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BW Businessworld

Selling Is Transient, Relationships Forever

There are certain subject matters which take time to build and grow, and one has to put in the slog-overs to nurture and foster them. Plants, businesses and relationships all come to mind.

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Amongst the miniscule collateral benefits of these difficult months has been the fact that the denizens of the ‘insta’ world – instant gratification, instant results, instant deliveries, instant feedback loop, have realized that there some things you just cannot compress temporally. There are certain subject matters which take time to build and grow, and one has to put in the slog-overs to nurture and foster them. Plants, businesses and relationships all come to mind.

When I shifted to Bangalore a while back, after organizing staff, dhobi and paperwallah, the next important task on the agenda was to scout around for a good neighborhood salon. Fortunately I did find one right next door, and on the very first day they managed to convince me to sign up on a long term deal with them. You know the type; pay up for the whole year, get a fabulous discount and avail of unlimited services! Like most Indians I of course was extremely wary of getting into a long term pre-paid relationship with any service provider and had to be convinced extremely hard by the manager. This set me wondering as to why we are so mistrustful of long term commercial commitments. On the face of it, the offer was very attractive, made practical sense and there seemed to be no scam in the fine print. Then why did I hesitate so much? 

The sad truth is that too often we have been bitten by the single episode opportunistic sales scamster, an unfortunate norm around us rather than the exception. You buy the succulent strawberries from the vendor at the traffic junction only to discover that the layer of fruit beneath the top layer is rotten! Or the waiter convinces you to order the ‘chef’s special’ which is not on the menu and you discover while paying the bill, that the particular item cost more than the rest of the meal put together! Or the fancy bank sends you their most premium credit card because you are so important to them, conveniently forgetting to mention that there will be a huge fee which will hit you along with the first statement!

While gray haired proponents of relationship building (like me!) have been talking about long term consequences of short term actions for a while now, it is only amidst this crisis that young and supercilious people, and startups, have started realizing the following 1) that loyal, long term and sticky customers are worth their weight in gold and 2) to retain customers over the long term they need to spend time and effort in building relationships, be transparent and honest and deliver on their commitments and promises to them. Otherwise they will not come back! In days of plenty, first time and new users are a segment bucket which keeps pouring, so you really don’t care about constancy, but in arid environs it’s the loyal customer you built through your nurturing efforts who helps pay the bills. It’s also true that especially in a crisis, clients and customers will move to brands they are comfortable with and to people who have invested time in building a rapport with them. They will seek out the familiar, the honest, the truthful and are in no mood to experiment with the new and untried in a situation where facing each new day has uncertainty so deeply embedded in it.

The events unfolding around us today have hopefully forced the opportunistic seller/promoter to realize that life is not about that one transaction and buyers are not ships that pass you in the dark, never to be seen again. You cannot buy customer loyalty by using your VC funding to market to them aggressively, if you are not going to create a CRM back office to support the initial triers and the first time users. You cannot hope that the media vehicle you are trying to sell or the agency you are pitching will get any traction unless you have done the initial spade work which may take years to translate into trust at the client’s end. You may get the first set of app downloads and customer acquisitions through that mind blowing marketing campaign, but they are going to stay with you only if you have invested time in building engagement with them, whether it is through a personalized relationship, sticky content, or outstanding service.

If you want to build respect and revenues for your brand, shop, vendor cart, restaurant, you need to jolly well try to get the same customers to come back to you again and again. And that can only come from giving them a great experience and dealing with them honestly the first (and every) time around! 

So Mr Salesman don’t tell me the shoe will loosen after sometime when you don’t have my size available or that the offer covers unlimited downloads when it doesn’t and we will both end up respecting each other. Because currently you think I am a fool and I think you are a crook!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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relationships magazine issue 22 Oct 2020

Apurva Purohit

The author is President of the Jagran Group

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