How relationship marketing can increase customer sales and retention

If you own a business, of course, you’re hoping to attract new customers all the time. But loyal customers can be just as meaningful. These are the people who will not only keep coming back to support you but who will also personally recommend you to their friends, family and community. Studies show that repeat customers spend more money, too, in part because as they trust you more, they’re more likely to purchase more expensive goods and services.

What is relationship marketing?  

Relationship marketing is a strategy designed to attract and maintain those loyal customers. It means focusing less on making a single sale than on big-picture techniques to encourage brand loyalty and repeat business. It means getting to know your clients and making sure that the relationship you’re building with them is mutually beneficial. 

Relationship marketing is not the same thing as customer relationship management (CRM), though. CRM refers, instead, to the tools that businesses use to enable and support relationship marketing. There are lots of CRM software tools these days that make it much easier to organize and track customer data, including sales, demographic information and customer service communications. Staying on top of all of these things makes it easier to ensure that clients are getting what they need in a timely way.  

All kinds of businesses, big and small, can benefit from relationship marketing. Even if your marketing team is tiny, fundamental techniques can still help customers feel seen and heard. 

Immediately after you launch a business is the only time when you’re likely to be focusing more on your marketing efforts on attracting new customers. After that, customer retention often becomes just as important as customer acquisition. 

Examples of relationship marketing 

There are lots of great companies of all sizes out there that use relationship marketing in creative and successful ways. Here are a couple of examples. 


Panera Bread followed customer feedback to become the first national restaurant chain to post calorie counts and ingredient information. Then, in 2014, Panera took a leap of faith by issuing a public pledge to remove all artificial preservatives, sweeteners and flavors from its menu. 

This public push created a sense of authenticity, aligned with the brand’s values and ended up building a stronger relationship with the people who wanted to trust Panera products. The company now sees social media influencers and volunteer fans post freely about its menu and challenge its competitors to meet similar health initiatives.  

Panera also personalizes its patrons’ experience as much as possible. Customers who create an account with Panera can expedite online orders and earn personalized rewards, as well as receive suggestions for new menu offerings that fit their individual taste. Today, Panera’s loyalty program boasts more than 28 million members. 

Alaska Airlines 

Most airline companies have created a loyalty reward program by now, a cornerstone of relationship marketing. Alaska Airlines is no different. But what the airline has done extraordinarily well is cultivate a culture and business model that prioritizes customer service above all else. 

Alaska Airlines’ loyalty program is still based on miles flown, not how much members pay for the ticket. The company is generous with its vouchers and perks to compensate delayed travelers. It is also well known for empowering its employees to make superb customer service decisions in the moment, rather than adhering to strict company policy, so that every passenger feels personally cared for. 

Alaska became successful enough to acquire Virgin America in 2016. And among other accolades, Alaska has ranked number one in customer satisfaction of any major U.S. airline for twelve years in a row.  

Create your own relationship marketing strategy 

Here are some simple ways that you, too, can cultivate strong relationships and keep your customers coming back.  

First off, think big. What does a successful relationship marketing strategy entail? Make sure that you: 

  • Know your target audience. You’ll want to obtain as much data about your customers as you can. Surveys show that most people don’t mind the use of their data if it means they’ll get a more satisfying shopping experience. 
  • Go everywhere your customers are. Once you know more about them, you’ll know where they spend time online, what news they consume and where they live, shop and play.  
  • Provide excellent customer service. That might go without saying, but the better the experience from start to finish, the more likely they’ll return to you and recommend you to others. 
  • Find a suitable CRM tool. Integrating customer data and your overall strategy notes into a comprehensive software tool helps you stay on track. This way, you can keep personalizing the experience, even for lots of people at once.  

Steps to successful relationship marketing 

Try the below techniques to help build those relationships—and keep them.  

  • Communicate 
    • Make sure you communicate with your customers regularly, whether that’s through newsletters, social media posts or email updates. Make sure those communications contain useful information.  
    • Ask for feedback on everything you do. One of the most valuable assets loyal customers can offer is constructive feedback. What they say can help you tailor your business more specifically to their needs. Sometimes, it can spark new and creative business ideas.  
    • Create easy ways to get in touch. Whether that’s via email, phone, text or social media, you want to be as available as possible. 
    • Listen carefully to customer concerns and provide actionable solutions. Being responsive and transparent shows that you care, and thereupon builds trust.  
  • Offer rewards 
    • Offer coupons, gifts and other perks for being a loyal customer. It not only creates buying incentives and keeps your business front-of-mind, but studies show that people with a coupon in hand usually end up spending more in the end. 
    • Create loyalty or membership programs. Not only do loyal customers spend more and become brand ambassadors for you, but investing in existing customers is cheaper than it is to acquire customers.  
  • Plan events 
    • Show your customers they are valuable by inviting them to special events. Events provide opportunities for face-to-face communication and all kinds of value-added experiences.  
    • A fun event is an easy way to entice people to use a coupon or try a new product or service, too. It’s also a way to collect information from your attendees via surveys or other kinds of feedback. 
  • Create content people can use 
    • Email marketing. Don’t underestimate the power of email. Once you have useful CRM data in hand, it’s easier to create customized marketing emails with content tailored to different customers or customer groups.  
    • Blog posts. Posting relevant and useful blog posts regularly (and sharing them on social media) drives traffic to your website and helps customers engage. 
    • Informational white papers. Providing educational content that matters to your customers is a form of relationship-building, too.  
    • Videos. Easy-to-digest instructional videos or explainers are engaging, fun and travel well on both social media and mobile devices.  
    • Localized content. Tailor your blog or video content to different locations if your clients are spread across the country or world. 
    • Different cultures and demographics. You can truly meet people where they are if you’re creating content that uses the CRM data on hand to target different groups. 

Depending on your industry and your specific business, some of these strategies for building relationship marketing will work better than others. Above all, you want to get to know your customers, personalize your offerings and build a long-term relationship that will create long-term benefits. 

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Business Insights and Ideas does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. You should contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation..