According to Marketing-Schools.org, there are at least 128 types of marketing strategies. One quick look at their list shows that many of these types overlap, and many are appropriate mostly for large companies with marketing departments instead of solopreneurs who are the sole service provider plus bookkeeper plus website manager plus blogger plus, plus, plus. So it's no wonder most of us have never heard of Relationship Marketing.
So what is it? In short, relationship marketing is focused on engaging in a variety of interactions with your well defined ideal client niche in ways that increase the know you / like you / trust you / hire you / recommend you cycle.
For those of us in the healing arts, and many in the helping professions as well, relationship marketing is intuitive. That is, it's what we would naturally do at a party when we empathize with other guests about what's bothering them. To turn that into a marketing strategy, just get more intentional about it, and devote more time to it.
Notice how this is not about making the sale as the primary intent, but rather having public service or public education as your motivating force. That distinction between marketing to make the sale and marketing to help a fellow human and potentially gain a client is often overlooked in the marketing literature.
In the language of large corporations, relationship marketing is about developing brand loyalty among your pool of potential customers. To do this, they employ polls, surveys, take action on feedback, use customer monitoring technologies, change policies and products based on customer satisfaction, hold customer appreciation campaigns, and so on.
In Deah language, relationship marketing about being a helpful resource. It's conveying basic information freely when you can, having genuine caring for others' troubles, showing up with reliable facts and links, and basically giving of yourself without regard to needing to make a living first and foremost.
The other side of being a helpful resource is being clear about where the line is beyond which you will charge for your help and knowledge. There's no universal formula for determining that line, but it is absolutely crucial to decide where you want it to be. Everyone's situation is different, but the line in part represents your time, energy, mood, knowledge, work load, and other obligations.
Know, Like, Trust, Hire, Recommend
The essence of relationship marketing is showing up where your identified niche clients are, paying attention to what is on their minds, and contributing something helpful to the conversation. The goal is to be enough of a magnetic presence that your niche begins to feel like they know you and have a favorable impression of you. From this first step, we develop empathetic rapport such that potential clients start to feel safe enough with you to trust you with deeper, and more private conversations about their pains and longings.
As this dynamic develops, you gently make clear where your line is between a casual conversation and a paid service. This takes good boundaries for knowing when you are okay with being helpful up to a point, and when you need to not give away too much for free. I have found it's kind to the potential client and respectful of myself as a professional to not be shy about voicing when that line is being approached.
Once hired, we're all focused on delivering the service we're getting paid for, but it's good to keep in mind that it's easier to turn a first time client into a repeat client than it is to get another new client. So the know you /like you/ trust you dynamic needs to be nurtured on a continuing basis.
That continuing dynamic, along with your outstanding service, is what turns a first time client into a repeater, and a raving fan. Raving fans recommend you to their friends and family -- which becomes for you absolutely free marketing.
By the way, raving fans are better referral sources than allied professionals with whom you don't have much if any personal relationship, and for whom you are not on their mind in most of their own client or patient contacts.
Social Media and Business Networking
For extroverts, business networking is a strategy that can be a productive starting ground for relationship marketing -- but only if you follow through on the contacts you make an apply the principle of being a helpful resource to them. Look for networking groups, MeetUps, or workshops with socializing opportunities to connect and get to know new people.
For introverts, social media is your gold mine. Manage your business Facebook page frequently, promote your blogs there and on LinkedIn, join or start special interest groups -- be available to get befriended, not in the frivolous Facebook sense of friending, but in the real sense of interactively knowing, liking and trusting people you'll never meet in person. For many solopreneurs, our clients don't need to be local to our backyards.
Basically, relationship marketing is very similar to the process of making new friends when you're the new kid in town.
An Ethical Concern
Relationship marketing is best done by those with the highest personal integrity and professional ethics. Nothing becomes the kiss of death faster for a service provider solopreneur than entering conversations with a hidden, make a sale agenda.
Potential clients can subconsciously sense when interactions are manipulating their emotions to work to your advantage. Once that felt sense comes to the surface of consciousness, trust is destroyed. Very rarely can it be regained, and worse, the word that begins to circulate about you can be quite negative. Bad news travels faster than good so it's a pretty high risk to take.
Here's the ethical "sort" I make when it comes to relationship marketing. I don't mind giving advice based in my experience and expertise in a paragraph or so on a social media post. I give that with no expectation of any kind of return, out of the principle that simple knowledge should be shared. Since I'm getting pretty old now, I have a lot of life and professional knowledge accumulated and ready to spread around. LOL! It gains me more than it costs me to share what I know. The same will likely be true for you.
When I feel interactions are approaching my line -- that point where the exchange starts to feel like work that should be paid for -- I provide links to something in my website or blog. The other person is then free to pursue that info source or not, and come to the conclusion on their own, because of the calls to action on my site, to decide to hire me for deeper benefit.
I strive to project the idea that it's okay with me if they don't hire me, that I'm not trying to twist their arm. We can still be casual friends if not client and pro. Oddly, that too acts as something of a magnet. My clients seem to like feeling as if they have chosen me because of what I have already given them, rather than being hooked into some spider web of slick persuasion.
So here's an example of a call to action for a blog post like this. While I'm no longer seeking clients for marketing coaching per se, I do provide a lot of that folded into the context of building websites for solopreneurs. So if you fall into one of my clients niches and are in need of both a website and some learning about internet marketing, click here to arrange a time to talk.