Many marketing experts, theorists, economists and business leaders have built credible studies of B2B psychology, customer creation and retention that we continue to learn from today. The concepts they’ve developed have gone a long way in growing our thinking and marketing strategies, with thousands of ambitious companies large and small using their carefully crafted ideas to boost business.

One theory that’s especially applicable to what we do at Blue Donkey is Payne’s Relationship Ladder. Central to many B2B loyalty campaigns and brand awareness drives, this simple but effective theory informs much of our intelligent telemarketing work, helping us to create, build and develop an enduring customer base for our clients.

What does Payne’s Relationship Ladder tell us?

Developed by marketing theorist Adrian Payne in the late 1990s, the Relationship Ladder is an idea that illustrates how customers can be transformed from cold potential buyers, into loyal supporters for your brand. By leading potential buyers through five steps from ‘prospect’ to ‘advocate’ you can nurture exceptional customer loyalty and create a team of advocates who will spread the word about your brand.


‘Prospects’ are those people you believe your products and services may be relevant to. Lists of Prospects are broken into segments based on their similar needs (in marketing we describe this as a homogeneous group), they are then targeted with calls and information based around those needs. Often Prospects may have some experience or familiarity of your brand but as yet haven’t made a purchase or really interacted with the business. At this stage it’s important to provide whatever impetus the Prospect needs in order to transform them into a Customer.

Blue Donkey’s intelligent approach involves carefully identifying the right key decision makers, generating the first contact with them, then nurturing a dialogue with a view to getting to the next stage (meeting, sales etc). This method quickly improves the chances of moving a Prospect up the first rung of the ladder. Whether it’s about engaging buyers with a few qualification questions, or the chance to build rapport and share information, this first level of contact is crucial when developing the Relationship Ladder.


Once a person or business has made a purchase they become a ‘Customer’. If the experience is OK but unremarkable the Customer may or may not come back. We refer to this as a transactional sale. Transactional sales are common in consumer marketing but in B2B we want high value relationship-based sales, where service quality and Customer experience become differentiating factors that win repeat business. This stage therefore has to go well in order for the next rung of the ladder to be considered. In B2B this relationship element is increasingly becoming the factor that generates a premium, builds trust and defines the business from the competition.


Your ‘Clients’ are the people or businesses that return to the business again and again. Regular communication by telephone will help to create and retain clients by reminding them what’s special about your product or service.

Blue Donkey are not afraid to recommend that good relationships regularly require picking up the phone. Taking the time to speak with clients and to properly understand and align with their unique needs or conditions, enables us to develop a stronger ability for giving them what they want time and time again.


At the ‘Supporter’ stage, customers are likely to be very engaged with your brand and take an active interest in your company. They’re likely to tell other people about your business, continually choose your products and services and have a loyalty to your brand. Supporters like your brand and your people, but they are still passive about recommending your brand to others.


Once you’ve built a strong relationship with a ‘Supporter’, they climb the next rung of the Relationship Ladder to become an ‘Advocate’. At this stage, they’ll have enough trust in your products and services that they’ll promote your business to ‘Prospects’ helping you to build your customer base and ensuring your good reputation in the industry.

Though your ‘Advocates’ will be invested in your business on some level – be that emotionally or professionally – they still need to feel valued if they’re going to stay on the fifth rung of the ladder. Blue Donkey can help you to develop and maintain these crucial relationships, enabling you to focus on making your business thrive.

The Relationship Ladder makes helpful links between quality, retention and profit because the cost of marketing is amortised over the lifetime of a customer with several growth and profit benefits. Customer spend increases over time and customers are cheaper to sell to than prospects because they are already invested in your brand. Additionally, satisfied customers value the service enough to pay a premium.

To find out more about our intelligent approach, or if you want to build and develop your own customer base, contact Blue Donkey today.

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