Driving B2B Loyalty: Cultivating Emotional Loyalty in Business
B2B relationships, B2B customer engagement, and B2B brand loyalty are personal at their core. Like B2C initiatives, business-to-business transactions and engagement need personalization and emotional elements to create and nurture long-term success.
Make B2B Loyalty Personal & Emotional
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
—Michael Corleone, Fictional Leader of a Large “Services Organization”
With all due respect to Mr. Corleone, business relationships are — and should be — personal. In a separate article, we shared Brierley’s three core principles of strong customer engagement and loyalty programs for B2B (and B2C) initiatives:
- Offer a simple & compelling value proposition
- Enable enhanced customer experiences
- Cultivate emotional loyalty and engagement
In this article, we focus on the third principle — cultivating emotional loyalty — and three considerations to keep in mind along with it.
1. Define/Refine Your B2B Customer Target
B2B or business customers are equally, if not more, complex than B2C or individual consumers. As the saying goes, you can’t define the journey until you know the destination. For example, is the target for your B2B loyalty program the small business owner and/or employee of small business owner? If so, what is YOUR definition of a small business customer, based on your unique business?
Definition of a Small Business
There’s no true consensus, but according to the US Census Bureau and Small Business Administration (SBA), there were an estimated 7,977,623 small business establishments in the US with fewer than 500 employees in May 2022. That’s in addition to non-employer firms, which depending on the information source, represent up to 81% of small businesses (and over 26.5 million firms!).
I’m sure you’re casting your sales net a little narrower than those numbers, so consider what your business’s ideal business customer target is and then branch further out as necessary (e.g., non-employer firms and firms with 50 or fewer employees purchasing products and services we or our major competitors provide).
2. How to Identify the B2B Customer
Identifying and tracking your clients’ purchases and engagement can help you identify them as a customer. Consider one unique shared data value (e.g., account number, loyalty program ID, and/or email address, mobile number). Keep in mind that business customers may have multiple email addresses, similar to consumers. Loyalty programs like LoyaltyOnDemand® can be extremely helpful for this.
However, if your data and customer engagement technology infrastructure is limited, you can also take advantage of email, text, and social campaigns. These offer lower levels of effort, but at a trade-off of limited transactional tracking.
How to Segment Your B2B Customers
Ideally, you can segment your B2B customers or business clients based on actual purchase and engagement data. However, a simple first step may be to field a quick online survey (for example, as part of your enrollment process or shortly after the customer joins your program). Keep it brief and consider offering a small incentive to drive completion (e.g., $5 off $25 purchase coupon, bonus points, etc.).
Sample areas to probe include:
- number of employees
- business owner or purchasing on behalf of employer
And, of course, your firms’ key services and products that are of most interest to them.
A Note about Elite Customers
Remember that there can be a wide range of business sizes and potential spend, depending on your industry and customers. When considering your definition of “best customers,” keep in mind that many businesses may not ever be able to hit a specific spend threshold due to their size.
You may want to consider other factors in addition to a spend threshold, including:
- year over year growth
- number of transactions
- types of products/services purchased (e.g., higher vs. lower margin)
Many airlines, hotels, and other successful loyalty programs acknowledge this by providing multiple ways for members to “level up.”
3. Expand the Definition of Emotional Loyalty
Keep in mind that B2B clients or business customers are motivated by fun, engaging, and helpful content and initiatives, just like consumers. This nurtures B2B customer relationships and improves customer retention. You only need to consider what will drive them to have greater emotional ties with your brand. This will depend on your business’s unique products and services, but here are some ideas to keep in mind — particularly for small businesses.
Help B2B Clients Grow Their Business
Business owners are typically wearing many hats within the organization and have limited bandwidth to become experts in everything.
Consider providing ongoing content on key business topics, such as:
- hiring/retaining/terminating employees
- hiring a good tax specialist/accountant, lawyer, marketing firm
- economic reports from leading firms
- tips from leading consultants (McKinsey, Baine Capital, etc.)
Consistent, relevant content will show customers and potential clients that you are a trustworthy expert in your industry.
Make It Easy for B2B Clients to Work with You
You want it to be as easy as possible for your B2B customers to work with you. For example, you could provide direct access (whether in-store, online, and/or phone) to business specialists trained to handle more complex requests and guidance. If cost and complexity are concerns, this could be limited for top customers as an additional “elite” perk if.
You could also take a page from airlines, hotels and movie theaters by providing dedicated business customer queues and/or customer service support.
Provide Networking Opportunities
Whether in brick-and-mortar or online, your brand could provide networking opportunities for your B2B customers where they can share tips and get to know others in their industry, geographic area, etc.
Make It Fun!
Many of the same B2C rules about emotional engagement apply to B2B interactions as well. If you have a reward program, consider adding in various “money can’t buy experiences”. For example, tickets to music, sports, invitations to exclusive business leader networking and speakers’ series are all great examples of fostering more emotional ties to your brand.
Leverage the connections your business has with business thought leaders to make it difficult or impossible for competitors to copy. If you don’t have a loyalty program, these benefits can be targeted to customers based on your own criteria.
Celebrate Your B2B Clients
Many small businesses lack the resources to promote themselves as effectively as they’d like. Consider opportunities as simple as social media posts that spotlight your small business, a B2B customer, their business, recent successes, etc.
Providing your B2B clients with a megaphone to truly celebrate their achievements and opportunities can go a long way in cementing a long-term relationship.
More B2B Emotional Loyalty Strategies
This is just a small taste of potential ideas and thoughts to consider as you expand your business’s B2B customer engagement and loyalty capabilities.
If your curiosity is piqued and you’d like to set up some time to discuss your organization’s unique challenges and opportunities, we’d be happy to meet with you! And don't worry, there's no obligation — “We’re not in the business of making offers our clients can’t refuse.” 😊
Advice from B2B Loyalty Experts
For expert advice and consultation regarding your B2B customer/client loyalty strategy, Brierley is available and ready to help! To learn more about how Brierley’s customer loyalty strategists can help create and/or optimize a relationship-focused loyalty solution for your brand, contact us today.