Creating Long-Term Customer Relationships: How Marketing Is Like Making Love

When you find a potential romantic partner, do you throw that person to the ground and force yourself? I certainly hope not! Instead of a beautiful relationship, you'd face a jail sentence; forcing yourself is criminal behavior.

While it doesn't send you to prison, forcing your unwanted marketing on others is not a smart way to build crucial long-term relationships with your customers--relationships that pay off in high life-long sales and huge numbers of referrals.

Even if the customer opens him or herself willingly to your marketing, "love 'em and leave 'em" doesn't truly satisfy. What does a Don Juan really get from the latest conquest? A momentary thrill and another notch on the bedpost--so what? If you convince someone to buy once, but you treat your new customer badly, nothing will last. You'll have the momentary thrill of a few more dollars in your account--but you'll spend that and more bringing in the next one-night-wonder. This is the difference between that three-letter-word beginning with "s"--a bodily need divorced for emotion--and a long-term, maybe even last-forever romance that combines passion, communication, and recognition of the other person's contribution to your own wholeness--so that the slightest touch of a finger against skin can open up entire worlds, and a quiet communication from you can have your customers oohing and ahhing and telling all their friends that they absolutely must do business with you, because you'll make them feel so special.

In marketing, there's a concept called by many names, among them Life-time (it wouldn't normally take a hyphen--LT, to get past the e-mail filters) Customer Value (LCV) and Total LT Value. It's the idea that it may be worth spending a little more to bring in a new customer, because over a period of years, that customer will spend with you again and again. But that only happens if you're there for them. If you show that you care, not just about the dollars, but about their wants and needs, then and only then will your customers build those high LCVs, and woo others to your camp as well. In fact, if a company starts taking a customer for granted, "marketing divorce" will follow. Just in the last few months, I've ended two long-term, high-ticket business relationships: one with the auto manufacturer whose cars I've been driving since 1977, and one with the mail order company that's sold me most of my software and several computers since 1984. In both cases, I received clear signals that these companies did not, after all, value my business enough to make even the slightest attempt to keep me happy. Over the next ten or twelve years, I'll probably spend many thousands of dollars with their competitors. and, of course, I no longer rave about the wonderful service I'd gotten with these companies in the past, so the stream of new business I may have generated is kaput.

You've heard the "that was a demo, but once you're a customer" joke about heaven and hell. A successful romance is built not only on passion, but on true two-way communication. The more you listen--REALLY listen--and act on what you heard, the more you sell.

Nobody wants to be "sold to." We want to be courted, to be romanced, to be shown that our partners love, cherish, respect and honor us--that they're both passionate and tender, and that it's not just all about them and their needs, and that this care goes beyond the initial date or the initial sale. It's true in love, and it's true in marketing.

How are you romancing your prospects and customers these days, and how are you responding? I'll compile the answers and post them on my site, with links back to the contributors.

Green and Profitable marketing consultant/columnist Shel Horowitz is the primary author (with Jay Conrad Levinson) of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet. He is also the Founder of the International Association of Earth-Conscious Marketers.

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