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The B2B relationship conundrum (and how to solve it)

Jun 9th, 2017

In this technological age where you can connect with customers in an instant, B2C relationships are thriving. Whereas B2B relationships are lagging behind.

As an agency that sells marketing services to clients, we wanted to get to the bottom of why. So when we came across a comprehensive report on the differences between these relationships, we dove straight in with highlighters, reading specs, and very inquisitive expressions.

Published by KPMG, the study goes into why the B2B customer relationship is struggling , where we’re going wrong, and offers advice on how to close the gap. We thought we’d share the points we found most interesting, so here goes:

  • At the heart of the customer experience is relationship
  • Experiences create and sustain long-term value defined by the KPMG-identified six pillars of the customer experience (which we’ll tell you about further down)
  • The person who deals with the client plays a crucial human connection role
  • First impressions are vital
  • Global leaders in customer experience in the B2C market also dominate the B2B market
  • Expectations are set by our experiences as customers
  • Three quarters of respondents consider customer experience to be a major factor in supplier choice

All seems pretty obvious, right? Whether B2C or B2B, customers all want to be treated the same – and they all have high expectations. To successfully meet these expectations, KPMG say you need to use these six pillars as the building blocks of your relationship:

  • Personalisation: Using individualised attention to drive an emotional connection, which can only be done through really knowing your customer.
  • Integrity: Being reliable and showing a proven track record. This precedes trust, which is the core of all relationships.
  • Time and effort: Minimising customer effort and creating simple, efficient processes – ultimately making it easier to do business.
  • Resolution: Turning a poor experience into a good one. The survey actually shows that customers trust a business more if they have experienced a problem that’s been resolved quickly, rather than have no problems at all.
  • Expectations: Managing, meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Basically, never overpromising and always delivering what you offered in the first instance – even if it seems inconsequential.
  • Empathy: Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes to show you can see the world from their perspective.

The study uses these pillars to show where B2B relationships are less successful than their B2C counterparts. Generally, there’s a pretty significant gap between their levels of success, with B2C consistently coming out top. Where we see the biggest gap is in the integrity pillar, which means trust is harder to achieve in a B2B relationship. And as the study states (and we all know), trust is at the heart of every relationship. If it doesn’t exist…well, the relationship fails.

In moments that the customer perceives as crucial – like when they’re checking out your company, or if they’re expecting you to deliver on your promises (no matter how small) – is where there’s an opportunity to build trust most. Equally, these are the moments that, if you come across badly or don’t deliver, the relationship breaks down.

So there’s no big secret. Basically, when it comes to B2B relationships, people often forget that the business they’re selling to isn’t a commercial front – it’s made up of people. And those people are customers. They need to be able to trust you, and you need to show them you’re trustworthy.

As an agency, we’re very proud to have longstanding relationships with many of our clients – some in excess of 20 years – so I guess this report told us something we already knew, but didn’t know we knew…you know?

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