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Relationship Marketing: A B2B Marketing Method

Many argue that marketing is marketing, and there is no real difference between marketing to customers (B2C) and marketing to businesses (B2B). But this statement is not accurate. Although there is some overlap in methods that can be used on both individual consumers and businesses, B2B marketing is much more complex.

B2B marketing at its core is based on building trust and intimacy between the seller and the client. Since an organization’s decision-making processes differ from those of private customers, traditional marketing channels that are often used in B2C marketing are not effective when trying to attract businesses. There is no mass marketing here. Instead, businesses that market to other businesses need to work closely with potential customers in order to help a group of decision-makers with different interests reach consensus. Moreover, when a deal is closed it is usually long-term and therefore means a steady and usually larger cash flow.

This is where relationship marketing kicks in. Building an effective relationship with a potential client is influenced by three fundamental drivers: relationship quality, breadth, and composition. I will explain the three in this post.

Relationship quality includes the concepts of embeddedness, closeness, and strength of social bonds between the players active in the network formed between the seller and the client. A high-quality relationship is one that incorporates trust, commitment, reciprocity norms, and exchange efficiency. Commitment refers to the willingness of both parties to play an active role in keeping the relationship strong and continual. Trust is crucial to effective and efficient cooperation. Defined reciprocity norms allow both sides to have similar and coordinated expectations and beliefs about their duties and rights in the relationship. Last but not least, exchange efficiency refers to an effective use of monetary and non-monetary resources that both sides invest in the relationship.

Relationship breadth addresses the creation of a vast and close network between multiple elements in both companies. Through this dynamic network of bonds, the seller can learn about the complexity of the client’s operations and expose opportunities and threats in regards to the deepening of the relationship. Creating an inter-organizational network rather than only a few connections also makes the relationship itself resistant to potential turnover of key contacts and to micro- and macroeconomic changes.

Relationship composition relates to the diversity of the relationship in the seller-customer network. Building a close relationship with a diverse group of decision makers can help the seller gain a greater understanding of the organizational politics and culture and use that information to his or her advantage. A diverse network can also assist the seller in customizing offers to fit the client’s exact needs.

If we embrace a broader look at the relationship marketing principles I shared here, we can put them to use in any business relationship. More specifically, I find them to be extremely relevant to the virtual corporation that is being built right here on SohoOS.

Palmetier, Robert W. “Relationship Marketing.” Marketing Science Institute Relevant Knowledge Series (2008) : n. pag. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.

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