Getting a new customer is always more expensive than retaining one, especially for B2B (Business to Business) companies. For B2B companies, losing just one customer can mean a significant percentage of revenue is leaving the company and could even put the company at risk. In B2C (Business to Consumer) that is rarely the case. To retain customers, you must build customer loyalty.
While loyalty is often considered a consumer-side issue, it is also essential in B2B. For consumer businesses it’s easier - many offer loyalty programs such as membership perks or discount cards to encourage repeat business and loyalty. This is not an effective or appropriate strategy in B2B, where you can’t “buy” customer loyalty – you have to earn it by providing an exceptional customer experience.
Here are 4 best practices to drive B2B customer loyalty and increase customer retention.
1) Personalize your support offering – B2B customers, unlike B2C, have not grown accustomed to working within the confines of whatever support offering is provided. The latter understand that sometimes a support offering is built to meet the needs of as many people as possible and they may not always get the answer they need. B2B companies, on the other hand, expect to have a single point of contact – the title “Customer Success Manager” seems to be popping up more often – who can navigate a company’s internal processes for them and help in solving their issues. Think of this person as an advocate for a customer within the infrastructure of their own company. This relationship saves customers time and puts a human face to a company that is not only there to offer support but can over time build trust to upsell new features and capabilities.
2) Prove that you hear your customers – We’ve all complained to a B2C company before only to feel like nothing will change. In B2B, one of the best ways to drive customer loyalty is to take action on what your customers are telling you. For example, if a customer has a great idea for a software feature and you decide to implement it in the near future – tell them! Make sure to also give them a realistic timeline for the feature so their expectations are set appropriately. This will show the customer that you respect them and value their opinion. B2B customer support software can help companies keep track of who suggested which feature and make sure they are alerted when the feature goes live. A thank you note (or gift if appropriate) also goes a long way in recognizing customer input.
3) Control the tone in the conversation – This is an area many B2C companies succeed at, mainly through promotional content, but is something B2B companies can work on. While the same promotional strategy generally won’t work well in B2B, it’s important to not fall into a rut of only reaching out to customers when bad things happen. This can cause a company to have a negative association of your company (which is never a good thing). Reach out to customers regularly just to check in, share good news about the relationship, or even to offer early access to a new feature. If you know a customer recently launched a new product they’ve been working hard on, send them a little something to congratulate them. All of these actions show customers that you care and value the loyalty of your customers.
4) At the end of the day it’s business – In B2C the relationship between a business and a customer is singular. This lone customer controls their own destiny and the relationship with the business. This relationship is much more complex in B2B, where people change jobs (sometimes within the same company) and critical decision makers on whether the relationship continues can change entirely from year to year. When key personnel changes happen, especially in larger and long-standing relationships, it’s important to build trust immediately. Schedule an evening out at a trade show or even a working lunch in their office to build a foundation for the relationship that can be expanded upon. You might not win over everyone – for example, a new decision maker may have previous ties to a competitor – but it’s almost always worth an attempt.
To conclude, driving customer loyalty in B2B is all about communicating smartly and efficiently with your customers. Make sure your communication is personalized, actually listen to what your customers have to say, and don’t let customers feel immediate negativity when you contact them. Also it’s important to remember this is business and maintaining strong and active relationships with decision makers is crucial. Keeping open and honest lines of communication with your customers can not only increase their loyalty but will also turn them into customers who are happy, referenceable, and actively invested in the success of your business.
About Robert C Johnson
Robert C. Johnson is the co-founder and CEO of TeamSupport.com, a cloud-based, B2B software application built to help customer-facing support teams serve clients better through stronger collaboration, superior teamwork, and faster issue resolution. A seasoned executive and entrepreneur who has founded and invested in numerous software and high-tech companies, Robert’s industry experience as a business leader and a customer inspired him to create TeamSupport to give Support Desk teams the tools and best practices to enhance customer loyalty and positively impact product sales.
Prior to founding TeamSupport, Robert was President and CEO of Sundance Digital, one of the world’s leading providers of automation software to television and cable broadcasters. The company was sold in 2006 to Avid Technology (Nasdaq: AVID).