Top tips on retaining customers for B2B organizations

Jennifer Hall, Tuesday 7 November 2017

customer retention .jpgLanding a new customer is cause for celebration within any B2B organization and will often be the result of a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Extensive time and hard work goes into the process - from generating leads, to nurturing them along the pipeline and finally turning them into paying customers.

It isn’t easy and the more expensive or complex the product or service you’re selling is, the longer the sales cycle is likely to be.

So, it should go without saying that once a customer is on board, doing everything in your power to keep hold of them makes sense. Otherwise, all that effort will be wasted.

And the stats say it all, suggesting it can cost anywhere from five to ten times more for a business to land a new customer, than to retain an existing one.

Positive ongoing engagement is the key.

The first point to remember is that your attention should never wane – or even worse, totally stop - because a sale has been made. Yes, sit back and reflect on the great result but then have a plan for what happens next.

Landing a sale should be treated as only the first stage in what could prove to be a valuable, long term partnership – if you put the work and planning in. One way to think about it is to continue an account-based marketing approach long after the deal has been done.

B2B buyers nowadays have high expectations and competition for their business is fierce. Buyers will do their research, they’ll see what’s out there, ask for recommendations and read up. If your product or its delivery isn’t shaping up, then they won’t be afraid to shop around, especially if they feel the ‘value’ has drastically decreased for them.

Equally, if you can create happy customers, then they could be more lucrative and generate more business for you than any marketing campaign ever could.  

Effective retention is about asking – ‘how healthy are your customer relationships?’

If the answer is ‘not very’, or ‘could do better’ then there are certain steps you can take to start improving them. Some are simple, while others will call for a major shift in attitude or process, but ultimately, it’s what it takes to become a pro at retaining customers.

To improve your customer retention, there are three keys areas to focus on:

  • Your service and delivery
  • Your product
  • Your added value

Here, we’ll examine each area in turn and look at the actions you can take to strengthen your customer retention and form stronger, lasting relationships.

1. Provide outstanding service and delivery

Offer a fantastic customer experience in every way

Loads has been written about the benefits of providing a ‘360-degree customer experience’ - one that places the customer and their needs at the center of everything. It can call for a complete transformation in processes for some companies, but with the technology that exists today, there is no reason why it can’t become a reality. It is about ensuring a customer gets a personalized and consistent experience, no matter who they speak to within the company. It requires that all teams are fully aligned and focused on the customer and driving engagement, speaking with one voice.

 

Live up to your promises

The ongoing quality of service you deliver is as important as the nurturing you did to win the business in the first place. There is nothing worse than having a sales rep promise the world, only to find the reality doesn’t match up. It’s a common complaint faced by creative agencies for example, who may send out their best pitching team to win the business, before handing over the day-to-day management of the account to others. You’ve got to be able to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. It’s always a great rule of thumb to aim to under promise and over deliver.

 

Ensure customers are fully educated about your product

Most customers will sign up for a product or service because they see the value it has for them in that moment. They are likely to leave if they stop seeing that value. One of the reasons for this could be that they don’t fully understand what the product can do, and they aren’t using it correctly, or to its full potential.

It’s important to remind customers about all the features, benefits and capabilities on an ongoing basis – plus anything new. For example, through regular email marketing or even by running masterclasses or free training sessions at set intervals.

If you are a SaaS company and you have a way to monitor usage, look out for any drops or declines and step in quickly if you need to. Ideally, you won’t let it get to that point. Of course, some relationships will naturally reach an end, but the value of the product should never be in question.

 

Get proactive - flag up issues before they arise

Tackling problems head on can be beneficial when prospecting, but also when managing existing customer accounts and keeping them happy. If there’s an issue, or you know there’s going to be one soon, then flag it up. Never sit back and simply hope no-one notices. Get proactive, alert customers to potential issues and keep them well informed throughout any problem periods.

If it’s obvious you’re trying your hardest to resolve a problem and you’ve fully acknowledged the potential impact being felt by your customers, then the result should be a far softer blow. If you need to, say sorry and think of a good will gesture or another way to make amends. All these actions can help diffuse a potential issue and maintain your reputation – as with social media growing by the day, nothing can be kept under wraps for long and people are quick to name and shame.

2. Continuously work on your product or service

Innovate – never sit still

If you’re sitting still or simply treading water, then you’re quickly going to be overtaken. Your product or service may be perfect for a customer today, but business, industry and technology are evolving at a fast pace. If you’re not innovating and thinking ahead to the next step, then you could soon be left behind. You need to be building on your core product offering - improving it, taking it further, adding additional features and benefits - doing whatever you can to enhance it.

Listen to what customers are saying and feeding back to you, they’ll be the best source of inspiration and can help you iron out any creases too.  

 

Create an advisory board

Sometimes it takes an external business eye to accurately review the ‘big picture’ and spot the potential opportunities. Introducing an advisory board formed of external business leaders who know your market and product well, can benefit a business in many ways.  This may include honestly reviewing performance, suggesting improvements and innovations, and providing broader industry insights. They can bring a different skills set, knowledge and experience – not to mention create a very positive PR message. By introducing an advisory board, you are demonstrating that you want to be the best at what you do and are committed to best practice.

 

Measure, review, improve

To provide a top-class service you need to be regularly measuring, reviewing and analyzing what is going on. Think what data you are currently collecting that may help you keep track of customer opinions and satisfaction levels. Is it adequate? Is there more you could be doing? What improvements have you made and have you informed customers about them? If a customer makes a great suggestion, then act on it and let them know you have. Show it’s a two-way street and you’re listening and value feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly. This type of transparency will be great for your relationships.

3. Nurture loyalty through added value

Support your clients to achieve their goals

Never stop listening and learning when it comes to your clients. What are your customers saying? What do they want to achieve? How can you help them reach their goals?

If you’ve taken an account based marketing approach, then this concept won’t be anything new, you just need to ensure it continues after the sale is made. It is about adding value by going above and beyond. You should be helping your customers to achieve their goals in any way you can, adding value and showing you understand their challenges and motivations. Prove that you want their business to succeed as much as they do.

 

Keep adding value

So, they’ve bought your product, but what next? Where else could you be adding value? It’s a dangerous game to only offer incentives and sweeteners to prospective customers. Remember that stat about the cost of generating new customers – well promoting loyalty is even more valuable in the long term.

For example, existing customers could be given exclusive access, or be first to benefit from, any new features and product developments.  Or they could have access to special customer-only resources.

 

Communicate regularly

Another way to add value and nurture loyalty is to use content marketing for retention. It’s a way to stay in regular contact and can be very effective, as long as any content you share continues to be relevant, valuable, interesting or educational. The more you get to know the client over time, the more this should feed into the choice of content you provide for them.

 

Try and get face-to-face as often as you can

Nothing is as powerful for a relationship as getting face-to-face with a customer. Try and engineer ways for this to happen. For example, you may arrange a new year review meeting to gather in feedback and confirm that the customer’s objectives will remain the same. Or you may look to host some in-person events throughout the year, with a guest speaker giving advice on a topic that will be of interest to your customers. Make sure team members personally invite all relevant customers and are geared up to speak with them at the event.

 

Surprise!

Everyone loves surprises. They don’t have to be big or expensive, just a little something that shows you are thinking about them and value their business. These shouldn’t be done with any ulterior motive behind it – i.e. you shouldn’t be after anything or asking for something in return. Just a small token of appreciation, designed to bring a smile. It’s as simple as that.

4. And finally, always have a back-up plan

Have a win back process

If a customer does decide to leave you, make sure you understand why and any triggers that have led to them taking this course of action. Not just the ‘last straw’ as it were, but the journey that they have followed to this point.

Have a process outlined and ready to go in this situation, as a final attempt at winning them back. Just ask yourself first – are they a customer you really want to keep? Sometimes clients may naturally outgrow your offering, or they may never have been a good fit in the first place. In some cases, they may have been more trouble than they’re worth!

In these cases, save your efforts for customers who you really want and if nothing else, try and ensure they always leave on good terms.

 

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