Michael and Sam had always had two things in common. Both had an entrepreneurial streak, and both liked pasta. So it came as no surprise to their families when each decided to open a noodle shop.

Michael went east. Sam went west. Each was young and filled with zest to spread a love for quality noodles and gourmet sauces while turning a nice profit.

Gradually, time and distance took their toll. Michael and Sam fell out of touch... until they met again at an industry trade show in Chicago.

Sam spotted his friend first. He walked over and threw his arm around Michael’s shoulder, adding a friendly shove for good measure. But as Michael swiveled around, the smile on Sam's face turned to confusion. Michael was rigid, and his eyes were cold. He didn't look happy. In fact, he looked downright hostile. Sam grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side, away from the noise on the show floor. 

Michael opened up. He told Sam how anxious he was about his business. His territory was being threatened from all sides. New shops were starting to sell gourmet noodles. The big chains were beginning to offer more pasta options, too. Michael was terrified that his customers would start to defect. He had come to the show looking for new sales tactics, to be trained in guerilla marketing, and to attend a boot camp on competitive intelligence. He was here to find out how to smash his competition. And he felt profoundly threatened when he saw that his enemies—his competitors—were there doing the same thing.

Sam smiled. He told his friend that it sounded like he was waging a war.

Michael bristled. He launched into an impassioned argument. Isn’t business a military struggle? Don’t executives brag about reading Sun Tzu’s 'The Art of War?' Doesn't everyone own books like 'Waging Business Warfare?' Even the word 'company' means a group of soldiers.

Sam looked amused.

Michael went on the offense. Business is war! The goal is to destroy and obliterate the competition before they do it to you. You know Nike? In the 60's, their mission statement was ‘Crush Adidas!’

Sam considered his friend’s angry face and tense frame. Softly, he asked: Is it working?

Michael gave a tired sigh. It was clear that it wasn’t.

Sam put his hand on Michael's shoulder. He challenged his friend to wonder if there was a better way.  

What would happen if you focused on stocking and selling good products? On understanding your customers and anticipating their needs? On building a business that's good for your customers, good for your employees, and good for you?

Relationship Marketingis what Sam called it.

He began to explain. It's a marketing method that's about the lifetime value of customer relationships,instead of individual sales.It's an approach where your goal is building longstanding connections with your customers. And those relationships translate into sustained sales.

Michael was listening, engaged.

Relationship marketing leads to sales that continue over a long period of time. And it brings with it goodwill,  loyalty, and positive word-of-mouth. All of that leads to profitability. And you'll be at peace with your employees, your vendors, and your customers. That's got to be worth something to you.

Sam continued. Relationship Marketing allows you to concentrate on your greatest assets—the  one-to-one connections that you have with your customers. The natural extension of building these relationships is increased sales, a rise in referrals, and lower price sensitivity. And I'll bet you wouldn't mind that, would you?

Michael cocked his head. Sam traced the plan on the palm of his hand.

The first question you need to ask is, whatdo my customers want? You'll answers with the basics: good selection, good staff, good service, convenient hours, fair prices. Those are the baseline.

Then you need to go further. You need to ask, whatwould my customer want? You need to think. What more could I do to help them? How else could I make their lives better? What extra bit could I provide that would benefit them? And when you start giving value that the customers didn't even ask for—that's where relationships are forged.

Michael made a face. If this is such a good system, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Sam laughed.

Because it takes more work. Because most business owners are looking for a silver bullet. For a sales trick, a marketing gimmick, a magical advertising idea. Something that will suddenly flood the store with customers.

Relationship Marketing is planting. Nurturing. Cultivating. And gathering the bounty down the road.  It’s about ROI that is rich, heavy, and mature. But it takes willpower to wait for the reaping.

Michael looked out at the show floor. He thought about the stress he had been living with. How his business had begun to sicken him. How poisoned his life had become with conflict.

Finally he spoke.

Alright. Enough with the war already. I've already been scarred by enough bullets. I want to get out of the trenches. I'm ready to see what will happen when I throw some seeds in them. 

 Rafael Mael is Marketing Strategist for Brand Launcher, a business and marketing strategy  firm based in Baltimore and with a team across the US and in Canada, Israel and South Africa. Don't miss Rafael's session, "The New Rules of Relationship Marketing" on Wednesday, September 19 at the Retailer Workshop before Natural Products Expo East.