Author Guy Dancause

Engaging with B2B customers: why is it so difficult?

 Why is it that, in our business life, our approach to engaging customers is, for most of us, different than the path we follow to engage with people in our social life?

In our personal life, we meet a person in a social setting five or six times, have a good conversation on the plight of the world, our careers, families or other subjects, and, over time, we develop a deeper relationship. We become less guarded and, consequently, we’re likely to be more receptive to new ideas, opinions or advice from this person. In other words, this person can influence us over time.

In our business life, we build relationships with customers around product, quality, service and price. Very few companies engage beyond customer buying behaviour. In fact, studies published by Gallup and the Economist show that only 13% of companies truly engage their clients. Yet, according to the same studies, fully engaged customers deliver a premium over average customers in share wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth. It’s estimated that the top 25% of companies that have successfully embarked in customer engagement outperform profit, sales and growth by a factor of two to one.

Most of us forget that we as consumers, B2B buyers, or suppliers are firstly human beings. We are people with emotions that are influenced by our circumstances, our environment and our experiences.

There is a very real need to meet the rational side of your customer’s behaviour. Let’s face it, most customers do re-order your solutions as long as the essential ingredients are in place: product, quality, service and price. But, tweaking any of these ingredients will not change the relationships that your client’s have with your company. They’ll remain loyal and are likely to recommend your solution to others – that is, until a competitor shows up at their door with a differentiator: better price, improved product, different service capacity, or other factors.  While you where busy competing on price, it’s likely that your profit margins have become very narrow.

We often hear marketers tell us their company’s engagement strategy is made up of sales reps/customers face-to-face meetings, supported with CEO visits to large clients  and mailing of a newsletter or case study a couple times each year.  There are no doubts CEOs’ visits to customers can positively influence relationship building. Nonetheless, it has become obvious that, to deepen relationships with clients, you need to do more than public relations or branding exercises.

Consequently you may want to examine what makes your best customers emotionally and attitudinally loyal to your company. If you are going down that route, it’s best if you loosen a few dollars and get a third party firm to talk with a good sampling of your top clients (the 15% to 20% most profitable). While you’re at it, have them also talk with some of your break-even clients.

Last, but not least, remember that we are part of the ‘Me generation’. As managers, most of us are keen to deliver the goods, but operating in this global market place isn’t easy and most of us need help, although we may not publicly admit it. A good way to engage with current and prospective customers is to position your company as thought a leader in its community of practice.

Consider sponsoring the delivery of content that brings new ideas, lessons learned and discussions on challenges and opportunities important to managers of your clients’ businesses. That produces both implicit and evident third party endorsement of your reputation and delivers credibility that is not available through ‘blowing your own horn’.

Encourage journalists to interview your clients and let them explain, without any intervention from you, the many perspectives of how they feel about your solution and their experiences with you. Engage members of your community of practice interactively and educate them on your brand.

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