relationship marketing definition

Contributor(s): Laura Aberle

Relationship marketing is a facet of customer relationship management (CRM) that focuses on customer loyalty and long-term customer engagement rather than shorter-term goals like customer acquisition and individual sales. The goal of relationship marketing (or customer relationship marketing) is to create strong, even emotional, customer connections to a brand that can lead to ongoing business, free word-of-mouth promotion and information from customers that can generate leads.

Relationship marketing stands in contrast to the more traditional transactional marketing approach, which focuses on increasing the number of individual sales. In the transactional model, the return on customer acquisition cost may be insufficient. A customer may be convinced to select that brand one time, but without a strong relationship marketing strategy, the customer may not come back to that brand in the future. While organizations combine elements of both relationship and transactional marketing, customer relationship marketing is starting to play a more important role for many companies.

relationship marketing elements
Effective relationship marketing involves a variety of overlapping strategies and technologies that help foster a deeper, long-term relationship with current and prospective customers.

Implementing a relationship marketing strategy

Relationship marketing is based on the tenets of customer experience management (CEM), which focuses on improving customer interactions to foster better brand loyalty. While these interactions can still occur in person or over the phone, much of relationship marketing and CEM has taken to the Web.

With the abundance of information on the Web and flourishing use of social media, most consumers expect to have easy, tailored access to details about a brand and even expect the opportunity to influence products and services via social media posts and online reviews. Today, relationship marketing involves creating easy two-way communication between customers and the business, tracking customer activities and providing tailored information to customers based on those activities.

For example, an e-commerce site might track a customer's activity by allowing them to create a user profile so that their information is conveniently saved for future visits, and so that the site can push more tailored information to them next time. Site visitors might also be able to sign in through Facebook or another social media channel, allowing them a simpler user experience and automatically connecting them to the brand's social media presence.

This is where CRM and marketing automation software can support a relationship marketing strategy by making it easier to record, track and act on customer information. Social CRM tools go further by helping to extend relationship marketing into the social media sphere, allowing companies to more easily monitor and respond to customer issues on social media channels, which in turn helps maintain a better brand image.

This was first published in November 2014

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