There is a good deal of humor surrounding the analogy between sales work and dating, and between customer relationship management and a marriage.The joke that applies immediately after the marriage ceremony is this: “Now, a lifetime of good customer service to ensure retention!”
The marketing/sales process is like a courtship—a romance, if you will—occurring between the company and its customers.
Boy meets girl
Think of the classic story: boy meets girl, and a romance begins. Let’s take the boy’s viewpoint. Within the romance, the boy (if he’s smart) tries to find out as much as he can about the girl. He scrutinizes her closely – who is this girl? What makes her tick? How can he endear himself to the girl in the most efficacious manner?
The boy finds out, as best he can, all he can about this girl. Now he puts on his proverbial thinking cap. He takes stock of what he has to offer, based on what this girl wants. He tries to figure out what he can change about himself to improve his chances.
So, this boy comes up with his checklist and starts to transform himself. Why? So one day, one memorable day (for better or for worse), he can ask that girl to marry him.
In my business, we refer to this as the “See, Transform, Act” model. The boy sees the girl, transforms himself for the girl, and then he acts!
Hopefully, she says yes… and then, as mentioned… a lifetime of customer service to ensure retention!
Possible courtship roadblocks
Now, obviously there is rarely such a thing as a simple romance, and rarely such a thing as a perfectly executed business plan. Various factors, many unexpected, introduce themselves along the way. Here are a few (still from the guy’s point of view):
The girl plays “hard to get”. You begin to execute a plan for finding out all about your customer, and the customer indicates interest. Yet, for some reason, you aren’t able to get the information that you need from the customer to move forward!
The girl doesn’t share all of your ideals. When the customer doesn’t share your ideals, you have to ask yourself if the relationship will feature enough points of compatibility.
The girl wants too much change. The customer likes you, but doesn’t like your product. How much transformation are you willing to undergo for the sake of the customer?
The girl doesn’t know what she wants. The customer knows they need something, but isn’t sure about what they need (but somehow knows enough to know what they DON’T need when they see it…which turns out to be practically everything.) But for some reason they still are interested in you.
Comparisons between marketing/sales and a courtship abound! But now, let’s move to consider the marketing/sales that takes place inside the marriage: customer relationship management.
A number of years ago, my wife jarred me out of deep marital complacency with these words: “Why can’t you treat me as well as you treat your best customer?”
I did have enough wisdom not to respond, “Because you aren’t paying me $150 per hour!” (At that time, my top billable rate.)
In both marriage and business, the cost of not having a good relationship can be very high.
In a marriage, it costs a lot to get divorced: estimates that I have seen indicate that the average cost of a contested divorce is between $20,000 and $40,000—and that is just considering legal fees.
The cost of losing customers due to poor relationship management can also be high. One firm with which I am acquainted lost 30% of its total business in a week through lack of attentiveness to customer needs.
What are the symptoms of a negative relationship?
I have worked with companies that are naturally good at relationship management, and others that are horrible at it. You can recognize right away the difference between the two. In companies that are horrible at relationship management, every perceived problem is automatically escalated to the highest volume, and the blame is always placed squarely in the other camp.
If you have been around multiple businesses, you know that there is often a negative tendency to attribute differing priorities between the company and the customer to “unreasonableness”. If the customer wants something that the company doesn’t seem to be able to provide, the company is being “unreasonable”. Likewise, the company thinks that the customer is “unreasonable” for wanting what it wants. If you have been around enough marriages, you’ll see the same negative tendency.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Good relationship managers both in marriage and in business make the “exchange of differences” productive and positive, work to resolve differences when possible, and ensure that respect and personal responsibility remain a focus. In this way, the customer/spouse always feels valued—even when the decision is to “agree to disagree” or to resolve the difference at a future date.
One byproduct of good relationship management: it keeps the tone of conversation amicable and placid, and that can go a long way in helping both parties feel out the “difference between the differences”. When there isn’t a productive dialogue, all differences seem large—but logically, we know that there are degrees of differences, and each difference has its own importance relative to the others.
Because the skills necessary for good relationship management both in business and in personal relationships are so comparable, I often tell both the staff at my firm and our clients that learning good relationship management (within sales work, project management, personnel management, etc.) will benefit them in their personal lives—because that is the truth. How we handle workplace relationships can spill over into our personal lives, and vice versa.
P.S. I applied myself—I’m still married to the same wonderful woman!
What a good relationship can do for you
I once read a book called Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships. The very first statement in the book, and I mean THE very first (printed in large letters on the inside cover), is this:
“All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. All things being not quite so equal, people STILL want to do business with their friends. HINT: To climb the ladder of success, you don’t need more techniques and strategies, you need more friends.”
That’s it in a nutshell. When you create a friendship, based on honesty and personal responsibility, trust takes over and both parties look for ways to further benefit each other within the relationship. Within the constraints of prudence, generosity gives way to generosity.
If you place a high priority on trust within friendships, it means treating the other party with respect, being willing to listen, and making decisions that are in both parties’ best interests. Communication is frequent and forthright.
When you have that kind of relationship, mistakes made are construed to be “honest mistakes” and the tendency to deal with those issues productively is much greater.
However, we don’t strive to create good relationships just so that the occasional mistake will be tolerated. We need to continue to strive to be the best and not use friendship as an excuse for mediocrity.
What we need to shoot for is this: All things being MORE THAN EQUAL, people want to do business with their friends.
In a marriage, the spouses can’t just each bring 50% to the table. Each individual has to bring 100%. You can’t “kind of” commit to a marriage, and you can’t “kind of” commit to good customer relationship management.
Attentiveness and clear communication
When spouses don’t pay attention to one another, or communicate productively, they risk losing touch with one another.
Imagine this scenario: the girl changes over the course of the marriage; new “customer priorities” emerge. Did the boy recognize those changes as they took place, or two years after the fact? Was he being as attentive as he should have been?
As a good spouse or a good business owner, you need to be attentive not only to the other party specifically, but also to everything that is happening around that person (in other words, the environment or operating conditions).
Example: Your business maintains a high profit margin by keeping your prices high in a poor economy. You aren’t paying enough attention to the operating conditions in which your customer is operating. Will you retain that customer?
Example: Your wife’s parents are going through a lengthy divorce, and you didn’t pay attention while she was telling you about the details as they came in. She is emotionally worn down—and you can’t seem to understand enough to provide support in the right way, at the right time. Will you retain your wife?
Business relationships, as well as personal relationships, can be very complex. If I talk to a mid-level manager in a company about a strategic change of direction, I'm not just talking to that person. Through that person, I'm certainly talking to superiors and subordinates. Through that person, perhaps I am talking to a spouse or a valued friend. Perhaps I am talking to other consultants with overlapping areas of expertise.
This underscores the importance of good business relationships and clear communication. All of the above individuals may have some impact on business decisions. My message has to be clear enough to be received in close to its original form so that the facts and arguments that I have presented are not misconstrued.
The strength of the relationship with the client, moreover, helps to ensure that my thoughts receive a warm reception not just at the point at which they are delivered, but beyond through the multiple possible relays.
Remind them why they are awesome, and why you are awesome
Human nature being what it is, once we have been in a relationship for a while, it is easy to start taking the other person for granted. It is prudent to assume that if you haven’t recently reminded the other person of how great they are (and how great you are!) they might lose track of the value in the relationship.
Business relationships are defined by the value proposition (or “quantifiable truth”) associated with two entities engaging in business based on the merits of the various parties and the benefits to be gained on each side.
However, as I said, merits aren’t always immediately apparent, so good communication is necessary to make sure that the value propositions are heard and understood, and that those propositions continue to be reinforced and strengthened through continued communication over the course of the relationship.
It would be an interesting exercise if we applied the same amount of discipline to assessing our personal lives. I’ll use myself as an example. What is the value proposition that I present to my wife in our relationship? What is the value proposition that I present to my children? To my parents? To my friends? Moreover, how do I effectively communicate this value—not just at the start of the relationship, but throughout its entirety?
I once heard it remarked, and properly so, that in married relationships it is good to move past the point of infatuation—but more importantly, to acknowledge and be content with moving past that point.
But that doesn’t mean that we lose our love and appreciation for the other person. On the contrary, we find a more productive, higher mode of interaction that is sustainable over the long term. If you commit to sacrifice as part of your relationship, it becomes part of who you are—it informs your character. You begin to see the value of “doing the hard things”, and then those things become less difficult to commit to.
Or you don’t, and things start to fall apart.
The recipe for good business and personal relationship management is going the extra mile, doing the hard stuff, and being attentive and communicative. Moreover, it is about creating true friendships whenever and wherever possible, and making a commitment to excellence.
Best wishes for your future life challenges!
About the Author
Peter Mirus is CEO of Trinity Consulting, Inc. in Manassas, Virginia. For more information please visit www.trincon.net.