The Internet continues to become a more integral part of our daily life. It helps us find products and services, voice our opinions and provide feedback, and learn what’s going on in the world. We especially like using the Internet when we can easily find what we’re looking for and have a great online experience while doing it.
B2B professionals have certainly transitioned to a more digital way of doing business because it offers greater efficiency and convenience on the job. These buyers want fewer calls by sales reps and more independence to shop and transact. So how can distributors build and maintain a good relationship with customers when face-to-face engagement is being phased out of the buying process? A good place to start is to employ customer-centric strategies that elevate the customer experience, drive engagement and build brand awareness.
The B2B customer relationship
The average lifecycle of a B2B customer is considerably longer than a retail consumer. With more time and consideration required on both the seller and buyer sides, it’s no wonder B2B customers highly regard their vendor relationships and, in turn, hold them to a higher standard. According to research by Marketo, B2B buyers use more channels to engage with their vendors and therefore expect their data to be integrated and consistent across every touch point.
Organizations that provide an omnichannel experience – meaning they deliver consistent product information, customer service and account information online, in store and on the phone – build better customer relationships and more brand advocates.
If you want to develop better online relationships with your customers, start with these seven steps to help engage and impress:
- Minimize customer effort, maximize the experience
Usability is a key factor in keeping buyers engaged on your website. Don’t make it difficult for them to search for products, find answers to their questions or make a purchase online. Do offer an easy-to-navigate interface, plenty of content to educate the buyer and a customer portal with easy access to account information.
Remember, buyers are most likely viewing your site on a mobile device like a tablet or phone, so navigation, content and accessibility to account information must also be available via a responsive-designed site or a native mobile app. The more accessible and transparent information is for customers, the more positive an impact you’ll make on them.
- Offer different service options
Your customers are not all alike. Many may prefer to shop online while others still rely on customer service representatives to help place their order. Be sure to manage all your customers’ expectations by offering different shopping and service options that meet everyone’s needs.
Cater to younger professionals and others who prefer researching and transacting online by having a self-service eCommerce site where they can access everything they need with a few clicks of a mouse. A self-service site should show customer-specific pricing, provide account information like order history and delivery status, give access to reference materials, and integrate punchout catalogs via an e-procurement system.
Assist those who prefer more personal assistance with transactions by offering a full-service option. Full-service requires the expertise and assistance of salespeople or customer service reps who can answer questions, provide product recommendations, develop custom proposals and place orders for buyers.
Lastly, include a combined offering for those looking to make an independent purchase, but who want the opportunity to speak with someone in case a question arises. This hybrid-service option lets people communicate with a salesperson or CSR through different tools such as online chat, e-mail messaging and click-to-call. Combining 24/7 customer service assistance with self-service ordering gives buyers the freedom they want with the assurance they need to make a sound purchase.
- Personalize their visits
Regularly evaluate your customers’ search and purchasing history to create a more personalized experience on your site. Web analytics let you see what products they’ve been researching or considering, and give you a better sense of their buying patterns. Once you know your customers’ business needs, you can advertise customer-specific promotions on your site, including clearance and sales items, and develop an up-selling and cross-selling strategy to recommend alternative products, accessories and other relevant components. Personalization is a great way to show customers your company has taken the time to know them, their business and their needs.
- Engage on social media
Today, it’s not just good business practice to be on social media; it’s a necessity. According to the Content Marketing Institute, social media is now the second most effective channel for distributing B2B content. Use social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to promote your company and product offerings, post industry news and updates and engage with your customers. Direct message conversations via social media can help build a personal connection with customers and show you’re responsive to their questions and feedback.
- Develop loyalty programs
Everyone likes incentives, so consider creating a loyalty program for current customers to help boost revenue and cultivate your relationships with them. Offer a small reward to encourage buyers to sign up for your loyalty program, and then continue to provide more valuable benefits and promotions based on their continuing purchases and loyalty. Another way to show your appreciation is by acknowledging them during the holidays, on anniversaries and even birthdays.
- Learn from your customers
Customer needs and expectations change over time, so keep your finger on their pulse by regularly seeking their feedback and suggestions. Take advantage of social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to get their opinions, but be sure to always respond and thank them for their feedback – whether it’s positive or negative.
Additionally, send out occasional surveys to your customer base with a specific set of questions related to your product offerings, website functionality, customer service and more. After customers transact with you, request a post-purchase review so they have an opportunity to provide helpful feedback about their buying experience.
- Establish their trust
There are numerous ways to build trust with customers, like providing great customer service and dependable products. But trust goes beyond the basic goods and services you provide; buyers take into account their collective experience with your organization to determine their loyalty to your company and brand.
Build a sense of confidence and dependability by creating a secure user experience, not only online but across all your selling channels. Provide useful and reliable content at their disposal by developing an online repository of information about your products, as well as industry trends, innovations and regulations. Be sure to regularly publish reports, blogs and videos to capture and keep their attention.
Lastly, become a problem-solver by knowing your customers’ needs and offering solutions. Buyers are more inclined to trust a business that demonstrates it has their best interests in mind.
Make your website a more integral part of your customers’ lives by giving them the tools, resources and personalized experience they desire. Start employing a solid strategy with a customer-centric focus and you’ll see your customer relationships grow online and across your organization.