We all know that marketing and selling is really about relationships. It’s about knowing what your customers’ needs are, knowing the best way to talk to them, knowing what you have in your repertoire that can address their needs and doing it all in a way that conveys to them, their value and importance to your organization.

Something else we all know is that relationships — of any kind — are never static and are not always a walk in the park. They take nurturing, communication, and constant attention to the dynamics of the current situation. Quality customer relationships take work.

You’ve got lots of competitors out there. And they’re all waiting for just the right moment to pounce on your customers. Competition is tough. Many folks believe establishing and maintaining customer relationships will be the single greatest source of competitive advantage in business. So, you’ve got to be on your toes. They’re always looming, waiting for the right opportunity.

Having a customer whose loyalty is solid is one of the best defenses you can have against your competitors. And gaining that loyalty is all about building a relationship with that customer.

Common wisdom tells us that keeping an existing customer is a heck of a lot cheaper than getting a new customer. You still have expenses associated with marketing to that “old” customer and giving them support, but those expenses are virtually nothing compared to the prospecting, communication, sales call, proposal generating, etc. expenses that it costs you to pursue a new customer. Again, anything you can do to keep that customer happy and solid in your professional relationship is a money-saver for you in the long run.

Now, with the infiltration of social selling, easier online shopping and comparisons, self-service ordering and nonexistent human contact through your website, your customers might not have as much face time with your company as they used to. In fact, Forrester Research says buyers who engage with salespeople are already 60% complete with their research at that point. And your competitors are simply a click away.

Imagine Suzy Customer out there on the web, surfing through your site and all your competitors’ sites. Yikes. You need some protection. And, along with good business practices, products and pricing, again your best protective barrier may indeed be the relationship you’ve created with her.

CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS AND THE B2B SALES CYCLE

Sales are ultimately based on expectations — expectations of the customer and whether or not you meet them. All people have expectations, whether they explicitly state them or not. It is the job of the marketing people and salespeople to know from the outset what the customers’ expectations are. We know those will likely change throughout the scope of the buying cycle, but it’s important to try to really understand those expectations.

Once you’ve worked to establish what the expectations are, you must make sure you can fulfill them. Be careful not to over-promise (and your R&D team will thank you too), but don’t cut yourself or your product short either. When you deliver as you say you will, you add another solid block in the foundation of your relationship with your customer. And you solidify it even more when you deliver better than promised.

So know your customers. Show some interest. Find ways to get their feedback. You need to do these little things to show that you are aware and interested in what’s going on with your customers. Make sure you have regular contact even just to say hello. Do you know their likes and dislikes? You should be enthusiastic about your products, about their companies, and about the relationship between them. And show your appreciation.

SUGGESTED STRATEGIES FOR B2B RELATIONSHIP BUILDING

Here are some suggested strategies to help you ensure more solid relationships with your customers:

  • Buyer personas: know whom you’re talking to or should be talking to, what their pain points are, and more. And create a formal messaging kit to ensure they’re hearing the same thing from each person and medium with which they interact.
  • Sales cycle analysis (yours to them and their own): This way you’ll know what they might be experiencing based on what’s happening in their business. Are they in a down cycle now so have more time to take on the nice-to-have types of projects and/or meet with you to discuss additional ways you can help and provide service to them? Or, are they pulling out their hair, and really just need simple, efficient interaction such as getting a question answered promptly or a document sent to them with no delay?
  • Providing the right content at the right moment via marketing nurtures/automation: For both prospects and customers, communicating with them at the right time with the right message can be challenging, but based on knowing your prospects and customers, you can craft nurture email plans that will get them what they need. This can be based on where they are in your sales cycle (top-of-the-funnel, middle-of-the-funnel, bottom-of-the-funnel), where they are in their customer life cycle with you, what products they’ve purchased and/or expressed interest in, what they’ve looked at on your website (if you have integration with your analytics or use a system that covers both), calls/contacts into your sales or support teams, and much more.
  • Truly understanding their business issues: this goes along with understanding the buyer personas, but also, you can use research services to get industry-specific summaries of what pressing issues are, growth forecasts, vocabulary to use, trends, and more. Or, even just searching for the type of company/industry in search engines, on social media, etc. will give you a quick idea of what’s happening. Set up Google alerts and hash tag reports based on customer names and keywords related to their companies and you’ll get a wealth of information. And of course, follow your customers on social media!