Companies truly interested in creating long-term customer relationships might heed the words of Thomas Schelling.

Schelling said the way one strengthens a relationship between two parties is by "tying their hands," in effect making both sides vulnerable and dependent on each other.

Promises that "we're really interested in making you satisfied" won't work. That sounds like little more than a one-night stand. And technology alone—in the form of customer relationship management programs—can't build close relationships.

If you want to build a forever relationship with your customers, you must understand the characteristics of a quality relationship before taking the necessary steps to build and manage long-term relationships.

The key to all long-term relationships between business-to-business (B2B) partners is symmetrical dependence. As Schelling suggests, each party in the relationship must be equally dependent on the other.

Relationships are confusing

As most of us know from personal experience, relationships are complex. Building a long-term relationship—like a good marriage—is both hard and time-consuming, which is why bookstores are filled with volumes on relationship counseling. Long-term B2B relationships are no less difficult.

The entire subject gets more confusing pretty quickly, especially when you start thinking hard about whether you're currently in a good relationship.

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is the CEO and founder of MarketingProfs. He's also a longtime marketing professor and mentor at the University of Southern California, where he leads Mindful USC, its mindfulness center.