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Relationship Chain

Have you ever felt that each year, there is yet another set of marketing buzzwords that you need to learn? Service marketing, value marketing, values-based marketing, content marketing, Social Media marketing, and the list goes on. What these terms all have in common is the connection between your organization and its target prospects: the relationship.

While much has already been written about relationship marketing, sometimes unpacking the term in a different way will yield some different (and valuable) insights. Consider, the four Rs of Growth:  Recruitment, Retention, Referral, and Recovery.

Recruitment: This speaks to the task of attraction – developing awareness and preference for your organization in the minds of your targets.  Recruitment is not just about attracting new employees – it’s about attracting new members or clients.

Retention: Too often, organizations fall into the trap of taking existing relationships for granted.  Yet, it is far easier to retain an existing client than to find a completely new one.  Beyond excellence in service quality, the question for a growing organization is simple: what processes exist to recognize and celebrate these existing relationships? And do these processes serve the interests of your clients… or only serve your own?

Referral: Growth by referral, and the development of powerful references, don’t come by accident.  Generating referrals requires three key ingredients:  service quality that exceeds expectations, a strong relationship, and remembering to ask. Too often, we do the first two, but forget the third.

Recovery: There is a spectrum of performance from poor, to good enough, to great, to perfect. And while no organization aims for poor or good enough, sometimes the stars don’t align just right, and the client becomes disappointed or distraught. There are two steps to recovery: immediately fixing the issue, and then examining your processes and systems to prevent a re-occurrence, both for this client and any others. (There is also a third step, which is sharing the episode within your organization, so that everyone learns from the occurrence.)  After working so hard to recruit a client, losing them is the last thing you want.  A strong relationship allows the difficult conversation to take place respectfully and productively, as both parties are seeking to achieve the same goal.

While recruitment, retention, referrals, and recovery are critically important, they are all really just aspects of a deeper requirement for growth: Relationships. And while Relationship Marketing may seem like just another buzzword, it is foundational.

This week’s action plan: Identity the one most effective activity or initiative that you do for recruitment, retention, referral and recovery. If you work on doing these first four Rs well, you will develop the fifth: Relationship.

Marketing Insight:  Too often marketers are concerned with only one of these Rs, Recruitment – the latest campaign, branding, and conversion to sales.  Yet so much of marketing is dependent on Retention, Referral, and Recovery: if marketers only spent a bit more time on these, they might find Recruitment significantly easier.

A request, since I do try to follow my own advice:  There is another “R” word you might consider:  Randall.  You might not know, but I am one of 60 Certified Speaking Professionals (CSPs) in Canada and am in the exclusive 12% of speakers who have been awarded this designation internationally.  I speak  about using digital marketing to rethink how to engage a community and grow.  If you are planning a conference or event this year, or know someone who is,  I would certainly appreciate a referral.  (Here is a page that you might share:  Another R:  Really appreciated.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


The Relationship Curve is one of the most important Marketing 2.0 concepts around.  It states that as relationships improve over time, the target person (prospective client, prospective member, prospective employee, etc) moves through the stages of awareness, preference, trial, and commitment.

The job of marketing is to put together initiatives that help that target person or organization along on this journey.  Those initiatives can be as simple as PR (awareness), blogging (preference), or an interview (trial).  Or they can be more complex, and cross a number of these stages:  a Social Media strategy, a new product launch plan, etc.

Key marketing question: What happens after Commitment?  If there is a significant investment in marketing to get a target to finally transact, how can this marketing investment be spread across transactions beyond the initial one, both additional ones with the same client, and additional ones through referral?

To answer, look more deeply at two parts of the relationship curve: Trial and Commitment.  Trial is the test drive, while commitment is the transaction. If the target transaction is to sell a book, then a potential Trial initiative might be to give away a few chapters, or to provide a discount coupon.  Or if the target commitment is a large service engagement or a large product sale, one Trial initiative might be to sell them a book.  The book in these two cases serves two purposes: a demonstration of commitment, and a trial for the next transaction.  Every transaction is merely a test drive – a Trial – for the next transaction.  We define this as the Relationship Chain.


Yes, the marketing strategist must determine the initiatives underlying the Relationship Curve, but to build a strong, engaged “ecosystem”, the Relationship Chain demands far more, starting with excellent delivery. Not only must there be no buyer’s remorse, but the post-commitment experience must vastly exceed their expectations.

The next step is to define the potential chain of next-step products and services that your target might be interested in – the actual Relationship Chain.

For an association, the Relationship Chain might look like this:

  • Attends monthly meeting as a guest.
  • Becomes a member.
  • Chooses to attend annual conference.
  • Volunteers on a committee or at an event.
  • Sits on Board.
  • Seeks certification.
  • Teaches courses in the area.

In professional services – say an accounting firm – the Relationship Chain would be quite different:

  • Attends a tax planning seminar.
  • Decides to get a second opinion on a corporate tax matter.
  • Moves corporate tax to the firm.
  • Moves audit and advisory services to the firm.
  • Moves personal tax to the firm.
  • Asks the firm to help with a transaction due diligence.
  • Responds positively to a pro-active pitch for management consulting re technology.
  • Attends the firm’s training sessions.
  • Sits on the firm’s industry advisory board.

Finally, with a strong relationship comes the right to ask them for help.  Fundamentally, this means doing three things:

  1. Ask for testimonials, via LinkedIn, and also on video.
  2. Empowerment: help tool them up to advocate on your behalf, and share their experience with you with their network.
  3. Ask directly for referrals.

This week’s action plan:  There are only two types of relationships:  those that are getting better, and those that are getting worse.  Look at your long-timers – what did their Relationship Chain look like?  And then look at the most recent people or organizations that have made a commitment to you:  what is the next step in their specific Relationship Chain?  Finally, document all of your organization’s Relationship Chains.  Once you do this, you’ll know far more about your organization’s marketing priorities – and you’ll build in a process that can only improve your relationships – and your brand.

More Insight:  Interested in another take on the concept of customer journey?  Read about Omni-channel marketing.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders