The first few dates are (thankfully) out of the way, and there aren’t any red flags to send you running in the other direction. What’s your next move?

If you’re serious about your customers, it’s time to take things to the next level. Relationship marketing is the key to boosting brand loyalty and building long-term customer relationships.

What is customer relationship marketing?

This consumer-focused style of marketing is in it for the long haul, developing lasting, meaningful relationships that build customer satisfaction and loyalty. By actively and continuously engaging with your new and established customers, you can nurture relationships in ways that are mutually beneficial for them and your company. You provide consistent value for them, and they return the favor by sticking around to make repeat purchases. What’s more, they become advocates who boost brand awareness and encourage others to join your customer base.

Customer relationship marketing goes beyond short-lived victories like sales transactions and customer acquisition, instead utilizing marketing activities that secure high customer retention rates. These relationship-marketing techniques include superior customer service, loyalty reward programs and feedback-driven decisions.

Important note: There’s a place for customer relationship marketing within your larger marketing campaigns, so don’t think you have to ditch everything and start again. In fact, some relationship marketing strategies may even overlap with your current approach.

More than one CRM

You’ve likely encountered another CRM in your marketing endeavors, but that one stands for customer relationship management. Though the two work closely together, relationship marketing is more of a concept, while relationship management refers to the tools used to implement the concept. Here’s another way to look at it: The former is all about strategy and goals, while the latter is about operations.

Customer relationship management involves the collection of consumer behavior data, such as purchasing history and demographics, via dedicated software tools. The best example of CRM software make this process simple. This information helps sales and marketing professionals target relevant buyer personas and find new ways to provide value to the customer, whether it be offering more of what they like or developing a new product or service to fill obvious gaps.

Relationship marketing is about building trust and lasting customer bases. CRM data informs the relationship marketing strategy, ensuring the company can deliver value and personal experiences through all customer interactions. Such a symbiotic relationship means it’s natural to use both when building loyalty and retaining customers are on the to-do list.

Now that we’ve confirmed the individual identities of the two CRMs, here’s a quick note for clarity: The acronym generally refers to customer relationship management. The more widely used shorthand for customer relationship marketing is cutting the “customer” so you’re dealing with two instead of three words. To keep things simple, we follow this nomenclature throughout the article.

What’s the point of relationship marketing?

While there’s great value in dedicating time and resources to new business, it doesn’t mean you can leave your existing customers in the dust. In fact, many companies have relationship marketing to thank for years of strong and profitable operations. More than future proofing your business, the importance of customer relationship marketing lies within its many benefits.

Superior customer experiences

Relationship marketing calls for frequent communication with customers. An important aspect of those interactions is gathering feedback straight from the source. Not only will you stay on customers’ radar, but you’ll also learn about their behaviors, preferences and needs along the way.

The better you know your customers, the easier it is to make informed business decisions, deliver engaging customer experiences and build stronger relationships. Succeeding in this realm also correlates to higher satisfaction because you’re consistently meeting customer needs.

Loyal customers

Customers won’t want to ruin something that’s already going well – so don’t give them a reason to shop anywhere else. Every purchase adds to the loyalty they feel for the brand until eventually, you become their ride-or-die for the product or service you offer.

But wait there’s more: When the trust is there, customers are less focused on the money. They’re even willing to pay more when they feel like the value of the entire experience is worth it.

Brand ambassadors

Happy customers will spread the word. Whether it’s in conversation with their family, friends, coworkers and social network or via raving online reviews, customer recommendations can be extremely influential in converting prospects. The most passionate may even be willing to work with your team to develop case studies and testimonials or create user-generated content for your blog and social feeds.

Money spent wisely

Good news for your marketing budget: The math checks out. Rooted in research from years past, there is a general understanding that it’s about five times cheaper for companies to retain customers than it is to attract new ones.

Plus, when your existing customers spend more and stick around longer due to your customer-focused relationship marketing strategy, the profits will keep rolling in. If you want to focus on acquisition as well, the costs won’t seem so steep when you can confidently assume customers will spend a certain amount during their long-term relationship with your brand.

customer relationship marketing

More selling opportunities

While the emphasis is on the relationship rather than the transaction, this style of marketing does work wonders for your sales numbers. More than one-time revenue, customer relationship marketing is about boosting lifetime revenue. Returning customers make repeat purchases, and may even be more likely to shop more frequently.

Upselling and cross-selling opportunities will also surge, considering customers who have already had a positive experience with your product or service will be more likely to see the value in spending more.

Crafting a relationship marketing strategy

If those outcomes sound like winning benefits to you, the next step is to give your marketing efforts a customer-centric focus. There are several ways to implement relationship marketing, which makes it possible for companies of all sizes and industries to craft customer-driven marketing campaigns.

Remember that the goal is to boost brand loyalty by improving customer satisfaction and engagement levels. That means this is definitely the time to appeal to emotions, whether it be pulling at the heartstrings, inspiring belly laughs or introducing mind-blowing perspectives.

The elements of a victorious relationship marketing strategy include:

Customer service in the spotlight

When relationship marketing is in effect, your customers should get the impression that you value them during every interaction. Engaging and personalized customer service is integral to showing them how much you care, and the effort to serve your customers well won’t go unnoticed.

For example, connecting with the right people to troubleshoot issues is a hassle to be avoided at all costs. Long wait times, ignored customer communications and standard replies definitely don’t send the right message. Instead, find ways to make it a painless experience for your customers, ensuring they can easily get answers to their questions – even if that means bypassing the automated robots to hear a human voice.

Here’s a personal anecdote to drive this message home: I bought a couch from Wayfair that ended up being a total failure. It was comically dainty, and the fabric started pilling mere weeks after I bought it. I called Wayfair, fully prepared to argue my case. In reality, I explained the situation and, without a moment of hesitation, the representative sympathized with my struggles and told me she would refund the money and send me a discount code for my next purchase. I didn’t even have to return the couch or send pictures to prove my story!

What started off on a sour note ended in a top-notch customer service experience during which I felt understood and trusted. While I didn’t buy my next couch from Wayfair, I don’t feel the need to boycott the brand entirely. In fact, the rug I bought with my discount code is doing just fine.

Relevant and accessible content

Remember that relationship marketing is all about the customer. That means your content should be as well. Identify the topics and types of content that your target audience is most interested in, and then make it easy for them to access it. AKA make it free on your blog or social feeds – and, when possible, bring its existence to their attention so they don’t have to go searching for it.

Keep in mind that these people are already customers, which means they don’t necessarily want to see ads that convince them of what they’ve already done. Rather than simply pushing your product or service, use your content calendar to answer frequent search queries and provide useful information for your customers. Doing so adds value to the overall experience they have with your brand.

The more relevant and useful your content is, the better your audience will respond. It takes time and research to generate the amazing content ideas that engage consumers, but remember how valuable the resulting customer loyalty and satisfaction will be.

Robust loyalty rewards

Most companies offer perks and reward programs, but you’ll want to go above and beyond for your most loyal customers. Giveaways, discounts, offers, referral rates and personal recommendations generally work well. However, it also helps to surprise customers with shoutouts, recognitions or brand-specific quirks so that they don’t get bored with the usual rewards.

These incentives keep consumers engaged even after they make a purchase, which gives them more reason to make another one in the future. Plus, the customer data you can gather from loyalty programs will help you offer more personalized perks on an individual basis.

Multiple touchpoints

We all know the key to a strong relationship is communication, so make sure you’re talking to your consumers on a regular basis. As long as the conversation provides value and your content calendar strikes the right balance of frequency, your marketing activities will perform well.

Don’t forget the importance of where you communicate with your audience. Your strategy will deliver results if you interact with customers where they’re already engaged. This requires researching the platforms that your customers use, whether they be avid Twitter users or more of a Facebook crowd.

Email marketing is another integral element of customer-focused strategies, namely because it’s an effective way to reach consumers with updates, offers and other engaging content. What’s more, email is really easy to personalize with consumer names and data. For example, Grammarly sends its users a weekly email that highlights their personal writing stats. Call me nerdy, but I can’t help but open the emails to find out how productive I was compared to other users and if my top three mistakes were the same as the previous week’s errors.

Steady feedback loop

We’re not dealing with middle-school relationships here, so don’t ask someone else to find out if your customers like you and what you can do better. Go straight to the source, gathering customer feedback and listening closely to respond appropriately.

Surveys, questionnaires and social polls can complement the data collected from social media monitoring tools, CRM software and other automated methods. You’ll also want to monitor customer comments, complaints and reviews, taking the time to respond and address concerns with sympathy.

This information is crucial for consistently improving your relationship marketing strategy and meeting the specific needs of your customer base.

Relationship support

Don’t hesitate to lean on the usual suspects for help when crafting and implementing your relationship marketing strategy. The content creation tools you already use for research, SEO, analytics, email and other marketing activities can guide the various elements of a relationship marketing strategy.

The one tool you may want to add to the mix is CRM software. As we talked about before, CRM performs the data analysis that can help you build stronger customer relationships. It covers all your bases, drawing customer data from your website, phone calls, emails, chats, social media and other marketing efforts. Some of the top-rated CRM software providers include:

Most CRM systems can also measure the success of customer relationship marketing campaigns by tracking ROI metrics like conversions and revenue. Other important metrics to monitor include retention rates, upsell and cross-sell ratios, number of customer referrals and customer lifetime value.

Relationship status: Engaged and ready for the future

When successful, relationship marketing can boost customer loyalty, satisfaction and engagement. The result is customers who aren’t going anywhere any time soon. We wish you and yours years of joy and everlasting value.

Stevie Snow is a writer at Brafton. Yes, she is named after Stevie Nicks. She’s a believer in "to life, to life, l’chaim!" because life is what brings us the Obamas, a really smooth vodka tonic and that moment on the dance floor when your favorite banger plays.