What is Relationship Marketing?

When I first started my business, I evaluated what I had. No track record, no work product, no customers. What I did have, was a large network of people who believed in me, would support me, and knew my skillset. Those relationships ended up being the best asset I had to start my business, grow that business into more opportunities, and thrive.

Relationship Marketing is the practice of building and cultivating authentic relationships with key contacts in order to leverage the strength of your network for business success. Relationship marketing is about prioritizing who we already have a connection with, rather than solely looking at “new” leads.

Every business relies on new business. Marketers are trying to generate new leads from channels and sales is trying to close new deals. It’s all about the influx of the new. Although there’s vast opportunity (and in many industries, a necessity) in attracting business through new relationships, but there’s a disconnect in tapping into your existing network for repeat and referral business.

Across all industries, it costs anywhere from 5 to 25x more to acquire a new customers versus the cost of cultivating a relationship with an existing customer. And in real estate, law, and consulting, for example – 80% of new opportunities come from your existing network. These are just a couple of the key stats that encompass a wider business movement — enter Relationship Marketing. Relationship Marketing helps you proactively and systematically grow your business through building strong, personal relationships.


The core problem that Relationship Marketing has the power to solve, is that we meet so many people and we forget most of them. While they may have thought highly of us initially, as time goes on, that positive impression fades away, and with it, any business opportunities that could have come from a healthy, active relationship.

Where does Relationship Marketing stem from?

We have a natural tendency to favor people with whom we have a personal connection.

Humans rely on social connections to not only help us filter (review sites and “your friends are reading” on social media), but also to protect us from harm – tribes kept us alive. We have very little concern that people with whom we have a strong social connection pose a threat to us and our families, while our reptilian brain reacts with suspicion and fear when engaging with anything outside that trusted social circle. To that end, our best avenue to work with someone is to pierce that reptilian defense and build a personal relationship.

A critical tool for the elite and powerful

Relationship Marketing is nothing new. It has been practiced for centuries. History books are riddled with tales of figures, from Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates, who have excelled at connecting with people and extending their network influence. And one could argue that Dale Carnegie was one of the first pioneers of the field laying out specific tactics in his world renowned book — How to Win Friends and Influence People. The only “revolution” here is codifying the principles and tactics, and making it available to the masses.

This is no different from what you do today.

Relationship marketing has always been around. Whether we’ve been systematic about it or not, the belief that some relationships are more beneficial than cold relationships has been present the whole time.

Relationship marketing is about prioritizing who we already have a connection with, rather than constantly looking for the “new.”

Many Realtors, for example, exert the lion’s share of their efforts on lead generation by buying leads or tweaking their website. But when most of their actual business was generated by their network, this process is completely contrary to their business model. Why should we spend so much of our time in “networking” events and exchanging business cards, when we do little to actually stay in touch afterwards? Why? Well for starters, according to the National Association of Realtors, 88% of Buyers would use their Agent again or recommend them to others; but only 25% of Buyers actually do. Are we leaving money on the table?



Relationship marketing is not how many people you’re blasting out to — it’s how deep those relationships are to help drive even more successes back to you and your network.

We’ve been focusing on the wrong things

Been attracted to too many new shiny objects? Too many tools and techniques to generate new leads? Not enough focus on where business actually comes from? Take a look. Most likely from people you already know. Shouldn’t you be spending the majority of your efforts preaching to your own choir? Other techniques may help in planting the seeds, but without gardening, they’ll stay seeds and never germinate.



We’re in a post-broadcast era of social media
Soon after the turn of the century, “social media” set fire to society through the proliferation of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Just as it altered our social lives, it quickly bled over into our professional personas. It gave us an avenue and demanded we represent ourselves and our brands (personal or corporate) more authentically. However, our egos were gamified, induced to seek more followers, more fans, more likes. Our focus on building authentic relationships has been diluted. As professionals and individuals, we’re seeing the pendulum swing in the other direction – from quantity back to quality. Broadcasting to the public may be part of our strategy, but what matters at the end of the day is the personal, authentic relationships.


The Pillars of Relationship Marketing


We’ve met thousands of “important” people, and undoubtedly meet many more. But we have to prioritize the relationships that can lead to the most business impact, and as priority increases, limit the amount of people at that level. Again, would you spend more time on a person who bought a house with you four years ago, or someone you just met at a coffee shop?

“Like so many other people, I spend my time in email, looking at whatever just came in. But my inbox is just a list of people who have contacted me recently. I was missing out on everyone else, on page 2, 3, 100 – people who I had worked with in the past, but hadn’t had any recent contact with.“

Maintaining Cadence

Just like we forget things over time, we forget relationships too – and people forget us. We call that the time-decay of mindshare. To combat that, prompting interactions on a regular basis reinvigorates the health of the relationship. The cadence can depend on the importance of the relationship, the amount of value being delivered, and the timeliness of an opportunity. Your real estate agent, for example, was involved in one of the biggest, most intimate transactions of your life – the buying of your home – but that was four years ago! How many people have you/they met since?

They are someone who should make a lasting impact. But that was four years ago! How many people have you/they met since? There’s a reason why, according to the National Association of Realtors, only 25% of repeat buyers use their previous agent!

Deliver Value

In order to build mindshare and separate us from the noise of everyone else talking loudly, we must ensure we’re delivering a meaningful, relevant, and/or valuable experience to our contact on every interaction. Just about anyone and everyone can send a newsletter to their sphere – so you need to be the one who sends a personal gift that aligns with their interests, or solves a business challenge.

We should never be afraid to send a quick “just thinking of you” – but how can we go further? Read an example of what our CEO did.

Systematic Approach

Relationship marketing is a long term investment. In order to ensure we’re setting ourselves up for success, we have to have a clear strategy in place that we can execute consistently. Instead of leaving an event with a stack of business cards that sit dormant on your desk – follow a prescribed process to follow up with them after the event and continue over the long term to really turn those relationships into results, this is where a system may help.

“What do I do next? Who do I talk to? Who’s important? What do I do with all these business cards? My sphere was a mess of contacts, and I had no real approach. I took their advice and really starting thinking of a process I could follow after every meeting, every morning, and it has made all the difference”


Investing in our long term business pushes against our natural tendency to optimize for short term gains. So building and maintaining habit is a critical part of our strategy. We may start the beginning of the year with the intention to improve our network, just like we pledge to go to the gym more often. But unless we’re able to jump out of bed, lace up our shoes, and head to the gym, that resolution is meaningless.

“I knew that working on my sphere was the best thing I could do. But every day I was swept up in other things – client calls, fires, email. It took blocking off every morning from 8-8:30 which is just MY time to get me into the habit of reaching out every day. And what a difference it’s made!”

How do I get started?

There is a limit to how many relationships we can keep track of -— unassisted.
We are all prone to forget — the time-decay of memory ensures that. With that loss of memory goes the mindshare others have with us, and vice versa. Our inability to passively retain strong relationships is furthered as we interact with a vast number of people. If our entire world was just limited to working with the people in our neighborhood, this might be a different story. Dunbar’s research has shown that we can only retain 150 relationships at a time (Dunbar’s Number), but we know we need more than that. Do we really think that our entire sphere of important relationships is just a hundred or so people?

How do we implement relationship marketing? How do I get started?

Relationship marketing is a long term play – consistent execution over weeks, months, and years is what can leapfrog you over any competitor. In order execute effectively and consistently, having processes you follow and tools to aid you is critical.

Identify your goals
If you fail to plan, plan to fail. There are many possible intentions and outcomes you can achieve with relationship marketing, underscoring its importance.

Getting a clear view of all of your relationships (at least the key ones) is important. Utilize technology to aid you, but in the least putting together a spreadsheet or whiteboard of who you know and who’s important is a key starting point.

While we may have connected over time with many seemingly “important” people, our time and attention needs to be weighted towards the relationships that can generate value for us. We have to be selective about who makes it into the limited set of contacts that we proactively tend to. Because if we say that there are 300 people that we should stay in touch with on a monthly basis, how effective can we actually be?

Deliver Value
We’re not out to just “stay in touch” with our contacts. The best way to build mindshare, and therefore have value reciprocated back to us, is to deliver value ourselves. This could in fact be in the form of a quick “checking in” email to let us know we’re thinking of them, but as we deliver more value (in the form of useful content, helpful introductions, gifts, and more) the mindshare we build with those relationships increases.


We are huge believers in the power of Relationship Marketing. We’ve seen the impact that strong relationships can have on the world, and we want to bring the knowledge, tactics, and tools to it. After all, that’s why we created Contactually, and why we come in to work every day.

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