In today's economy, companies are learning to survive and prosper by concentrating less on expensive marketing programs and more on building brand loyalty. Many of us are faced with the challenge of finding new business opportunities with smaller marketing budgets. But when you spend less on advertising, how can you expect your business to grow? The answer is easier than you think. It's relationship marketing.

It's far less expensive to cultivate your existing customer base and sell more services to them than it is to seek new, single-transaction customers. The untapped potential of your existing customers can generate new sales and increase the return on your sales investment.

When you sell an additional product to an existing customer, you don't have to repeat preliminary steps such as prospecting, rapport-building and information gathering. You are working from the foundation that you've established, therefore repeat sales are less expensive to obtain than new ones.

The power of relationship marketing can yield long term customer loyalty and new business for years. Here are four steps to successful relationship marketing:

1. Listen to your customer. They will tell you what they need from you if you'll just take the time to listen and make them feel comfortable.

2. Ask questions to uncover your customer's challenges. Focus on solving their problems or meeting their needs rather than selling them another product.

3. If you can't fulfill a particular customer's needs, tell them and try to help them find someone who will. Your helpfulness will be long remembered and those customers are more likely to come back to you when they need your type of product or service again.

4. Remember to say "Thank You." Send a note to thank a customer for their time during a recent meeting, an order they placed, a customer they referred or simply for being loyal.

5. Keep in touch with customers even when they don't need you for anything. Send newsletters with beneficial tips and information, announcements or even an interesting article about your customer's competition or a seminar that might be of their interest.

When you work hard to improve the relationship between two parties, it results in loyalty and respect over a long period of time. If you can't spend as much money on marketing to help you find new business, than work harder to maintain and nurture the relationships you have. That's relationship marketing.