The economists are still telling us how bad the U.S. economy is, but don't say anything about the bad economy to your local Wal-Mart greeter.

His or her employer just witnessed revenues grow by 12 percent in 2002, to $246.5 billion. He or she will probably proudly let you know that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was just ranked number one—again—by Fortune magazine, leading the top 500 corporations for a second year in a row.

How do they do it?

Sam Walton's 1992 book Made In America has all the details, but let me sum up: Wal-Mart knows relationship marketing. Rule No. 8 of "Sam's Rules for Building A Business" holds the secret to this winning formula of success. He says, "Let them (your customer) know you appreciate them."

So what has Wal-Mart done to show that they appreciate their customers? They use one-to-one relationship marketing tactics, executed by the famous Wal-Mart greeter.

The Wal-Mart greeting was the original method used by the giant retailer to show customers that they are appreciated. A greeter at the door thanks customers for coming in, assists with a shopping cart, and provides a "goodbye thank you" upon departing the store. The friendly senior citizen dressed in the blue vest conveys warmth and personality to every guest entering or exiting a Wal-Mart store.

So why don't others adopt this simple marketing tactic?

Some do. Meijer retail stores also use greeters; many restaurants, hotels and other businesses do the same. But most don't—because relationship marketing is not as simple as it seems. It takes a type of commitment different than traditional marketing.

Relationship Marketing Has 4 Key Components:

  • It has to be personalized. Personalization can come in the form of a highly targeted direct mail piece, a phone call or email. Obviously the handshake and a smile illustrated by Wal-Mart greeters also work well in personalizing the relationship.
  • It has to be targeted. Wal-Mart invests money in maintaining relationships with existing customers. By targeting this group, Wal-Mart establishes long-term relationships with their most loyal shoppers. Targeting customers through programs that reward loyalty can result in big returns over the life of the customer.
  • It has to be meaningful. Your marketing message has to connect in an emotional way to establish a lasting relationship. If the Wal-Mart greeter did not look you in the eye while saying "hello," the greeting would not have a lasting impact.
  • It should be interactive. Many Wal-Mart greeters learn the names of frequent shoppers., a subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., does a great job of asking for the relationship online by providing special offers to those who supply their email address. It is important to make relationship marketing interactive so you can hear feedback, determine what is working and what is not.

These key components are essential in relationship marketing programs even if your target audience is not the price-conscious retail shopper that Wal-Mart attracts.

Business Relationship Marketing Can Be Achieved By Following These Tactics:

  • Develop a relationship by mixing knowledge with fun. Plan events for clients and prospects that educate while offering entertainment and social interaction.
  • Send out a monthly eNewsletter or eZine with useful content that connects to your clients and prospects. This tactic will show them that you care about their business and value their time by providing them information they can use. Stay away from a sales focus. Instead, provide industry and product news with some entertainment value.
  • Initiate an appreciation program. Send customers thank you cards or gifts after making a purchase. You can also send a thank you gift to show appreciation for their business on the account anniversary date.
  • Look for ways to help your clients and prospects beyond your own capabilities. Refer them to other quality vendors, share an article related to their business or put them in touch with someone who can help. This will go a long way in building a relationship.
  • Make phone calls. Email is easy but picking up the phone and thanking someone for using your company can go a long way. Don't forget the value of real conversations and face-to-face meetings.

There is a reason why Wal-Mart employs more than 164,000 associates 55 and older to greet customers at the door.

Is it time to start a relationship with your customer or prospect?

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Doug Edge serves as Vice President of Rumba Direct Inc. ( a top 100 direct marketing agency. Doug has served as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ball State University.