Relationship Marketing has nothing to do with managing your family, it refers to forming a long-term and mutually beneficial arrangement with your customers, where both the buyer and seller have an interest in providing a more satisfying exchange. This approach attempts to transcend the simple purchase-exchange process with a customer to make more meaningful and richer contact by providing a more holistic, personalized purchase, and uses the experience to create stronger ties.

According to Liam Alvey, relationship marketing can be applied when there are competitive product alternatives for customers to choose from; and when there is an ongoing and periodic desire for the product or service.

Fornell and Wernerfelt used the term "defensive marketing" to describe attempts to reduce customer turnover and increase customer loyalty. This customer-retention approach contrasted with "offensive marketing" which involved obtaining new customers and increasing customers' purchase frequency. Defensive marketing focused on reducing or managing the dissatisfaction of your customers, while offensive marketing focused on "liberating" dissatisfied customers from your competition and generating new customers. There are two components to defensive marketing: increasing customer satisfaction and increasing switching barriers.

Modern consumer marketing originated in the 1950s and 1960s as companies found it more profitable to sell relatively low-value products to masses of customers. Over the decades, attempts have been made to broaden the scope of marketing, relationship marketing being one of these attempts. Arguably, customer value has been greatly enriched by these contributions.

The practice of relationship marketing has been facilitated by several generations of customer relationship management software that allow tracking and analyzing of each customer's preferences, activities, tastes, likes, dislikes, and complaints. For example, an automobile manufacturer maintaining a database of when and how repeat customers buy their products, the options they choose, the way they finance the purchase etc., is in a powerful position to develop one-to-one marketing offers and product benefits.

In web applications, the consumer shopping profile can be built as the person shops on the website. This information is then used to compute what can be his or her likely preferences in other categories. These predicted offerings can then be shown to the customer through cross-sell, email recommendation and other channels.

Relationship marketing has also migrated back into direct mail, allowing marketers to take advantage of the technological capabilities of digital, toner-based printing presses to produce unique, personalized pieces for each recipient. Marketers can personalize documents by any information contained in their databases, including name, address, demographics, purchase history, and dozens (or even hundreds) of other variables. The result is a printed piece that (ideally) reflects the individual needs and preferences of each recipient, increasing the relevance of the piece and increasing the response rate.