Laura Petrolino

Build Customer Relationships for Successful Communication

By: Laura Petrolino | April 11, 2016 | 

Build Customer Relationships For Successful CommunicationBy Laura Petrolino

When I talk to people about my career background, I always mention how lucky I feel to have started my career in the political world.

It’s a great place for anyone wanting to build a career in communications (or really any job where you interact with people) because it’s like bootcamp that develops your “relationship IQ.”

Customer relationships, constituent relationships, colleague relationships, advocate/ambassador relationships, influencer relationships, enemy relationships, media relationships….you name it.

There really isn’t any type of relationship you don’t get a crash course in when you work in politics. And, in a world where relationships of all types are the foundation of success or failure, you also quickly learn the value and sensitivity of these precious human connections.

Customer Relationships are Non-Selfish

  • You learn the value of words—and how the difference of only one or two can mean success or failure.
  • You learn what negotiation really means and how to lead people where they need to be vs. push them to see things your way.
  • And you learn to read people and adjust your communication based on the feedback they provide.

A lot of these important relationship tenants have been forgotten in our digital world, especially because digital communication, by it’s very nature, has a tendency to be selfish—which is the antithesis of what’s needed to build a good relationship.

It’s very easy to be focused on who we are, what we do, and the value we provide—not to mention what we want (a sale, a new customer, a media placement, fill in your goal here). But what we want doesn’t matter. What matters is how we can serve the needs or wants of our target customer. And our communication needs to reflect that repositioning.

Your Goals Don’t Matter to Me

As a consumer, your goals do not matter at all to me.

But too often, outside vendors or organizations approach consumers with precisely this intent. A communication started based on self-focused objectives will almost always end in failure.

And this is true both for your sales team and outreach efforts across all media types.

An example:

Last week I had a vendor call me in the middle of the day. Now considering I’m their typical target customer, they should know enough about their target audience to understand that most likely—if their call is taken—it will be in the middle of their prospect doing five million other things, just getting off a meeting, running straight to another meeting, being texted, called, Skype’d, and tweeted at by clients, team, or media, and trying to extinguish a fire or two, all while juggling swords (maybe a slight exaggeration, but not on some days).

Long story short, if I was this vendor I’d go into the call knowing I’m disrupting the flow of an already busy work day. That one point of understanding and interest in my prospect alone should guide how I communicate.

That didn’t happen. Strike one.

Second customer relationship fail: If she had done any research at all, it would have become very easily apparent we were not fans of the platform she was trying to push.

Once again, taking a bit of time to understand what mattered to me (not her) would give her really important knowledge to adjust her communication.

I picked-up the phone, simply because I’ve been working with one of our client’s extended teams on a rather time sensitive project and I didn’t want to miss one of their calls. She greeted me in that really annoying way sales people do in an attempt to make you think you know them and they are your long lost friend.

After her over-the-top greeting, she asked me how my day was going.

To which I responded something along the lines of what a crazy busy day it was.

(A very clear cue to communicate: I’m busy, so you have about 30 seconds to tell me your purpose).

This cue was not picked-up and started her pitch. I let her finish and told her we were not interested.

“But I’d like to set up a 20 minute demo for you next week.”


“But we’d want to show you the platform and why it’s better than what you are using.”


“What are you using? This is better. I’ll set up a demo for you.”


At this point I was just still there to see how long this might keep going.

“I just need 20 minutes of your time to show you what’s so great about XX.”


And I hung up.

Thirty minutes later she emailed me. Because obviously four “no” responses wasn’t enough to get my point across.

Ban French From Your Communication

I love this story because it is a VERY clear example of lack of respect for the value of prospect or customer relationships. The communication was selfish and one-sided. She didn’t take time to think about my needs or goals. Only her own.

Gini frequently reminds clients and our team to take the French out of your communication: The “we, we, we.”

No one cares about you. And, if you make customer relationships the foundation around which you build your communication, you’ll quickly see this “French” has no role.

The example above was sales-specific, but this rule remains true for all communications.

After you write something—whether it be a pitch to an influencer, a blog post, an eBook, website copy, collateral material, or a social media update—ask yourself, “Is this about me, or them?”

Really think about it. This doesn’t come easy at first because you are so focused on your goals, it’s easy to see them as universal.

  • When you write a pitch to a journalist or influencer, is it about you or about a topic or story that’s of interest to them and the community they serve?
  • How many times do you say “we” on your website pages? Count them.
  • Look at your social media updates. Are they a curation of content valuable to the community you are trying to target (even if they aren’t a customer)?
  • Review your email marketing and newsletters. Is the information provided thought-provoking and valuable—separate from your product or service?
  • Look at the emails you send clients, partners, colleagues. Are they self-focused or relationship-focused? Is the language inclusive or exclusive and demanding?

Build the Relationship First

Human connection is alway the number one goal for communicators. That means the relationship always comes first, even if it’s inconvenient at times.

Customer relationships take time and effort.

They are a long-term investment not a quick gratification.

And, just like relationships, the communications we use to cultivate them is as much about process as it is product.

We should always communicate with clear objectives in focus, but appreciate that the process through which we communicate and build customer relationships is an inseparable part of those objectives and goals.

About Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.