B2B eCommerce: 5 Key Strategies To Strengthen Your B2B Relationships
Establishing B2B eCommerce relationships is a lot like making friends. Be nice, bring value and stay in touch.
That’s all you really need to know. Kind of.
(Stephen says nope | Source)
In a hurry? Here are 5 tips on how you could improve your B2B eCommerce relationships:
- Start every relationship at the tops
- Focus on value, not price
- Create a customer advisory board
- Manage the account like a human, not a machine
- Help customers achieve personal and professional success
B2B eCommerce: Building for the long-term
Building a successful B2B business requires many things, including:
- Quality products and services that deliver on their promises
- Effective sales and marketing strategies that get products in front of the right customers
- Production and distribution chains that can scale up or down to meet demand
But most of all, B2B relationships — like most relationships — require a whole lot of communication and patience.
The quality of these relationships hinges on a handful of key elements; trust, transparency, integrity, and authenticity.
Slip up in just one of these areas and you run the risk of compromising the entire relationship.
If you’re saying to yourself…
“This isn’t anything new. In fact, it sounds a lot like Marketing 101.”
...you’re not wrong.
However, many companies are not intentional about how they build and nurture strong relationships with their B2B customers and partners. In doing so, they are restricting the growth of their own business and leaving money on the table.
So, today we’re going to cover a handful of highly effective tactics for building, strengthening, and sustaining B2B eCommerce relationships.
[B2B relationship tip #1] Start every relationship at the top
In the best business partnerships, there is a “top-to-top” connection. Senior executives in the supplier organization have meaningful professional relationships with the executives at the client, customer, or partner organization.
“When relationships are started are good at the top, there is an organic trickle-down effect that occurs.” – Click to Tweet.
When relationships are started and managed this way, there is an organic trickle-down effect that occurs on both sides, allowing employees at both companies to get closer and establish their own professional relationships.
This results in a greater number of connections between the two organizations, which means that both sides have a more intimate understanding of the goals and objectives of the other party. In the best cases, it’s like one, big unofficial merger.
[B2B relationship tip #2] Focus on value, not price
Sales professionals have been hearing and repeating this advice for years, but the sentiment shouldn’t end after the sale is made.
The ways in which your company adds value to your customers and partners should extend far beyond the price that was negotiated in your contract. In fact, the value of the customer’s relationship should play a major role in the pricing process. Appeal to the heart, and they’ll love your services.
“The best way to strengthen any B2B eCommerce relationship is not through the price or features of your product, but rather the benefits that it provides” – Click to Tweet.
The best way to strengthen any B2B eCommerce relationship is not through the price or features of your product, but rather the benefits that it provides. If you can relieve your customer’s biggest pain points or solve the business challenges that give them headaches, you will amplify the level of trust between your organizations.
At the end of the day, your customers don’t care that you gave them a “once in a lifetime” rate. They care about whether or not you and your company can help them generate more revenue or reduce their expenses - period.
In every interaction, you and your staff should be listening for and discussing ways that you can continue to deliver value outside of the price of your offering.
Get this right, and you’ll reap a handful of lucrative business benefits:
- You’ll protect your margins by justifying the cost of your good or service with tangible business benefits
- You’ll position yourself as a trusted advisor who is capable of coming up with creative solutions to problems that keep your customers up at night
- You’ll remove the need for ever engaging in a “hard sell.” If you deliver value day in, and day out, contract renewal day is a very quick conversation that ends with the phrase, “Where do I sign?”
[B2B relationship tip #3] Create a customer advisory board
Many B2B organizations view their customers as paychecks. They keep them at arm’s length and only worry about the relationship when an invoice is overdue or a contract needs to be renegotiated.
“Many B2B eCommerce companies thrive by organizing customer advisory boards.” – Click to Tweet.
However, the highest performing companies we’ve seen take the contrarian approach. Instead of keeping their customers at a distance, they offer them a seat at the table by inviting them to join a customer advisory board.
The concept is quite simple - collect a small group of individuals from customer organizations who, as a whole, provide a representative sample of your entire customer base. You should seek to balance membership across customer segments (Ex: industries, regions, sizes) as well as longevity (for example, new customers and veterans).
In this arrangement, you may choose to host formal meetings or you can connect with board members regularly in one-to-one conversations. Regardless of the format, your objective is to provide regular updates on product and marketing decisions while soliciting candid feedback on your ideas.
For the individuals involved, this practice generates huge amounts of relationship capital in the form of the trust, transparency, integrity and authenticity elements we discussed earlier. When customers feel that their opinions are heard and respected, they tend to reciprocate in kind.
Don’t be shy about discussing the existence of an advisory board with other customers who aren’t members. Sometimes simply knowing that your company is taking steps to form such strong B2B eCommerce relationships can have a similar effect on non-members.
[B2B relationship tip #4] Manage the account like a human, not a machine
Humans are social creatures. We long to interact with other people, not nameless, faceless companies, especially when it comes to doing business.
If you have done your job well, you have surrounded yourself with talented people who are a pleasure to work with. So why hold them back from interacting with your customers and partners?
“In the course of doing business with your customers and partners, give them every opportunity to see faces, hear voices, and make meaningful connections with members of your team.” – Click to Tweet.
Instead, encourage your customer-facing teams at all levels to take ownership of the relationships within their personal scope and connect with their counterparts on a personal level.
Everyone at your firm should speak and write in a professional, yet natural tone that is more reflective of a front desk attendant than an automated answering service.
Also, take a look at some of the key customer interactions you have: emails, reports, invoices, and other communication channels - to identify areas where you can inject a human touch.
Maybe you can include team photos in your proposals or slide deck…
Maybe you can make it standard practice to speak to a customer directly on the phone before delivering a report or invoice via email…
Whatever you do, make sure that in the course of doing business with your customers and partners, they have every opportunity to see faces, hear voices, and make meaningful connections with members of your team.
After all, people are more likely to be loyal to other people than companies or brands...and it’s much easier to form an emotional bond to a fellow human than a PDF.
[B2B relationship tip #5] Help customers achieve personal and professional success
This is where most account management processes fall short.
When you interact with a customer, there is a living, breathing human being on the other end of the phone or computer screen.
Just like you, that person has their own unique set of goals, aspirations, challenges, and needs. Managing the relationship with you and your company is just one item on their to-do list, but it’s also an opportunity for you to make a powerful impact on their life.
“B2B eCommerce brands need to be invested in their customer’s success.” – Click to Tweet.
A lot of organizations are great at identifying “business wins.” For example, they know just how their product or service can help Company A increase their top-line revenue by 15% in Q4.
But the companies that truly excel in customer relationship management are adept at identifying both professional AND personal wins at the client organization. They are masters at identifying opportunities to foster strong personal relationships that can bolster the connection between both companies.
This can all be done through ongoing practices such as:
- Helping their account manager deliver results that earn them that promotion they’ve been eyeing.
- Lobbying executives at the client organization to solicit additional funding or resources for a contact’s pet project.
- Finding ways to support individual stakeholders, either personally or professionally, during their time of need.
Regardless of how it is done, ensuring that you address both personal and professional wins when managing customer relationships is a surefire way to distinguish your company as a trusted advisor and demonstrate that you are personally invested in your customer’s success
It’s not difficult, but it is laborious
The ideas set forth in this article aren’t complex. They aren’t difficult to understand or implement, but they do require your time, attention, and commitment.
Building rock-solid B2B eCommerce relationships do not scale easily, but it does have the potential to pay dividends that are exponentially greater than the investment that is made.
Once you set your mind to a relationship management strategy, prepare to be disciplined in your execution and patient when it comes to seeing results. The impact of a strong customer relationship isn’t always immediately apparent, but one day you’ll look back on what you have achieved and realize it was all worth the effort.
Form a plan, commit to doing whatever it takes to be exceptional and you will be one of the high performing organizations that reaps the rewards of outstanding B2B eCommerce relationships.