Two men, one with his back to the camera, shake hands over a white table. The man facing the camera is bearded with salt-and-pepper hair and is wearing a blue blazer over a white button-up shirt. The other man is also wearing a button-up shirt. Their hands meet next to an open laptop.
As with B2C sales, the key to success in B2B sales is a focus on retaining loyal customers over attracting new ones. — Getty Images/gradyreese

As you may already know, it costs less to keep an existing customer than to recruit a new one. Existing customers are valuable not only because they continue to support your business, but because they can spread the word to others and help you scale. This is true for both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) businesses — yet, B2C customer loyalty often gets the most attention.

Building a loyal B2B customer base is a different process that’s less dependent on discounts, marketing, and promotions. B2B transactions tend to be larger than in the B2C world. The sales process takes longer and is more complex, meaning clients are considering more than just price and branding when they make a purchase decision. As a result, the sales tactics for retaining customers will be different, too. Here are some techniques for improving customer retention for your B2B business.

Personalize the experience

No client wants to feel like just another number. Personalized outreach can go a long way to fostering customer loyalty, especially in B2B sales. Personalization can be as simple as sending tailored thank-you notes or as complex as leveraging your customer data to send targeted product updates and solutions at key moments in the customer lifecycle.

The good news is that software and sales tools make it easy to keep track of customer information. CRM platforms can be set up to save a record of each customer interaction. When a salesperson checks in with a client, they can see the full history of the customer relationship and pick up where they left off. Keep detailed records of a customer’s goals, pain points, personal preferences, and any changes in their trajectory. Ultimately, your outreach should put their needs front and center, demonstrating your value in their business.

[Read more: 5 Smart Ways to Market Your B2B Business]

Quantify the benefits you provide

Maintaining a loyal customer is not just an exercise in checking in once a quarter. You also should be proactive about sharing the value your business provides to theirs.

“Companies rarely, if ever, take the trouble to communicate to prospective customers all the economic, technical, service, and social benefits they provide. Most sellers simply assume that buyers grasp the value of products and services,” wrote Harvard Business Review. “That’s a reasonable assumption, but it’s dead wrong.”

Sales teams often monitor “customer satisfaction” as a proxy for customer loyalty.

Tangible financial benefits are relatively easy to communicate. Share data that shows why your solution brings a competitive advantage to your customers’ businesses. Are you charging under the market rate for your services? Are you including discounted shipping that others can’t? Provide statistics that give some perspective and context to your industry and show why you’re better than the competition.

In addition, try to quantify other ways your company helps others run smoothly: more on-time deliveries, fewer product returns, or 24/7 customer support, for instance.

[Read more: 4 Tips for Building an Effective B2B Sales Strategy]

Monitor the right metrics

Sales teams often monitor “customer satisfaction” as a proxy for customer loyalty. Satisfaction, however, is shown to have very little correlation with customer retention. Instead, ask your sales team to track what’s known as the “loyalty ladder” — behavioral traits that indicate a customer is committed to working with your business in the long run. Steps in the loyalty ladder include:

  1. An interest in growing the relationship, either by expanding to other products or services your business offers or scaling your agreement to other parts of the business;
  2. Product endorsements, meaning the client promotes your company to others in their industry;
  3. Resisting competitor incentives to switch;
  4. Showing a willingness to pay a premium for your product or service;
  5. Seeking out collaboration through product improvements or new product development;
  6. And investing in your business.

Recognizing this progression enables your sales team to prioritize your existing customers and ensure they have the best possible experience with your brand. Train your sales team to look for these steps, as they can show increased interest and long-term loyalty in your B2B customers.

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