I want to share some further thoughts with you about developing a so-called “relationship marketing website” based on the book I published, Streetwise Relationship Marketing on the Internet, authored by Roger Parker. But first, if all this sounds like more information than you want to know, I assure you that for some very small service businesses a simple one-page website may be the perfect solution to your Internet needs.

Roger Parker’s thoughts are more geared for those who are willing to put a fair amount of thought and work into perfecting their website model. Parker says that for most businesses, relationship-oriented websites represent the best investment. Relationship-oriented websites take a long-term view of customer and prospect development and are based on setting up a continuing dialogue between the visitor and the website. This dialogue typically involves forms and email. Visitors submit forms that explain their interests and information needs along with their email address. In return, the business renews the relationship at appropriate and/or periodic intervals by sending email to the visitor.

Relationship-oriented websites combine the best of information-oriented and transaction-oriented websites, yet operate from a longer-range perspective. Characteristics you’ll immediately notice include:

  • The home page often focuses on a particular product or service, yet contains links to pages containing helpful information. Benefits other than price may be the key incentive to learn more about the featured product or service.
  • Incentives to register are based on forms that request information about the visitor’s opinion of the website, the visitor’s email and postal addresses, and attempts to qualify the visitor’s areas of interest.
  • Relationship-oriented websites often contain an educational component with “how to buy” information.

Characteristics of Relationship-Oriented Websites

The same criteria used to identify the other types of websites can be used to identify relationship-oriented websites.

Information Flow

Relationship-oriented websites involve a two-way flow of information. At their highest levels, relationship-oriented websites involve the same level of give-and-take that occurs in face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations. Visitors describe their unique needs and, in return, receive specialized content.

Information Density

Relationship-oriented websites display a high degree of information density. They differ from transaction-based websites, however, in that the information is usually more business oriented rather than product oriented.

A transaction-oriented website for a hardware store, for example, would provide detailed information about each of the makes and models of mops and pails it stocks. On a relationship-oriented website, however, the emphasis would be on how competently the firm could deliver the mops and pails and the firm’s after-sale mop and pail maintenance program and exchange policy.

Urgency

Relationship-oriented websites are in it for the long haul. The goal is to create long-term relationships with their prospects and customers. Thus, there is less “Buy Now!” emphasis. Time and resources are available to invest in helping prospects make the right choice, maintaining customer enthusiasm, and creating customer loyalty.

Dialogue

Dialogue is a key characteristic of relationship-oriented websites. Long-term success involves identifying website visitors and learning as much as possible about their needs as well as their after-sale experiences with the firm’s products and services. Dialogue can be as simple as offering first-time visitors a premium for filling out a registration form or as sophisticated as inviting website visitors to submit questions and concerns.

Follow-Up

Dialogue leads to follow-up. At a minimum, registrations should receive acknowledgment of their submission and the promised premium should be sent as soon as possible. Professionalism is the key to successful relationships; promises must be quickly fulfilled.

Relationship-oriented sites also involve ongoing follow-up. The goal is to always remain visible so that the next time the customer wants to make a purchase, the relationship-oriented firm will be the first website the customer thinks of. Likewise, when the customer is asked for a recommendation of a firm, the first URL that comes to mind should be the relationship-oriented website. The best way to do this is to send frequent email messages announcing updated Web content or new products and services.

Search Capability

Search capability is less important with relationship-oriented websites than with transaction-oriented websites because the sites are likely to be smaller. In addition, because the relationship between the business and the customer/prospect is based on personalization, the firm can take the initiative in helping visitors locate desired information.

Qualification

Qualification is an important part of successful relationship websites. Relationship-oriented websites are based on knowing not only who their visitors are but also what their customers’ specific needs are. Today’s computer technology makes this increasingly easy.

The key, of course, is to encourage visitors to qualify themselves on the home page at the first visit. The website should be constructed in a way that will enable the creation of a database that will classify visitors into whatever categories are most appropriate: geographic area, type of employment, area of concern (i.e., problem to be solved), or income. Form-based incentives must be offered to encourage visitors to share their qualifications with the website.

Surveys offer yet another tool you can employ when creating a relationship-driven website. Surveys go beyond involvement in that they permit you to fine-tune your website and improve it on the basis of visitor information. Surveys also allow you to determine who is visiting your website and qualify them on the basis of the profit opportunities they offer you.

Customized Content

Customized content can be the least expensive and most effective tool to build long-term relationships with website visitors. Information can be inexpensive to create and valuable to both sender and recipient.

You can also involve visitors and fine-tune the information you provide by offering content at different levels of sophistication. A website for a ski resort, for example, could offer different content for beginning, intermediate, and advanced skiers. Likewise, a site for a tool company could have separate areas for home do-it-yourselfers and professional contractors. In each case, after qualification, the visitors would encounter different Web pages. But, unless they communicate this information to you, you won’t be able to follow up on the information.

Parker gives an example related to his own meaningful content website. To get visitors to register, he could create a form that permits them to prequalify themselves on their areas of interest. The form could ask questions such as:

  • Are you the owner of a small business?
  • Do you publish a newsletter?
  • Do you give frequent presentations?
  • Do you hire freelance copywriters?

However, there would likely be little response because the questions are invasive and offer no incentive for visitors to answer them. But, instead of asking visitors questions, he could offer registrants their choice of valuable 20-page articles, not available elsewhere. These could be sent either by return email (as attached computer files) or by emailing the URL of an unlinked page on the website. This would permit Parker to enjoy a much higher and much better response rate.

He could do an even better job of qualifying his website visitors by offering them a choice of one of the following upon registration:

  • FREE REPORT! Twenty-Five Ways to Use Email to Increase Sales to Existing Customers
  • FREE! The Ten Most Common Newsletter Design and Editing Errors
  • FREE! Twenty Presentation Tips I Learned the Hard Way—So You Don’t Have To!
  • FREE! How to Get Your Freelance Copywriters to Deliver Excellence on Time—or Ahead of Time

Notice that, instead of acting “nosy,” he’s setting up a win-win situation. He is finding out the information he desires and, in return, the visitor is receiving valuable information that will help him or her do a better job. Also, notice that in each case visitors receive immediate access to their customized information.

Updates

Relationship-oriented websites must be continuously updated. New, helpful content must be presented for visitors to return.

Whereas transaction-oriented websites only have to be updated to accommodate changing products and prices, relationship-oriented websites must be constantly updated with new information to maintain enthusiasm and enhance the website’s credibility—and, hence, the credibility of the firm sponsoring it.

Out of sight, out of mind. That’s the trap that most websites and their sponsoring firms fall into unless they commit to constant updates.

Size

Relationship-oriented websites don’t have to be large to succeed. Because their goal is to serve as a customer creation machine, advancing customers from position to position along the customer relationship cycle, they only have to be as large as necessary to provide the required information. They don’t have to be encyclopedias or catalogs offering information for every conceivable need; they can be far more focused. The emphasis can be on the business and reasons to buy from the firm, rather than the products themselves.