Can you imagine proposing to someone on the first date? Or asking them to meet your parents and friends? What about asking what they like to do for fun or what foods they like after you've been together for a year?

Sounds way out of sequence, but it's often exactly how we treat our customer relationships. 

We deliver information and offers to our customers based on why, when, where and how we want the relationship to be — not how they want it to be. That’s why customer marketing needs to be treated like a first date that evolves into a long-term relationship.

Unfortunately, marketing that “invades our customers’ space” rather than going at their pace is a long-standing tradition — it’s the way organizations are hardwired.

Time to hit the reset button.

We're In a Relationship

In a romantic relationship, we know to start with a kiss before anything. Or after six months, we know that our partner loves horror movies but hates grapefruit juice.

Same thing with marketing. Once we get in sync with customers and their preferences, beautiful things happen to move the relationship along.

To learn how to achieve this type of intimacy with customers, let’s get to the roots of the “marketing to” versus “having a relationship with” mindset that seeps into the thinking of many marketing organizations.

This all-about-the-company mentality stems from of a number of deeply-rooted organizational behaviors:

  • Quota driven practices, processes and timing
  • Lack of knowledge about the entire customer experience journey and preferences
  • Reliance on demographic personas rather than accurate, expectations-based profiles
  • Siloed teams preventing information from being shared for the customer’s benefit

All of these barriers to good customer marketing are set against the backdrop of fast-moving company environments: departments are constantly bombarded (and blinded) by “customer-focused” technology such as marketing tools, CRMs, automation gizmos or insta-apps. 

And then there’s all the tried-and-true jargon of marketing: target audiences, channels, personas and the like. These all have their value and place, but make no mistake: personalizing an email or tailoring content to a certain customer does not a relationship make. 

To break the traditional mold and move toward a customer-centered organization, let’s look at the qualities that make our personal relationships successful.

Read the Signals: Be in the Right Place at the Right Time

There are signs in our personal relationships that tell you how things are going — if they are great, so-so or majorly disconnected. Knowing what the other person wants and when is so vital to daily interactions. It gives you the ability to respond and change behaviors.

This also holds true for how you approach your customers. What are you doing right? What’s not working so well? 

Key customer indicators can help measure the momentum of your teams and initiatives. For instance, distributing great business intelligence to departments at the right time in the right way opens up new marketing opportunities and a-ha moments. This BI also gives you the new hidden gems and insight to improve your success rate.

Sometimes we don’t know if a relationship is just “hanging out” or if it’s truly a long-term partnership. Same with customers. 

In content marketing, social media conversations can have the depth of a one-night stand. Engagement should pull through from that first click on to liking, then buying and referring. It’s not a moment in time — it’s a long-term commitment, and it needs attention and intention every step of the way.

Work Together for a Well-Connected, Strong Relationship

Any great relationship has the depth of experience and trust to sustain it through the bumps and challenges of life.

Customer love stories are no different. It's the company’s responsibility to ensure teams work together to be customer-centric.

As an example, marketing initiates the customer engagement — but how are you following up and preparing the rest of your company for the relationship to bloom? Getting in sync for long-term loyalty comes from the everyday interactions throughout your organization.

Build those internal partnerships to create memorable customer moments across the lifecycle. Align all of your organizations to make customer experience outstanding — from service to operations, finance and talent acquisition. 

It’s about what your customers really care about (it’s not about you or your company).

Prove You’re Worth the Time and Investment

You have to work to make things interesting in a long-term relationship, and to make your life together a positive experience for both of you. Going on auto-pilot will have detrimental effects. Boredom, feeling neglected or unhappy only makes other potential partners look more attractive.

In the same way, you should always be striving to make yourself worthy of your customer’s attention and loyalty. Otherwise they might fall for the competition. In other words, love your customers every day, even if there is no special occasion.

Using customer lifetime value (CLV) measurement, for instance, can help you optimize marketing activities internally and externally for those serious relationships. Identifying All-Star customers versus the less-engaged will help you focus your efforts. Building a deeper connection with those you care most about helps you discover ways to be more engaged with customers that may be losing interest.

Happily Ever After

To make your customers love you for the long haul, you’ll have to do the work to get to the next level. Ultimately, this will keep you in their hearts and minds — and they’ll come back for more every time.

Title image "Love" (CC BY 2.0) by  Quim Pagans