Given all the talk these days about relationship marketing, B-to-B auctions, and eWebs of all sorts, one might get the impression business relationships are changing in a fundamental way. This view, however, is likely to be misguided. This is because it is based on the idea that the Internet will do away with all social aspects of business relationships.

One central idea throughout current discussions is the challenge of building close relationships with customers. While this is a reasonable goal, it begs the question as to whether all business customers want a close relationship.

Here we will try to examine the conditions under which a customer might want such a relationship. More importantly, a good understanding of this will help you to appreciate when the efforts of building a close relationship are not warranted (just think how much time you can save if you stop trying to build close relationships with a customesr who don't want one!).


Academics in marketing and sociology have, based on several years of close observation, pointed out the importance of "dependence" in understanding close relationships.

In short, business customers want a close relationship with a seller when they are buying something that makes them dependent on the seller. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense.

When a customer is dependent on a seller, they need a close relationship. For example, imagine the customer is putting their entire Internet business in the hands of a Internet consulting company. The customer is now dependent on the consulting company. Can you see how the customer might now want a close relationship? Won't they need the consulting company to be their in case anything happens?

We've written about this in some previous articles (Is CRM really about Relationships? and Customer Loyalty is Underwater), but we never really mentioned what makes a customer dependent. So, here we will try to fill out the story.

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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.