that appeal to their hearts, not just their mind.
  • Make the community about them. It’s not always about you. Shine a light on their work and promote your biggest supporters with the rest of the community. You can invite them to speak at an event, feature them on your blog or create a video series that highlights their work and achievements.


Successful companies understand that the key to growth lies with long-term customers.

Technology has transformed the way we do business, but it’s our responsibility to build, nurture and grow customer relationships over time.

To achieve this, we have to start thinking more about the way you make your customers feel. As it’s their feelings that creates a strong bond with you.

With the relationship marketing strategies outlined above, you will appeal to their emotions, you will stand for a good cause (and not just profitability) and, you will leverage the power of community to create an army of loyal supporters.

Now, more than ever before, it’s time to focus more on the R in CRM – the Relationship.

Because relationships matter.

How important is relationship marketing to your business? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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