Metalworking Marketer
Friday, October 5, 2018

Would You Be My Friend?

Relationship Marketing Provides Long-Term B2B Benefits

By Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications

I grew up a baby boomer in Rochester, NY. My grandparents were either German immigrants or 1st generation. They lived near each other, in neighborhoods filled with immigrant families, the result of European Diasporas caused by WW2. Neither grandmother drove, so they shopped the old-fashioned way, trailing wheeled baskets to markets within a few blocks of home.

As stereotypical as it sounds, good wurst (sausage, to the uninitiated . . .) was a big part of both ladies’ menu plans. But, each grandma preferred a different butcher. I remember asking why they liked “their” shop. “Because they give true weight,” said one. “Because their sausage is better,” said the other.

In a nutshell, that’s the substance of relationship marketing. “I choose that brand because (fill in the blank . . .).” Relationship marketing is as old as business. It’s getting to know your customers and taking care of them.

Fast forward 50 years. Access to preferred sellers is no longer limited by the distance from home. In fact, access is virtually unlimited. The web did that for us. However, increased access alone won’t sell product. That’s especially true in B2B. Sales cycles are longer, competition stronger and financial stakes of purchase higher. Often, buying decisions come down to (sorry, Billy Joel . . .) a matter of trust.

Gaining customer preference, your ”share of mind”, is job 1 for sellers today. We can’t look inward to analyze how we market. We need to look outward, analyzing how and why customers buy. Creating, maintaining and enhancing customer relationships are, short of creating a truly revolutionary product, the best path to success.

First, let’s go back to basics. Readers here represent different age groups and backgrounds, but I’m fairly sure all are “schooled” in the 4 Ps as marketing building blocks: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. I think that’s changed to a 4 C model, but don’t just take my word for it.

In 1990, my good friend and mentor, Dr. Bob Lauterborn, a noted author with impeccable credentials in the corporate, agency and academic worlds, wrote an article for Advertising Age. He postulated the “4Ps were dead” and “today’s marketer needs to address the real issues.” Instead, he suggested a 4C approach, providing a more customer-centric take on traditional marketing.

  • Customer wants and needs - corresponds to Product
  • Cost to satisfy - corresponds to Price
  • Convenience to buy - corresponds to Place
  • Communication – corresponds to Promotion

That was thought provoking in the 90s but is, literally, prophetic today. The shift from P-to-C is neither subtle nor debatable. From Compaq to Kodak, the ash heap is littered with brands that failed in this regard. Understanding what customers want, the whys and hows of their buying journey, and creating hand-holding conversations to encourage and confirm their decisions are what seal the successful deal.

Enough theory, though. How can relationship marketing work for you?

I wish it were as simple as putting the right info, in the right places, on the web. It goes deeper and starts earlier than that. It’s true. 75% of potential buyers won’t even call you until they’ve done research and are ready to buy. It’s also true that most potential buyers, taking the first steps in that process, turn to web content and other information provided by companies with names they know.

Being top-of-mind requires building a meaningful brand. Think of it this way. A product meets a customer’s need or solves their problem. A brand is the singular product they think does it best. I won’t beat that drum today, but my thoughts on brand, and the value of brand loyalty, can be read here.

So, let’s assume you have a brand “in the mix,” and understand the need for customer-centric selling. Here are some keys to framing a relationship marketing strategy.

  • Relationships require personalization. As Annabel Power, a Director at Concep, put it: “In the past businesses focused on outward marketing. Now, it’s come full circle. It’s relationships that build brand equity, and the customers that count.”
  • Start early in crafting relationships. Develop a map of what customers need and want. Give prospects a reason to trust that you can deliver the goods. From web page content to in-person meetings, fostering trust is a must.
  • Speak their language. That’s not just nodding and saying “I understand.” Create dialogs about pain points and how you address them. Demonstrate understanding. Communicate empathy.
  • Share your expertise. Your industry experience created a wealth of knowledge. Sharing it builds trust. Think webinars, blogs, case studies, white papers, and industry association participation.
  • Make real promises and over-deliver. Big promises may get you in the door, but under-delivering does irreparable harm in attracting the next customer, or keeping the ones you have.
  • People talk. Word of mouth, especially from peers, is persuasive. Because of social media, your reputation can become a trophy in your case or the trapdoor in your floor. Protect it, honestly. Monitor what’s said. Respond to negatives in positive and believable ways . . . and not just on line.
  • Be interesting. Integrity and trust don’t entail boring messages. Getting attention is easy at first, but harder over time. Resource messaging assets appropriately and work at it continually.
  • Develop strong in-house relationships across your enterprise. Its job is to succeed by meeting customer needs. Share what you know with sales, R&D, product development, customer service and . . . gasp . . . even the C Suite. That will help to create a continuum of customer satisfaction.

When I think about relationship marketing, I remember what a senior ad agency exec I worked for taught me. “You have to work hard to gain customer trust. Screw up, and you have to work a hundred times harder to get it back.”

Make no mistake. This is a skeletal simplification of a complex process, but perhaps, you might view it as a starting point. Good customer relationships and relationship management can, now more than ever, separate winners from the also-rans.

Need more information?
Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications
Marietta, GA


About the Author

Mark Semmelmayer

Mark is a past chairman of the Business Marketing Association (BMA), recipient of their prestigious G.D. Crain Award in 2015, an Inductee into the Business Marketing Hall of Fame and currently serves on the Board of ANA/BMA’s Atlanta Chapter. He’s a 40-year B2B pro, including 30+ years with Kimberly-Clark, and is a frequent contributor of articles on B2B marketing. Mark’s the founder and Chief Idea Officer of Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications, a consultancy in Atlanta, GA.


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