The concept of relationship marketing came into fashion in the early 1980s, and a decade later (EN: when the present book was published), the authors have marked "astonishing growth in interest" in the topic, which likely indicates it is more than a passing fancy.
It is now better understood that in order for a business to have longevity, it must sustain mutually beneficial relationships. This has long been acknowledged of partners and vendors on whom the business depends to support its operations, but seldom considered in regard to customers on whom the business depends to provide its revenue.
Some have argued relationship marketing is a rediscovery of an approach that had long been the cornerstone of many successful businesses - that it was the standard practice among smaller businesses who served customers prior to the time when mass marketing created distance and anonymity. And while this point is valid, the present interest is not in decreasing the scope of business, so the present task is not as simple as resuming discontinued practices but discovering how the practices of a small and independent firm can be adopted on the grander scale.
The use of the term "relationship marketing" can be traced to business-to-business marketing literature, which focuses on relationships between organizations who have fundamentally the same goals - to push as much product as they can to the market - and which suggests a friendly and collaborative relationship rather than hostility and power-struggle. This, too, is fundamentally different to the relationship between a firm and its customers, so it is likewise insufficient to merely transport the principles and practices of B2B relationships into the B2C realm.
A more fitting model to customer relationships is the services model, which considers the factors a broader range of factors that lead customers to select a brand, and especially those that lead them to repurchase regularly. Work of researchers such as Berry indicate the importance of creating a service climate that supports marketing activities, and draws attention to the strategies that are used to build a cadre of regular customers.
The notion of relationship marketing has emerged in a fractured manner in many academic and industry groups in the US and Europe They have largely been categorized into three basic models.
- Australian - Emphasizes the importance of quality management
- Nordic - Derives from the interactive network theory of industrial marketing
- American - Considers the relationship between the buyer and the seller
In the broad sense, the view of relationship marketing entails a moved from functionally-based marketing to cross-functional marketing, an approach that considers a broader range of "market domains" rather than the traditional customer segment, and a shift from marketing initiatives that focus on customer acquisition to those that emphasize customer retention.
Corollary to this is a the necessity to reconsider internal process to align the organization with the interests of external stakeholders, including suppliers, employees, customers, communities, and the public, as this is necessary to efficiently and effectively maintaining relationships. The authors seem to stammer a bit at the public, but acknowledge that prospective customers, employees, and suppliers are part of that nebulous group.
The first edition of this book was published prior to the explosion of computer-based information technology that allows companies to collect and analyze data in astounding quantities. The authors are impressed by the capabilities, but distressed that CRM solutions are often implemented without understanding of the principles of relationship management, and as such represent a significant danger of enabling firms to do very stupid things quickly and on a large scale.
(EN: It also stands to mention that the present version of this book was published in 2002, which means it will fail to account for technological advances since then, namely mobile computing and geolocation, which are also significant factors that RM can leverage. But following the same logic, technology should be regarded as a tool to achieve strategy rather than a determinant of strategy, so I expect the author's information will be dated but not completely irrelevant in this regard.)
The authors also intend to focus on relationships that involve an exchange of value. Value itself is the key concept on which any economic activity is based - though in the context of business operations, Marketing is "the orchestrator" of such exchanges rather that a direct participant in the delivery and receipt of value between firm and customer.