Relationship Marketing: A Seller’s Pipedream...A Buyer’s Nightmare

Share Article

The author of a new book, "Rivers of Revenue," says that buyers are sick of sellers trying to establish a "relationship" with them. Customers simply want sellers to make it easy for them to find what theyÂ?re looking for, and to make it easy--and pleasant--for them to buy.

Third, relatively few companies have managed to put functional customer relationship management (CRM) systems in place. We see many companies still struggling with basic issues--such as consolidating their customer databases across departments or locations

"Relationship marketing" sounded like a dream come true to sellers. They believed it when they were told that they could "create loyal customers." Kristin Zhivago, the author of a new book called "Rivers of Revenue: What to do when the money stops flowing," says that this is a fantasy, doomed by three killer flaws.

"First, buyers don’t want a relationship with sellers," says Zhivago. "Let's face it--would you want the local car dealer showing up for dinner? Of course not. Everyone knows why sellers are friendly: they want something from you. A seller is a salesman, not your best friend.

"Buyers just want to get what they need. They're not looking for a new buddy," Zhivago continues. "A seller needs to figure out what customers really want, and then make it easy for them to buy it and use it. That's all." Zhivago says surprisingly few companies do this well.

"Second, the 'relationship' scenario requires that sellers know a lot about the customer, and yet customers are often uncomfortable--or downright angry--with attempts to extract personal information about them," Zhivago says. "For example, many online newspapers require that you register just so you can read an article. When you register, they ask your gender and your household income. The most common reaction is, 'None of your business!' Everyone knows that this information can be abused by people who don't have customer interests at heart, and that it will surely lead to an increase in the spam that is already flooding their inboxes.

"The online newspaper wants your gender and household income so they can sell more targeted advertising to their advertisers. But asking for it at this point is invasive--and actually stops many readers from clicking over to the article and seeing the ads in the newspaper. This ends up hurting the newspaper."

"Third, relatively few companies have managed to put functional customer relationship management (CRM) systems in place. We see many companies still struggling with basic issues--such as consolidating their customer databases across departments or locations," Zhivago says. "Even the related term, 'relationship management' looks at it from the wrong point of view. Vendors are not the ones with the power in a customer-vendor relationship. Vendors don't manage customers. The customer is the one with the power.

"Sellers had good intentions when they started trying to implement CRM systems; the goal was to serve the customer. But in many cases the systems ended up depersonalizing customer interactions, causing more grief for customers, not less. How many companies now have a human being answering the phone--so you can simply ask to speak to someone or ask a question? Very few. Instead, the customer is dumped into voicemail hell. Automation only pays when it helps the customer do what he or she wants to do."

If buyers don't want a relationship, what do they want?

"Buyers want to be able to find what they want, get their questions answered, and then make the purchase, with as little hassle as possible," says Zhivago. "This is their Buying Process. Surprisingly, sellers often make it difficult for the customer to buy. Many sellers have never even considered that the customer has a Buying Process. If their selling methods aren't working well, they just push harder--or resort to cheap tricks. They ever see the process from the customer's point of view."

"Rivers of Revenue" makes it easy to understand the customer’s Buying Process for any type of product. It classifies the world’s products and services into four categories, depending on the amount of scrutiny the customer applies to the sale.

"Light Scrutiny products are 'see it, buy it,' products," says Zhivago. When purchasing chewing gum at the checkout counter, the buyer spends only a few seconds deciding. The seller's packaging only has to answer a couple of questions.

Medium Scrutiny products, such as home appliances and office equipment, involve more questions and a longer decision-making process. Heavy Scrutiny purchases, such as cars and houses, require a great deal of scrutiny, more than one buyer, and some kind of legal document. For these three scrutiny levels, there is no excuse for a "relationship" between the buyer and the seller.

Intense Scrutiny purchases include consulting services and large-scale projects. For example, ad agencies and airplane manufacturers sell Intense Scrutiny products and services. These offerings are usually a series of projects or purchases, completed over a long time period.

"Some would say that the Intense Scrutiny sale involves 'a relationship,'--that the buyer and the seller basically 'get married,'" Zhivago says. "But it's not an equal partnership, like a real marriage. The responsibility for the success of the endeavor lies almost completely on the shoulders of the seller. The seller has to earn additional business by successfully completing each new project or delivering a satisfactory product. Meanwhile, competitors are constantly pitching the 'married' customer, who has no moral obligation to remain faithful.

"Even in these 'Intense' situations," Zhivago continues, "the pipedream of customer loyalty--a two-way relationship sellers thought they could count on--is a myth."

"Rivers of Revenue" provides a comprehensive guide to facilitating the customer's buying process. It explains how customers buy products, and then gives readers the selling tools they need to walk with the customer down the primrose path to a completed sale.

Sellers of each type of product are shown what buyers are thinking, how to get their attention, how they want to buy, and what percentage of the marketing budget should be spent on supporting each phase of the customer's Buying Process. They are shown how to build a "Buying Process Map" for each one of their products. "Sellers who follow these marketing budget recommendations can stop wasting dollars on marketing efforts that simply won't work," says Zhivago.

Readers of the book are shown how to interview customers in a way that creates a psychologically safe environment so they reveal things they would never tell a salesperson. Zhivago contends that "people don't tell salespeople what they're really thinking. The customer conceals his inner thoughts and intentions so the salesperson can't use the information to manipulate him into buying."

If the interviews are conducted correctly, customers will say what they really think about the seller's product, company, competitors, and salespeople. The information gathered in these interviews can be used to create selling messages and build marketing and sales tools that will help the customer make a buying decision.

"Buyers will actually reveal the words they hope to hear when a seller gets their attention and describes the product to them," Zhivago says. "Armed with this information, you can reverse engineer a successful sale and manufacture sales in quantity."

Zhivago’s goal in writing this book was to give business owners and managers a roadmap that will lead them to higher sales. Instead of trying to automate "relationships," they can focus on what matters to the customer--easy access to the products they want and a smooth buying process.

The author has been helping CEOs increase their revenues for 35 years. She founded her consulting firm, Zhivago Marketing Partners, Inc., in 1979 in Silicon Valley and relocated to Rhode Island in 1996. She is editor of two online newsletters, Marketing Technology (for marketers) and the Revenue Journal (for company owners). Zhivago is a frequent columnist for business and marketing publications, and speaks worldwide on successful and ethical revenue generation.

"Rivers of Revenue: What to do when the money stops flowing" is published by Smokin’ Donut Books and is currently available at and The hardcover book retails for $24.95 and is 336 pages.

For more information or to schedule an interview with the author, contact Smokin’ Donut Books at 877-474-8738 or

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Kristin Zhivago
Visit website