It’s the time of year when everyone’s thinking about romance. But did you ever think about how much “romance” is involved in building and sustaining customer relationships?

I look at the sales and marketing process and it very much resembles the “courtship” we see in our early romantic endeavors. We put our best foot forward, wear our finest clothing, listen attentively, and talk endlessly about the “benefits” of entering the relationship. We wine and dine and woo. (Yep, just like marketing).

Then, that special somebody says “yes.”

In business, we send a thank you card, perhaps, and then what happens?

Well, if our goal was to “close” the sale, probably not much else, as those selling hand the “delivery” off to another department. But if our goal was to open the door to the relationship, and everyone in the company understands that, the romance will continue, as everyone, in every position understands the value they deliver to the overall customer experience.

Both in business and in life, romance is a process, not an event.

In our acquisition oriented society we often forget to think beyond what will happen after we get the sale (or the mate, for that matter. I often look at the magazines, some two inches thick, that focus on having the “perfect wedding” but wonder where people get their information on crafting a lifelong marriage.)

We seem to focus on the “getting” so much more than the keeping (and keeping happy.)

I am astounded when I speak to companies that invest heavily in the sales and marketing to get new customers but seem to miss the point about investing in the “maintenance” and “nurturing” activities that help them keep the customers once they have acquired them. Perhaps if they ran the numbers they would discover that they might just double their bottom line profitability if they could keep happy only 5% more of the profitable customers they lose.

Sadly, still, many don’t look at the numbers that way, so they keep spending money on the “getting” rather than the “keeping” and cutting out the very activities that over time build relationship.

I wonder how many companies really keep track of how much money they spend on getting new customers.

My experience tells me that it costs anywhere from 6 – 30 times more to get a new customer than it does to keep one you already have (and keep them happy.) Do you know what it costs you?

So let’s play that thought out for a minute. Let’s say it costs you $500 in sales and marketing costs to get a new customer – how long will it take you to break even on the cost of the acquisition?

If you’re “average” it will take 18 – 24 months before you create enough profit from the account to come out even. If you lose the customer before the second year – you’ve lost money on the proposition. No wonder every one is so exhausted!

So what can you do? For one thing you could start doing the math and understand what customers are costing you to get and maintain. For another you could take a look at your existing “Romance” process.

Don’t have one? Create one.

Do you have regular methods in place for gathering customer feedback (yes, even complaints?) Do you have a means for regular two-way communication with your customers to let them know what’s new with you and to find out what’s new with them? (Social media has made this easier.)

Do you have a systematic way of saying thank you and letting customers know you really appreciate their business? Do you regularly refresh the “soft skills” that people need to have to demonstrate customer-caring? Do you have a dedicated retention budget and process?

If you don’t, perhaps you should. Romance is a process, not an event. Think of romance as the “cultivation” of the relationship. Think of it as a synchronized, value based customer contact process focused on building and sustaining a happy, profitable relationship over time.

And ask this question frequently “If we’re not romancing our customers, who is?”

Oh yes, Have a Happy Valentines’ Day!

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