B2B organizations have a bad habit of giving their customers away.
I wrote about this costly and all-too-common situation recently, in Sales & Marketing Management Magazine. As preparation for that article I was interviewed about the syndrome I can best refer to as “The B2B Loyalty Giveaway.” I hope you’ll watch this brief video introduction to the subject—and I’ll share a few additional thoughts here in writing as well.
How B2B companies “give away” customer relationships
In B2B marketing organizations, sales reps are enormously valuable—but sometimes that value accrues more to the rep than to the company. You see, even though this sector is called “business-to-business,” sales and marketing between business organizations is often person-to-person. Customers interact with a number of customer-facing individuals such as sales reps, account managers, field technicians and, hopefully, executive leadership. But often a single rep monopolizes those interactions. In that situation, all associations of service, quality—and loyalty—that should attach to the company and brand attach to the individual representative instead.
If you have a few star salespeople you may have noticed this yourself: when a top-producer walks out the door, key accounts follow. That’s what we call the “Loyalty Giveaway,” and it’s an extremely serious problem for many B2B organizations—but one that’s completely preventable.
3 steps to preventing loyalty giveaway
The key is striking the right balance. You want to encourage trust, confidence and loyalty in and to your sales reps—but you also want to use those representatives to propel the brand forward. You can do that by:
Create a consistent brand experience
When a customer interacts primarily with a single person—that star rep—they’re not really getting your full brand experience. Instead of reinforcing the single-star system, B2B companies need to develop organizations in which everyone on the customer-facing level is a star to the client, forming a constellation, if you will, as opposed to allowing just one person to shine too brightly.
You can achieve this constellation effect with an account-team or customer-team model. This should include a peering structure in which sales leadership and executive leadership are also part of the team and each leader has meaningful interactions with their respective peer in the client-side organization.
With the foundation of a true team in place, you can work on establishing standards of experience, building to a consistent level of that experience in each and every customer interaction.
Own your communications
Organizations also need to take a close look at their approach to communications—where messages originate, how they get shared, and who shares them. A good branding process will determine the most meaningful core messages, and an on-going, corporately-directed program of product information and direct-to-customer communication will ensure that the overall brand story gets through (and not just the view from a single salesperson’s perspective).
This is important not only because your customers need to hear from more that just their sales rep, but also because even the best rep will selectively sell, based on what facilitates their individual goals, rather than the objectives of the company. Without directly handling some aspects of communication with your clients, you are at risk of those clients missing or misunderstanding the full value you provide.
Plan to communicate the full breadth of the value you deliver, via direct-to-customer communications about everything from new product offerings to customer successes, pricing adjustments, CSR programs and big picture thought leadership pieces.
Add value to create customer “stickiness”
Ultimately, the organizations which add value to their relationships are the ones that see customers stick around. Call it stickiness or call it loyalty, the effect is the same: by providing extra product value, service, help, insights, rewards, and appreciation, companies create a bond beyond the basic purchase transaction.
Sales people can drive a company’s success—but they can also drive away with it. By being proactive and putting the right strategies in pace, you can avoid “The B2B Loyalty Giveaway.”
The article that sprang from the initial interview covers the above points and others in more depth—it even includes a sidebar from our CEO, Bob Domenz, on how to take loyalty back once lost. I encourage you to read it and avoid the high cost of giving loyalty away.