Slow burn: why patience is the fifth P in relationship marketing

I was wandering home on Friday
when I bumped into an old mate. After the usual “hi, how’s it going?” she asked
if I was “still writing stuff for that blog?” Sadly, the answer was no. I’m too
busy. Business is good, life takes over and I’ve stopped making time to
reflect, rant and self-promote. So that got me thinking. How many of us fall
into the trap of selling expertise to clients and forget to apply it in the
businesses we’re in? I know I do.

Good relationships are built over time.

My business is all about helping
clients develop loyal, engaged customers who keep coming back for more. It’s
relationship marketing. And it’s a lot like life. Those mates who stick by you
and step up when you need them are seldom the ones you met over beers last
week. It’s vital in banking, insurance, telco, even charity. Sure people will
move to save 50 points on a home loan or to get themselves a fancy new phone. But
how do you keep them buying when their contract comes up?

Trust is a two-person party.

The most important thing in any
relationship is trust. We all get that. It’s why we build brands, foster tone
and promote heritage. But there’s more to trust than time. It’s about
relationship. That means give and take, understanding our customers and
sometimes even easing back on the sell. This was something Martin Hawes touched
on in the Sunday paper. He argued that people are less inclined to trust you if
your ‘advice’ is directly linked to a sale. His example was doctors vs. real
estate agents. But the same applies in any business. How often do you talk to
your customers without trying to sell them something?

Sales are important: As hurdles in a longer race.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the
point of selling stuff. The challenge is knowing which sales are growing corn
and which are just making bread. Think about your business. How often do
short-term numbers reflect and reinforce short-term goals? It certainly happens
in mine. And while quick-wins are essential for the bottom-line and the
boardroom, it’s easy to be distracted and let the big picture slip out of
focus. Long-term loyalty is a long-term investment – less about selling today
and more about selling a whole lot more tomorrow.

Commodities sell. But the market sets the price.

And this is the reason why.
Customers will always buy stuff based on price. But if that’s all you’ve got, there’s
trouble ahead. Price is sensitive, flexible and largely hygiene. More
importantly, it’s usually outside of your control. The basic premise of a free
market is that the market makes the rules. Playing in price is a margin game
and, even if you’re selling power, margins aren’t what they used to be. So if
you find yourself slipping into selling on price, it’s a fairly nimble race
toward zero.

In relationship marketing, the fifth P is patience.

Remember those 4 Ps of marketing?
Here’s how they stack up for me. Product
is vital; it’s the proof of the pudding. Price
is what it is, but hard to control. Place
is going through a serious technology relocation and promotion is what we have left. But if promotion is driven by
price, it’s short-term volume through the bargain bin. That’s why patience is vital. If we get to know
our customers, keep them engaged and talk to them occasionally without a hard
sell, it’s a strategy that pays off in the long run. 

That’s what I recommend to
clients. And it works. That’s why it’s so embarrassing that I haven’t blogged
in a while. Sure, it takes time that could be spent ‘actually working’. And of
course it’s a slow burn. But it’s not good enough to be ‘too busy’ to throw
bread on the water. And even if it feels like a while between drinks, the best
thing you can do is buy another round.

That’s what I reckon. What do you

  • Michael Goldthorpe runs a
    creative and strategic consultancy called Hunch. He also infrequently rants at strawpollofone.com.

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