Building Relationships with Today’s Customers


Relationship selling is about creating positive, lasting impressions with customers.  For example, Carrabba’s Italian Grill is one of my favorite restaurants in Knoxville.  During our 22nd anniversary, my wife and I celebrated there.  Our waitress was very attentive to our needs.  In terms of positioning, I think the restaurant is above Olive Garden.  

Yet, even though I had a high level of praise for this business, I became a little irritated when our waitress took a break and left us unattended.  It took us some time to get over that situation.  Therefore, customer satisfaction can be a little fickle and make a customer-centric approach difficult. 

Building relationships with customers is very important for sustainable success for businesses.  However, some customers have a negative reaction to the seller-buyer interactions (i.e. salespersons in retail pressuring customers to buy).  Although selling is about business transactions, selling is also about building relationships. Consequently, the concept of relationship selling is a hot commodity in a hypercompetitive environment. 


For this blog, we will examine the basic concept of relationship selling.  Relationship selling requires somewhat different skills than traditional selling as it involves securing, building, and maintaining long-term relationships with profitable customers. 

Furthermore, many organizations simply do not consider customers when planning their sales strategy.  Mark Johnston and Greg Marshall, authors of Relationship Selling, share four relationship mistakes by businesses which are (1) wasting customer’s time, (b) behaving  as a victim instead of an employed salesperson, (3) lacking the understanding of the customer’s business, and (4) bringing problems instead of solutions to the job. 

For example, Carrabba’s Italian Grill failed to adequately address our needs due to a focus on their internal operations rather than how to maximize their profit.  However, it is only due to relationship selling that we will go back. 

Furthermore, Paul Peter and James Donnelly, authors of Marketing Management, suggest that profitable marketing begins with understanding customer needs. Yet, it is a trait that is not gained by accident.  Being a professional in a highly technical field, we are required to possess certain skills and abilities. Finally, serious businesses cannot afford to master the concepts of selling relationships. It should begin today!

 Please discuss your personal experience with relationship selling.

 © 2013 by Daryl D. Green


8 thoughts on “Building Relationships with Today’s Customers

  1. Dr. Green,

    You have made a valid point by bringing up the importance of relationship selling. Your experience with Carrabba’s is much like my experience I had once in Mississippi-except much less grotesque.
    I still remember that time I went to Applebee’s in Ridgeland, MS hoping for that hamburger I craved all week. I was pregnant with my son and decided that day that I needed an Applebee’s hamburger. However, after an hour of watching my waitress talk on the phone, flirt with the other waiters, or disappear altogether, I walked out. So, not only did I not get my hamburger, I was so disgusted by my waitresses’ behavior that I vowed never to go back to Applebee’s.

    My question now is how does relationship selling apply or change in a time when much of our selling and buying is done over the internet? How can we recognize when online companies are using relationship selling as a strategy in their marketing approach? Could it be as subtle as the personalized ads that we often find on the side of the company website, matching our previous purchases?

    According to the textbook, Kotler and Keller suggest, relationship marketing/selling may not be operational in all circumstances, but when it is the appropriate strategy and carried out efficiently, there will be just as much focus on customers as products (Kotler & Keller, 2012, p.84).

    I look forward to your thoughts.

    Kotler, P., & Keller, K. (2012). Kotler & keller, marketing management. (14 ed., p. 584). Pearson.

    • Rania,

      Outstanding insight! I love your personal story about Applebees.

      Yet, you asked a series of questions: “My question now is how does relationship selling apply or change in a time when much of our selling and buying is done over the internet? How can we recognize when online companies are using relationship selling as a strategy in their marketing approach?”

      Your question is very interesting; it focuses on the medium (i.e. Internet). Don’t know if I have a perfect answer because relationships are often complicated. We often have face-to-face relationships with different individuals. Yet, the depth of these relationships are often different. I think you can have an effective, intimate selling relationship such as Amazon has with it’s customers. Therefore, companies are attempting to build selling relationships online too.

      Professor Green

      • Dr. Green and Rania

        Interesting thoughts on relationship selling in an area with virtually zero human interaction. Obviously, we all know the Internet is eating away at profits and traffic for traditional bricks and mortar retailers. This eliminates face to face communication and lowers the ability to build relationships. However, for online companies and for those of us that prefer person to person contact I don’t think all is lost. Online companies should stay true to consistency with their brand and to the enduser experience by not constantly changing the process of how customers interact with the company. “Robert Cialdini advocates that the consistency principle can be a powerful tool to encourage people to say “yes” to your proposition. The principle also provides a psychological underpinning of the fact that it is much easier to retain than attract clients — and we don’t have to be super-great business people (and we certainly don’t need to offer “excellent customer service” to retain most of our clients.” (Buckshon, 2013) For me, I am much more likly to purchase from an online retailer if I have purchased form that retailer perviously. I essentially have a relationship with that retailer because I know what to expect.

        Consistency and marketing: Small commitments lead to big actions.

      • Josh,

        Interesting observations!

        Since there is no face-to-face interaction, what would make you purchase from an online seller (that you haven’t purchased from before)? It’s a question that all online (and off line) sellers want/need to know?

        Professor Green

  2. Dr. Green,

    I am not sure, but I will know it when I see it. The Zaltman Metaphor Elictation Technique stats “most thoughts and feelings are shaped by deep metaphors.” (Kolter & Keller, 2012, p.106) Basically for me, this means when I feel right or comfortable about making a purchase, I will proceed. Otherwise I’ll look elsewhere or stop completlly. I can’t predict how I might feel about things in the future. However, a know consistent experience will most likely win every time.

    • Josh,

      I agree with your points as well as those found within “The Zaltman Metaphor Technique.” However, those ‘thoughts and feelings’ are more applicable when you’re considering making a purchase for a product/service from a company who you’ve dealt with before and had a pleasant experience with. But for sake of discussion, let’s say you’ve made 20 purchases from Amazon in the last six months, but one of those purchases was unpleasant in some form or fashion. At that point, you’re more likely to brush that experience off as a rarity than as a new behavior on part of Amazon.

      However, if that was your first experience with Amazon, then most likely you’ll consider doing business elsewhere. Although, this may be subjective on my end, I can confidently say that the first and only time I had this type of experience with AllegiantAir, I vowed to never do business with them again. According to The Sales Blog, “All things being equal, relationships win. All things being unequal, relationships still probably win.” That’s why I believe that – regardless of the product a company is selling – a customer is less likely to do business with that company (again) if he feels unwanted.

      Iannarino, Anthony. (2012). “The End of Relationship Selling.” The Sales Blog. Accessed from: (Blog posted on 08-31-2013).

  3. Dr. Green,

    The concept of relationship selling is such a basic concept that it boggles my mind as to why so many businesses fail to execute it so properly. You know that whole saying about the customer always being right? Well, even if there ever was a situation where maybe, just maybe the customer wasn’t right (perhaps, due to his/her lack of understanding the situation at hand), never should a business make the customer feel like this is true. Research has shown that “the vast majority of unsatisfied customers will never come right out and tell you they’re unsatisfied. They simply leave quietly, later telling everyone they know not to do business with you.” (“30 Ways to Show”, Entrepreneur).

    With that in mind, most of the negative relationships I’ve had with a business result from an employee failing to understand what I’m asking them and lashing out at me because they’ve had a bad day. According to Jim Cathcart from the video above, never should an employee (hopefully, a “friend”, at this point) exuberate his negative attitude onto you. Otherwise, it’s impossible to gain much confidence in the business-client relationship, and really want to do so in the future, anyways.

    (2010). “30 Ways to Show Your Customers They’re Always Right.” Entrepreneur Magazine. Accessed from:

  4. Relationship selling is the number one goal in the sales industry. Most would think the main goal would be the sale of an item or service but when relationship selling is successful their is much greater chance that customer will return for other goods or services. Relationship selling doesn’t start with a pitch for a certain product but rather it starts with a conversation. A conversation to learn about your customer, a conversation to see where your customer fits. “In relationship selling, you become a form of support for your clients. Your services or products become something they depend on, and the more you can suit their needs and make their jobs easier, the better they will respond to additional sales offers.” [1] My relationship building in business started at the University of Tennessee where I was selling athletic tickets. I had to realize that I wasn’t selling tickets I was selling the team on the field and my passion for that Tennessee Football. Customers where able to identify with that and helped me learn to establish relationships first and foremost.

    [1]Obringer, L. A. (2011, September 16). How sales techniques work. Retrieved from

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