There's a big difference between networking and relationship marketing, and understanding the variations is key to the success of your customer-acquisition strategies. Think of it like "The Fast and the Furious” versus “Driving Miss Daisy.” The former is full of frenzied scenes that move quickly to the next plot point; the latter takes time to build connections between characters and ends with a bigger payoff.
Let’s take a look at both strategies and the fundamental disparities between them:
Networking is defined as “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.” Seems simple, right? At most networking events, the ultimate goal of everyone in attendance – including you – is making personal gains. And why not? Businesses need customers to stay afloat.
But here’s what you need to remember. Your conversations at networking events are fairly short and superficial. At the end of the night, you'll leave with a bunch of business cards and a faint hope that one or two contacts you made might be suitable for adding to your mailing list or calling sometime in the future to pitch your product or service.
Relationship marketing, on the other hand, involves forming emotional connections with others whom you feel would genuinely benefit from what you’re offering. You don’t just want to close the deal or gain a repeat customer, but develop a mutually beneficial rapport based on trust and ongoing communication over the long term. It's a more rewarding strategy nurtured over time and one that makes you feel good, like you're making a real difference in the customer's life – AND it usually results in strong brand loyalty and free word-of-mouth referrals.
Remember the heyday of pharmaceutical sales, when the salesperson would take clients on trips or procure them top-tier tickets to sold-out concerts and other events? Those sales reps were engaged in relationship marketing. They weren’t talking solely about products, but instead had shared experiences with clients and got to know them outside of the boardroom. Those customers were loyal because of the symbiotic relationship created with the sales rep over the long term.
Choose Relationship Marketing
So how can you turn a run-of-the-mill networking event into an opportunity for real relationship marketing? Think about your underlying motivation. If it's simply to find a new customer, stick with what you normally do. But if you want to identify someone who can really benefit from what you do – and with whom you'd actually like spending time – relationship marketing is more your game. Because when people feel like you're genuinely interested in them, everyone wins.