A company’s success is, in many ways, measured by its ability to generate revenue. The foundation of that process is building and nurturing customer relationships. While relationship marketing is well accepted and time-tested, relationship communications adds the “halo” that powers this strategy and is key to realizing optimal results.

Customer relationships are alive, dynamic, and can never be assumed, either at the beginning or over time. Complacency is a significant risk, given how quickly a positive customer interaction today can be undermined by negative brand or company news tomorrow. Marketers also well know that reps from multiple companies are competing for the same customer’s attention, which is itself split now in more ways than usual given the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the healthcare system.

Ongoing nurturing keeps relationships healthy and stakeholders receptive to developments companies want to share, such as positive study results or new indications.  Communications plays a significant role beyond the amplification of the information. In our own work for companies with customer-centricity as the same top priority as patient-centricity, we have been increasingly called in for relationship communications that go beyond what is considered “conventional PR” to focus on pull-through of positive customer experience for optimal business results.

Consider these three keys to achieve success with relationship communications.

1. Create the “surround sound” that positively enhances the relationship-building environment.

Communications are typically called on to support company, brand or clinical news, disease awareness, or help manage an issue. Consider developing these plans, from the beginning, with the customer relationship in mind. Getting the desired visibility is very effective, but its value can be further enhanced if an accompanying effort pulls it all the way across the organization to create a stronger connection with customers. Other stakeholders often benefit from this effort as well.

2. Field leadership are key stakeholders for Communications.

Sales leadership and representatives are the frontline in customer relationships. Indeed, their good rapport with customers is often relied upon by marketers in the event of a product issue, crisis, or something else unexpected. Communications, like marketing, must consider field sales perceptions and needs a top priority. Field leadership and affiliates (for global programs) often share the primary place in our “target audience” lists alongside patients and relevant HCPs, and drive strategy and tactics accordingly.

3. Adjust communications key performance indicators (KPIs).

In relationship communications, we measure success based on a variety of metrics including responses from field sales leadership (for in-market work) and affiliates (for global work) to questions such as, “Which element of our communications program has been most successful in your interaction with customers and why?” While typical metrics (impressions, click-throughs to websites, traction on social) are applied if conventional PR tactics are also implemented, developing a dashboard that measures impact on customer relationships will provide critical insights.

Philip Kotler, S.C. Johnson, Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at Northwestern University, recently described “Marketing 3”—he’s currently working on “Marketing 4”—as creating, communicating, and delivering value that improves the lives and well-being of customers, among other important stakeholders. This is the definition of customer-centricity we hold up when planning communications campaigns.

Marketers typically look to Medical Scientific Affairs colleagues and their “professional” agencies for the support and materials that underscore relationships and customer-centricity. Having Communications at this table is also critical. Relationship communications makes relationship marketing complete. The proof is in the feedback from the frontline and business results.

  • Sandra Stahl

    Sandra Stahl is Managing Director at jacobstahl, a Bloom company. She is also founding faculty and acting head of the PR Track in the Branding + Integrated Communications master’s degree program at The City College of New York and author of the award-winning, The Art & Craft of PR.

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