A B2B operation relies on relationships. It requires you to stay constantly connected with your customers.
Things may have evolved since the Mad Men days of mailing out printed catalogs and taking three-hour, multi-martini lunches. But it remains essentially a handshake business.
That handshake now more likely involves an electronic signature obtained from a client ten time zones away, rather than an actual clapping of hands. Still, the basic premise remains the same. If you want your B2B operation to succeed, then you are fundamentally in the relationship business.
The essential structure of the business, then, requires you to play the long game. You haveto build your relationships over time, cultivating trust and growing with your customers over time. Obviously, to reach these goals, you have to stay closely connected with them.
With that in mind, here are six ways you can build relationships with your B2B customers long term, maintaining your market position and retaining clients over time:
Running a successful B2C business involves cultivating a mass appeal. Those companies crank out innumerable copies of the same product, making their money on volume. They don’t need to build a specific relationship with any one client.
However, B2B stays more personal. Your products have to present a more specific appeal and your relationships have to be based on more direct connections. As such, you don't want your customer service structure to mimic something a B2C organization would have. You want to avoid the long phone menus and generic messaging that a mass-appeal business relies on to handle its broad client base.
In short, you want to connect directly with clients.
Each client should have a particular individual (read: human) contact. They should be able to reach these experts directly with any concerns they might have. Meanwhile, you should maintain an emergency protocol, so that clients can satisfy urgent requests quickly.
Maintain a “Flex” Team
Responding to short-deadline requests can cause serious challenges. Clients will rate your performance based on how you react in dire circumstances. You can give top-flight service 99% of the time, but if you can't excel in the other 1%, your customers will only remember the disappointment.
To keep up with these surprise, high-leverage situations, employ a “flex” team. This group should be prepared to swoop onto any problem immediately. They will keep up with emergencies and other quick-response situations. You'll win long-term loyalty by being able to succeed on short notice.
Use Punchout Catalogs
A punchout catalog allows buyers to purchase directly from you. You don’t need to keep up multiple hosted catalogs. The process becomes streamlined, while providing the necessary flexibility you need to appeal to individual clients and specific circumstances.
The system gives you a number of advantages. You maintain a higher level of control, can provide better accuracy (on things like product availability and promotional pricing), and acquire more direct billing options.
However, beyond these benefits for you, a punchout catalog also provides better experience for your customers. Because you have more direct control, you become more flexible to market conditions, making you more responsive to your clients' needs. It allows you a closer connection, while still keeping things streamlined and efficient.
Find Time for Face-to-Face Communication
The modern world incentivizes indirect communication. Email, text messaging, social media – these technologies fast-track communications and make business move more efficiently. However, they also eliminate some of the human element. At its core, B2B is about relationships. And relationships are about people. Keeping that
human contact makes customer retention easier. With that in mind, schedule face-to-face meetings with your clients on a regular basis. Build personal relationships, which will, in turn, encourage a closer business bond.
Get Client Feedback on New Projects
Business is less about what you can do now and more about what you'll be able to do tomorrow. As a B2B firm, you have to keep up with a dynamic marketplace. You have to grow with your clients, as they fight to stay relevant in a fast-changing environment.
As such, you need to keep your customers in mind as you develop for the future. Include your client base in the development process, as you build out new products and fine-tune your current offerings.
The additional feedback will help you create relevant products for the future. Meanwhile, it gives you an excuse to stay in contact with your customers and reinforces the message that they are important to your process.
Share Your Message
Beyond keeping in close contact with your current customer base, you need to connect withthe wider industry. You want to draw people in, while simultaneously sharing your overallmessage. How do you help businesses thrive? What can you offer beyond the competition?What are your core values? To help answer these questions, maintain a meaningful online and social media presence. Produce content that speaks to potential customers, drawing in new clients and reinforcing your brand.
Samantha Wallace is a veteran tech writer and editor who has worked in several eCommerce companies. She has been covering technology online for over five years. She is the Content Advocate for Greenwingtechnology.com.