Over the past 15 years, business-to-business marketers have focused on the pipeline—leads converting to opportunities converting to wins. The reason was simple: Pipelines are a measurable construct that brought discipline and financial credibility to what had been a "fuzzy" and much-maligned corporate function.

However, when one looks past the standard milieu of CRM system installations, pipeline dashboards, and lead-scoring models, the idea of marketing to enhance relationships among networks of decision makers, influencers, and users has remained alive and well, particularly at companies pitching complex products or solutions to large enterprises.

Relationship marketing (RM) emphasizes customer retention and satisfaction over short-term transactions, with the goal of developing and maintaining a base of committed customers that generates profit for the organization.

Unfortunately, while RM organizations are common in B2B marketing organizations, marketers have been slow to implement the same rigorous, data-driven approach to RM as they have with "pipeline marketing." Some organizations thus have trouble understanding and optimizing their ongoing interaction with customers, leading to more guesswork than understanding when it comes to building an enterprise RM strategy.

With this in mind, and based on years of working with RM organizations in many of the world's largest B2B companies, we've identified four key steps that marketers can take to improve both the analytic rigor and ultimate effectiveness of their RM efforts.

But, before we go through these steps, it's important to lay some important theoretical groundwork.

Line-of-Business Influencers Are Key

While functional managers—IT Directors, Office Managers, Controllers, and the like—often sign purchase orders, it is the line-of-business influencers who are most effective in driving demand in large accounts.

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Andy is VP of the Marketing Sciences practice at integrated sales and marketing managed services and consulting firm MarketBridge (www.market-bridge.com).
Laird is a principal in the Marketing Sciences practice.