I've been a bit of a journey to explore B2B marketing buzzwords. Today's focus - at the suggestion of Eric Wittlake — is the buzzword: Relationship.
Relationship is formally defined as a connection between people — emotional or otherwise. A relationship can be thought of as a dependence, affinity, or kinship.
What I find the most interesting in relation to marketing is the word "connection." This seems to be the missing link for many marketers whether they're referring to potential or existing customers.
Let's first take a look at what does not equate to a relationship:
- One white paper download. From experience, I know that I won't remember the company or the paper when they call me to schedule a demo because I had a brief encounter with their website form.
- Showing up when it's time to renew the contract. This is a case of what have you done for me lately? A relationship must have a personal or human component. It cannot be solely reliant upon my experience with the product, alone. A relationship must have some kind of human value exchange.
- A ReTweet, follow, like, or invitation to connect on a social network. I have a lot of followers. I follow a lot of people because I'm interested in what they're talking about or a cause they're passionate about. This does not mean I "know" them or that they know me.
In fact, if we go back to the work "connection," it must encompass some kind of "knowing" or recognition. This generally means there needs to be an exchange or even a longer term engagement, as I discussed in my blog post on that term.
The problem in marketing is that we seem to paint the word "relationship" with a one-size-fits-all brush. We talk about customer relationship management as if we actually spend time with all of our customers equally. We seem to think that transitory experiences with prospects mean more to them than they would in any other context if we thought about it rationally.
For example, when you think about your personal relationships, you have levels of them, right? Your hierarchy could look something like:
- acquantance - someone you've met a couple of times
- colleague - someone you've worked with and perhaps respect
- professional - someone who delivers a service (dentist, doctor, accountant)
- mentor - someone you learn from
- friend - someone you like and rely upon
- spouse - someone you know intimately, love and rely upon for the long term
- family - people you love unconditionally (if all is right in the world)
I'm not going to argue semantics on this one - you get the point. There's an evolution based on how well you know them and what role they fulfill in your life.
From a marketing perspective, establishing relationships with prospects must also be thought of in some kind of hierarchical fashion. This may run in parallel with buying stages and the level of engagement that can be established and earned along the way.
If you flip what I said above about personal relationships to a B2B prospect's perspective then the relationship you have with them will be determined by how well they know you and what role you may have earned the right to fulfill in relation to their needs and priorities.
Their hierarchy with respect to your company could look something like this to your prospects:
- nobody - I may have heard of your company, but I have no opinion or affinity.
- acquainted - I may have had exposure to your content or brand in some way.
- familiar - I know who you are, but I'm not yet sure you're relevant to my needs.
- known - I've discovered you may have insights I find valuable so I'm paying more attention
- respected - I'm following your blog or have subscribed to your newsletter because I see consistently valuable ideas.
- mentor - I'm now on the lookout for your content and have shared your stuff with my network.
- expert - I'm in conversations with your salespeople to see if you can really help me.
- customer - I've decided you bring enough value to the table that I'll invest in having you help me solve my problems. I think I can rely upon you.
- advocate - You've proved your value and I'm so enthusiastic, I think others should have you help them — and I'm proactively sharing my praise.
Do you notice the additional steps and time it takes for a worthwhile relationship to form for both of you? Yet the standard today is that we treat people who consider us "nobody" or maybe "acquainted" as if they're bonified prospects. This stems from our determination that anyone who could become our customer is viable whether they want to be or not. If you look like a "duck," by gosh we're going to make you one!
Relationships are not something to be taken lightly. They take a lot of work and a lot of consistent value delivery. This is why the way you go to market is so important. Think of the hierarchy as a ladder. If you slip up, you slide down a rung or two, maybe more. Then you have to rebuild.
The level of relationship marketers can build will pretty much dictate what they can accomplish with their marketing initiatives. Relationships are about credibility and trust, as much as value and relevance. This being said, prospects don't just build relationships with one part of your organization. Marketing can only take them so far. What happens when salespeople get involved better be a seamless extension and the same when it comes to implementation teams and customer service.
The challenge is in how to establish lifecycle relationships, not just an experience in a pocket of time.
So be a bit careful the next time you start to throw around the word relationship. It means quite a bit more than we often give it credit for. Especially with our growing reliance on digital marketing that tends to remove the human part in many ways.