21st February 2024

In business, as in life, relationships are everything. That’s why relationship marketing is such a powerful strategy for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and the founders of professional services firms.

The data speaks for itself. Gallup found that more engaged customers—a key result of relationship marketing—can bring you:

  • 66% higher sales growth
  • 25% more loyalty
  • 10% higher net profits

Who doesn’t want that?

Yet when I searched for information on “relationship marketing,” I found that Google primarily associates the term with advertising and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

The first result and definition on the search engine results page came from the Association of National Advertisers. It read:

Relationship marketing is a strategy of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that emphasizes customer retention, satisfaction, and lifetime customer value. Its purpose is to market to current customers versus new customer acquisition through sales and advertising.

Notice how it’s all about the good things relationship marketing can do for a business? Retain customers, satisfy customers, squeeze more value out of existing customers, and acquire even more customers.

A new definition of relationship marketing

But I propose to turn it around, to focus less on what customers can do for us and more on what we can do for customers. I propose other associations — empathy, trust, compassion, connection — and a new definition:

Relationship marketing is about deeply knowing customers, seeing them as human beings with complex emotions, and empathizing with what they’re going through. The practice focuses on building trust, feeling compassion, accepting and addressing emotions, and creating meaningful connections beyond transactions.

A case study: The transformative power of relationship marketing

One professional pioneering this relationship-driven approach is Holly J. Moore, Founder of Moore Family Law Group. After enduring personal hardships, Holly found purpose in family law, specifically divorce. “They say family law finds you, you don’t find it, and that’s certainly been true in my case,” she said. “I’d always wanted to be a lawyer because I loved the idea of having legal power and influence. But when I was 16, my brother died unexpectedly. That loss helped me see that I could most help people through family law because I could relate to grieving the loss of a marriage and having to dream a new dream for the future.”

Holly embraced relationship marketing when she realized that clients going through divorce desperately need emotional support beyond pure legal counsel. “From my own experience, I knew how hard it was to lose someone and that people getting divorced need more than legal expertise,” she said. “Of all the relationship work we’ve done in that regard, I think the most impactful were changes to our social strategy and implementing the Blue Binder Project.”

The Blue Binder Project is an initiative that gives clients practical, emotional support and life coaching during the divorce process. “While we encourage clients to get therapy if we think it would be helpful, I wanted to offer something that was just as helpful but that clients could do at their own pace, in the privacy of their own homes, and for minimal cost,” Holly said. “We implemented the Project about two years ago, and it’s vastly improved the mental state of clients who’ve used it.”

Holly also led her firm’s content strategy to deliver extended emotional support. She and her team create social media content, blog posts, and videos focused on connection instead of complex legalese. Topics range from communicating with a soon-to-be ex and constructive co-parenting to entrepreneurship—and even saving a marriage.

“When going through a divorce, many people have to deal with financial disparity and custody issues,” she said. “That’s why, besides handling the legal aspects, I encourage clients to tap into their passions and entrepreneurial spirit. I firmly believe that helping them explore new opportunities and gain financial independence is a crucial part of the process. It’s not just about the legalities; it’s about empowering people to create a better future after divorce.”

One statement on the brand’s website explains this approach well:

At Moore Family Law Group, we take a holistic approach to your divorce and family law issues. We will not hesitate to bring in financial planners, insurance brokers, real estate agents, therapists, stylists, interior designers, and whatever else we need to achieve the best results in your case and help you become the best version of yourself.

The firm’s relationship marketing strategy has increased trust in the Moore Family Law Group’s brand and led to positive reviews that celebrate the firm’s empathy, support, and commitment to clients during divorce and custody cases. Clients share how the attorneys offer exceptional levels of compassion and emotional support and how the firm goes “above and beyond” by providing continued assistance and check-ins far beyond the immediate case.

“Clients appreciate that we understand their emotional struggles, which has resulted in stronger relationships and trust,” Holly said, explaining how she sees the most engagement when sharing content that gives value even in times of anguish and uncertainty.”

For example, here’s a snapshot of a recent post focusing on physical wellness on the firm’s Facebook page:

And another from its LinkedIn page, this time focusing on dating after divorce:

And, as Holly explained, the trust gained through relationship marketing pays dividends. “Stronger engagement has led to stronger client relationships, which in turn have directly translated into more referrals and improved retention.”

Getting started with relationship marketing: A practical guide

Holly’s journey offers several lessons you can apply as your company embraces relationship marketing.

1. Embrace empathy and human emotions

This lesson is as valid for SaaS companies, startups, and solopreneurs as it is for professional services firms. Don’t just sell and serve; make it a point to understand the emotions and challenges your customers are going through at every stage of the journey. Look for ways of showing that you genuinely care. For example:

  • If you’re an accountant, let your introductory meeting focus on getting to know clients personally before you dive into their filings.
  • If you run a creative agency, teach designers to recognize and ease the emotional stress that sometimes happens when trying to articulate thoughts around branding.

If you’re a SaaS founder, extend your feedback loops to go beyond technical issues and delve into how customers feel and what they experience when using your software. More importantly, use that feedback to improve the experience and let customers know how their input led to changes.

If you or your staff don’t happen to be the touchy-feely type, take up training on empathy and compassion. Yes, they can be taught.

2. Connect mission and beliefs to align values

Through words and deeds, show how your company’s mission maps to clients’ core beliefs. This connection, which goes beyond business objectives, will resonate. You can focus on shared values by, for example:

  • Featuring testimonials that speak about your social impact work rather than ROI.
  • Volunteering hours to causes you and your clients care about.
  • Promoting content and stories related to your commitment to sustainability, diversity, or other ethical practices that align with client values

These actions show that your brand is dedicated to bringing positive change to the world.

3. Share insights and experiences to educate authentically

Like Moore Family Law Group, create inspirational, helpful content that provides real insight and guidance based on experience. That type of content peppers Moore Family Law Group’s blog, which in addition to the typical legal content, has posts about summer fun, Mrs. Doubtfire, what to wear to court, and perspective—or “how one small, positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.”

Here are several ways your brand can educate authentically, too:

  • Launch a podcast that tackles the challenges your ideal clients commonly encounter.
  • Develop a series of case studies or whitepapers detailing how you customized products or services for specific customers or overcame logistical challenges.
  • Create a video series that answers customers’ typical questions and shares your experiences with the stressful scenarios they may face.

4. Keep up the engagement by forging strong bonds

Create an environment where customers want to return for guidance long after you initially deliver your product or service. The Blue Binder Project is a great example; it lets Moore Family Law Group continue to nurture relationships through life’s ups and downs.

Here are a few ways your brand can take the long view:

  • If you run a services-based firm, create an alumni network for former clients, offering exclusive access to webinars, industry insights, and networking events.
  • If you’re a financial advisor or a health and wellness coach, launch an annual review system where you check in with past clients to discuss their current situation and any new goals or challenges.
  • If your company provides education or training programs, offer past clients ongoing learning opportunities, whether access to updated course materials, invitations to webinars or workshops, or exclusive content that keeps them informed and engaged.

Your turn: Reap the enduring rewards of relationship marketing

Yes, business is about transactions. But it’s also about relationships between people. That truth can sometimes become clouded when companies rush to scale revenue without considering the emotional connections underpinning the numbers.

I encourage you to make relationship excellence your North Star. By embracing empathic communication and striving to give value beyond initial engagements, your brand can be the beacon of trust and loyalty customers long for.

Be patient during the process and have faith that your journey toward understanding and empathy and your commitment to relationship marketing — real relationship marketing — will bring you rewards for years to come.