By Jeannette McMurtry, MBA

Many of you might cringe with the opinion I am about to share so brace yourself:  B2B marketing is a complete misnomer.

Business systems don't sell to business systems;  computers don't make decisions and manage vendors, buildings don't assign loyalty to suppliers. People do.  And those people making decisions for businesses have emotions, and these emotions influence their choices, purchasing behavior, loyalty in their professional worlds just as they do in their personal worlds, whether they realize it or not.  Yet, marketers targeting business executives haven't approached marketing from this perspective. 

Perhaps customer retention and loyalty programs have a place in their marketing mix after all. 

Slowly, marketers in the business-to-business world are beginning to realize that their counterparts in the business-to-consumer world are on to something.  Perhaps customer retention and loyalty programs have a place in their marketing mix after all.  Research shows that companies that have integrated marketing programs like those usually reserved for consumer marketers are gaining ground.  Forrester Research put out a report showing that the amount of effort put into lead generation marketing in the business-to-business world isn't producing a corresponding return in new business results.  Perhaps this is because 60% or so of the people surveyed for the Forrester study said that customer relationships were not a priority to them. 

If you are in the business of selling to other business professionals versus consumers or direct end users, you can likely achieve increased results and stand apart from your competitors if you place a bit more emphasis on customer retention than just lead generation.  Customer retention strategies, when done correctly, can result in new customer acquisition as well.  And we all know that the fastest way to profitability is to keep the customers you have and increase their ongoing value and profitability.

Here are some ideas from the business-to-consumer world for customer relationship marketing aimed at other business professionals.

Understand the influencers:  Learn what drives the decisions of the gatekeepers and the decision makers.  Quite often we deal with middle managers who have to get approval for their actions by a supervisor.  When this is the case, you have to know what drives each party. For the middle manager, they may be influenced by the need to look smart to supervisors, to exceed expectations in order to be considered for a promotion, it might even be as basic as doing a good job to gain job security.  The supervisor is likely more driven by budgets, efficiencies, ROI, and other implications to the bottom line for which they are responsible.

Build value: If your products or services are similar to the competitions, you can stand out and increase your chances of getting the sale if you throw in extras, like your consumer marketing counterparts quite often do.  Consider adding a free service package, or inexpensive accessories - anything that will create a sense of added value, and still enable you to maintain a strong profit margin.

Become a partner, not a vendor: Partners find ways to help partners grow their business, simplify their lives, or do their jobs better.   How can you do this for your customers?  When you become more than a vendor of a service or product they can get from you or someone else, you increase your chances of securing lifetime loyalty and a steady source of revenue. 

You can likely achieve increased results and stand apart from your competitors if you place a bit more emphasis on customer retention.

One of my favorite examples of a company that markets to businesses with B2C strategies is Xerox. They do a wonderful job of "partnering" with customers of their digital production presses.  Customers and prospects are invited to all-expenses-paid Thought Leadership Workshops to teach them strategies for how to market the services they provide through digital technology and share ideas for programs they can use or suggest to clients.  They also have a team of consultants prepared to help customers with ongoing marketing, and new business development.  My experience with Xerox is one of excellent customer service every time it is needed, and access to outstanding technology capable of taking businesses and the print industry to another level.  All of these brand activities combined create a total brand experience that is memorable, emotionally fulfilling, and often results in brand loyalty and repeat sales. 

For purchasers of high tech equipment or services that rely on it, creating high emotional levels of comfort and security is critical to getting the sale. There is too much at stake for employees when they make bad choices that cost their companies time, money and productivity, as the ultimate price could be their job. 

Whether you are a national brand or a small one-shop business, you can find ways to create an emotionally fulfilling experience for your customers.  The first place to start is to discover what insecurities, fears, or hesitations are associated with the purchase decision, and then find ways to overcome these through service, information, guarantees and added values.

Its important to keep in mind that when you work in the so called business-to-business space, you are still dealing with people and those people are influenced by the need to achieve emotional fulfillment professionally and well as personally.   We are all so human after all.