B2B customer loyalty differs from the B2C context. This guestpost from MicroStartups shares some context.
Why B2B Loyalty is a challenge compared to B2C
The relationship between B2C and B2B is always compelling to contemplate, because they’re so strongly similar and dissimilar — two different approaches to the same fundamental issue of advancing a successful sales pitch. In B2C, you’re addressing a varied audience in a large auditorium, shouting out broad-strokes points to reach the people at the back. In B2B, you’re making a 1-on-1 presentation, needing to carefully read the expectations of the recipient.
Either way, one of your core goals is to earn loyalty — that intangible attachment that keeps a customer returning to you over and over again, openly protecting and supporting your reputation, looking past all your rivals’ efforts to poach them, and (most vitally) sending new customers your way via referrals. However, there’s a significant difference in how it actually works. Here’s what makes it such a distinct challenge for B2B sellers:
Manual intervention is required
In typical B2C sales, even the most lucrative customer (the variety that a mobile games company would describe as a whale) can be lost without causing extensive damage to the business as a whole. This can’t be said of B2B sales. It’s entirely possible for a B2B business to have no more than a handful of big-ticket customers, turning the loyalty of each of those customers into something of paramount importance.
Using CRM (customer relationship management) software, B2C sellers can track customers that seem to be on the cusp of leaving, and look for ways to draw them back in. In the B2B world, this really needs to be done manually — ideally, each client will have a client manager dedicated to keeping it happy and confirming that all its needs are being met.
Indeed, the typical B2B relationship is considerably more old-fashioned in its approach, with people actually forming lasting business relationships. That isn’t to say that software can’t play a huge role (more on this later) — merely that the hands-off approach of B2C isn’t viable if you want someone to feel sufficiently compelled to keep working with you.
Personalization is mission-critical
Using rich data in combination with automation tools to achieve widespread personalization has become a core part of the B2C industry. The customization isn’t typically very deep, but it doesn’t need to be — not only would it be counterproductive to put so much time into catering to each and every B2C customer, but it would also push a lot of people away (too much personalization from a company you don’t know very well comes across as invasive).
For B2B, the personalization can and should be on another level entirely. The provider must develop and maintain a comprehensive understanding of each of its clients, then use that awareness to cultivate unique client experiences. Consider a new product pitch: where a B2B product email can be generic, the introduction of a new product to a B2B client must be extensively targeted to their specific requirements (i.e. “here’s what your most pressing needs are, and here’s how our new range can help you”).
It shouldn’t stop at the content, though — whenever possible, it should extend to processes and interfaces. Take wholesale ordering, for instance: it’s normal for a B2B seller to offer custom prices (more on that next), but it’s often done through having them fill out requests and applying discounts afterwards.
Instead, forward-thinking businesses take advantage of flexible platforms such as Shopify’s B2B-tilted portal to offer clients unique password-protected sites. Instead of going to the main site, an important client can access a personalized storefront with a tailored design, catered product ranges, and customized prices. (Shopify also has a Referral Candy app that’s ideal for using this personalization to drive high-value referrals.)
In the B2B world, there’s really no risk of personalizing too heavily. As far as the client is concerned, the more you cater to them and their needs, the easier it is for them to stay loyal.
Incentives must be more impactful
I already noted the role that custom pricing plays in keeping B2B clients loyal, but the incentives shouldn’t stop there. You also want to think about providing early access to relevant products, extending services past their typical hours, sending employees to clients to host training sessions, and other such tactics for setting you apart.
This comes down to the lifetime value of a lucrative B2B relationship. When you’re trying to woo a prospective B2C buyer, you’re looking at one initial purchase, likely of a fairly low value — and if you succeed there, you can follow up with the occasional discount or special offer. A B2B shopper might need a commitment of several years upfront, or might want to go from deal to deal but with an eye on a convenient and enduring association.
And when you’re looking at referral business, you need a similar leap in incentive scope and type. The same basic tactics apply (you can read up on referral program incentives here) but at completely different magnitudes — for instance, instead of offering cash rewards for successful referrals, you can offer fractional lifetime percentage discounts, with the amounts depending on the size of the clients referred.
You need to keep proving ROI
Month after month, and year after year, managerial departments have broad financial questions to ask about their respective businesses: questions such as “Is this relationship still justified?” will come up often when looking into finances and going over recurring payments. At any time, it may be determined that a B2B relationship has outlived its usefulness — one courtesy call later, and a long-time arrangement has come to an end.
B2B loyalty, then, lacks the kind of thoughtless inertia that can function for B2C (when the difference between buying from one seller and another is minimal, it’s easiest to go with the seller you’ve bought from many times before). Instead, it must be refreshed (almost won anew) on a consistent basis. You need to keep reminding the client about everything you bring to the table — what they gain from working with you.
Another reason for this is that employees come and go (when a relationship lasts for years, it’s almost unavoidable). If a client manager leaves, their replacement must cultivate their own relationship with the client, and that takes time. If the client’s CEO leaves, their replacement might be rather more doubtful about your business, demanding a new pitch.
Key to this, then, are your performance figures. For as long as you work with a client, you need to keep strengthening your overall case for working with them — if you can simply hand over a presentation showing clearly that you’ve consistently achieved exceptional ROI for them, they’ll have no qualms about sticking with you.
B2B loyalty lacks the simplicity of its B2C equivalent, and isn’t only significant on aggregate. Since just one broken-down B2B relationship can cause you major issues, you need to focus on keeping every client (at least, every lucrative and/or high-profile client) as happy as possible. Keep these tips in mind as you do so.