Where's the Loyalty in B2B?

Keep up with crossover B2C platforms in the B2B space

If you live in the B2B world, you know what’s on the horizon.  Increasingly, B2B companies are coming up to speed on new technology and applying the same B2C strategies to their B2B audience.  From online ordering, parts and product info downloads, tableted assessment functionality and customized partner and dealer portals, the business of helping businesses has continued to take on features once only found in the futuristic outlets of forward-thinking, client-centric, B2C markets. 

At ICF Olson, we’ve realized that there’s no real reason to separate what we do for our B2B clients from our B2C clients.  After all, the end goal is the same – a happy, loyal customer that has a genuinely excellent customer experience.

Speaking of loyalty, that’s one of the areas of the B2C experience creeping into the B2B landscape.  The idea of engendering loyalty from longtime customers is not new to the B2B world, but there’s a case to be made that most B2B companies are looking at it from an older, less fruitful point of view.

In today’s leading loyalty programs, like ICF Olson’s very own Olson 1to1 loyalty platform, Tally, there are a few guideposts that tether our work to the cutting edge of loyalty work and loyalty experience for customers across all of our clients’ industries.

Don’t Mistake Habit for Loyalty

Resting on your laurels may work for a time, but it’s not a strategy to maintain any of the wonderful business you may have won earlier on.  A customer who chooses to do business with you now may not be tied to you for any other reason than it’s convenient for them.  In the B2B world, that could mean that you are an approved vendor and finding and approving another is juuust enough work for them to not move their business.  Or perhaps they haven’t evaluated the market recently enough to realize that there might be a better offer somewhere else.  Regardless of the reason, a habit is not loyalty.  A habit is the status quo, an automation of action that requires less thought than new action.  Loyalty, on the other hand, is active.  Loyalty is an affirmation that your product, your service, your relationship, is being chosen each time.  Loyalty is an evaluation of the competitive landscape and a line in the sand drawn to stand with you.  If you had to choose, wouldn’t you want to make your customers loyal, and not victims of habit?  Loyalty also requires action, so continue to engage your customers and take every opportunity to reaffirm that you are the right partner for them.

See Loyalty as an Outcome, Not a Program

While B2B organizations should invest in loyalty planning and loyalty programs, they shouldn’t let the program itself become the endpoint of this new iteration of the customer experience.  Loyalty should be seen as an outcome of these new interactions, not another product to sell.  A loyalty program is a conduit to engage in new ways with your customer and not a KPI to slap on quarterly reports (although you may).  This detail is essential and allows business to focus on the customer and deliver value to them, instead of simply looking to amass more customers into a loyalty program.  Loyalty as an outcome occurs through offering superior customer support, offering incentives and rewards, being dependable, being relevant, and offering further value to your client that they can’t get elsewhere.  Through those practices, a stronger emotional loyalty grows and deepens the buyer-seller relationship.

Still a Human Relationship in B2B

Often, the B2B world gets lost in the decisively less glamorous and often untrue stereotype of warehouses, offices, and more staid marketing practices and techniques.  This, too, is an unproductive viewpoint.  There are still PEOPLE working in the B2B industry, the same people who consume current technology and watch tv and shop online and generally are exposed to all the same B2C marketing concepts of now.  Why should they expect or receive less because their work world revolves around B2B?  People everywhere are driven by and react to rewards and praise, bargains, and connection, whether they’re buying their morning coffee or large-scale printing equipment for their business.  All in all, B2B or B2C, the relationship is still human. (That is, until the robots take over.)

But before that happens, focusing on making your relationships with clients more personal is another step toward building a sustained, committed relationship with them.  Most people want to feel respected, valued, and heard – in any relationship – which is why it should also be a part of your loyalty strategy. 

While the technical ways we create these connections in the modern world are changing the way B2B businesses operate, the guiding principles are the same as they ever have been.  If you want to dive deeper into the best practices of loyalty programs, platforms, and experience, I highly recommend downloading Olson 1to1’s 2018 Humanizing Loyalty Report here: http://www.olson1to1.com/2018LoyaltyReport